November is First Draft Month

It is now November and people all around the world are busy writing novels, creating games and growing outrageous facial hair. If you are a Stockade designer this year, now is the time to get your freak on and write something! Aim to get that first, imperfect draft done – a working document that you can use for your first playtests.

Game Design in 8 Easy Steps…

So, some folk have committed to the outrageous plan of creating and publishing a game before the next GenCon Oz. At this stage, this could be as early as July 2011, which gives us all about 8 months. Now, that doesn’t sound like very long, but remember that people regularly create RPG’s in far less time – off the top of my head there is the 24-hour Challenge that gives you a single day to make a 24-page game and Game Chef that lets you have a luxurious week to develop your masterpiece. So, long story short, it is TOTALLY possible. To help you out I have put together a timeline that you might like to use to keep you on track. You don’t have to use it, but there are some points on there that you should definitely keep in mind as you put together your own project timeline (and you SHOULD put together a project timeline – how else are you going to keep everything organised and on track?).

  • November – First Draft
  • December – Playtesting, round one
  • January – Tweak, expand and wait
  • February – The Look, and Consolidation
  • March – Paytesting, round two
  • April – Layout
  • May – Check Proof, and Tell the world
  • June – Relax…

November – Write your first draft.
I have already pointed out people do this in 1 day and 1 week, so there is no good reason why you can’t do it in a month. Start with a bare-bones draft of all the essentials you would need to run for your own group (an overview of what the game is about, character generation and the core mechanics), then build on it with multiple “passes” over the month (that is, go back and keep adding). This draft should have everything you would expect to have in a typical RPG, including but not limited to –

  • what is the game about (theme/concept/cool idea)?
  • how do you make characters (including skills, equipment or anything else relevant to your game)?
  • how do you resolve conflict (your “game mechanics”)?
  • how do characters advance/change/grow (experience etc)?
  • is there anything GM’s / players should be aware off / watch out for (this is a pre-cursor to GM advice)?
  • what is the setting like?
  • what kinds of stories / adventures do we make?

This is not your finished game, but should be in a state that other people can make sense of. Spell check it and read over a hardcopy (you always notice mistakes when you print a document out). Function over form at this stage.

December – Playtesting, round one
Hopefully during November you would have had a chance to drag your friends, regular gaming group or Nana into playing your “awesome new game” – that will have helped with getting all your thoughts in order as you wrote the first draft. Now, you’re gonna play the game some more and beg others to play it too. Put your game online somewhere (on your own site / blog if you have one, over at 1KM1KT, or let me know – we can always use the Peril Planet forums). Tell everyone that it is online and anyone that plays it and gives feedback will get a playtest credit. I hope that people participating in this outrageous endeavor will help each other out by playtesting each other’s games.
At this point you are not likely to get a lot of feedback, but at least that first draft is out there. Expect round one of playtesting to last until February, but feel free to encourage people to “get your feedback in by X-date”, if you want. Playing the game yourself, though, will be a big benefit to your design. As feedback comes in, keep a record of who sent it and what it was – I have a folder on my computer for this stuff. Think about your game and continue to fiddle with the language.

January – Tweak, expand and wait
Your New Year resolution was obviously to finish this game, and you are now filled with the enthusiasm that a new year brings. Congratulations. Continue to massage your text (yes, massage!), filling out details where necessary and writing examples. Examples – detailed examples that actually demonstrate the specific rule you are talking about – are a great way to clarify and explain your rules. You probably have a few examples from your playtesting that can be used in the text – it will give your players and playtesters a kick, too!
Continue to solicit for playtesting.

February – The Look, and Consolidation
Now is a good time to think about layout and art. You might already have a strong design concept, or none at all. Talk to people about your layout and design, and google those topics for some free advice. There are simple things you can do to improve the appearance of your final product. In regards to art, you can seek out public domain images, purchase stock art, or engage the services of an artist. This is perhaps best left for a more detailed post. There is no need to do the layout yet, but you may need to get the ball rolling, especially if you are commissioning work.
While you are pondering layout, gather all the feedback you have received and do any re-writing for the game that is necessary. You might have been making adjustments as suggestions and advice came in, in which case you are sorted already. You should also have a good idea about the kind of advice that a GM will need, so work on that section of the rules. Get your Mum, Significant Other or Postman to read through the text looking for grammar errors and typos (the reader doesn’t need to be a gamer, just willing to help).

