Results from Game Design Challenge: The Crate

By staff [07.08.08]

 In a recent game design challenge you were asked to come up with 10 ideas for a new crate object in a video game, only you had almost no information about what the game would be.

Though seemingly simple, this challenge asked you to take on a lot. Let's consider for a moment, piece-by-piece, all the things that made up this challenge:

  1. You had to consider what might happen when you're trying to network with professional developers and they tell you "I'm under NDA." How can you continue the conversation in a way that you can both participate in and that's still useful to you?
  2. Having only one idea is more often than not insufficient when designing games. You have to be ready to dig up 10, 20, or 50 ideas quickly and still be prepared for none of them to stick.
  3. When working on a team, for a publisher's approval, or for a mass consumer audience, one of the tricks to being a creative thinker is being able to come up with a wide variety of ideas, not all of will suit your personal taste, but ones that others will find appealing.
  4. There are many hackneyed objects, actions, and characters in video games. On one hand, wouldn't it be nice to do away with them in favor of something totally new? On the other hand, they are time-tested, so players know what to expect of them. When thinking up a new idea for a "crate," is it better to reinvent what it does or simply reskin how it looks?

Who knew there was such a demand for crates made out of corpses? I certainly would have never guessed that.

Crates made out of bones were equally popular. Here are some other ideas that recurred over several submissions:

I think this has been said before, but it's worth repeating. When we come up with these challenges, we have no idea how you will solve them. We don't have a predisposed idea of what the winning submissions should be.

In this challenge -- and as you noted on the forum -- we would have to reconsider how to choose the three winners. Should the winners be the people with the three best lists? Or should the winners be the people who had, somewhere in their list of 10, the three most inventive and usable solutions? Or is there yet another way to choose the best submissions?

Going into the challenge, we had no idea how we would pick the winners. We figured we would have to wait and see how you solved the challenge first. The fact of the matter is, there were so many great submissions that instead of calling out three winners, we've decided to highlight the best of the bunch and look at how different people interpreted the same idea. The real "challenge" of this challenge was to think through all the problems above, and everyone succeeded in doing that, so it's probably more insightful (and entertaining) to look at the best of the bunch, collectively, which in a few cases, will let us see how different people interpreted the same idea.

We also have to give a walloping word of gratitude to the artists who sketched their ideas: Marcela Roberts (see page 4), John Pile Jr. (see page 5), Matthew Leach (see page 6), Max Michaud-Shields (see page 7), and Sharon Hoosein (see page 8).

1. Magnetic or Polarized Crate

Evan VanScoyk, McKendree University, computer science: "A magnetic, lightweight, synthetic metal box that will attach itself to other similar boxes for stacking and the lightweight material makes movement easy."

Joel M. Viernes, Hawaii Community College Hilo: "Depending on which polarity, crates will attract or push away other objects. Connect multiple crates to create bridges, stairs, and walls. Make a stack of two crates then change the polarity of one of them to make an elevator."

2. Teleporter or Portal-Opening Crate
Steven An, Cornell University, PhD student in computer graphics: "Pairs of crates that can teleport items from one crate to the other. Could be used for simple Portal-like puzzles...or teleporting bombs."

Brendan Ke, Nanyang Technological University: "Essentially portal boxes are used for cover and concealment during firefights. Instead of blocking bullets and photon beams, there projectiles pass through the portal boxes and are ported to the exit port which is predetermined by user. So in actual fact it's possible that the enemy projectiles hit the portal boxes can be ported back towards them."

Luca Breda: "Every crate represents a particular place. The player can break off a crate and rebuild it standing inside, to make the jump. The parts of the crates are modular so you can build a bigger crate breaking more smaller ones."

Max Michaud-Shields: "Makes use of parallel dimensions to store an infinite quantity of materiel and even living creatures. Could be used to 'teleport' in reinforcements that have been 'stored' inside."

Alvaro Victor Cavalcanti, software engineer at CESAR:
"A rectangular metal-box with two luminescent faces, one is for entering and the other one is for exiting. But these actions never take place on the same box, for when entering into a given kiosk one will exit in another box. When hit by a shot or blast, the kiosk will rotate on its y axis, changing the position of its faces."

Derek Adams, Iowa State University:
"A computerized platform, the top shimmers with energy. Objects placed on the it are teleported to a secure location, code entry on the side keypad will retrieve the item(s)."

Peter Fung, Toronto, perspective student:
"Players manually switch the functions of the box, if the box is used for anything other than storage, it turns gray and can't be used further. Storage mode: Interspacial storage by allowing players put items into it and take out items from another box. IN mode: Sucks in anything on the concave surface of the cube. The items stay in for the duration of the stage until released. Out mode: Eject anything that was sucked in the any of the IN mode boxes. These can be used in puzzles, platform (Portals), FPS/third-person (used as traps) and co-op games. Inspiration: Portals."

John Dambrós Dezanet, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil: "A small rift in space-time that teleports the player to a dome in which he/she must overcome a challenge, the player cannot die in the dome but can quit at any time. Once the challenge is completed the rift will vanish and the player will be able to access whatever the rift was protecting/blocking."

3. Sticky Crate
Steven An, Cornell University, PhD student in computer graphics: "Can hold something inside (like, a bomb), and sticks to most surfaces. Can also be used as improvised stairs to climb walls, like grenade-climbing in Deus Ex."

Mollie Harms, International Academy of Design and Technology, Detroit: "Stick them to walls, enemies, and the player -- unless they have special equipment of course."

David G. Saunders, prospective student of The Guildhall at SMU: "These jackstone-shaped objects connect end-on-end, letting the creative player create anything from a box to a ladder. Once stuck together, they cannot be unstuck. (Possibly use static meshes to reduce poly count? Not sure if that would work.)"

