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From idea to execution: how much planning?

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Anonymous

I was just curious as to how much planning you guys usually do before going from Game Idea to First Quick Playtest Mockup. I had an idea for another game the other day, and interestingly enough it popped into my head almost fully-mechanicked (though I intend to try to break it). I really want to start whipping out some index cards, a sheet of cardboard, and some Minicons to use as pawns and playtest this mammajamma with some highly critical people I know, but I wonder if I'm not rushing myself.

Does a similar event ever happen to you guys? And if so, any of them actually work out as proper games in the end?

Matt

FastLearner
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From idea to execution: how much planning?

I know that I sometimes have full games kind of appear like that. I don't tend to whip out a prototype for others to play right away, though: I usually write the idea down in on of my game journals (paper sketchbooks, actually) and then if I'm still feeling solid on it a couple of days later (that is, I didn't think of ways to improve it/make it work theoretically better) then I'll commonly work up a quick prototype and then solo play it a time or two. I commonly then realize a couple of things I hadn't caught before, make some changes, and solo test again. This can go through a few rounds sometimes.

I don't put early prototypes in front of other people, however, because I'm concerned that I'll burn them out on unintentionally crappy games and lose the ability to get them to do some playtesting when it's a bit more polished.

However, of course, YMMV. :)

Anonymous
From idea to execution: how much planning?

Sometimes... depends on the idea.
MOST of the time, I COMPLETELY have the game ironed out in my head/on paper before I begin actual testing... but sometimes I'll get an idea for a quick 2 player card game or a "simple" design, it will just "pop" into my head...

...I have even taken initial concepts and made playtest copies BEFORE writing anything down.

Actually... the game I have in for consideration by Out of the Box was something I designed in about 10 minutes at two in the morning. The game popped into my head, I grabbed up someones buisness cards and a sharpie... made the deck. The next day I drew artwork on the card and showed it to a friend. That was 6 years ago and we STILL play the game which is ALMOST in it's very original form....

....dunno. Don't get me wrong, I think MOST games aren't ready for the world until many many hours of playtesting..... but if you've been designing games for a while, you'll know when you have an idea that is pretty solid and needs little refinement.

Tyler

Anonymous
From idea to execution: how much planning?

and as an addendum to that...

...sometimes it's a good idea to do a playtest copy before you've gone over it in your head. The trial/error discovery process can sometimes make a game in the end that is MUCH better than your original intentions....

Tyler

Scurra
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From idea to execution: how much planning?

Yes, I really do think it depends on how "fully-formed" the idea is when you get it.
At present, I find there are four iterations of a design before I put what I would term a "proper" play-test version together.
1. I try to write a paragraph or so about the game - what's the theme (if any), what do the players do in the game, how do the mechanics link?
2. I write a ruleset, simply to see if it makes any sense. This also helps me see if there are "rogue" bits of the design that are going to cause problems.
3. I do my solo run-throughs. Sometimes this is in my head, sometimes it's with bits of paper. Depnds if there are odd interactions or not.
4. I rewrite the rules completely so that it works. ;)

Then I usually consider it ready to go to my initial play-testers. The time-scale of stages 1-4 is sometimes a day but has been as much as three years (which is fast by some standards.) But that doesn't include the play-testing process itself, of course.
But I must admit that it's getting rarer for me to need to repeat stages 3 and 4 too frequently with a design before I get to a formal play-test version. This is actually a serious problem now, as I'm starting to get a backlog again :)

One thing that interests me is that I find a formal ruleset is almost essential for me to "lock" some of the concepts into place at a stage well before I do mock-ups etc. Whereas other people seem content to work from very sketchy notes and don't sometimes even have a formal ruleset before play-testing (no, Dave, it's not just you ;)

jwarrend
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From idea to execution: how much planning?

I want to echo Matthew's comments -- don't rush a game to the playtest stage. You don't necessarily need to keep tinkering with it endlessly if you feel pretty strongly that it's close to done, but just put it down and let it marinate for a few weeks, then revisit it. The last thing you want is for it to turn out to be poorly thought out, as this will diminish people's enthusiasm to playtest games in the future. You may have a group that loves to playtest and will playtest anything, but if you don't, you want to build a reputation for quality by only putting your best efforts in front of them. That's not to say everything you bring out will be flawless, so much as that something that's obviously flawed in such a way that you could have caught the bugs yourself, has wasted your playtesters time for them to make that "discovery" for you.

I totally know what you mean about a "Eureka!" moment where a game idea seems to come fully formed from the start. Some of my games are that way, but a lot aren't. But even the ones that are still change before they end up being "done" for real. You want to go through as many of the early iterations as you can before the playtesters see it. But, when you've thought through all the particulars and potential problem areas, put the thing together and test it! No sense waiting for perfection, just don't let your justified enthusiasm for a new game cause you to put less than your best work in front of your playtest group!

