Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thoughts on Designing Games

So one of the things I've been playing around with is the idea of designing a game from the ground up. I've been looking at wanting to write an RPG for several months now and have already put one idea on the back burner (a modern supernatural game that just couldn't muster up enough difference from World of Darkness rules).

I think designing a game is something every gamer thinks about at some point in their gaming career. It's a popular subset of the hobby especially with the presence of the .pdf market now with instant access websites. The Forge is another example of how big this community of game designers has become. I haven't really explored the forge at this point, but I thought it was a good representative image for the topic.

Some of the better philosophies I've read and thought of for beginning game design are:
  • Play and read lots of different games. The more games you have experience with, the most diverse your game can end up being. You also know what your competition is putting out if it's something you think might be marketable at same point. The more experience you have with a diverse number of games and mechanics, the more you can innovate.
  • Playtest, playtest, playtest. The only way your game is going to get anywhere is if you spend the time and effort in order to make sure the final product is polished and the rules make sense in a variety of situations.
  • Focus on a unique aspect and make it different from everything else out there. There are a million games that offer a set of generic rules for players to create their own setting and play the game they want to play. The last thing the world needs is another generic rule system. Very few times will you even end up being innovative or worthwhile for people's time and money. More often, the hot games do something new or concentrate on one thing and do it better than anyone else. 3:16 is an example of this, so is Mouse Guard. They both play very specific games with rules tailored to support the specific kind of play intended. This brings me to my next thought...
  • Nobody cares about your setting if your game doesn't do anything different. A game will not be sold on setting alone and word of mouth will not favor you if your game doesn't do anything different. This was a mistake I made in my first design attempt is that I concentrated way too much on setting and flavor and then put not as much effort into rules design.
  • Design the game you want to play. There's some controversy over this. Some say you should design for your audience, which is true, you have to make sure your stuff is readable and easy to pick up, but I disagree. Designing any game more complex than tic-tac-toe is going to require a lot of time. If you're not interested in playing the game you're working on, you're going to lose interest and steam. The game will never get done. You have to build the game for yourself first, or else it's likely it won't get finished.
That's all I've got for now, but thinking about the new game that's been in my mind has made me at least want to take about designing games in general. It's an interest I have with the hobby. I don't want to actually talk about my idea yet because it will be lame when I end up putting it also on the back burner. Right now it's just two pages of notes in a small notebook. All I feel confident in saying is that it's fantasy, and it matches all my directions above or will if it gets to that point (specifically playtesting). I think it's something that hasn't been done in role-playing before, at least not successfully.


  1. I'm doing a skirmish minis game in a unique setting.

    I think setting is the most important

  2. Is this a game you're designing so that other people could play, or just for your own group? I think creating a setting can be a lot of fun (sometimes the best part of planning a game is world-building), but for role-playing games in specific, where there are probably a million times more games out there than mini skirmish games, setting isn't quite as key.

    I agree that, for a mini's game, setting is probably much more key, but a good ruleset is still going to make or break it.

  3. Another thing to add (I don't think I missed this) is simplicity first. Design the game like an onion. core layers first, set them in semi-stone, and proceed to the next layer.

    I can probably demonstrate the process for the BSG: WOW thing sometime.


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