: The Perils
I've been complaining about this to various people, figure I'll complain in public too.
One of the perils of hanging out with game designers is that come, oh, February, you get pretty sick of every single game you play going like "...I hoped that would work better." We play my game, I'm like "...I hoped that would work better." Emily's game, she's like "...I hoped that would work better." J's game, he's like "...I hoped that would work better."
I hope soon they'll ALL work better. J's going to be first, I think - Shock: was already pretty sharp, and I think he's nailed down the last couple things. Making a Tree will be hot on its heels though. Poor Emily's falling behind on account of how busy work's keeping her, and we need to give Meg's game a whirl soon...
...And that's just my friends who live within 20 miles of me.
Well well back to work.
1. On 2006-02-14, Ninja Monkey J wrote:
We need another productive get-together like last week. What are you doing tomorrow afternoon? We can have some sort of write-off.
It's so true. I was just thinking about how it felt to be working on BtI this time last year. I think I came across some post from Indie Game Design or Actual Play that were all like "if this happens" and "hope it works eventually".
Didn't seem real until waaaay later, but it happened. Good to remember.
Ugh. I've decided that ReSource, even if I had the actual resolution mechanic, is ultimately unplayable. For the simple fact that I'm not even vaguely fired up to play it. I'm not all like "so, you build this post-oil community and then try to keep it together when the shit hits the fan". I mean, in many respects it's a lot like Dogs, but then I may as well be playing Dogs.
Actually, right now I feel like if I had any good ideas for a game, I'd just use the mechanics from something else because how many different ways do I need to generate an outcome?
Playtesting wears-a my soul, as well. I've thought a lot recently about just canning The Face of Angels in the light of playtesting, and that's a blog post I should make myself: when do you know it just won't work?
With that said, we just finished a killer game of Joshua Bishop-Roby's playtesty game, Full Light, Full Steam.
I wish I were the only guy designing games in my circle of peeps so I could get all the love, but there are like five of us, so there is always something interesting cooking that needs another playtest. Count your blessings, I guess! I've been pining for something well understood and straightforward lately, too.
My new project is a particularly hard sell, because it is probably going to be emotionally demanding and multi-session to test properly. I'll have to bake cookies or something. Gift certificates? Free backrubs?
Our group, consisting of myself, Matt "Kayfabe" Gwinn, Scott "Charnel Gods" Knipe, my friend Tom, and my wife Danielle, remains quite burned out by two years of too much playtesting of experimental games, both our own designs and those of others. We did three or four sessions of playtesting a game early last year that I've since shelved. We did one session of playtesting Matt Gwinn's Purgatory, which he's shelved. Then we did two sessions of playtesting Empire of Satanis. The previous year, Tom ran an EPICS superhero game. I think it went two sessions. And then several months later I gave EPICS another shot and ran a fantasy game, which went either two or three sessions. Not one of these games played out to completion, because the rules were flawed as social architectures. Darrick didn't do much with our feedback on Empire of Satanis, and maybe lacks an actual play framework for achieving his design goals. J. Scott Pittman was unresponsive to feedback on EPICS, and almost certainly lacks an actual play framework for achieving his design goals. So we burn out from over-consuming a deadly brew of repeated lack of thematic closure, personal creative setbacks, and rebuffed contributions within the design community. Blech.
So my attempted solution in December and January was an effort to reconnect with our gaming roots, by playing a traditional town-to-dungeon scenario with Michael T. Desing's Mythweaver rules. And in an unexpected way, it sort-of worked. Not by being successful. It only went two sessions. But by being a traditional style failure. Yes, I'd bastardized it with Clinton's Sweet20 experience rules, and with scene framing and relationship map techniques. Sue me, I couldn't help it. But damn if it didn't still fail for the reassuringly traditional reasons gamist games fail for narrativists. We saw from Matt's first scene how deadly combat could be. Which started me out the gate more than a little scared of the game. And as per usual, after just a few scenes we were liking the characters and stories and wanting to see them achieve closure, rather than abrupt and capricious endings via turns of the dice. But our dramatic sensibilites also had us not wanting to dick around in town until we figured out some logically consistent explanation for the characters heading off to the dungeon. So I was really tempted to frame everyone right to it and worry about constructing a retroactive explanation later, via flashbacks. Except if we were doing gamism right, rather than drifting narrativist, the players would all have spent time over-preparing, and a couple of sessions on activities that earned experience points, maybe trying to convince a local spellcaster to go along on the mission, and maybe time out in the hills hunting goblins to sell their scalps for buying better armor. Not spending time on this not-so-dramatic stuff would make the characters more vulnerable in the dungeon. Of course, better armor would be no guarantee. So I didn't quite know what to do. Pace gameplay to minimize capricious disappointment, or pace dramatically and hope for the best? Or (cough) start rolling behind a screen?
We ended up just not playing a third session.
But it was a good failure. When you play a great indie game (like Bacchanal, which was a great experience for us last year), it's nigh impossible to keep from measuring your subsequent design and playtesting efforts against it. And so you're disappointed. And you get burned out. I hoped Mythweaver, being a nice, lean game, and an indie descendent of a refined gamist tradition, rather than something experimental, would serve to rebuild our foundation for fun. And I was wrong about that. But unexpectedly, in failing to meet our needs it gave us a more realistic perspective on where we're at creatively. And I'm pretty grateful for that.
But yeah, I wish I had more satisfying advice to offer. I don't. The Mythweaver experience was a help, but we remain precariously on the edge of burnout, right where we've been for many many months. So I definitely feel your pain. And if somone has a solid prescription, I'd love to hear it.
SF go "" lacks an actual play framework for achieving his design goals"?"*
Yeah, I'm in the "need to playtest, can't find playtesters" camp, myself. Except that I already know my designs will need changes, but can't get the playtesting done to find out what to change, which makes it more enfuriating. The playtests for Court of 9 Chambers and Last Breath that I was actually able to schedule bore this out. Now I'm waiting to playtest the changes from those playtests...
This is one of the several reasons why I'm set on the "central core mechanic with adaptations for specific systems" model; once I know the core mechanic works, I can playtest just the changed rules and cut down some of my work.
I find the idea of designing your game to facilitate testing your game really interesting, John. There's a chicken and egg thing going on there that seems like it will work out in your favor, in terms of clarity and modularity.
So is it ok to be all contrary like? While I yearn for finished product, the playtesting here at GHQ has been farking awesome. Our group has been enjoying the hell out of the new stuff, and we're just about to pass the torch to independent groups.
To all those in ze doldrums: February doth sucketh, but there is light! I remember talking to Vincent in like April or something and I said, "How's Dogs coming?"
He said, "I haven't written a word since we playtested in January."
I was like, "Dude, WTF?! Get to work. You've got just enough time to get that sucker out by GenCon."
Little did I know that Vincent could have written it in the week before...
Anyway, my point is that we go through this down cycle every year about this time.
Matt S go "Yep"*
AJN go "Secondeded"*