How to Build a Game #25 What Makes Your Game Special?

What makes your game different?

When you are building your games, designers need to think about what makes their games different. It could be anything, it could be the art, a neat twist on a mechanic or theme. Even though there are the tens of thousands of games out there, there is still a lot of room within a game’s design to give it something different.

Keeping in mind what makes your game different as you design the game will help you to highlight that element as you construct the rest of the game’s mechanics. Think about the rest of your game acting as a funnel to bring your players back to the unique elements of your game.

When you build your game in this frame of mind, you can use a lot of common mechanics and themes because the focus will be on the one element that is really interesting. This is really important because while we have a lot of tools to work with in the game design world, we still need to come up with ways to make them interesting to our players. If you use the common elements of the game world to funnel gamers to your unique take on a theme or mechanic you will bring familiarity to your games with a spice of your design style.

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #24 Another Fix If You’re Stuck

There are times when you are stuck in the design process and you can’t work your way out of the problem. Maybe the theme is getting in the way or the mechanics you are using might be slightly off from what you want to accomplish.

Try removing the restraints of the theme and work the problem in a free environment. Let me use an example to demonstrate what I mean. We had an auction mechanic where we could not get the full mechanic to fit inside our theme which was a real world theme based on the stock market. We stopped thinking about the theme and we instead looked at the motivations of the mechanics. We spent 2 hours talking about this problem and our solution ended up being to change the theme entirely. Most of the time was spent trying to think about a theme that would work with all the parts of the auction. This might be why we normally start with mechanics!However, the time we spent working out the auction/theme problem in an environment free of the original thematic restraints (stock market) we were able to re-theme the game and build the rst of the mechanics into the game that we are very happy with.

You may not have to change your theme, but there are times when the constraints of a theme will be too constricting to your process and you will need to look at the road blocks in a different way. This is a method we use that has worked for us.

Certain themes and mechanics will lend themselves to this kind of solution. The more robust theme or simple the mechanic, the more wiggle room you will have because robust themes offer more options to play with and simple mechanics can be easily substituted.

Designing and building a game can cause us to get tunnel vision from time to time and sometimes the solution is to take a step back and work the problem in a different way.

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

Find us on Twitter (Follow Us!) and Facebook (Like Us!)

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #23 How often should you Brainstorm?

Every. Single. Day.

Well, if you can, but really you should brainstorm as often as you can and you should challenge yourself to think of at least one new idea everyday.

Even if you are not able to think of a new idea on a daily basis, you should put your brain in a creative state of mind for the sake of idea generation. What I like about this exercise is that you can steal minutes from your day. I like to do this when I am driving to work (90 min of driving a day) and on the weekends when I running errands with my wife. When I’m in the car, I have my phone at the ready with the voice note app at the ready. When I’m out and about, I have a dollar store mini notebook with a small pen in my pocket. Even during the weekend I carry my notebook around so I can jot down my ideas as they come to me.

The ideas don’t need to be any good, the point is to put your brain in a place where you are creating in your head. Over the course of time you will find that the ideas will flow easier, the ideas will improve and the times when you sit with a co-designer or yourself to brainstorm some “real ideas” you will be able to generate more and better ideas for future projects.

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

Find us on Twitter (Follow Us!) and Facebook (Like Us!)

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #22 Dissect Your Process to Make it Better

Making Game Design More Than a Hobby

If you want to make game design more than a hobby and try to make it a living, or a hobby that pays  on a “part-time” basis, you are going to have to maximize your time. If you want to go pure game design, become a self publisher or become a publishing company yourself, you are going to have to look at your process and figure out how to improve each step on the path that is game development. One of the main reasons, in our experience, that makes game design take so long are the time sinks between play testing, making changes, and getting more play testing done. Another time sink for us is getting ourselves to a point where we are working on our projects on a daily basis. It has taken me a couple months to get accustomed to working on all the things we work on that are game related. This really does become a part time/full time job and there is a major adjustment period, if you have a day job and the regular things of life going on while you are trying to create and develop your games. Another major time sink is the artwork. There is a lot of back and forth with your artist about what you want and what your artist can produce.

The overall point is, designers need to spend time looking at their entire process for creating and developing their games. Dissect your process and figure out how to make your process more efficient and how to run parts of the process in parallel with multiple games. Making a living with design is really difficult and dissecting and making your process as good as it can be will be crucial to your ability to make game design more of a hobby.

Disclaimer: I am no expert and we are not at a point as a company where we are able to leave our day jobs and do this creative venture for a living. However, the time we spend learning the industry and watching what other publishers and designers do to make a living at this has given us a good idea of what is required. What I am posting about here is what Aidan and I have identified as areas we need to target to make this dream of making games for a living a reality. Also, this is by no means a complete list, these are the parts of the process I have something to talk about.