March – Playtesting, round two
As early as possible in the month (if not last month) update your original document with your new, revised edition. Send an email / copy to people who actually provided feedback the first time around and ask them what they think of the changes. Play the pants off the thing yourself. You might find that changes made don’t fix the identified issues, or change game play in an unintentional way. At this point time is likely going to be an issue, so you and your players are going to have to take on the majority of the playtesting. Make notes and updates as necessary.

April – Layout
Start putting together your document / book / game. Whether you are using Word, InDesign, Open Office, PageMaker or a notepad and pen you will be putting the actual final document together. Consider how many pages and what size the final format is going to be. Be aware of page breaks, orphaned sentences or words (they go over the page and hang there by themselves), the size of borders, position of page numbers and where the art is going. Hopefully this will be relatively straightforward as you have been thinking about it since February! When your text is in, print out the document, stick the whole thing together and trim it up so it looks like the final book (this might involve printing back-to-back or gluing pages together). Look through this mock-up for any layout that doesn’t look right and do a final check for grammar, typos and other dodgy bits (that’s a technical term). When you are happy with your mock-up send the book to your printer (whether that is literally your own computer printer, a PDF converter, Kwik Copy, Lulu or Lightening Source or another POD provider).

May – Check Proof, tell the world
Now you get to wait around for your proof copy (if you have sent it away to be printed). When it comes back be very excited and proud of yourself! Then, go through it with a fine-tooth comb. Check all the things you checked last month and get a few friends to look through it, too. Someone will inevitably point out a typo on the first page! I write straight into my proof copy, noting the changes I need to make, then tick them off when I make them. When you have fixed up your document, send it back. If you have time and are patient, get another proof copy and go through the process again. When you are happy with your proof copy, then is the time to order some additional copies for friends, family and customers!
While you are waiting around for the proof copies to come in, be noisy about your awesome game. Hopefully you have already been blogging, tweeting and/or Facebooking about what you have been doing, but now you might also consider contacting podcasters, reviewers and other folk and asking if they would like a review copy. It is almost free to send PDF’s – just don’t send one until you are happy with your final proof!

June – Relax…
Congratulations, you finished a full month ahead of schedule! Now you can relax… What’s that? You’re not finished? Things got caught up, it took longer than expected to get your art, and/or life got in the way? Lucky you have this whole month to catch up then! If you find you are a bit behind on a few things, you can get them done now, in the last minutes before the completion date. If you are done at this point, continue making outrageous noise about your awesome game and fantastic achievement.

Let me reiterate that this is not THE way to create your game. It is A way to do it. There are many steps here that you may disagree with, and that is totally cool. You need to plan according to your needs, in order to get your game ready. With that said, I put out the challenge to you to have a playtest document ready before Christmas. Gather your dice, put on your thinking cap and sharpen your pencils – it is time to create a game!

Planning your timeline

It’s been only a couple of weeks since the current Stockade challenge kicked off and all that enthusiasm has been punched in the face by real life, right? I have good news for you, there’s a way to fight back.

At this stage the best thing you can do for your project is to craft a plan with dates when you want to have things done. And then print it out and put it somewhere that you’ll see it often. This plan is your path to a completed game.

Have you made a plan already? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Mission Control, Games are Launched

Over the weekend at Uprising, the Stockade games launch took place. Many of the people who nominated the first round of games were there and could speak to their efforts over the year.
The sad part was that many of those promising games didn’t make it through to the goal. A few people disappeared, and a few people announced that their games were cancelled. However, I’m still pleased that so many people started down the road, and that they’re still keen to pursue something in game design. So this was the scoreboard.

Bev (Society)
Peter Blake (Behind the Scenes)
Ray Williams (Where the Shadows Play)
Sam (Giant Monsters Save the Day)

Timothy Ferguson (Concierge)

Rules Complete
Steve D (The Institute of Neohuman Society)
Michael Wenman (Brigaki Djili)

Started Playtesting
Andrew Smith (Siege)
David Pidgeon (Dirty Princesses)

Art and Layout and Available
Nathan Russell (The Beast of Limfjord)

Great big congratulations to Nathan for getting as far as he did! Anyone who wants to see this game should head over to Peril Planet to grab a copy, and watch for those final tweaks that Nathan promised on Saturday.

Oh my God, a post about the business of indie games!

