The Seven Year Rule

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Matthew has written an in depth article about the Seven Year Rule for our friends over at Summer Camp Pro. Check out the excerpt below and read the full piece over at summercamppro.com

I didn’t really know what that something was until I found Camp Augusta in 2012. From the staff onboarding process, I was immediately wrapped into a culture of creativity and newness – a culture where I felt like I was part of creating something special and personal. There are many factors that went into that camp culture, but the underlying one – the heart of it – is the “7 year rule”.

What is the 7 year rule?
The 7 year rule is a programmatic commitment to have certain parts of a camper’s experience that are new every year for 7 years. For Augusta, this means that skits and evening programs used one summer can’t be used again for another 7 summers. That way, each summer will be unique and fresh, and they’ll remember 2018 as the year they played Robot Apocalypse, and 2019 as the year with the Horse Snorkels skit.

Read the full article at summercamppro.com

Hanging out with the Rec Heads and Camp Nerds Podcast

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Last week Austin and Matthew got to sit down with Moose and Patti, the awesome crew of  the Rec Heads and Camp Nerds podcast, and talk epic gaming. They dive deep into the origin, spectacle, and all the tiny components that go into our programs and answer their share of random questions along the way.

Listen in on Stitcher, iTunes, or direct from Rec Heads and Camp Nerds

Polishing Gems: A Guide To Implementing Knowledge Management

By Thomas Cox and Matthew Malecha from Trailhead Games

Beware. Knowledge Management is like Pandora’s Box, and once you open it, there’s no closing it. Once you start implementing it, everything you do will get better, but you may never be truly satisfied again...

A well-managed game gets better every time you play it. That’s what KM (short for Knowledge Management) is all about. KM is about learning the lessons about what makes your game succeed or struggle and taking action to build upon the positives and reduce the negatives. Obviously KM doesn’t apply solely to games, but we’ll use them as a focus for this post.

Before we start, the phases for the KM process go roughly like this:

  1. Create game
  2. Play game
  3. Gather KM
  4. Implement KM
  5. Play game again
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 infinitely

We have covered creating and playing games in other blog posts, so this post will focus on phases 3 and 4 - Gathering and implementing KM.

What is KM?

KM is collecting data, observations and feedback about your game, recording those points, and then taking action to make changes to avoid a problem happening again.

The goal of KM is to ensure that no point is EVER repeated. That means things need to change when a KM point is addressed or else you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes (which can be very frustrating).

KM is also known as continuous improvement or process leadership. However you want to look at it, the focus is on using every time you play of a game as a learning opportunity to improve it for next time.

What you’re looking for is individual KM points that you can act on after the game ends. 

KM points are useful when they are:

  • Observations
  • Suggestions
  • Factual

An example of a useful KM point is: “We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.” This is a neutral observation, that is also actionable.

From this point, the Gamemaster knows that next time they need to provide more cups and they update/add this to the game setup document so it isn’t missed next time! They might change the setup list from “Put 60 cups at the water station” to “Put 100 cups at the water station”.

What you don’t want is KM points that are:

  • Opinions
  • Can’t be acted upon
  • Unrealistic

Examples of poor KM points:

  • “I don’t know about this game.” What don’t they know? What are there specific concerns?
  • “I absolutely loved the character breakdown for this game, very clear and helpful.” This a nice thing to hear, but not a KM point. It might be a KM point for future games to base their character handout formats on the ones from this game though!
  • “I stumbled while I was running.” I’m sorry to hear that but what can I do about it? This is different from “Tables weren’t moved from the dining area, resulting in an injury to a camper who tripped over them. Now THAT is a KM point!


Phase 3 - Gathering KM

There are loads of ways to gather KM points. They’re like Pokemon: the more you can get your hands on the better! Encourage your staff and players to provide as many as possible, making your camp culture about providing feedback and not settling for good enough. 

The first time you play a game you’re likely going to have LOTS of KM points, which will hopefully decrease every time you play it. However, don’t expect to ever get to a point where there are no KM points on a game. We don’t believe a game will ever be perfect, especially when there are so many variables!

