Distilling the game (part 1)
Here begins a series of posts about game design. The highs and lows, the tedium and euphoria, the brains and the brawn of it all. This is how a game gets made The Game Distillery way, which probably isn't that far off from
IT ALL STARTS WITH AN IDEA
It truly is as simple as that. And an idea can be anything. It can be a theme. It can be a game mechanic. It can be a name. It can be a concept. It can be anything that inspires you to work on making it into the best game it can possibly be.
Most of my game ideas come to me either half-baked in the middle of the night, where I wind up waking up, thinking and processing then getting out of bed and writing it all down on whatever paper is handy.
Sometimes though, it's a bit more calculated than that.
For example, a few years before I started working with Andy and Dale on The Game Distillery projects, I was going it alone with an idea for a diced-based superhero game. That was all I had. It was what I wanted. I wanted dice, and superheroes. Hell, that's still all I want in life is dice and superheroes. I love dice. I love superheroes. (DiceMasters wasn't around yet, but even once it came around, it tried to scratch that itch and failed).
At the time I was playing a lot of board games with a large friend group... a group that could be anywhere from 3-8 people in a given night. (It *was* an RPG group that moved to boardgaming due to the inconsistency of people's schedules). There weren't many games that could accommodate that many players that weren't "party games". Party games are fine, but we were all fairly serious, competitive players and party games weren't really tickling the id of the group.
So I started working the idea of a dice-based superhero game that could work with up to 8 people.
But thinking about the needs of a game that would service this large a group... it would have to be something with either very little downtime between player turns or... something that had everyone playing at the same time.
This is a big part of designing, which is identifying a need, even if it's your own, and seeing if you can satisfy that need. Dice. Superheroes. Large number of players. Little downtime. How would that work? And how does that work thematically.
Likewise, more than a few members of our group weren't the most fond of combative games, or games where you're actively screwing other players over. So something that's semi-cooperative or at least not offensively competitive.
I also started to like the idea of "upgrading" or "evolving" your dice, starting with a set of D4s and earning rewards that will allow you to upgrade to D6s or D10s. So I had to figure out the gameplay for all of this.
But that's the next step.
Because, really, the first step is the idea, and exploring the idea. One idea leads to another, which leads to another, and another, as we see above. The problem is you can pile on too many ideas and face a very difficult hurdle in making all of these ideas work together. But we'll get to that too.
Now, before we get too deep into this, I should be upfront in stating that the above referenced game never got to production, for a number of reasons:
One was that I was too nervous to put it in front of people. Oh, I would talk about it, but I didn't want to show it to anyone and have them play with me. It was my first game and I felt kind of embarrassed by it. That's something else we will talk about.
Two was that it came together and worked as a game when I was test playing it by myself, but I wasn't happy with it. I didn't feel like it was everything it should be, and I couldn't figure out what it was that it should be (that's where One could have helped, I'm sure). It felt basic. But, you know what, games that play that many players tend to be a bit basic. But accepting failure or disappointment is also part of the design process. We'll get to that too.
Three was that I started totally reworking the game into a 2.0 version which was going to make it almost a completely different game that didn't meet a bunch of the criteria I set out above. And when storytelling games like Arkham Horror: The Card Game came out, the entire concept of what I wanted shifted even more. This is yet another thing we'll get to... focus.
The Game Distillery is on a journey, and has been for a few years now. We've made a bunch of mistakes already, and we're still making them. We've also learned a tonne. There are plenty of other blogs out there telling you what to do and how to do it in order to be successful (I've been reading) but that's not what this is. We don't know those things for sure, because we're not successful yet. But in documenting this journey it will help us process those things we know and highlight what we don't, and it may help you on your journey as well.
Here's a tip. Keep a game design journal. One journal. All your ideas go into one place. When that journal is full, find a place to put it where you'll be able to find it again, and get another one. Because I'm looking for my journal right now where I started writing out all my ideas for the above game and I can't find it. And I have no idea which of the many GD books I have those notes are in, or if there even all in the same place.
Tip 2, and this is for myself, get organized. Seriously, man, get your isht together.