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Complex game design and roadblocks

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Lofwyr
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Joined: 02/16/2010

This is going to be a fairly long and in depth entry, if you have the fortitude to read the whole thing then I deeply appreciate any feedback you would be willing to offer.

So then, I have recently run into a bit of trouble in the design stage of a product. What I have encountered has become deeply troubling as it has essentially "stonewalled" me from continuing on what was previously a very exciting design. This stagnation and failure to progress further is what I find troubling and the real root of this post.

The Design Goal.

The original design goal was to create a hybrid product that was advanced enough to evolve over time but still mundane enough to ensure a "fast and fun" approach to game play. Please allow me to explain. Below are the products highlights as I feel these fundamentals best explain the product and elude to the problem.

• A core "system" on the order of D20 products or Palladium products. While my core system is markedly smaller the concept here is still solid.

• The core system would allow for adaptation of future products because of its "malleable" core. By ensure that the "engine" or "core" of the game is adaptable and fairly open ended I ensure that the product can be re-applied to other formats of play.

• Through expansions and clean core design the issue of "context" which gives RPG products such high replay ability can be addressed and resolved. Context: The ability of an RPG or similar product to change the game by changing its "context". I.E.: Run through a dungeon today and a haunted forest tomorrow.

• The use of common gaming products such as cards, pawns, playmatts, and game boards facilitates a new kind of game play that ensures a more visceral feel. This kind of game play is uncommon and valuable, it sets this product apart from its predecessors that used similar CORE concepts (such as hero quest). Proper use of gaming materials also serves to enhance immersion and ensure players are tied to the game through ownership.

• Ownership: In games such as 40k, MTG, or even D&D the player is tied to the game by "owning" a piece of it. I.E.: In 40k the player makes a substantial financial investment to play. This is similarly done in MTG. In D&D the player instead feels invested because of ownership of virtual goods or accomplishments, as represented by the information on a character sheet.

It should be clear that the overall concept here is to create a hybrid product that can attract and maintain, through well designed mechanics and "ownership" a long-term audience. In addition to this other obvious benefits would include a fan base to market future products to, high replay ability through ownership/immersion, and of course marketing opportunities as the setting can become a franchise in and of itself.

The headache.

When answering this please try to ask yourself the same kinds of questions that have been muddling up my brain as of late, as, most obviously, I would find these answers incredibly useful.

• Will players adapt to a new format of game?

• Are players willing to track things outside game play ("character" information)? Take into account that this game is played in a very "board game" format. This certainly changed how my play testers saw things.

• How often would player be willing to participate in expansion material (if it is competitively priced)? I got truly mixed reviews when chatting up local gamers on this.

• What kind of game length is acceptable(25 minutes?, 6 hours?)? This is a titanic question, assume game play is fast paced (no turn takes over 2 minutes). Try to think of things I have considered such as players gaming for so long they simply get "burned out", or perhaps, games are too short and fail to "draw in" the player.

• What kind of market (amongst publishers) would there be for a product that tries to innovate on this level? After all were not talking about a simple design here.

You can assume that most hurtles have been conquered. It plays quickly, its involved and tactically challenging, its priced in a median area for hobbyists (35.00) etc. By making these assumptions I should think the questions above will be simpler to answer.

AGAIN, I thank anyone willing to participate in this discussion. Your time and energy are valuable to me and solving this problem has become a real priority (I'm driving my wife nuts wandering around the house mumbling about pros and cons).

Share, please, thank you!

E

Squinshee
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Joined: 10/17/2012
I hope this helps?

Let me see if I can help.

I'm a huge fan of games that fall under the category of "easy to learn, hard to master." These kinds of games feature rule sets that take about one game to understand, but the more you play, the more subtle intricacies you discover that propel you to play better. Yomi is a game that is essentially a game of Rock/Paper/Scissors, but underneath that simple exterior is a deep game where playing to your chosen fighter's strengths takes time to learn.

Expansions are critical for games. You want fans to be enjoying the game as much as possible, so expansions accomplish that, without feeling that you're trying to squeeze all the money you can from them. Look at Magic: The Gathering - they sell four sets every year. Enthusiasts, not fans, are essentially forced to play the newest set regardless if they like it. It's a model that works for the hardcore, but since the basic mechanics are simply tweaked rather than fully changed, it's easy to burn out on each new set. Puzzle Strike, a game made by creator of Yomi, is currently in its Third Edition in two years. This new addition brings balance changes to cards, which to me seems like a complete rip-off. Sirlin, the creator, is milking his fanbase with perpetual changes without adding much to the game. Sure, there's now an expansion pack that comes with 10 new characters (doubling the roster), but when the Fourth Edition arrives, will I be forced to buy two separate editions? The way I see it is if you want your game to succeed, let your fan base love what you have, and then let them forget about it. Not for too long, but long enough for them to get reinvested in it, and check out if there's a new expansion. Creating expansions to sustain interest will kill you and the wallets of your fans.