Here are some of the more common ways of gathering KM points:

  • Walk around as the Gamemaster during the game with a clipboard and write down what you observe. You might see one team dominating and realise that you put a crucial resource in an easily defended area.
  • Interview staff about things that aren’t working in the game or at their station. They might say the kids weren’t really enjoying their station, or no one was able to complete their challenge.
  • Have a KM meeting/debrief after the game and allow staff to contribute points there. This is a good way of getting a big picture view of the game.
  • Listen to what the campers are saying about the game. “It was fun, but it was too hard to get a harpoon!” 
  • Conduct target group interviews with campers after the game.
  • Have some staff members play the game as players and get their notes.
  • Include rating the game on your end of session camper feedback form with a comments section.
  • Have a trial run of the game with only the staff members and see what KM points arise.
  • Have someone else read through the game documents and see what questions they ask.

If you’re gathering KM points from staff members, we encourage you to have them write their names on the points in case you need to follow up with them later for clarity. You’d be amazed how easily people forget what they wrote!


Phase 4- Acting on KM points

Gathering the KM points is a great first step, but to ensure your game improves for the next time it runs, you need to implement changes based on the points that come up. This is the most important step in taking your game to the next level!

To illuminate this idea, let’s follow the life cycle of one KM point. We’ll use the one we had before:

“We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.”

We’ll add that to our KM file for our game like so:


WHO?                   Tom
WHAT?                  We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.
ACTION REQ’D     Add 50 cups to the setup list
WHERE                 Into The Deep setup list
 

We’ve got the point: “We ran out of clean cups at the drinking station.”

We know who contributed it: Tom

We have made an action plan to ensure this point never repeats: “Add 50 cups to the the setup list”.

And we’ve noted to which document we’ve made our changes so that next time we play this game there will be another 50 cups where we need them: the Into The Deep setup list.

Where we can get into trouble is when we stop using the documents to setup or organise a game because we’ve played it before and think we know how to do it. This is when new changes can be missed and the mistakes of the past get repeated. This can happen often if the same staff are used to setup the game each time it runs. MAKE IT A HABIT TO USE THE GAME DOCUMENTS EVERY TIME THE GAME RUNS. 

If you’re going to commit to the KM process and hope to get the most benefit out of it, then it’s important that you have a standard process each time you run the game, such as printing off the most recent versions of all the documents and using them to setup, organise and breakdown the game.

The human memory is fallible, sometimes embarrassingly so, so we recommend you don’t rely on your ability to remember every KM point and subsequent change that happens, and instead use checklists and written copies to make sure you don’t miss anything. This is especially important in the summer camp world where staff are running on very little sleep, exhausting physical demands, and weeks of back to back work. Do yourself a favour and write it down.

Closing thought

The best KM points are those ones that can apply to other games too! For example, the above point is great for all runaround games that require a water station. Doesn’t matter what runaround game you play, you’re going to need that extra 50 cups, so a KM point like this might lead to changing the setup lists for all the runaround games you have on your program roster and you’ve solved some problems before they’ve had a chance to occur.

Happy KMing.
    
 

Mining For Gold: Brainstorming and Game Development

Thomas Cox and Matthew Malecha

Originaly posted on GoCampPro: Mining For Gold: Brainstorming and Game Development

CREATING A GREAT GAME INVOLVES FOUR PHASES:

  • Brainstorming
  • Development
  • Holepatching
  • Edgecrafting

This post is focused on Brainstorming and Development, as we cover the other topics in separate blog posts.

Get those minds open, there’s some information we’re ready to shove in...

PHASE 1 - BRAINSTORMING

This is the process of coming up with ideas that might one day turn into a game (if they’re lucky). There are a variety of ways to approach brainstorming. Generally, successful brainstorming is based around the belief that there are no bad ideas, and that each idea provides a new possibility to be incorporated. Often times more ideas yields more balanced, creative, well-thought games.

The brainstorming process:

When you’re brainstorming for games and activities, you might ask your staff these kinds of questions...

