Master Mines

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On Development

This is an idea I’ve been infected with for some time now, and while I’ve talked about it with Ryan, Rich’s question about it here makes me realize I should unpack it a bit.

GMT Games, which publishes some of my historical war games, has process they follow for producing games, and I’ve stolen most of this idea from them. They don’t have any in-house designers; everyone except the warehouse staff and a few marketing-role folks are freelance. Designers will approach them with prototypes to see if they want to publish the game. If they do, they assign a developer, who is responsible for working with the designer, the art director, and anyone else necessary to deliver the final component specs to the printer. In a very real sense, the developer is responsible for turning the design into a game.

So what happens during development? Well, there’s already been playtesting done to the prototype, and the core design is solid (otherwise GMT wouldn’t have taken it on), but further playtesting takes place during the development phase to iron out ambiguities in the rules text. In some cases, parts of the design are streamlined or eliminated to make the game play faster or reduce complexity. Art is acquired. Component lists are finalized (and game play is potentially changed because of component cost). The game is distilled from idea to product.

How is this relevant to what we do? I think we need to be mindful of an intermediate stage between design and publication. Designing is where you hash out those big ideas and figure out what the game is about and how it works. Publishing is where you finally print, market, and sell the thing. There’s a lot of ground in between those two, and what I’m doing right now is a distinct activity from either of those points.

I will note that if you’re not planning on publishing your game (by which I mean charge people money for it), development isn’t as necessary.

I used to work for a software company that I described this way: “We build great technology, but we make terrible products.” In the gaming world, I see development as the process by which we bridge that gap.


April 10, 2008 Posted by | General Advice & Thoughts | Leave a comment

Why the Rush to GenCon?

I think this might be worth dialoging about. Here are my thoughts.

GenCon is arguably the biggest gaming convention of the year. Having a new game there means a huge amount of exposure and possible sales.

However, I think it’s easy for any given product to get lost in the sea of new products. Even if you’re running demos at your booth (Ashcan Front, Play Collective, Forge/IPR, whatever), it’s still hard to grab people and translate that into sales.

And are sales even what we’re aiming for? I know that there are folks, like Paul Czege, who are more interested in purchases translating into actual play than purchases translating into profit or fame. I know I’m not doing this for money – or even fame. (I’ll detail my reasons along with my alternate Big Three Questions post.)

Assuming things kick into high gear, the earliest I’d consider releasing Seiyuu would be Dreamation 2009. I think, if you want to aim for a convention for release, Dreamation is actually better – there’s a lot of indie presence there, especially via the IPR booth. I realize this doesn’t work well for west coast folks, but I suspect there is something similar – doesn’t Endgame have something?

Even if Dreamation 2009 doesn’t work out, I’m not just considering a convention for my release schedule. Just look at Spirit of the Century – it came out a few months after GenCon and had no real convention tie-in.

How do the rest of you view a GenCon release or aiming your release for a major convention?

April 10, 2008 Posted by | General Advice & Thoughts, Goals, Group Feedback | 13 Comments

A Matter of Belonging

Even though I rarely make an appereance here I keep up with the Master Mines feed, so I’m aware of how you’re all doing, and even more aware of how much I am not participating, either with posts or comments. This (and some other stuff) has led me to ponder why I have not been participating, why I haven’t really been working on the designs I said I would work on, which in turn led me to ponder about the type of designer that I am.

The truth is that I don’t know that I’m the kind of designer that would really have a place here at Master Mines, at least not most of the time, certainly not now. Why? Because as a general rule, I’m not the kind of designer setting out to create a whole game, whether original or patched/hacked from an existing ruleset. It’s not that I wouldn’t mind doing it, it’s just that it’s not my natural inclination. I am a system hacker: I love adding fidly bits to D&D/d20, creating quick scenarios, coming up with alternate rules for one subsystem. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily create 1st Quest as Judd Karlman did, but I would totally put together an article-type product with a whole bunch of new keys and secrets for The Shadow of Yesterday, or grab a bunch of keys and secrets and translate them to d20, whether as feats or as a whole new subsystem for story goals and rewards. That is the designer that I am.