Well, with all the crazyness surrounding the cancellation of GenCon Oz and the… rising… of the Uprising event, it’s been a while since we have had a post about game design or indie publishing. This brief note is to point you prospective publishers towards an interesting post and discussion on the pricing and sale of indie games. It is from Two Scooters Press who have just launched the very cool Blowback RPG. The comments in this linked post get passionate, but I take it as a good sign – passionate people make this hobby go ’round.

This post is interesting stuff, and hits on something I learnt when I published Space Rat – at the price point I decided on I couldn’t sell the game to a distributor and make a worthwhile profit! Unless you are dealing in large numbers, or you can get a book printed really cheap, distribution is a killer for micro-press. On the flip side, getting the exposure that a company like IPR can offer is really difficult without them! Anyway, read the post and comment back here to let us know your thoughts on how you intend to work out the price of your game, or what you think a “reasonable” price for an RPG is.

GenCon Oz 2010 is HOW soon?!

Okay, so GenCon Oz is only something like 18 weeks away. Holy cow. That is really soon.

Since I first announced my game project things have changed. I have written a couple of “mini” games, worked on a wargame, put out a few podcasts, helped bring a new baby into the world and a bunch of other stuff. But I haven’t got anything finished to a state that I would be happy to bring to GenCon Oz.

I have seen some other participants’ work. Some people have made huge progress. Some people made a bit of progress and got distracted like me. Others found their project turned into something they did not expect, for better or for worse. Some of you we haven’t heard from in six months and I imagine you are working feverishly in your basements on your creation, cackling late into the night and exclaiming “It’s alive! It’s alive!”.

I have an overactive imagination.

18 weeks. Time for a story…

Something I don’t tell a lot of people (for no good reason, really) is that my first published game, Space Rat, came together in about that time. I first wrote it in 2005 for the “Ronnies”, a 24-hour game competition put on by Ron Edwards. I got some really positive feedback from that event and I thought I should do something further with the game. Flash forward to January 2008 and I had done nothing further with the game. But I was going to the first GenCon Oz (in July) and I decided that would be a great time to release my first game. I started editing my game and day dreaming about what the finished product would look like. Another month and I realised my game wouldn’t get finished if I didn’t write the rest of the book (which included the GM section, adventure, adversaries, guide to the universe and a whole bunch of other stuff). So I cracked on with the writing.

At this stage the game was going to be printed at my local Office Works (at an expensive 9 cents per page) with a full colour cover printed on glossy photo paper on my home printer. I still have 60 sheets of the photo paper sitting next to me, and a long-armed stapler to put the books together. I woke up to myself and explored other options, finally deciding to go with Lulu not because they were the cheapest, but because they were the easiest to use. I sent my files in and ordered my first proof of Space Rat in late April. It came back early May with a few obvious typos and a couple of other problems which I fixed. Then, just before ordering my “big order” of 12 books I realised I had made a big mistake with the “feat chart”. I re-wrote the bits I needed to and ordered my books. They arrived in June but had been crushed in the post! Lulu were really good about sending me replacements at no extra cost but at this stage I was unsure whether they would arrive before I headed to GenCon Oz! Thankfully, they did arrive in time, and I was able to take them to GenCon to show the world. I was also lucky enough to give a copy to Robin D. Laws who blogged about the game on his live journal.

I went from a basic, 25 page game written in 24-hours to a complete, perfect bound book (with art!) in about 20 weeks. It was hard work, frustrating when things didn’t seem to go to plan, and terribly exhausting. But it was FREAKIN’ AWESOME when I had that finished game in my hands. The game isn’t perfect (there are dozens of things I would change in hindsight),  but it is a complete game. You get the rush of finishing a big project; you get the rush of seeing your work in print; and you get the rush of being a “game creator” (go on, put that on your blog!).

I think it can be done again. This year. By me. By YOU.

Here is what I am going to do. I am going to blow the dust off one of my half-baked game projects (not the wargame that is almost finished – it can wait). I am going to finish it. And in September I will show you mine if you show me yours…

What do you say?

Let me know by commenting here. If you need any help or advice, make a comment or send me an email at MrNathanRussell AT gmail DOT com

See you in 18 weeks,


Your game at Gen Con?

For those who have been watching, the Stockade page for Gen Con Oz 2010 is filling up with more and more details. You’ll see some of Australia’s keenest indie GMs lining up to run their favourite indie games. But if you’re one of the Stockade project designers, do you see your game there? No? Then start pimping it to these GMs so that they can introduce your game to other gamers. Even if you’ll have only an ashcan available, all your hard work can be realised at the game tables at Australia’s largest gaming convention.