Good luck!

-Jeff

Deviant
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From idea to execution: how much planning?

It depends. If the idea in question were something simple, like a chess variant, I would put the pieces in front of me and start solo-playing right away. Usually, my games are a bit more complicated, and I need to design the components before I can playtest. In these cases, I keep a notebook and right down my thoughts as the game takes shape in my mind. Only when I feel good and ready do I make my first mock-up (in pencil, usually).That way, I haven't wasted time drawing and writing and cutting when my idea was only half-formed.

Joe_Huber
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A different take...

Very interesting - while I don't think there's anything wrong with working on a game for a while before playtesting it, I never or almost never do. My typical path is to come up with an idea, then some time later (anywhere from a second to two years, to this point), having the "eureka!" moment of a good, hopefully new mechanic to go with it. From that point, it's just a question of how long it takes me to put together a prototype - as soon as I do, we're playing it, even if I don't know all the rules at the time. (And this is not an infrequent occurance - there have to be at least a half dozen times now when I have not said how to win during the first play - usually because I have no idea myself. And at least once I've gone in to the first play without having been able to say for certain what the objective was.) And the only time I ever have written down rules before playing a game for the first time was the first, thankfully forgotten first game I designed as an adult.

Now, I'm really, really lucky - I have three local playtest groups who put up with this, which allows the _other_ groups I playtest with to only look at the games that have passed the first test. If I was less certain my playtesters would put up with it, I'd be more careful - but I don't think it would work as well for me.

Joe

Anonymous
From idea to execution: how much planning?

From reading people's responses here it sounds like I'm in the minority, but I work best when I have input from people right away. If I have a game idea I will try and sit down with someone to hash it out and play test it right away if possible. This allows two (or more) minds to work on the mechanics of the game quickly, eliminating a lot of the holes and broken mechanics early on that I might have missed. Then, after an initial rough playtest, I can go back and formulate the rules, and create a more advanced prototype.

Maybe I just work with a group who likes to dabble more than other people, I dunno. Anyway, this method has worked well so far.

My two pence.
- Geoff

IngredientX
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From idea to execution: how much planning?

Since I don't have regular access to playtesters, I do a lot of solo playtesting. I usually spend between a week and a few months scribbling my idea out in a notebook, and then I assemble a very cheap prototype and give it a whirl. I want to get as early an insight as possible into where the "fun factor" of the game lives.

DarkDream
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Recent Experience

In a previous thread, "Board Game Methodology" I described the process I eventually went through in coming up with a rudimentary form of my game.

I think a good idea is to first of all get a bunch of ideas down. The next thing I did was research the subject matter if there is anything on it. Finally, I think it is important to bounce ideas off of other people: I feel this is essential.

I have found over the years with programming projects (which does require elements of creativity and analysis) that the more I interact and bounce ideas off of other people, the more my ideas materialize. Other people can usually offer a different perspective or at least keep you on a level playing field (tell you if you have gone way off of the deep end).

I also feel it is vitally important to try to come up with a trial rule set as fast as possible and start trying it out solo and with other people. I think at an early stage you can get enough feedback from just playing a rough version whether you have a potentialy good game or a cooked goose.

From there just iterate after every rule change. By iterating constantly, you can keep control of the direction and evolution of the game.

In brief, I would say that I would not put a whole huge amount of emphasis on planning. The fact of the matter is, given any rule set, there is absolutely no way (barring very simple rule sets) of predicting how the emergent behaviour of the game will play out.

I propose a minimilist approach of just doing the most simple thing you can get away with that seems to hold the game barely together -- a extremely watered down simple rule set. From there, I would let the evolution of the game "plan" you, instead of you planning it.

Just some thoughts,

DarkDream

jwarrend
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Re: A different take...

Joe_Huber wrote:

Now, I'm really, really lucky - I have three local playtest groups who put up with this, which allows the _other_ groups I playtest with to only look at the games that have passed the first test. If I was less certain my playtesters would put up with it, I'd be more careful - but I don't think it would work as well for me.
Joe

Wow, Joe, it seems like you are quite lucky indeed! It sounds like you have access to 3 or more playtest groups, which is something that I'm sure a lot of us would really be happy to have! But the fact that your groups are willing to playtest a game that you're making up the rules on the fly is really something. To me, I admire your confidence in your ability to come out with rules off the top of your head like that. I could just never do it -- for me, I want to analyze as many of the particulars as I can and try to identify possible problem points. The advantage that "your" approach would have over "mine", I guess, it that if I have a genuinely good idea but can't build a working game out of it, it won't see the light of day, whereas under your scheme, at least a good nugget would come to light even if the game as a whole was subpar.

