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.

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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!

Dice Probabilities

I am no math guy. I can count enough to put the right number of candles on my birthday cake, but not much else. This doesn’t usually worry me when it comes to game design, because I am more of a “it feels right” kind of guy, rather than a hard probabilty guy. Some games (and game designers), though, like the mathamatical stuff you can do with dice probability. And if you are designing for an existing game, you probably need to understand how the probabilities work in that system. A recent discussion over on the Fate yahoo group was tackling such an issue when someone asked “Can you play Fate with 2d6 (+skill)?”. The discussion on the different probabilities of Fudge dice, 2d6, and D6 – D6 were (surprisingly) interesting. If you are interested in that discussion you should check out the Fate yahoo group. If you are interested in dice probabilities, have a look at the AnyDice website.

What I’m stealing from the weekend: Smallville and Shock

I played Smallville and Shock for the first time at Uprising and I’d like to thank Steve and Peter (I hope it was Peter.  I’m ridiculously bad with names) for running them.

I’ve reviewed them for a non-gamery audience way over here, which is my work blog, and I’d love it if you nipped by, but in this post I’m going to write about what I can steal, in terms of game mechanics.

So, for me the revelation about Smallville was the way it used the relationship map to frame scenes, and the simple oppositional rolling.  I thought that would make it a good system for pbp style play. It would need some sort of communal whiteboard tool, but there are a heap of those around. I think because we were playing a short session the game rewarded characters who were shallower and more extreme in their goals, but would be interested in seeing if that’s a persistent element or if the game is more rewarding for rounded characters over extended play.

For my own game design, what I took from Smallville is the power of diagrams as play contract design tools.  Now I write mostly for Ars, and we have the idea that the place where the characters live is a living embodiment of play contract, so you can look at the map of a magi’s castle and see the structure of the stories told so far and various hooks for future stories, as it were, in the very stones, but the way Smallville ties in NPCs and forces connections between places and NPCs, so that complexity of use to the narrative emerges, that’s a really great trick.  The key to it seems to be to get the players to contribute in formal turns, so that layers form, and each player can assess each layer before adding more material.

Shock was interesting to me because I have played few GMless systems, and its designed for shortform play, whereas Ars is very long sagas, by design.  Mechanically its very sparse, so in terms of design lessons I can’t really nominate one thing I’ve learned from it that I’d like to steal for my own work.  There may be some ideas in terms of saga design, or story arc design, but I’m going to have to ponder those a little more.  The Ars system is virtue and flaw, so players bring their own issues to the saga.  There may be something in the “I bid my emotional connection to X for the reroll.” that could be coupled with the Ars Magica Confidence rules, especially the Infernal variants. 

In Ars, you can use your Confidence points to aid rolls.  In Ars is you are playing a diabolist, your sins give you Confidence and then you spend it to cast malefic spells. I can sort of see something there, so that, like in Shock, you’d wager bits of yourself for demonic assistance.  This would give you a sort of thing like in Books of Magic where the wizard trades the memory of his first kiss with the love of his life for demonic aid.  I’m not quite sure how that would work, but it’s something to remember, in case I need it later.

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.

Looking back on Go Play Brisbane

If you were well-planned enough to be at Go Play Brisbane last month you would have known by now that everyone had a good time. Most importantly for the Australian indie games scene, some homegrown games were played there. As expected, both Quincunx and Siege got a run, and both in the afternoon. You can find out a little more about it by clicking through to the websites for these games (see the links on the right of this page).

But that’s what the designers say about it. What about you? Were you there? Did you get to play one of these games? If you did, what did you think of them?

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.