I love playing table top games or other in-person games. I only recently found out my parents really don’t like playing games, so I don’t really know where I get it from. My all time favourite is Werewolves (of Millers Hollow). We play that almost every night during a family retreat we have each year around Ascension Day. We play it with 15 to 20 people and can keep going till 2 or 3AM. It’s Ascension Day this month but due to the Covid-19 crisis we’ll have to skip this year for the first time in 33 years (it’s my wife’s it’s my wife’s family and I’ve been coming with since 2012). My favorite game for smaller groups is Who Am I. A game where each player gets an identity they have to guess by asking yes or no questions. We play it during Christmas until deep into the night. We also host a game night multiple times a year for my wife’s two sisters and their partners where it’s one of my favorites to play. But game night has also fallen through due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Who Am I was also the game I suggested when my team and I were thinking of something to do during a social hour after not really seeing each other for three weeks. But it’s kind of awkward to play via video chat. Let’s first go over the playing rules first, then you’ll know what I mean.
The rules of the game are pretty simple really. Each player takes a piece of paper and writes down a name of a character, either fictional or non-fictional. Gandalf, The Easter Bunny, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Nicolas Tesla. It could even be a local politician or a non-famous person you know everybody else also knows, like “Lizzy’s grandma” if Lizzy were a friend you’re playing a game with. You slide the paper to the person next to you or across from you or to whomever and they have to stick it to their forehead. The super sticky post-its work best for this. The regular ones will work as well but might require some reattaching. The sticking a piece of paper to your forehead makes it impossible for you to read your own piece of paper and easy to read for others, but moreover, it adds this comical component to the game that is just fun.
Then every player gets a turn asking questions. These need to be yes or no questions that will help the player narrow down the context to finally guess the identity of their character. Questions like:
“Am I a man?”
“Am I fictional?”
“Am I still alive?”
“Do I play in movies?”
As soon as the answer is “No” the turn goes to the next player.
Limitations In Video Chat
Now that you know the rules, you must also see what limitations there are when doing this over Skype or any other video chat application. The main thing being the sharing of names.
When doing the game with my co-workers I let everybody send me the names via chat for another person except the person thinking of a name for me. That person would send everybody else the name they came up with for me. I would send everybody else the rest of the names except for their own. Kind of a small logistical pain and easy to mess up if your not paying attention. I also once mixed up the names and was answering questions for the wrong character.
Writing Down First Ideas
I thought there must sure be an app for that. But there isn’t. It turns out that this version of the guessing game isn’t that well known. Only some fellow Dutch persons knew the game but not all. And all my foreign contacts didn’t know it.
The closest I got to something similar was the Ellen Degeneres game Heads Up that is now integrated in the app Houseparty. It’s similar, and also fun, but not the same.
Well, that leaves me no choice now doesn’t it? I’ll just have to go and try to build it myself 😁
I went into Notion immediately and started writing down every thought I had about it.
I knew I should be able to build this myself with web technologies. I’ve already seen some video chat apps out there I know are build with WebRTC, which allows you to request access to the visitors microphone and camera from the browser. I’ve never really worked with it before, but a quick search on the topic actually makes me feel confident I can do this. Which isn’t really a feeling I get when thinking of stuff to build. And if I’m correct there also isn’t that much stuff I need to store in a database either. Perhaps some information about the session (the game room) while they’re playing, but I think I can simply remove all information from the database once the session is over. This should keep my database lightweight and low in costs.
I wrote down the gameplay. How somebody would start a “game room” where others can join. How the sharing of names might go and how there might be controls during gameplay to highlight the player whose turn it is and to pass on a turn. The role of the person that started the game and the controls they would have as “game master”. And of course what the interaction might be when a player guesses their character and gets to look at the paper on their forehead.
I also wrote a section about how I want the application as accessible as possible. This could very well be my first opportunity to take accessibility into account at the start of a project.
I already know I want the app playful with bold letters and bright colors where needed. My main focus is to make it as frictionless as possible. Just a single click from the main page to start a game room. A simple link to share with everybody. No fuzz and no asking for names. Nothing that isn’t essential to the functioning of the game and that would withhold the player from doing what their initial goal is: playing a round of Who Am I. I won’t be asking for email addresses or real names, they are not needed to start playing the game.
All in all, I think this is something I really want to pursuit. I don’t think it will be something that is going to generate any revenue. If I will break even that would be nice. But more important is that it will be really fun to build and a great learning experience. It will stretch my development, design and interaction skills. I already told several people of my idea and the responses have been positive and encouraging.
I intend to write more of these posts. I think it might be fun to be able to reflect on this later and see how the project came to life. And thinking somebody might read this and be curious about the project will be a stick behind the door and perhaps keep me motivated in seeing it through and actually finishing and launching it.
Writing about it will also keep me thinking. Having things down on (virtual) paper will make it more clear for myself and easier to assess and think of different or possible better solutions.
So check back later for a post with some initial designs and I’ve been toying with some face tracking API’s for perhaps an Augmented Reality touch to the game so I might share some of my findings.
Feel free to reach out with comments or suggestions. I’m open to ideas and other input 😊