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Beating a Dead Game

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Tbone's picture
Joined: 02/18/2013

I know personally I've had instances where I just keep adding new mechanics to a game in order to medigate the issues and well... it ends up never working out (most of the time). In practice stripping the game of unsure mechanisms seems to work best. Starting from scatch and finding out what you REALLY want and NEED to make the game a success.

So I guess my plan for this topic is for you, the community, to share your experience with this "Beating a Dead Game" mentality. Successes, failures, current issues. Spill the beans people!

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
I'll kick us off

Good thread to illustrate an important point.

There's a game I'm working on called Crunchy Humans. Thematically I wanted "puny humans settling a valley, and then dragons coming in and burning it all to ash." Twelve-year old me thought that sounded awesome.

So I went about making a game with dual-use cards, meaning one thing when collected as humans and another when used later as a dragon. You'd do a 'deck learning' mechanic...

(similar to Eminent domain where doing an action makes you better at doing that action in the future, and less about the interplay between specific cards.)

... and use sets of meeples to create buildings that gave points and yadda yadda. Then dragons would swoop in and use the cards in a wholly different way to burn buildings with dice (for points), and eat sets of meeples (also for points).

It was meaningless, because I used mechanics before knowing what aesthetic I wanted to make.

Sure, the early mechanics 'worked' but there playing felt empty, and overly complicated for what was supposed to be a very different experience. It was backwards; it was like putting a V8 engine in a Tesla. I needed to go back and say, why are people playing? What's the experience I want? Every interaction in the game should help reinforce that - and every mechanic should help reinforce those interactions.

So I scrapped everything and went back to identify the mission statement - the core experiences of the game.

I wanted players to get the thrill of destroying a carefully built civilisation with a dragon of legend. Legends that are told and grow throughout the game; to get that feeling of spending an afternoon making sand castles only to stomp them down when it's time to leave the beach.

With that, I took a new direction. But that's another story.

Tbone's picture
Joined: 02/18/2013
Love It!

Very cool design...

It goes to show that we designers can have such a narrow scope when creating games. We make up scenarios in our heads of the final product but miss the ascetics.

My experiance with this lead me to two years of development with core mechanics terribly broken.

The biggest issue for my game Battle of the Aces Was the fact that you could create your own deck of cards that all had varrying classes they were put into. These classes then had prey and predators (Cards it could kill and cards that could kill it). There were a few problems with this. First, there was the possibility that one deck could completely counter another. Now there were abilities and such that added depth but the object of the game was to gather the most points at the end which was dependant on the number of cards you killed!!


Plus, even the end game was messed up. You needed the most points but to end the game you needed to bring your Ace (a card found in every deck) to you enemies territory. But that didn't mean you won. It was just to end the game. So its possibe that you could end the game without actually winning it.


Then I just started adding things. Giving a bonus for ending the game. Multiple end game scenarios. The whole deal.

Finally I canned the class system and created a whole new deck creation/combat system which is yet to be tested.

Joined: 01/30/2012
I have a tendency to generate

I have a tendency to generate ideas while I work out that seem amazing to me. I'll lay down concepts and ideas as fast as I can type into an excel document. I'll make prototypes and subject my wife to them. Unfortunately, I'll usually find out then, after devoting many thought-hours to the game, that it is utterly lame and broken.

I'm not even sure sometimes why I keep trying, except for the thrill that comes when you come across that perfect mechanic, or some elegant solution to a pernicious problem. The game that came to mind for me when I read this was one that I call 'The New World'.

The overarching idea is that players are working to construct a new colony by purchasing different buildings within a shared plot of land. My 'great idea' for this game, however, was to make the resources dictated by a random roll of the dice. The more housing you had, the more dice you could roll, but ultimately, I found the game to be way too based on luck - there isn't a building in the world that can be made out of just food, for example.

Over time, I tried adding and subtracting the number of dice allowed as well as the types of resources used to purchase buildings. There were certain buildings that would let you influence what you rolled (rerolling or converting certain resources into others). Some of the variants were slightly better than the original. However, what I found was that I was way too wedded to the idea of randomly rolled resources (and alliteration). That might work in some games, but it didn't work for this game.

I had long since moved on to other game ideas when I found myself perusing my rather large folder of game ideas and documents. I came across 'The New World' again and I suddenly realized that the whole rolling for resources thing is what made the game not fun. Instead, it was just the idea of creating something from nothing by taming nature. The game has since been revamped with very little dice rolling and a lot more of a sense of starting with very little resources but slowly building up the colony's overall production until it is a full-fledged city. Most importantly, the game is actually fun and I don't feel nervous (well, still a little) when I bring it out for play-testing with non-playtester friends.

Anyway, I guess the moral of this tale is that time apart from a game can really help identify where you may have just been holding on a little too tight to some aspect that just isn't right.

Tbone's picture
Joined: 02/18/2013
Perfect Example

I wish I knew the scientific brain wave algorithm that causes this wonderfully easy (in terms of results) testing strategy. This happens in video games too!! you play a hard single player campaign level for three days straight, come back to it in a month and it seems like a piece of cake! Its very interesting.

It definitely has to do with perspective and discipline as well as learning to tame your "THIS MECHANIC IS SO COOL IT HAS TO BE IN MY GAME" mentality.

I love the discussion so far...

Joined: 03/02/2014
Core Mechanics vs. Secondary Mechanics

I'm going to try to answer the question that I think you are asking without quite asking it: When do you decide that this dead horse should just be buried and not thought about again?

People talk about the difference between theme and mechanics, but I think that there is a finer distinction between core mechanics and secondary ones.

