How to Build a Game #1 Think Big, Start Small 2.0

If this looks familiar, that’s because it is a post I released 3 years ago! Wow, time flies. My new plan is to go through the old blog and see what I said back then, and apply what I have learned in three years. Keep in mind as you read these posts, these are the kinds of things that I have observed or have worked for me over time. I will be sure to reiterate that as the posts roll on but if you catch this series revisit from the start, keep that in mind.

 “The best place to start is with a small mechanic or interaction with the goal of building out a frame or web of a game that starts with  something small and manageable.”

I still believe in this. I think the goal for a designer that doesn’t know how to get the ball really rolling on a project is to build a frame. The frame can be based anything the designer feels strongly about. Theme, mechanic, intended experience…..all are good places to start. If you are able to build a strong framework, you can build out the rest of the game, even if it is only bits at a time.

“So go ahead, start every idea you have rolling around in your head”

While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think this is practical anymore. I may have also written this as a joke at the time. I think it is a better idea to spend some time thinking about what ten ideas you have floating around are worth going after. Maybe that ten is really only five, but spending some time beforehand thinking about what you feel most strongly and building frameworks to those games is probably a better approach than, “GO NUTS!!!!”

The example game is dead but it still holds

The example in the original post (I will let you scroll down and read that), while it may be a dead idea, the example of how to build a framework still holds. I think this example is a fine showing of how taking a small piece of a concept and “digging”, HEYO!, into the topic allowed me to build a strong frame for the game. When we started adding more parts to the game, did it make sense with the original framework? As the project grows, the framework or original concept of the game can change, and that’s okay, but the framework described in this example was a constant anchor. While the original game idea is dead, the mechanic is still alive and on the list of projects to explore.

Original Post

I have this crazy idea that I can help people build the games they want to build. Coming up with ideas is easy, I think we all have tons of ideas for games we would like to see produced or think of changes to the make to current games we love and changes we would make to garbage games to make them better. House rules would not exist if it were not for the designer in all of us to make changes to games. My goal with this series is to help my fellow designers in the world to see the tools we use to make games and hopefully help make your ideas a reality. Even if that reality is a paper and pencil game you play with just your family and friends, or you are able to publish your game, we want you to at least give it a go because we love the process of design and we want others to experience the joy game creation can be.

Enough preamble, on to the good stuff…

Think Big and Start Small….Where do I start and How do I stay focused?

Over a number of conversations I’ve had with designers, I hear the same think over and over. “I have plenty of ideas but I don’t know where to start and I have too many ideas to focus on one of them.” I feel your pain regarding both of these problems. The best place to start is with a small mechanic or interaction with the goal of building out a frame or web of a game that starts with  something small and manageable. The premise of this approach is by picking something small and completing a basic mechanic, you have started! And that is the point, even if you need to start 10, 20, 40 different game ideas, the point is you have started. So go ahead, start every idea you have rolling around in your head. The hope is that one or two or three will stick and make it to the second step. Maybe you show your friend the game you started and they say, “well I like this idea you have here, tell me more about it?” The next thing you know, you are working on the next piece of this one idea that a friend said looked interesting. By taking this shotgun starting approach, you will see and talk about the ideas that are the most fun to you and your friends and this will help you focus on the ideas that are the best. Depending on the number of ideas you have, finding a final focus point will take an unknown amount of time, but I promise you the cream will rise and the garbage will get chucked.

This completes the lecture portion of our lesson today, now onto our hands on example portion of class.

Think Big

I started with an idea for a space mining game where the asteroids players were mining were falling into a black hole. That was the entire idea.

Start Small

Since I knew players would be mining from an asteroid, I figured I would start there. What makes the most sense? Players will need to find an asteroid they can mine and they will need to set up a mining operation on said asteroids. In order to find asteroids, players will have scout ships and they will be able to upgrade their scout ships to increase their chances of finding a mine-able asteroid. Once players had found a mine-able asteroid, they would need to set up a mining operation. Knowing very little about the mining industry and how it works, I picked two parts of mining I thought made sense and ran with them, Core Samples and Depth of Mining. I figured a mining operation would start with a core sample and based on that core sample, would decide if they wanted to build a mine in that location. The deeper a player mined the higher value minerals would be located, however, mining deeper takes longer and the asteroid is falling into the block hole! Get off this rock!!!!

