Goals & Deadlines

It is a sad irony that deadlines are given to us so freely at work (where we want them least), and are in such short supply in the extracurricular activities where we need them most.

– Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month

So, I have been thinking about deadlines and goals lately. I said way back in my first “proper” post that one of the values of The Stockade was that it offered a deadline for your project. The ultimate deadline is GenCon Oz 2010, but we have so far left everything else up to you, like what you are going to have at GenCon Oz next year, and how you get there. It was my original intention to write a long-winded and possibly boring set of instructions about how to set short and long-term goals and work towards reaching them. Reason has since gripped me and instead I will say a few words about setting your goal and then point you to an interesting blog about setting and reaching game design goals.

Goals

What do you want to have ready for GenCon Oz 2010? A complete, professionally published game; an “ashcan” product; some playtest documents; a PDF product; or something else? The assumption is that everyone is working toward a complete, finished game but some of you may have a grand project that will require much longer to reach fruition, while others are doing projects that just aren’t compatible with this agenda (and will need to consider how you will share your computer game, music CD, freeform, etc).

Participating in NaNoWriMo this month, and helping friends and students attempt the task has opened my eyes to two really important needs when setting yourself goals.

1) The first is to ensure you have set suitably ambitious goals. Ambitious goals are important because you feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete them. There is no point setting yourself the goal of having a working prototype to playtest at GenCon 2010 if you know that your prototype will be ready before Christmas this year. Don’t aim for a photocopied booklet that you hand stapled when you can get a professionally printed, perfect bound book (unless you are going for the hand-constructed aesthetic). If you reach a point in your creation process where you realise that you have (or are about to) achieved your goal, consider what you can do to make your game even better – whether that is in terms of design, writing, production values, promotion or something else – then set yourself some new goals.

2) The second thing I realised this month is that it is okay to change your goals – they do not have to be set in stone. Sometimes you will realise that you will complete your work well in advance and so it might be appropriate to re-evaluate your goals and possibly change them. At other times it may become evident that you will never reach a specific goal, no matter what you do (game production involves many steps where things are totally out of your hands, afterall). That’s totally cool – adjust your course in light of this new knowledge, work out what you can achieve, and set a new goal.

Set yourself some goals now – a “big” one for GenCon Oz 2010, and several smaller “steps” that you will need to complete in order to reach that big goal.

Blowback

Now you should go check out Elizabeth Shoemaker’s design blog for the game Blowback. It is a really good description of the things many of us will soon likely be experiencing. 

Leave a comment telling us what YOUR goals are.

Writing fiction for your game

An option that you might already have considered for your game is to include a piece of fiction.  It might be to help evoke the mood of the game, or even as an example of play (Fictional Play, rather than Actual Play?).  If you are, then spend a little time learning about how to write fiction.  Articles like this one (All Your Characters Talk The Same) can be tremendously useful.

Are you going to include fiction in your game?  Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Conventions

By now you probably have the basic rules of your game written down.  You may have even played it a few times with your own group of gamers.  If you have, you’re way ahead of me and I need to catch up.

But no matter where you are with playtesting, there always seems to be an opportunity to playtest your game with total strangers, or even partial strangers.  Conventions are a great opportunity to playtest your game, but you should remember a couple of pointers to help make it run smoothly.

First, make sure that it’s advertised as a playtest.  People may not have as much fun with a playtest as they would with a polished game.  By making it clear from the outset, you’re more likely to get the kind of players that you need.

Second, plan your feedback.  You might want verbal feedback only, so you need to allow some time at the end of your session to get it from your players.  If you want written feedback, give your playtesters some forms so that you get useful feedback.  Also, you can start your session by identifying a specific area that you want to test.  It could be useful to ask the players to try and break the magic system, or the acrobatics system.

Third, make sure you get the names of your playtesters if you want to thank them in the final print.  Gratitude is so much better without spelling mistakes.

So look out for the next gaming convention near you, or far from you if you have a larger budget.  It’s an opportunity worth grasping.