Adam Galarneau, programmer at CAE Inc., MTL: "Sticky gum: 1 gum wouldn't be enough but if you have enough, you put them together and it forms a crate-like object that sticks to other ‘blocks' or walls (not necessarily on the floor)."

4. Chairs
John Pile Jr., University of Abertay Dundee, MSc student in computer games technology: "Chairs (square, cylindrical, triangular, etc) In real life, furniture is often used for reaching hard to get at items. Chairs are also normally found in almost any room, so it would be appropriate to have them scattered through-out levels. A stackable design could easily be made to fit a sci-fi theme." (See image, page 4.)

Cary Chichester, Georgia Institute of Technology, computational media: "I always use a chair to reach heights in the real world."

5. Cage
(we did not include here "cages" made out of bones or carcasses, as those seemed to fall into a separate category)

Jenna Hoffstein, designer and research coordinator:
"Cages around tears in the space/time fabric -- created by messing around with time travel, can be busted apart and used on enemies."

Jaime Kuroiwa, QA test lead: "Sci-fi ‘cages' with alien inhabitants that react when approached or interacted with. Imagine the ‘facehugger in a jar' scene in Aliens."

Vlad Postolache, Camberwell High School, year 12:
"Solid cage with warning labels, small overly aggressive but otherwise harmless creature pops out when destroyed (pet or reward for setting it free)."

Kevin Trepanier, freelance Flash developer and teacher in UQAT, Québec: "These too could come in many sizes and style. Empty, opened, clean, bloody, with small or large bars. What would you feel like encountering a huge empty cage with thick, bent bars stained with blood? Pretty scary. Cages have the extra advantage of letting the player see through it to reveal cues or inaccessible passages."

6. Camouflage Crate

Brendan Ke, Nanyang Technological University: "Adaptive camouflage boxes: These boxes are hidden pillboxes for sentry defense. The pillboxes are camouflaged with the environment; furthermore the camouflage is customizable according to the environment. It's invisible to the naked eye making it ideal concealment for defense sentries."

Peter Fung, Toronto, prospective student:
"Mimicry Crate. In game appearance: Mimics an appropriate environmental item. When not in use, it's just a metal disc similar to a large DVD. Function: Mimics the appearance of an environmental item the player has previously scanned. Unlike the original items it mimics, it have no properties as it's just a hollow husk. However, it can serve as a camo for explosive or detection device. Can be used in a wide variety of genres due to its mimicry nature. Inspiration: Changelings (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)."

Evan VanScoyk, McKendree University, computer science:
"With the front, sides, and top designed as a terrain/environment this can be used to store items in secret or conceal your position. Provides excellent protection, can be climbed and is immovable."

7. Imploding Crate
Sina Jafarzadeh Technical University of Dresden, Germany, media and computer science: "A very fast to use box-like storage device! Just place the items you want to store near the box and push the button on the remote control. Of course it also can be moved via remote control and the software can be hacked, so that you can actually pull in big things. Of course we don't suggest enemy in the box, do we?"

8. Hologram
Marco Roy, software engineering, École de technologie supérieure (ETS), Montreal: "These crates have the ability to display a hologram for many purposes like information, video calls, maps, etc. They can also be used as a datacenter, to download and upload information."

Sina Jafarzadeh Technical University of Dresden, Germany, media and computer science: "Ad-in-the-box, a popular device used for presenting advertisement in holographic form. The advertisement will be shown over the box. Of course it can be hacked to show other kind of messages.

"Or a holoblock: This device is used for decorative purposes. Untidy places can be cloaked by the holographic facets of the block. Of course anything else can be cloaked, too. Somehow robots perceive holoblocks as a real obstacle, so artful persons will use that for their advantage."

Jacob Crane, Icarus Studios: "Self projecting holographic carrier box: This line of crate is designed for the person who wants to keep their product a secret and easily identifiable. The outside of the box is a complete hologram, but the person transporting your goods won't know that. It's easy to set up. This product is also good if you want to advertise while you ship."

Brendan Ke, Nanyang Technological University:
"Hologram projection image post: During peacetime, its usages are for advertising, online conferencing and even classroom lessons are conducted via hologram interface. However during wartime, hologram projection posts that are littered across the streets will project images of soldiers, to confuse the enemy. Soldiers can use the projections as cover."

Louis Fontaine, University of Amsterdam, MSc AI student:
"Crates are projected by tiny projectors contained in the 'crate' itself (i.e., a projector lying on the ground, between the other contents). Penetrating the crate-sides will disturb the holographic projection and reveal the deception."

Matt Roberts, The Guildhall at SMU, level design student: "A placed hologram of, say, an enemy-type. It adds a psychological element of cost-benefit thinking to progressing through the game, you know, because you see a guard but really it's an illusion disguising some valued resources, or hiding a control panel or something. The player could set up distractions with it."

9. Wheels
Matthew Leach, Napier University, Edinburgh, PhD graduate: "Stackable wheels: Suitable for environments where resources would be mobile; e.g. industrial complex, space port, etc." (See image, page 6.)

Kevin Trepanier, freelance Flash developer and teacher in UQAT, Québec: "The huge wheels of a gigantic vehicle: These can come in various size and designs, can be stacked on the side or put up. A wheel could be half resting on the ground and half on another wheel in order to create a climbing ramp."

10. Audio speakers
Jaime Kuroiwa, QA test lead: "Just 'cause it's the future don't mean they can't ROCK!"

Art by Marcela Roberts, Westwood College Online graduate, 2D/3D artist

Art by John Pile Jr., University of Abertay Dundee, MSc student in computer games technology

Sketches by Matthew Leach

Art by Max Michaud-Shields


Art by Sharon Hoosein, Carnegie Mellon University

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