Troubleshooting from the Hip: Holepatching and Edgecrafting programs

Turn your good games into AMAZING games.

By Thomas Cox and Matthew Malecha from Trailhead Games

The concept of brainstorming is probably familiar to most of you, and is a very popular tool for generating ideas. If you’re not familiar with it, check this out.

We believe that creating a great game involves four phases:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Development
  3. Holepatching
  4. Edgecrafting

This post is focused on Holepatching and Edgecrafting, as we will cover the other topics in separate blog posts.

Phase 3 - Holepatching

We use the term “holepatching” to refer to the phase of game development where you address parts of your game that obviously aren’t working. Your game might be too easy, or absurdly hard, or a logistical nightmare, and some elements might need to be drastically (or simply) changed in order for the game to function as it was originally envisioned.

Holepatching is critical to the success and overall enjoyment of a game, and developing your skills in identifying “holes” and how to “patch” them is vital.

Holepatching is intentional troubleshooting, and is a process that is supported by a thorough Knowledge Management process (For more on Knowledge Management see our related blog post).

Some Holepatching examples we’ve experienced:

GAME

HOLE

PATCH

Robot Apocalypse Y3K

Dodgeballs took too long to retrieve after being thrown

Tied the rope/string to the ball so it would be more like a ball/chain

Around The World

Far too difficult to score a goal at the Ice Hockey station

Replace the small toy goals with a large tarp hung behind the goalkeeper

Giants, Wizards, Elves

Strength tester station requires materials that are too expensive

Change the station from a strength test to a hammer toss

Windrunner

Scattering and collecting hundreds of resources took way too long

Introduced a lanyard system to keep track of resource collection

So how can you be guided in holepatching? Ask yourself the questions:

  1. What isn’t working? (understand the dynamics at play)
  2. What’s the intention of the piece of this game that isn’t working? (understand why that dynamic is in that piece)
  3. How can it better meet its intention?
    1. Can I change something physical? (ex. Tie dodgeballs to string)
    2. Can I change a rule/objective? (ex. 5 points to upgrade rather than 3)
    3. Can I change a character? (ex. Have 2 extra Sharks chasing campers)

Some really common large group game errors:

  • Players don’t have a clear understanding of what strategy will lead them to being successful
  • Rules aren’t clear or are different across different documents
  • Changes from the last time it ran haven’t been communicated to all staff, so some staff are still explaining the game with the outdated rules
  • Games don’t have different components so skilled players dominate easily
  • Physical layout of game space leads to choke points or favors one team
  • Too many rules or rules too long that players don’t absorb all the information
  • Players can’t see the point of what they’re doing (especially in station games). The stakes are too low

Phase 4 - Edgecrafting

Once the holes in your game are patched, and the mechanics are functional you’ll have a playable, and hopefully good, game on your hands.

What we want to draw attention to is the process of “edgecrafting”, which might not be as familiar to you. Edgecrafting is what takes games from good to great. Edgecrafting is a different, but related, skillset and has a simple focus: what can make this idea even better?

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Edgecrafting is about not settling for “good enough”, and really pushing yourself or your team to achieve the best possible outcome. It’s like Homer Simpson saying “bring us your finest food stuffed with your second finest food”. It stacks magic on top of magic.

Edgecrafting questions look like:

  • What would make this game ‘even better’ / ‘an all-time favorite’ / ‘Next level’?
  • What can we add to this game?
  • What would an unexpected twist be?
  • What game mechanic or feature could we streamline or improve?
  • What would happen if we mixed this game with… (capture the flag, water, larp swords, a musical…)
  • What would happen if we introduced… (dodgeballs, flag elements, zombies, another team, a new character…)

Edgecrafting examples in our games:

  • Capture The Flag - introducing a storyline such as 4-way Harry Potter themed Capture the Flag added a powerful new story element that connected the campers to the game. Another CTF example would be for a highly competitive and highly skilled group, change the rules from tagging to having to pull someone’s flag from a lifebelt.
  • In Element Zero we layered magic upon magic to the classic camper favorite of fishy fishy to give it new strategic, storyline, and physical goals.
  • In The Incredible Adventures of Flute McGinley we decided that adding in a promotion system to recognise individual performance would add a very engaging element for campers in what is otherwise a cooperative game.
  • For Robot Apocalypse: Y3K our Gamemaster bought a Rock’em Sock’em robot costume to add nostalgia and humour to the game. Upon seeing the costume a new character was created called Optomatron who became the arch-villain’s greatest rival and a sub-plot was introduced to the game that saw Optomatron and Rage Zero have a public face-off.
  • Similarly, in Law And Order, a game about police and criminals, we decided after playing it once to add the character of Tommy Two Ties, a hidden mob boss who offers players secret missions to complete for rewards.

Simple edgecrafting tips and fixes:

  • Characters (especially funny ones) go a long way to making a game more memorable
  • Keep rules to a minimum
  • Go the extra mile for costumes and props to create an atmospheric setting appropriate to the game
  • Kids love the capacity to “level up”. Consider offering rewards for completing objectives or challenges

Speaking from our own experience, holepatching and edgecrafting have been instrumental in turning our games from good to great, and the ideas and improvements introduced in those phases have resulted in some of the most memorable characters and game mechanics we have ever created.

To learn more about any of these concepts or if you’re interested in discussing how they apply to your games, contact us at basecamp@trailheadgame.com.