When you say keeping track of things outside of the game, do you mean like skills, abilities, HP, etc.? If so, I see no problem in that. If those things carry over to future games, I'd be more cautious. Games that are self-contained allow me to learn from previous mistakes and make better choices in future games. Being stuck with my previous choices, good or bad, forces me to dwell too long on them, distracting and preventing me from enjoying new experiences to the fullest. Also, if these stats carry over to future games, being forced to play with the same group of people seems like a frustrating logistical problem.

Long games have the same issues as games that force players to carry over stats to future games - living with misplays and their consequences. Being stuck in a game where one monumentous bad turn causes eventual failure is a nightmare. If we're talking about competitive games - the kinds of games I gravitate towards - the faster the better. An hour seems to me like the absolute longest a game should last. It's incredibly difficult to stay immersed in game that lasts longer than this.

If you have found during your playtests that players want to play another game the second it's over, that's a sure-fire signal that they enjoy the game and want to get better at it, especially if they lost. If the rules are too complicated, or if the game is too slow, or if there are simply too many options each turn, with the inherently best one choice hard to discern, players won't come back.

$35 is an incredible price-point, as are the quick turns (no one enjoys idly waiting for their opponent(s) to decide which combination of actions is the most advantageous). How long do you think that base set will keep fans playing for? How complex is your design? What's the learning curve?

I hope this helps. I'm also glad to hear that I'm not the only one constantly voicing my concerns about X, Y, and Z to my significant other.

Good luck.

Lofwyr
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Joined: 02/16/2010
Thanks for the input.

First, thanks for the input. I Agree with your set of caveats' pertaining to play time and experience/character use.

At the moment play time looks like it would be on the outside of 60 minutes at the absolute maximum. That would be a game including many players (6 or more).

As far as complexity that is kind of relative but I will give some examples of games that are similarly difficult to master. Mordhiem, Necromunda (less so) and old school Battletech all come to mind. The player is essentially making a group of choices to create a "pawn" that will contend against the foes pawn. I would qualify this by saying that the rules take up a mere 20 pages and are being refined further as time allows.

The play tests of the first adaptation of the rules generated "buzz" in the local game community. I would say I had 10? ardent followers who still ask (every time they see me) what I ever did with the game. In response to WHY I didn't do anything with it, there was a book, finishing that edition of the game (3.2), and starting college all immediately following the height of play test. So I know that, in the prior incarnation at least, that the game could go straight into play tests and, if I am lucky, continue to succeed. Even my wife brings the game up from time to time.

As for keeping the players involved with the core product I should think 6 months is fair. However, I may simply be a poor judge. Last time the game was being actively played I had play tests every Friday night for a little over a year. As I mentioned above, my loyal gamers were far from done with the product when I stopped working on it. With new additions and a streamlining of the material I could perhaps extend replay ability but I simply wouldn't know until the material is un use.

So there it is, an adaptation of an existing product that worked well but needed to work better. Now the core of the issue, move forward with implementing the new product in the hopes it succeeds or redirect my energy into something different.

Thanks for the input.

E

teriyaki
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Joined: 02/14/2012
• Will players adapt to a new

• Will players adapt to a new format of game?

Hmm, depends on the game, doesn't it? No one knows what will make the next "hit..." It's always a gamble. Gygax and Garfield didn't dream in their wildest fantasies their amazingly novel-concept games would become so successful.

• Are players willing to track things outside game play ("character" information)? Take into account that this game is played in a very "board game" format. This certainly changed how my play testers saw things.

Possibly.. depends on how it's done. Written on sheets? I doubt it would appeal to many these days.. Collected on cards or some objects you can store away or carry around? Better chance imo.

• How often would player be willing to participate in expansion material (if it is competitively priced)? I got truly mixed reviews when chatting up local gamers on this.

Who knows? Imo it is a matter of distribution, more than anything. A "game-master" (if there is any) will probably make a decision whether to buy an expansion or make his own based on what is time/effort-effective to him rather than on price. If its a competetive game (as you imply) then you need to give time for players to explore the basics before proceeding... Imo the industry standard of 1 year between expansions is ok (and you can hit the fairs regularly.)

• What kind of game length is acceptable(25 minutes?, 6 hours?)? This is a titanic question, assume game play is fast paced (no turn takes over 2 minutes). Try to think of things I have considered such as players gaming for so long they simply get "burned out", or perhaps, games are too short and fail to "draw in" the player.

