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Distilling the game (part 2)

It all starts with an idea (see part 1). So you've got an idea, great! What's next? I said last time that the next step was figuring out the gameplay, but that's not quite true.

The next step should be to follow that first idea. Then brainstorm. Ideate and follow through again.

Set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard or thumb to recorder and let the thoughts flow. Just brain dump on that idea and see where it takes you. It may take you to another idea. Brain dump on that and wash, rinse, repeat.

Honestly, you may find very quickly that there's nothing there. Well, not *nothing* but certainly not what you thought it was . Alternatively, it may take days of processing and writing to get all the ideas out.

And those ideas sometimes come in the form of visuals, so sketch them out. Don't dismiss anything at this point because you may never get those thoughts back. Put them down. You may think the idea is too daft for the game at hand, but you never know, it may be just the component it needs, or it may be the kickstart to a whole other game concept.

This is the most creative phase, where it just raw ideas spewing forth from your mind to the page.

Sometimes you may have what seems like the whole thing in your head and once you get it out, it's like trying to recall a dream. The more you write the fuzzier things become. Don't get too lost in thought, don't strain so hard to regain it.

This sort of info dump is pretty useful for any creative endeavour, with the same benefit that you have your ideas down, together, in one place (hopefully) that you can go back to.


With my dice-based multi-player superhero game referred to in part 1, I didn't really do that at first. I held it in my head. I didn't try fleshing it out on paper, I didn't want to commit to anything. I would make some notes, but I didn't make notes for everything. So when I go back and look at my journals, I have mostly a series of disconnected fragments of the game. That and my "journals" span at least three different physical books, one phone, and some rando scraps of paper.

You think, at the time of creation, that this game is so personal to you, that it is such a spawn of your own mind that you will never forget all the nuances of it. But you will. There are games that you love, that you play over and over again, and yet you still need to brush up on the rules every time you play it. What makes you think the game you create is going to be any different. When you're creating, your ideas can take off on tangents, sometimes related, sometimes not, but if you don't capture them, they will be forgotten.


Notes on Note II

​​The first page of notes I have for my superhero game was written on my Samsung Note II, and started with workshopping a name (and how to properly spell/capitalize/punctuate it) followed by figuring out who all the player characters are. Those were just a series of analogs to Marvel and DC characters. And then the info-dump of all the thoughts I had in as organized a fashion as possible. (In the above picture that's the first four pages). After laying just those basics down I got to work on testing out some of the mechanisms I had thought of.

I'll get into that gameplay creative step next time, but the simple act of even testing any aspect out often winds up spurring on even more thoughts, which you should record immediately (stop your testing). ---

Tips Tip 1 last time, was "keep a game design journal. One journal. All your ideas go into one place."

I cannot stress how crucial this is.

It's maddening knowing you've laid an idea down somewhere and cannot locate it. Storing these things in technology is fine, but make sure that the information is accessible even after the base technology is gone. Cloud-based services were just coming into mainstream when I ditched my Samsung Note II for a Galaxy S6, but the S-Notes tool, which I used a lot, didn't get migrated. If my note were a brick today, most of my thoughts and gameplay on this old game of mine would pretty much be gone too. I have a loose prototype of the game kicking around in my design bin but the rules of play are all in my various notes.

When in idea stage, I would say keep all your notes for all your games in one book, with clearly defined headers to denote which game the note is for. Once you're in your refinement stage, then go digital.

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