Idea Conception

Generating ideas is easy, it doesn’t take a lot of time and can be done with little material requirement. What we do to make this better is to keep an active list of current projects and potential projects. When we hold a brainstorming session we will write down each unique idea on a large index card and add it to “the stack”. We will then keep the stack in order of active games first, then potential projects in order of how much we like the idea or how much potential we think the idea has. When we get to a point where all of our current projects are in a holding pattern (for whatever reason) we will refer to the stack of ideas and jump into the next game project.

Basic Framework of Rules

In the very early development of a game, we will be working on the initial framework of the game and the first iteration of the rules. We have found the best way to do this is to think of the rules as hand written bullet points. We never found a good reason to make a full rule book at this point in the games development because the rules will change after the first playtests and since you will be guiding your alpha testers through the first few tests, they will look to you to be their rule book. So really what we need for rules are bullet point reference rules just to get us through alpha tests. We have never had a need to take the time to write out a full rule set, the rules will change anyway.

Build an Alpha Prototype

This may or may not be a time sink, depending on how you go about building your first proto. If you want this part of the process to flow as well as possible, you need to have the absolute basics of prototypes on hand. Index cards, basic set of dice, some different kind of pieces and a pair of scissors. Building your proto to be as functional as possible is the best way we have found to make the best use of this time. During our alpha tests we make lots of changes on the fly, we will add and subtract cards on the fly. The point is that you should only put in the build time to make your alpha proto with the basics of the game so that you can get the concept in front of your alpha testers

Alpha Testing

Here is your first major challenge and I don’t really have an answer for you because it depends on your unique situation. Alpha testing requires you to get people together, that takes time. Alpha testing requires you to test your game on more than just one or two occasions, that takes time and coordination. Getting people together when you hit a certain age is a challenge. People have lives and finding enough people that are willing to play the same index card and Lego piece protos 5 to 10 times is a challenge. You will need to find a way to get a dependable group of alpha testers. The way we got around this problem is part of two different solutions. We co-design everything and we “employ” our high school and college buddies to get together once or twice a month to test our alpha games. Co-designing allows us run tests between the two of us if the game allows. However, if we have a game that requires more than 2 players, normally an auction game, we have a semi regular get together with our buddies and they are all willing to play our alpha protos. We are lucky that we have them as a solution to this potential time problem.

I wish I had a concrete example for everyone to follow but there are so many individual cases out there that you will just have to think about the best way to get a group of people together who are willing to play the same early development games many times and on a regular basis.

Build a Nicer Prototype

Now that the earliest tests are done, use the feedback to make a finished beta prototype. Same as the alpha, this may or may not be a time sink. I think you can make the beta out of basic components that perform the functions required, regardless of how they look. Pieces should be as uniform as possible but if you want to use yellow legos to represent your spaceships, go nuts. The best way to save yourself time here is to have pieces on hand that you can use to build beta prototypes. I plan to cover the contents of a good prototype at a later date but for the sake of this post, you should have those materials on hand to save yourself the most time.

Beta Test in the Open

Now that you have your beta ready to go, who are your beta testers and how well can you leverage their time to test your games? We use the approach of going to our FLGS and looking for people who would like to test our game. Over the course of time we have been able to build a small group of people who like our games and are always willing to give them a test. In the case you don’t have an FLGS nearby, look to find testers from the friends of your friends, the people you work with or your friends at/from school. Similar to alpha testing, this is really a case by case problem and however you can develop a network of play testers is the best way that you can save time.

One nice little tip I can give you, use beta testers to test sections of your games, if they are willing. I would give them one full play before I dropped sections of a game on on them, but section testing can be more efficient if there are areas of the game that need specific testing.

Full Blown Testing

Having written a relative novel up to this point, let me just wrap up testing as the most time consuming part of the game design process. The best solution to this problem is to develop a playtester network. What we have done to develop our network is to join the Indie Game Alliance, they have a play tester service. We have developed our own local playtesters. While it is not that easy to get them together on a regular basis, we still have the beginnings of a group of people who want to test our games for us. Another time saver is to find the local cons in your areas, and by area I mean within 6 hours driving distance. Go to the open play areas and guerrilla test your games. Finding play testers is about getting to know people and making friends and connections in the hobby so you can have a ready supply of people who are willing to test your games.

Marketing

This is my view on the time it takes to get marketing done. The more time you spend on marketing, the more you will get out of it in the long run. Marketing is a time sink because you should be working on marketing on a daily basis. The best way to save time on this is to practice and get better at it. Figure out what marketing strategies will have the most reach for the least amount of time spent. We write a blog, have started a podcast (release date yet unknown), we are active on twitter everyday, we go to our local meetup groups and FLGS. While I have been saying that you should figure out ways to save time and make the process as efficient as possible, this is where I tell you to make the time, but also figure out how to have the biggest reach for the least amount of time spent.

Artwork

This is a tough one because there is no easy way to speed this process up. There is a lot of back and forth between you and the artist. It just takes time, but the nice thing about art is that you can develop artwork in parallel with the rest of your project. Have a clear idea of what you want from your artist and learn how to communicate what you want, as close to what you want so that your artist can more easily create what you are looking for.