I guess I also just feel like playtesters are doing me a huge favor, and I feel somewhat in their debt as it is, even when they really seem to like the game I've brought out (which has happened from time to time). So, I could never bring something to the table that I knew to be "half-baked". That's not to say that you are "wrong" to do so or anything, so much as to observe that even if I had access to your very forgiving playtesters, I could still never design games in that way.

But hey, if it works for you, that's awesome. Though I haven't played Scream Machine yet, it looks pretty solid, and I did have a chance to playtest one of your games once (at Danger Planet in Waltham) and thought that was pretty good as well. So, while we may all take different paths, the proof is really in whether at the end of the line, one is designing quality games or not. If one is, you can't disagree with their process too much, even if you yourself don't use it!

-Jeff

Joe_Huber
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Re: A different take...

jwarrend wrote:
Wow, Joe, it seems like you are quite lucky indeed! It sounds like you have access to 3 or more playtest groups, which is something that I'm sure a lot of us would really be happy to have!

No argument. My lunchtime group at work is still the group that sees the most initial versions; unfortunately, some of the more critical playtesters aren't playing regularly (or in some cases at all) anymore. My other playtest groups are once-monthly shots, in the gaming group I host and at Joe Rushanan's.

I bring prototypes nearly everywhere I go if I'm going to have an opportunity for gaming, though, including Unity Games, Gulf Games, and my all-too-frequent trips to California.

Quote:
But the fact that your groups are willing to playtest a game that you're making up the rules on the fly is really something.

It's worse than that - I'll even _change_ the rules in the middle of the game... :)

Quote:
To me, I admire your confidence in your ability to come out with rules off the top of your head like that. I could just never do it -- for me, I want to analyze as many of the particulars as I can and try to identify possible problem points. The advantage that "your" approach would have over "mine", I guess, it that if I have a genuinely good idea but can't build a working game out of it, it won't see the light of day, whereas under your scheme, at least a good nugget would come to light even if the game as a whole was subpar.

Oh, I do try to eliminate things that clearly won't work as I'm putting together the game. I just find that it's far easier to find out what people will do with a mechanic by giving it to them than by counting on myself...

Quote:
I guess I also just feel like playtesters are doing me a huge favor, and I feel somewhat in their debt as it is, even when they really seem to like the game I've brought out (which has happened from time to time). So, I could never bring something to the table that I knew to be "half-baked". That's not to say that you are "wrong" to do so or anything, so much as to observe that even if I had access to your very forgiving playtesters, I could still never design games in that way.

Well, I love playtesting, and I try hard to give everyone an out. For a first play, I will often preface my search for players with a statement of "this may be awful" as well. (FWIW, I've played 124 different games that were unpublished at the time [48 of them mine], of which 18 have gone on to be published.)

And, to be honest, the half-baked stuff usually at least half-works; if it's clearly not working, we'll abort.

Quote:
But hey, if it works for you, that's awesome. Though I haven't played Scream Machine yet, it looks pretty solid, and I did have a chance to playtest one of your games once (at Danger Planet in Waltham) and thought that was pretty good as well. So, while we may all take different paths, the proof is really in whether at the end of the line, one is designing quality games or not. If one is, you can't disagree with their process too much, even if you yourself don't use it!

Absolutely. Of course, I'd go a step further and say that it doesn't even matter if there's quality, so long as everyone's having fun...

Joe

Anonymous
From idea to execution: how much planning?

Well as Ernest Hamingway once said "The first draft of anything is shit." (Excuse the language, but that's the quote, and it couldn't be any more appropriate.)

No matter what the first time you play a game with people it will have problems, more times than not serious problems. So, while you should have your game well thought out, with a ruleset ready and all the proper pieces, I don't think you should spend too much time dwelling on what might and might not work. Just jump in and play. You will know right off the bat what doesn't work. Make a couple tweaks from there, and try to amend the rules as you go (Make sure you write it all down!!!).

After your friends have suffered through your game, go home make the changes and sit on it. Let it stew for a bit. Then in a week or so play with a different group, so there experience is fresh. This version should be much more playable, but most likeley will still need tweaks.

I recommend playing with gamers the first time and then playing with non-gamers the second time. The gamers can tell you the big mechanics that don't work. The non-gamers will be able to point out all the things that are not fun. With this information, you should sit on it again.

Try to find a happy medium, and then play, play, play and then play it again. There will be things that should be fixed that you WILL NOT find until the 20th or 30th time you play. And then you must correct that and play it with the new rule 20 more times. That said I make shorter games, so I can play them more.

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