And that is it. I was done with the start. I took a big idea about space mining and black holes and created a small piece of and connected it to the larger theme. Regardless if the mechanic is good, complete, or reasonable; I can come back to the idea days, weeks, years from now but there is a seed of a game that is waiting to be grown and it can be grown small pieces at a time.

Mars 4:45 Lets Build a Colony

Mars 4:45 Cover Art
Mars 4:45 Cover Art (Click to see Larger Version)

In Mars 4:45 each player is a Mission Director, racing to establish the first colony on the Red Planet. Mission Directors compete to construct all the modules necessary to start a Mars settlement, sourcing as many parts internally as possible to maximize profitability. Mission Directors will need to build Power Modules, Science Modules, Resource Modules and Exploration Modules. If you are a fan of Dutch Blitz, Nertz or Pounce; you will pick this game up very quickly.

We need your help! This will be our first game going to Kickstarter and we need to spread the word. We are looking at a Sept 1st to launch so over the next two months I hope you get to know the theme, art and mechanics of the game.  Please give the rules a read and watch our upcoming tutorial videos. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. We want this game to succeed and we want you to get to know and enjoy this game as much as we do.

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

 

Mars 4:45 The Rules (Update Rules & Video!)

When we started on this design journey, the first game we really developed for a Kickstarter campaign was Charge! and army building card game. That game has been re-themed into Mars 4:45 a Colony building card game. I will write a proper introduction to the game when we are closer to the KS campaign that will include art and diagrams and maybe even some videos of game play. What we have for you today are the rules we finished writing last weekend. I invite you to take a look at the rules and give us your feedback. Give yourself a flavor of what to expect.

A 3-Player example of Mars 4:45

An Example play of a two player game of Mars 4:45

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7WYOLWHtRPpLW1EaHo5d05oTFU/view?usp=sharing

There are pictures and diagrams that need to be added but the entire text of the rule book is there. If you like reading rules or you would like to know more about our first project coming to KS, please take a look and tell us what you think.

retro card design blue-01 retro card design orange-01

I don’t want to show off the fronts of our cards yet, I have some special plans for that art. What I will show you are a couple of the card backs to give you a feel for where the art is going.

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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 #90 The Power of Choice #3

As a designer, one of my mantras is, Analysis Paralysis (AP) must be defeated. Again, I think there are players and places where AP is ok, but I am not that player and the games I make are not the right places.

The core of what causes AP is the process of a player making a choice. What are the variables a player needs to look at? What are the risks and rewards attached to the pending decision?

If the goal of the game is to gain the most money and every action a player take gives them some about of money or allows that to set up for more money later on, the game becomes a constant calculation. Calculation, while fun for some, is a dangerous neighborhood for games to live in. Calculation allows for AP, which takes the focus off the game board and onto the player who needs to run every permutation. Calculation isn’t fun. Sure there are numberphiles out there that will love a mathy game, but math isn’t choice.

Why do Star Wars fans hate midi-clorians so much? They take the mystical force and turns into in to a calculation, a blood test. What makes the resistant hero so interesting? They have to struggle with the choice of the hero’s path and life they don’t want to leave behind.

The same principle holds here. Calculation is stale bread.

So how do we fix this? More variables…..I kid you not.

Going back to the game with the goal of gaining the most gold. What if the goal was to gain the most gold, have the leave corruption, explore the most territory and have the healthiest citizens. What if those goals had little to do with each other or in a more general sense, there was not easy way to compare the value of one reward to another. Lets call this an exchange rate.

If there is no exchange rate in the game, the calculation players need to make is much smaller. Rather than factoring in all the details of the entire game, the decisions become more general. Example: This turn I need to gain a worker. Of the four goals of the game, three of them have no bearing on my current need to gain a worker. I can no focus on the factors in the game that allow me to gain a worker.

Yes that is a simple example but the idea hold, I think…

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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 #89 This Game is Too Easy

We’ve been working on a game with a working title of Soul Hunters and we have run into an interesting problem. Calling for the villagers is too easy. The game has been tested two times and in both occasions it felt like the villagers were an easy way to bail our characters out of trouble. The villagers game function is pretty simple, to draw attention away from the heros inside the mansion.