Personally I prefer games which don't last more than 1.5 hours or variable length games where you can string shorter "rounds" indefinitely. Fast turns is a huge plus. Imo A 5-turn 2 hr game contains much less "gaming" than a 20-turn 1hr one... Hobby market in general is friendlier to longer and slower games but then your audience shrinks somewhat.. But again, there are no hard rules. D&D, for example, could get away with games lasting for months and years because you could stop a particular session at any time. A game with variable length, with discrete rounds lasting 30-60 minutes and yet capable of being "stringed" indefinitely might be the ideal solution for what I can glean of your design.

• What kind of market (amongst publishers) would there be for a product that tries to innovate on this level? After all were not talking about a simple design here.

Ask around. Imo, you'd be better off with a smaller publisher rather than an established large one. If the game is good, it'll eventually shine (again, TSR and WotC). With a larger publisher you might have to cope with too many compromises, which is never a good thing if you're betting on originalty. Additionally, you'll probably get a much better deal with percentages, ownership etc with a smaller company - if you count on your game eventually becoming hit, this is a huge consideration.

AGAIN, I thank anyone willing to participate in this discussion. Your time and energy are valuable to me and solving this problem has become a real priority (I'm driving my wife nuts wandering around the house mumbling about pros and cons).

I know EXACTLY how you feel. :)

[/quote]

Horatio252
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Joined: 03/13/2011
A Few Small Comments

The answer to most of your questions is "Yes, if it good". If it is good, people will adapt to it and follow all the expansions. There is room for innovation on this level, if it good. I would probably add that it will be hard to get off the ground, but buy-in from a publisher that is committed will go a long, long way towards helping.

I don't think you can sell a system, but you can sell the first implementation of a system: the best implementation you can create. If you think a dungeon crawler will sell the most units, make the best dungeon crawler you can using your system. If that game succeeds, then you have more to add to the system with other themes and expansions. You can even name your first game "Dungeons of Doom: a Lofwyr system game" even though there are no other Lofwyr system games in existence.

This sounds like an ambitions game for your first publication. Is this your first publication? You may want to bring another more sellable game to market first to demonstrate your competence as a game designer to publishers or the general public.

Lofwyr
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Joined: 02/16/2010
Raise your weapon

@ Teriyaki

Very insightful and much appreciated. I would mention , to your point of "tracking, that players were very mixed on this. In fact it's a more than valid point all on its own if anyone has more to add to it.

What I found was that SOME players found "pre-made" material stifling or boring. This was often the case in early play tests when players were offered a selection of pre-created material to work from (got the games off the ground faster). My RPG and Warhammer players all balked at the idea of removing choice. Later when I offered players the opportunity to design their own material directly from the rulebook I just as often found players that were unwilling or disenchanted by the process. These players fell strongly within the CCG group but, as anyone aware of the market will tell you, that's also a big group.

With two large and opinionated groups pushing both sides of the argument I found a middle ground difficult to attain. Some want paper and choice, others want a card or device in some format with pretty artwork so they can get straight to play. This is a fundamental design feature I STILL monitor and adjust.

@Horatio252

(Quote/)This sounds like an ambitions game for your first publication. Is this your first publication? You may want to bring another more sellable game to market first to demonstrate your competence as a game designer to publishers or the general public.(/Quote)

You are correct in both assessment and opinion. Unfortunately I have been working on games for well over 15 years at this point and I simply don't have the patience for something that would, say, fit a mold.

No, I have never been published. But if some college kid can scrawl down ideas on napkins in a 7-11 and end up with MTG then I can safely say I have faith in my own ability and motivation.

When I was a child we were dirt poor and unable to purchase even fundamental entertainment. Our first role playing game was "Planet X" a ludicrous RPG that revolved around stories and my imagination. Older games that we could get at the thrift store soon became Frankenstein creations populated by pieces from everything you can imagine. I STILL remember the first time I was brought into a dungeons and dragons group by a babysitter, a powerful moment in my life. I look back on those moments enchanted. I can remember the hill giant, wandering through the forest, his heavy steps spooking the horses and striking fear in our hearts.

I want some kid to get his hands on my game and discover a new world of possibilities. When he gets older I want some ancient memory of my creation to generate a moment of nostalgia as vivid as my first memory of dungeons and dragons.

As far as finding a publisher. If a publisher bothers to even ANSWER one of my emails, great. If not, I will make it happen on my own funds in years to come. Publishers don't know me, don't know my work, and may choose Cheetos and the DELETE ALL option rather than bother reading my work or proposal. I sent emails for over two years, once a week, every week. I was diligent and methodical, I never missed a week. My wife put an end to that nonsense with a bit of advice "You shouldn't be praying for someone else to make you successful, you should be making your own success". I see publication as an inevitability rather than a possibility.

And on that note, my brothers and I were 8, 10, and 12. We hid and let the giant eat the horses....seemed like the thing to do.....

E

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