The End

I had more of a list to blab about but his post has gone on long enough. There should be enough here for you to get a start on dissecting and figuring how to make your process as successful as possible.

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

Find us on Twitter (Follow Us!) and Facebook (Like Us!)

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

What has TGIK Games been up to? #10

Update of Current Games

I think the big news for us is that we are going to attend UnPubMini in San Diego, Nov 15th. We will be taking Charge! and Priests of Olympus with us. We are looking forward to meeting new people and getting to play our games at an unpub event for the first time.

Soccer GM

We did not have a chance to work on Soccer GM this weekend. Aidan is the lead for Soccer GM so he may have put some work into Soccer GM during the week. I think we are at a point were we need to run two or three more test between the two of us and we need to make an alpha board and we will be ready to test with real live people!

Arrrsteroid Miners

I didn’t get a chance to look at this project this week.

Charge!

We have ordered new decks for the upcoming UnPub event in San Diego. We have some promotional material to work on over the next week or two and we we need to keep plugging away on the rules.

Dice Inc. / Priests of Olympus

Priests of Olympus will be making its first public appearance at UnPubMini in San Diego. We have the prototypes made already and we need to make a nice place holder art version of the prototype so we can get some people to sit down at our table.

Line Drive

In the interested of moving stranded projects along, we have made a board for Line Drive, our baseball game. Since we were done with the rules and ready to test, it made more sense to have a board for the game, so we made one, and now we are going to test it. No time like the present.

The Flicked Element

The Flicked Element is a dexterity game we whipped up months ago, tested it with some friends and it worked really well. The problem has always been the board we used was a piece of poster board, which is tough to transport, and we could never find a reasonably sized substitute for the board. We ended up finding a precut presentation foam core board that folds up and lied flat. There is a small issue with a warp in the board but I think we can fix it with some time and some weights. As soon as that is fixed (as much as it can be) we are going to test the game.

Testing

Looks like we have a lot of testing ahead of us. I am really looking forward to it since it would be nice to have a “portfolio” of options to test with people at our FLGS and the 2-3 game groups we game with during the month.

Podcast

Jon from Sarcastic Robot and myself have recorded the first pilot test episode. It is now on me to get the editing done and out to our test listeners so they can give us some initial feedback.

If you would like to listen to our pilot episode, please email me at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com. The Podcast will be a 15-20 minute microcast focused on the design side of board games. We want to provide a window into the world of design while exploring the use of design concepts and ideas.

Side Projects 

Chris

This is a bit long term-ish idea but I really like the watch it played speed play of Five Tribes. I talked to Aidan about the idea of doing something similar with our own twist. Do you think that is something you would watch? If you knew all the information at the table, would it be fun to watch the players in the game make bad guesses or errors in judgement? Tell me what you think, I am really excited about the possibilities of doing this project and would like some initial thoughts.

Aidan

He is a busy man, I can’t keep up with his schedule!

TGIK Games

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

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How to Build a Game #21 A Different Way to Playtest

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not sure if this is common among designers, but it is a technique I use to make our games so here goes….

Since getting together to playtest our games can be a challenge, I like to run thought experiments as playtests for our games. I use them as a way to test the min/max strategies players like to use to break games. I will give one “player” a powerful position in the game and I will think about the ways other players can either bring them down from the position or build themselves up to match their position. Another procedure I will think my way through is strategy and how to implement those strategies. I like using this method to find out if the game can reasonably build different paths to victory, or not even victory, can a player try a different strategy and gather the required cards/resources/allies to complete their strategy.

While there is no way to test for all the different ways players find to “stress” the game, using some thought experiment is a good way to quickly run though various scenarios when you are working on the game yourself.

Find us on Twitter (Follow Us!) and Facebook (Like Us!)

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #20 Give Yourself a Challenge

If you are like me (and I think most designers), you have multiple projects going on at one time. In my experience, I get temporarily burnt out on a project and I need to move on to something else for a little while. If I feel really unproductive I will come up with a challenge for myself. I find that these little challenges are good for keeping my head in the game, HEYO!, but giving my brain a break from the grind that can be design. Sometimes I use these challenges as a way to close out the day and sometime I use them as a transition from one project to another.

Example Challenges:

  • Start with 10 standard themes with each theme, add 3 “tweaks” of your own to each
  • Set yourself a list of limits and build a game around them
  • Pick a specific action and use 5 different mechanics to accomplish said action, or as close as possible
  • Pick a theme and brainstorm 4-5 different, what I will call, game seeds from that theme

I never look at these challenges as a way to accomplish anything other than exercising my designer brain with what I consider “light lifting”. I say that because I am not trying to accomplish anything specific. However, that does not mean that I come away from these challenges with no good material.

So think about setting some challenges for yourself when you have the time and see what it does for you. You could come away with new ideas, full games, or just get a break from the design grind.

Find us on Twitter (Follow Us!) and Facebook (Like Us!)

If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.