One of the games I am working on is a coop dungeon (ish) crawl. I started it because I specifically wanted to address two issues in dungeon crawls: If there is a fixed map, then replay is not very interesting unless the map is pretty meaningless. If it is a map that grows, then the choices that you make to turn left or right don't really matter; the next tile that comes up will be the one used. I came up with a core mechanic that addresses these issues, and I'm really happy with it. There are a number of secondary mechanics I needed to make it a complete game -- combat, trap resolution, improving abilities -- all of which have gone through several transitions as I find flaws in my choices. However, none of these has given me the slightest thought to abandon the game. On the other hand, if I came to the conclusion that my core mechanic was flawed that addresses the original issues I wanted to solve, I would just dump the whole game.

I had another idea for a game that was to be a highly asymmetrical 2-player game where one player represented InterPol/Homeland Security/World Governments in general and the other represented an extremist nihilist group looking to create world chaos. Their play styles were very different, but it came down to a core mechanic of influencing a number of social indicators such as popular opinion of different governments, etc. The mechanic was fundamentally flawed, because it quickly became a game of just trying to undo what the other player just did and maybe gain a little something somewhere at the same time. It just wasn't fun. I've dumped this game altogether.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Dead horse

While I realize that the stages of initially designing a game and then how the *blind* playtests affect the game... comes (in my case) a time where I doubt my game:

  • Is it too simple?
  • Is it cohesive enough?
  • What about those inconsistencies?

Questions like that arise and then... well I become unsure about the game. Why this happens? Because I know my game is NOT perfect - YET. In my current WIP this was the solitary scenario known as "The Derelict". It was very unbalanced at the beginning and became boring during the middle with little to no threat level and then it became just a matter of time - winning. That to me does not make a good solitary game.

So what did I do? I did some research into what OTHER games did in terms of AI. And once I saw "Race for the Galaxy 2" (Race2), it hit me how I could employ a "power up" mechanic that was both good (gives the player a chance to play the scenario - and a breather) and bad (because it increases the odds of destroying starships in the player's Space Lane). This plus a *special* mode that penetrates through defenses and directly inflicts damage to your Homeworld (base) adds tension in the beginning, middle and end of a game (which means you can lose on any turn and at any time...) Good job by me (thumbs up!)

But this is not the only source of frustration or cohesiveness that I face. The other aspect which I am not 100% convinced with is "Missions" and Tradeships. The arguments are that Tradeships cannot initiate an attack - but that they can retaliate. As such they have a Firepower of one (1) to three (3). This is reasonable.

However there was the factor that they (Tradeships) could DEFEND a Homeworld (base). If the starship is on a mission, how can it defend a planet (at the same time)... I think my answer to this is simple: it can't - however once the mission is complete, it may STAY in the Space Lane and defend the Homeworld.

Good things seem realistic and reasonable.

BUT I'm still not 100% satisfied with the whole "Missions"/"Rewards" mechanic. I will post my thoughts and see if anyone has fresh ideas in regards to this mechanic.

This sort of reminds me - that even if a game has kinks, it becomes a need to fix the flaws you find, in order to make a BETTER game. To me, it reminds me of the OP: it feels like beating a dead horse. After so many playtests and so many revisions, in the final stretch before having a SOLID game - it just feels like it, IMHO!

Joined: 01/06/2009
Fiction v non fiction

I'm probably not qualified or experienced enough to chime in on this, but I've got a number of sports games, half way done, but certainly not worth getting the shovel out for yet!

Having a non-fictional subject with universal 'rules of play' allows a level of logical expectation from players. Everyone expects the football to kicked on goal, teams to scores etc. This forces me to work backwards and fill in the (simple) mechanics to achieve the expected result, while keeping simple dice rolling entertaining.

The more games (sports) I make, the more I try to find subtle new elements to add or extend the brand and ‘sporting’ experience. Some games such as Ice Hockey, just seem harder to complete. The longer it is 'incomplete' the more added elements I feel are needed to distinguish it from the other preceding it's just stewing away in the background.

Creativity ebbs and flows and sometimes the best approach it is to do nothing. Put it to the side, start another project and come back to your ideas with fresh eyes. I'm sure you've all had an idea for improvement come to you when not really thinking about it.

Fictional games, IMO, have a tougher set of expectations. How much damage should a dragon do? How many decks should be included? Are you creating an entire new world or using a generic eerie dungeon?

A lot more to think of and as I mentioned above, I've yet to tackle this side of game design. It's trying to figure out the unknown that may lead to these ideas needing more time to develop....but that's the fun part of it I guess!

Any idea you've had can be moulded given time and willingness to change!

Joined: 07/29/2008
Married to Nothing

I have learned, over the years, to never be married to any aspect of a game when designing it. Theme, name, mechanics... If something doesn't work, figure out why and resolve it.

Case in point: My latest game (tentatively titled: Sidestep).

It started life as a 7x7 grid. Moved to a 9x9 grid. I've finally settled on an 8x8 grid.

The starting positions changed from the opposing corners of the grid to the center.

To remove (what I felt was significant) first-person bias and to avoid "pie rule" discussions, I added an one-time rule at the beginning that adds a touch of randomness to the game.

The core mechanics changed from two movement mechanics (with a third being reserved during stalemates when one or more players couldn't move) to three movement mechanics which resolves stalemates before they start and adds some additional strategy to the game (along with resolving games much faster).

Even the victory condition changed (albeit slightly).

Along the way, a lot of rules were tried and thrown out.

I've resurrected prior game concepts but, for some reason, I feel that I have had to really "work" for this game. This wasn't a case where one or two elements were slightly out-of-balance but, every time that I had to adjust the game play, that it changed significantly every single time.

So, that's my contribution and, hopefully, when I generate enough diagrams for the instructions, I will post the instructions here for further review.

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