  • What kind of game do we want to create? How long will it go for? Where will we play it? How many people will be playing?
  • How could we make our inside joke about ________ into a game?
  • What resources do we have a lot of?
  • What do you think being a pirate/lion/wizard/racecar driver (etc) is like?
  • What have been the best games we’ve had at camp?
  • How can we make _____ appeal to boys and girls? Older and younger?
  • What kind of game do we need?
  • How can we get all our campers working together?
  • What would a cool game mechanic be?

And you might ask your campers these kinds of questions…

  • What’s your favorite movie? Book? TV show? Fantasy novel?
  • If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?
  • If you could live in any time period, which would you live in and why?
  • What’s your favorite activity at camp? Why? What else could we do with that?

The brainstorming process is the first step to creating a great game, and will yield (given enough time and commitment) some ideas and a vision for how the game might look. For example, you might emerge from the brainstorming phase with something like:

“I’ve got an idea for a game where the campers are colonists trying to colonise Mars before their oxygen runs out.”

From this basic premise, we can start to think about putting some meat onto the skeleton by developing the game.

PHASE 2 - GAME DEVELOPMENT

The next step is game development, which involves:

  • Thinking through the rules
  • Putting together primitive game documents and instructions
  • Compiling lists of materials needed
  • Working out how many staff are needed to run the game
  • Clarifying the objectives
  • Tweak the rules to get the right balance of challenge vs reward
  • Elaborating the story and work out how you’re going to present it to the players
  • Establish a vision and feel of the world you’ll be playing in
  • ...and loads more

Game development turns the idea into a game. By developing an idea into a game people will be able to start imagining playing it. This is the phase where you create the bulk of your documents and instructions to enable the game to come to life.

The time for thinking about logistics and mechanics begins during this phase, and once you’re in the development phase it’s ok to say that some ideas don’t fit the vision. This is the time to begin selectively pursuing ideas and imagining how each one fits into the overall vision of the game. Envision the crew as a funnel: with more and more ideas/questions, the game becomes a clearer and clearer vision.

Questions to ask yourself during the game development phase include:

  • What comes to mind when you think of __(theme)_ ? Which of those can be made into game dynamics and how?
  • For this idea to work what do I need?
  • What characters, dynamics, and settings makes sense to reflects the story of the game?
  • How does the layout of the gameworld influence the objectives or challenges?
  • What will be the hooks in this game that grab the players? How can I highlight those aspects?
  • Is it runable on the scale we want? What would we need to make it so?
  • How is the complexity? What information will players need in order to understand and enjoy this game? What information would someone need in order to run this game as it is envisioned?
  • Is the payoff satisfactory for the amount of effort players will need to put in?
  • Why would this game succeed at our camp? Why may it fail?

Throughout the game development phase there are going to be many problems that need to be addressed, which will be dealt with as they arise. Approaches for dealing with these problems are addressed in our post Troubleshooting From The Hip, about holepatching and edgecrafting. You may need to preemptively address issues and flaws within your game mechanics during the game development phase as you begin to understand how the game will work.

 

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BRAINSTORMING AND GAME DEVELOPMENT IN PRACTICE - AN EXAMINATION OF INTO THE DEEP.

To best illustrate how we’ve made brainstorming and development work for us, I’d like to walk you through those phases in relation to our game, Into The Deep.

PHASE 1 - Brainstorming

Into The Deep started with these simple ideas:

  • I want to create a game that includes the Kraken and a Giant Squid (my favourite animals/mythical creatures)
  • I want to create a game with different boundaries than our regular Capture The Flag boundaries
  • I am excited to create a hybrid game with a large runaround component
  • How can I get harpoons involved?

I took my fascination with deep sea underwater monster creatures and thought they might make good fodder for a game. I also wondered how I could pair this with my desire to create a game with unconventional boundaries.

