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Reflexions about getting stuck in early designs

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larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008

I have worked recently on many new designs and had many problems making any of the project progress. I am trying to find a pattern on why it happens in order to develop better working methods. I think I found a solution.

I am one of those designers which are driven by motivation and mood which changes with the passage of time. This motivation can be influenced by external events, like watching a movie, or simply new ideas. Motivation is important because ideas come in more easily and productivity is higher.

In the design process, you first try to create the core of the game. This is complicated because you have no basic structure to build on, you need to create the structure. When you have your core working than you can make you game evolve and refine the mechanics like if you were making variants.

Refining games and designing variants seems much easier to do because you are working on a basic structure and you seem to be able to work a longer amount of time before being out of ideas and motivation. But why?

In Early design, the changes that you will have too make will be much greater than the changes you are going to make at the end of the design.

When you playtest your few first prototypes and it does not works, it is more than likely that you do not have to solution to your problems because the solution could lie way outside the vision of your game. Which create the effect of hitting a wall to the puzzle solving and de-motivating the designer to work on this project.

But with time, new ideas will come in different ways, and it might actually unlock a design that previously lead no-where. This will create a gain in motivation to play test that new feature. This motivation is important because it places the designer in optimal performance situations.

So I thought that there could be a working method designed around this. It would simply consist in jumping constantly from a game design to another until one of your design is mature enough to be able to put more time on it. As a game becomes more mature, you should be able to place more time on the game before needing to switch to another game.

So the process would consist in a series of iterations where each iteration is done on a different games. An iteration could look as follow.

- Design the game, or the changes.
- Prototype it.
- Play test and take notes.
- Dress up a list of changes and unsolved problems.
- If the design is locked change the game, else start again.

So that could be a way to make sure you always have a motivational hype when designing your games and it should also give you an illusion that your game ideas are progressing rather than having half of then taking dust in a closet.

What do you think?

Pastor_Mora
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Getting stuck in late designs

larienna wrote:
When you playtest your few first prototypes and it does not works, it is more than likely that you do not have to solution to your problems because the solution could lie way outside the vision of your game.

I run into this situation (as I understand it) a lot. I design pure euros mostly, so the core mechanic is fundamental, and the theme not so much. Theming (sp?) takes a particular knowledge and a ton of time, whereas mechanics take a high dose of creativity and cleaverness, but can come in a second's inspiration. Hence, I can advance a lot into a design before getting stuck. I device a promising mechanic, paste up an appealing and adecuate theme, and get to 90% of a could-have-being game design before hitting the wall. This meaning finding out the core mechanic is fundamentally flawed, and the solution, as you said, surely lies well outside my vision of the game.

So what I'm wondering is:
Is it worth it to hold on to a locked design or wouldn't it be easier to just start over from scratch? Hopefully you are more experienced, and regarding motivation, getting out of the loop-lock could make the feeling of accomplishment return.

I know this may apply particularly to pure euro designs, but I can only speak from my personal experience.

Yamahako
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Joined: 12/01/2010
This is where a narrative

This is where a narrative really helps I think. Not a full on theme, just a narrative. Narratives, the way I think of them are just a one-line sentence about the game. The prototype I'm working on now had a very simple one:

Players are trying to escape a maze.

This basic concept generated tons of mechanics (I tend to think more abstractly, as I favor Euro games) for how to create the construct for players to interact in. I also tend to think in terms of an engine - this means the ways players interact is separate from the way the game functions. This leads me to to usually design in a binary way.

1. How the player interacts with the game.
2. How the game interacts with the player.

By having these two discrete systems, you can fine tune problems more quickly. For my previous Theme, the two systems became:

1. Players use actions to find their way out of the maze.
2. The game generates a random tile board that contain all of the goals for the game.

Now this is basically the game, I have to detail out these sections - but fundamentally these will not change in any part of the design. Now there may be individual systems that need tested and worked on, or defined and modified, but the core of the game doesn't need to change. So the fact that the game now included a mana generation system, a set of keys you must collect in order to utilize the exit, and ways for the players to modify the maze in order to navigate it - doesn't change the core game. Each mechanic interfaces with each of the main systems in the game, but they are separate - if the mana system doesn't work it can be dropped from the game, and the game itself would still function. This area is where I do all the testing. If the game works or doesn't - it should be based on the basic narrative - is it compelling for people to want to escape a maze? If that could EVER be compelling, you just need to work on the mechanical systems to make it work.