What I like about using villagers in this manner is the thematic connection to the town below that is referenced in the story of the game. What I don’t like is each player’s ability to call on them knowing the moment they are in trouble, they will be covered. So the idea of the villagers gets to stay, their mechanics need to change.

The other question I had for myself was, would a playtester even catch this issue? Is it an issue for players or is it an issue just for me? This line of questioning gets me to the more general question, are there types of issues that only I would notice, because the player experience isn’t what I want it to be? That is a bigger topic for a different post.

The question before us is, how do we fix something that is, in our designer view, “too easy”. I think the best way to fix this, is to incrementally boost the difficulty of calling the villagers. I like this method more than making a big change because I like the idea of calling the villagers and in game play, they perform their task very well and it fits the theme very well. Outside of the game they add to the theme. Lets say the way players call for the villagers is to discard two movement cards in order to ring a bell in the spire. If we make a change to discard 4 cards and you must be in a specific room, how do we know what the balance point is between two cards and 4 cards plus being in a location?

It is possible the 4 cards and the location requirment will work, but what if discard 3 cards works better. What if you make more than one chance in the game and 4 cards plus a location works well with a change you made to a player ability but had you not made that player ability change the 4 cards and location would not work.

More simply put, making a big change over here can alter too many variables for you to know exactly what is working and not working with your game.

There are times when a big change is good. When you are early in the process and everything about the game can still change, making drastic changes can work. But in this case, I need a specific mechanic to stay in the game. I need to make changes to the mechanic and I can’t ruin the game while I am at it.

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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.

Let’s Design a Game #12 The Death of a Game

If the lack of update regarding this series didn’t give it away (or the title of this post for that matter) Who Are You Working For is Dead.

And I want to talk about why and what I learned from it.

When we finished the first playtest of this game, the flaws were many and obvious. Part of the problem was the amount of time between me wrapping up the prototype build and the first multi player test of the game. I fumbled my way through the explanation of the game and even as I was explaining how the game worked, I could see the weak points.

Honestly, it was not a fair playtest to judge the merits of the game.

What I saw right away were the mechanical weak points; I did not see the weak points of player motivation and the way savy players can exploit the bidding system.

When we started to play the game, the board felt “samey” and trying to figure out what rewards were worth the effort to pursue was difficult. There was too much information for players to consume and that prevented players from getting into the game.

The game was a block to itself.

When we starting to bid on contracts, players had enough options to allow for everyone to take their own path, simply put, there were not enough interaction points.

I think the theory of the game is sound, but I don’t think the “real life gaming motivations” of the players works with the theory of the game. A theory that sounds like a lot of fun in my head doesn’t mean it will translate into a lot of fun when it is on the table.

The feedback provided was warranted and all over the place.  Now, if this blog and the podcast are any indication, giving up on a design is not my style. I think a design can be worked, fixed, replayed and made into a great game.

So why is this game dead?

It is a matter of logistics, focus and what this game will look like if it is ever completed. We have a long list of ideas that range from game ideas to websites and apps. When I started this design project, my plate was smaller and easier to manage. Now, we have a new game we are focused on, I have other projects going during the week and the attention this game requires right now does not fit into the weekly to-do list. I also think this game needs a complete overhaul of what it looks like and how it performs. As previously stated, the theory is good (IMHO) and I want to make it work. The mechanics of the theory need to be streamlined.

In reality, this game is not dead, it has been reprioritized in the stack of ideas waiting to be worked on. It might be years until this game makes it to the top of the stack, but it is there waiting to be worked on.

With that, here is the major lesson I took away and want to share with others. Don’t be afraid to let go of a design. Put it back in line and move on to the next project. Aidan and I have talked about this regarding other projects we have worked on which we had to abandon. He puts it in a great light when he says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “There are times when the technology for a project does not yet exist. In the case of games, that technology is the experience or mechanic or theme we have yet to discover that will allow us to make sence of the experience we are trying to build.”

That gives me great comfort that the projects we have to “abandon” will have their chance and allows me to move on to the next project.

What Next?

I want continue the Let’s Design series, but I will pick a smaller game to design. I also want to add an audio element to it. I may even adda  video element to it but I have some figuring out to do for that part. The google doc will stay alive, waiting for an update.

Please feel free to visit the Google Doc of this project.

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.