PHASE 2 - Development

I developed Into The Deep through this kind of thinking:

  • Why would players come into contact with Giant Squids and Krakens? They’d need to go underwater in some fashion --> Why would they go underwater? Maybe to collect treasure --> Who else is interested in treasure? Pirates. Maybe pirates could be the villains, or the players could learn to become pirates!
  • If it’s a game based on the ocean what would the game world look like? The sea is not square, so maybe circular boundaries would work, surrounding an island that the players start on. When you go into the water it gets deeper and deeper so maybe we could have shallow water and deeper water sections. Obviously the deeper water is going to be more dangerous. If it’s more dangerous it also needs to be more worthwhile. The deeper water needs to contain more gold.
  • People can stand and swim safely in shallow water but it is tough for humans to survive in deep water. Unless they have diving equipment. Maybe players can level up to divers or acquire diving gear in some way to simulate in the game what happens in real life?
  • How can I make the deeper water creatures more dangerous? Perhaps they can be harder to tag, or more dangerous when they tag a player --> in order to do this I will need a lifebelt system rather than a tag system, since I can’t scale a tag system. What if shallow creatures have to pull a life tag but deep sea creatures only need to tag? --> what would happen if a person was bitten by a shark (they’d likely need to go hospital). Maybe the “jail” can be a hospital instead where players go to recover after being tagged/losing all their lives
  • OK this game is starting to sound really fun to me, but what about younger kids who might get scared or not want to run around? There’s got to be another way of earning treasure/gold for your team... maybe there’s people on the Island that can give quests or rewards to players who do things for them.
  • What information do I need to write down and communicate in order to ensure that the vision and nuances of this reasonably complicated game are understood by everybody involved?

It was through a concentrated exploration of questions like the above that I was able to find the gold in Into The Deep (pun intended).

Overall, curiosity and exploration will get you a long way in game development, as you will be forced to generate satisfactory answers to continuous questions such as:

  • Why?
  • How will this work?
  • How can I make that work?

Keep asking yourself those questions and you’ll create a great game...eventually.

Remember that the goal is to create a playable version of your game idea that others can understand well enough for feedback and more development. Once you start playing your game, rule changes and improvements will become clear, and the players will be able to give you feedback about what needs to change (and how!).

 

The Power of an All Camp Program

Catherine Chenoweth-Smith and Nicholas Smith

Bringing Fantasy to Life

Every child has the same dream, wishing at some point that the book they are reading or the computer game they are playing would suddenly come alive and transport them away from normal life.  We all want our own Oz, our own Hogwarts, our own Wonderland.  This is the universal dream of the all-camp program.  Almost everyday we at Trailhead Games travel to a different universe with our campers and give them a chance to start a new life where heroic acts of bravery and courage are both attainable and recognized by their peers.  We create a fresh world that has not had time to become familiar and lose its sparkle and allure.  The rules of everyday life are rewritten. It is no longer about the clothes you wear or the social circles you belong to; it’s about running a flag, solving a puzzle, working as a team, defending your area, and so much more.

The creation of this world is no simple task, it needs to be a unique and exciting place. It needs to grab the attention of campers and entice them to find out more about it. No world was built in a day but most of those we’ve created follow a similar process…

Inspiration

The spark that starts it all. It can come from anywhere at anytime, so be ready for it! How will this world differ from the norm? What creatures/empires/energies await discovery? Most importantly, what is the core conflict? Why are the campers there and what role will they take in the resolution? While piloting giant robot dinosaurs may be cool, will they engage the imagination of every camper? It’s their buy-in that will make or break this world.

Mechanics

A game can be built in several ways, choosing the right one to compliment your world and it’s core conflict can really boost immersion. Does the game lend itself to a run-around style? A world where angry spirits are on the loose and campers need to capture some and avoid others would suit this well. Alternatively a land where crystals need to be gathered to break an ancient curse may be better experienced as a station game, where campers seek out a series of activities or challenges spread around the play areaand get a reward for completing them successfully. Creating hybrids of the two core styles can result is some very dynamic gameplay.

Characters

Campers will interact with this world largely though the staff playing roles in the game. Make interesting characters for them, with backgrounds, motivations and souls. An invested staff member will pass on their energy to anyone they interact with.

We do not believe that anyone who has ever gone to camp could deny its power to promote play and spark the imagination. Camps and their staff are life changers, taking kids into a world beyond their own where they are never too cool or too old to chase forest spirits and wield magical popsicle sticks. Camp shows children a place that inspires them to go out and create their own world and reclaim some of the wish, wonder, and surprise of childhood. That is the power of an all-camp program.