Theme can direct mechanics in a positive way - but I PERSONALLY don't like to be tied to a theme. I could change my game from a fantasy/steam punk dungeon game to a sci-fi space exploration game with minimal changes in the game aside from art, and terminology. However some of my favorite games would not work the same way.

Just one more piece of advice that has served me really well. Start simple. If you want a game with action cards, make the deck contain only the cards that are necessary for players to complete the game. Don't fill the whole deck. Even if you think this will make the game boring. Test first the viability of the game on the barest of bones - and I don't mean art and materials (though that's important as well) - I mean by barely including anything. For example if I was designing Monopoly, my first version would probably have chance and community chest having only 3 cards each in them (a lose money card, a gain money card, and a go to X place card), and every property would cost the same amount of money, have the same rent, and the same house costs. We'd play just to see if someone COULD win. And then go from there.

Then do a "fun-ness" test. Did people have fun playing? Even with the basic game? Then don't change anything unless its to solve a problem with the game. If players say there's not enough interaction - you change it to have those elements. I tend not to add things just to add them. Sometimes people will say the game is not complicated enough - and that's when you can have a little bit of fun.

sedjtroll
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Pastor_Mora wrote:larienna

Pastor_Mora wrote:
larienna wrote:
When you playtest your few first prototypes and it does not works, it is more than likely that you do not have to solution to your problems because the solution could lie way outside the vision of your game.

I run into this situation (as I understand it) a lot. I design pure euros mostly, so the core mechanic is fundamental, and the theme not so much. Theming (sp?) takes a particular knowledge and a ton of time, whereas mechanics take a high dose of creativity and cleaverness, but can come in a second's inspiration. Hence, I can advance a lot into a design before getting stuck. I device a promising mechanic, paste up an appealing and adecuate theme, and get to 90% of a could-have-being game design before hitting the wall. This meaning finding out the core mechanic is fundamentally flawed, and the solution, as you said, surely lies well outside my vision of the game.

So what I'm wondering is:
Is it worth it to hold on to a locked design or wouldn't it be easier to just start over from scratch? Hopefully you are more experienced, and regarding motivation, getting out of the loop-lock could make the feeling of accomplishment return.

I know this may apply particularly to pure euro designs, but I can only speak from my personal experience.


I feel like this is where a codesigner or a developer can really come in handy - to pick up a design, inspire the designer, or help finish off the design.

hulken
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Joined: 04/18/2009
sedjtroll wrote:I feel like

sedjtroll wrote:
I feel like this is where a codesigner or a developer can really come in handy - to pick up a design, inspire the designer, or help finish off the design.

So if there where say a website where board game designers could come together and lets say exchange ideas, ask for help and so on would realy come in handy... ^^ =P

But overal I agree, a thing I find very helpfull also is having friedns who are intrested in gamedesign. That way you almost always have some ones brain to pick.

Sort if gamedesign heaven would be the board game design guild in Utha. They are realy lucky to have that many designers on the same place.

topdeck
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Joined: 11/19/2010
I agree with larienna

I agree with larienna in saying that it's amazingly beneficial to have multiple designs working at the same time, but I don't think there's a given system that you can or should follow with this method. I find that because I have about 10 games "in the works" right now, I'm able to always be thinking about a game and progressing on some aspect of it, instead of feeling stuck on any single design.

The other thing that I've found, is that it allows you to sort out any new inspirations or ideas that you may have into your existing thoughts much easier instead of forcing a new game out of every inspiration you may have.

When I get stuck on core design, I always take a step back and remind myself what inspired me to start along this path in the first place. Was it a theme that I'm trying to work out a set of mechanics for, or a mechanic that I'm trying to include into a theme? I'll strip it back to step one and slowly add to it, re-analyzing everything that goes into it along the way. I've had designs that were "done" in my mind, where after more and more playtesting, just one small thing didn't sit right with me and I went back to square one and rebuilt it (3 different times, actually).

The other thing that I also think about while designing, which others tell you not to, are the limitations of production and the type of player you're trying to market to. It seems like more and more there are designers that are adding steps to make things more accurate, more realistic, less prone to chance that really just saps the fun out of games. Those games may be fun, but I'm obviously not their target market. Remembering the focus and the limitations you have often allows you to make decisions when presented with too many choices.

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