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GDS Format Requirements - Putting the Worms Back in the Can

3 replies [Last post]
rcjames14's picture
Joined: 09/17/2010

dobnarr wrote:
I just wish we could either agree to abolish the limitations or agree to live within them.

Having written the rules for three published games already with formatting requirements, I can say four things:

1. I really need the practice
2. Space, not word count, is the primary limitation
3. Sometimes less is less
4. Practice requires feedback

Although my rules are precise, they tend to be more formal than colloquial. They also tend to be presented in a way that is logical, from setup to completion. But, I have noticed that many people do not organize their thought like I do. So, I have begun to err on the side of redundancy, examples and summaries a lot more.

I have found that people often want to know how you should play the game, not how you can play the game. So, it is always difficult to be helpful without necessarily telling them how they should play. After all, if there were only one way to play the game, it probably wouldn't be a fun game.

But all this fluff adds room to the rules which could be circumvented with if I had the capacity to personally teach the rules instead of having to explain them on paper. Once the components are in front of you, you can use unspoken language to clarify points and people can ask you questions along the way. Odd events that don't happen very often and only vaguely effect strategy can be omitted or answered as they come up.

But when you can't be there and you don't have a computer demo for them to see, you have to rely upon the words you use and the pictures you display. And, although there are examples of great games which have less than 800 words, most good games that sell well have more than 800. They also have a blurb on the box to entice customers which is constrained by space, not word count. In addition to that, they frequently have tables and lists which tend to convey a lot of information in a tight area and are extremely easy/quick to read, but wreak havoc on word count.

So... 800 words is not the standard in publication. It is also unheard of that you wouldn't have some flavor text, and people have come to expect lots of graphics and examples in their rules, not less.

Even if there is something to be said about needing practice to learn to be brief, concise and precise, you still need feedback and advice to do so as well. But, with 800 words and three graphics, people will more likely be asking you for further clarification than be able to point out where you have been redundant and what is superfluous.

Since the formal rules of most good games cannot be explained in 800 words or less, the GDS format requirements ultimately force you to under-explain your game. So far, I have found myself having to chop out vital rules and sections in order to get to 800. The elimination of these sections I believe have actually made the game less clear, not more. At the very least, it has required the reader to infer more (which is a horrible idea if you want to actually practice rules writing).

The reason we have these requirements is for each other. Since I don't know how good your writing skills actually are, it's easier for me to know what I'm getting into if the word count is 800. But, some people have great writing skills and I'd love to see them use it (if only to be amused).

And, I must tell you that (like most people) I stop reading when I'm bored or confused by something. This usually is a time/value efficiency issue for me, but I suspect a lot of the game playing population feels the same way. So... if I'm not getting something out of an entry, it doesn't matter if it is 400 words. I still might not
finish it.

Now, chances are that at 400 words, it's more likely than not that I will finish before I realize that the confusion is not my fault but the designers. But, under that same logic, I could read 4000 words and still feel engaged and amused.

I find that the solution to reality is almost always experience, brutal honesty
with yourself and discretion, not formal structure. Vote for whatever
you want and for whatever reason you want.

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
valid... but

I agree with you that the GDS is an artificial challenge. It's true that 800 words is less likely to be a problem in a real world situation than, say, box space. But that doesn't make the 800 word limit (or any other GDS limit) invalid, or the game designs not "proper" designs.

When we watch the Olympics, and some runner comes in first, we say "that's the fastest short distance runner in the world" but the truth is, perhaps he just has a quicker reaction time to the gun, or the other guy tripped, or was tired from running a more recent heat, or any other of thousands of indirect (non-"running") things that influence the race. When we watch a MMA competition, we say "that guy is a better fighter than the other guy" but maybe that's only the case in a televised event with very specific rules, and out on the street it would be a very different outcome. Or even more on the nose, the winning contestants on Project Runway aren't necessarily the best designers, just the ones best able to survive the very unnatural conditions created by the contest.

These facts don't mean that the Olympics aren't a valid representation of running skill, the MMA competition isn't a valid exersize in determining fighting ability or weighing the merits of various martial arts styles, or that PR doesn't reward good design. Merely that any competition will introduce some semi-arbitrary rules, and sometimes the winner is the one who lives by those rules, not by the skill they purport to test.

So yes, I could write a better game in 1000 words, too. I could write a better game for 60 dice than I could with only 40 at my disposal. The "one extra component only" is more or less arbitrary, just as previous exhortations to use a particular mechanic or theme are. But them's the rules. We abide by them (or whatever rules we end up deciding on to replace them) or we have nothing but a "make a fun game" competition.

cottonwoodhead's picture
Joined: 03/02/2011
Components vs. Words

I really liked the components limit, without a limit I think I wouldn't have had as much fun trying to make a game. I do agree that the 800 word limit was too small, I think there should be a word limit of some sort just for pratical reasons to do with voting. I think a word limit of about 1500 would be more pratical and still encourage people to keep it relatively concise. For example my game, Rainbow, was about as simple as a game can get with only two mechanics, rolling dice and collecting cards and I used over 800 words for that. I think most people ignored the 800 word rule to a certain extent but I don't think I saw any games that went over the component restrictions, the much more important restrictions in my mind.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Why a full game?

I wasn't a member here when the GDS started, but the recorded history, and what it meant for the GDS to be is what drew me here. It wasn't about making a full game, it was about coming up with a cool concept and fleshing it out just enough so we could get an idea of it to think, "man, that would be a fun game to develop/play!"

It seems that in the last year it's turned into a competition of full rule sets short only complete card descriptions. Also, the games seem to be exceedingly more playtested, which while excellent, really hurts the chances of those who have time to write up a concept but not to run it through the rigmarole of testing. I'd rather critiques be more conceptual and about large mechanics decisions rather than picking apart whether a particular voting procedure may or may not produce stalemates or runaways. (at least, that is not what I'm personally looking for when I vote on an entry)

So I'd love for the GDS to remain casual, with an 800 word limit to keep the descriptions short. And for it to be about a game concept, with the intentions of a game's mechanics stated rather than a playtested and rule-booky looking writeup.

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