Another example: recently, my attention has been grabbed by three big projects I have going. One is a d20 Modern/Spirit of the Century setting that I am contributing to/lead developing along with a freelancer, the second is the official True20 versions of the ancient world Mythic Vistas settings (Testament, Trojan War, Eternal Rome) for Green Ronin, and the third is the 4C system. My attention shifts between these three during the day, and some days I am totally all about one of them to the exclusion of the others for a short while (thus why I have freelancers working on two of the projects). Right now I am enjoying immensely playing around with the 4C System, the open emulator of the Marvel Super Heroes/FASERIP system; the system was released last year, everyone apparently forgot about it, and now my friend/co-developer Mark Gedak and I are making support for it and finding out there indeed is a market for it.

Now, there is obvious design work going on here all over the place. Story is being crafted and revised on all projects, and mechanics are being converted, created, brainstormed all the time. But these stages happen haphazardly, in the sense that while we work on one main part, things are thrown back and forth for later use. I could come here and talk to you about the issues of meshing Anime, Pulp and Horror in order to create a slightly campy/slightly action-packed/slightly horrific setting that can support all three aspects in varying levels of concentration, but not exclusively, because I might be working on that today, and tomorrow I might be writing about how to effectively model a system of Piety in True20, or laundry-listing a group of cool villains for the next 3000-word-max 4C product we put out.

It may be that one day I will be able to put aside everything else to focus on one game, but the thing is that more than a designer, I am a publisher and a developer. I enjoy the process of taking an idea and directing its evolution as a conductor directs an orchestra. I love designing my own stuff, but just as well I love taking a manuscript submitted and tightening it, fleshing it out, slimming it down, rounding it out to a level where I can say, “I would/can publish this.” I enjoy discussing an idea on Monday, having Mark work on it on Tuesday, getting a manuscript on Wednesday, editing/finalizing/laying it out on Thursday, and publishing it on Friday. Even more, I enjoy the idea that I could be of help to any and all of you to get your games in front of a bunch of people using the connections, deals and lessons I have learned after 4+ years of self-publishing.

Satisfaying as this all is, it leaves me with the same question: do I, then, belong in Master Mines, a place created to support fellow game designers during the process of creating a game? As a commenter, yeah, sure. But as one of the main members of the group? I don’t think so. Not because I don’t like it, or like being a part of it, but because I’m not doing what the site, what the group, was created to support.

I will one day get back to work on Grand Tour, and I will quite likely create that generational mechanic to plug it into the True20 Ancients line, but the truth is I don’t know when. Whenever I do I’ll be happy to share it with all of you, but I can’t promise that it will happen in a way that meshes with the rules of this group, mainly because my design is scattered and based in great part on what I find awesome at the moment and/or what I can get ready for publication to start making money for the next project.

So as of now I am withdrawing from Master Mines, hopefully to make space for someone who will make the most out of this fantastic group we have here. I won’t be a stranger, at all, and I am rooting for every single one of you and your games.

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Ancients Project, General Advice & Thoughts, Grand Tour | 5 Comments

Outlining your game

First of all, I made a new category called “General Advice & Thoughts.”  There are times when we come across something regarding game design that’s really useful, and might want to share it with the rest of the group, so now there’s a category for that.

Joshua BishopRoby posted on Story Games about making outlines for your game text.  Daniel Solis reminded me of that when I was talking to him about working on the text for Know Thyself.  Here’s the discussion: (I think you need a Story Games login to access that, but I think everyone here has one.  If not, it’s not hard to get one.)

I’m working on my massive outline draft for Know Thyself, and once I’m done with that I’m going to print it out and arrange it to flow best for the reader.  Daniel mentions later in that post and on his blog that he’s doing something like that, but with index cards.  For those of us making text, I think it’s a good thing to look at now to make sure we get what we want across.  For those of us who aren’t at that stage, I still think it’s a good thing to look at now because it can prep you for potentially better communication & ease of writing.

I’ll post up my outline draft likely in the next day or so, so you can see what I’m trying (and, of course, comment on whether you think it flows right & communicates what you expect).

July 11, 2007 Posted by | General Advice & Thoughts | 5 Comments