29 May 2005

I Am Now, Officially, A Game Designer

As you can see by checking out: The Gentlemen's Entomology Club, Michael Sands - Game Chef - 2005. I'd really appreciate comments from anyone who downloads and reads it, or - god forbid! - plays it.

Okay, it's only kind of semi-published. But it is a complete game, available to the public.

I'm going to do a bit of a post-mortem on the process. I was kind of thinking of waiting until the contest was judged but that may be a while. Looks like there will be a lot of entries.

So, how was it? Overall, it was a hell of lot of fun. I'd decided to enter to prove to myself that I could do it more than anything else, and had some ideas of trying to work some transhumanist themes into it*. Then I saw the ingredient list. Oh dear. Not easy to build a game themed in a historical period on stuff that hasn't happened yet. And the elements... In any case, I brainstormed for the day trying to think of any way to make all that into something fun to play. It kind of came together bit by bit, so I had enough of a concept to throw together a draft for my gaming group on Monday.

Now, that draft was pretty sparse. The main thing was to get the cards made. I put a structure of play section in there - this was really where I designed the game. So I had a schema saying "you do this, then do that. Now if this happens do such and such otherwise this other thing". Then I wrote up some text to go around that, and explain bits that didn't make much sense. Then back and forth between the structure and main text until it was done. Now I notice that I've written a humorous game of competitive storytelling. Not anything I had intended, not by a long shot. Too bad.

So, I inform the gaming guys that I'll be dropping this barely formed bizarre game on them. And someone was ill, so I shanghaied a workmate to come along too. One of the game chef ingredients is wine, and one of the ways that's integrated is that the players are advised to drink it while playing. This worked well. I quickly explained the rules (not too hard given how few there were) and off we went. It was really good. The game just worked almost exactly as I envisioned it. This has not happened for my two (or maybe three) other game designs over the past year or two. We all had fun, plenty of laughs were had. We stopped after two rounds - there was time for another but playing it was vetoed.

Interestingly, I got the impression that the people who enjoyed it the least were the hard-core roleplaying gamers in the group. The two guys who told me they would like to play it again were the ones least into the hobby.

Anyhow,the rest of the week was dedicated to spending all non-working, non-parenting moments to revising it into a publicly acceptable shape. This took between one and four hours per day. I've been watching Carnivale, and found that rewarding a chunk of work with the next episode was effective. Especially for the real cliffhanger episodes. This all went fairly smoothly and steadily until yesterday I decided that it was ready. This was a fairly careful choice. I don't think it would be fair to charge money for what's there now, it's too raw. However, for the purposes of the contest, it was as good as it's likely to get. I could easily have spent the rest of the weekend to get a trivial level of polish added, but this just wasn't worth it. I do intend to revise it and publish a new edition for money. I want to wait before I do that, though. Get some feedback from people who read or play it, that sort of thing. And not think about it myself for a month or two.

That's pretty much it. Now I'm just cruising on the feeling of accomplishment. There's plenty going around here at the moment, as Make Tea Not War just finished the draft of her PhD. Woo! Yay us!

* I've been thinking about this a lot recently, and come to the conclusion that it isn't being sufficiently addressed in roleplaying games. David Pulver's Transhuman Space is as close as we've got. And, because it's GURPS, it doesn't really make you think about transhumanist issues. It just makes you think about "how many points can I get this cool upgrade for". To be fair, that's hyperbole - it isn't that bad. But the transhuman elements of the setting tend to end up just as colour. I want a game where you explore all that stuff in depth - immortality, computer uploads, synthetic minds, all that kind of thing.


hix said...

Congratulations, Mike! Look forward to reading it.

Ivan Towlson said...

'Pon my soul! A most Diverting little gem!

I wonder, sir, if you are familiar with a Role-Playing game authored by the great Austrian statesman Baron Munchausen. Published by some Grub Street printing house, the Hogs-Head Press I believe. Some similarities to your own Work, in the appointment of one Player as Story-Teller and the opportunity for others to challenge his account, though the system of Wagers in this case was more complex. Also, the story was set as a Challenge to the Story-Teller -- exempli gratia, "Tell us, Baron, how you chopped down the tallest tree in the forest using a herring" -- and lacked the Thematick elements of your own Work. If you are not familiar with the Baron's Work, let me know -- I think it will Amuse you -- although my copy is currently in the hands of Piratickal Individuals, aka international movers, somewhere in the Atlantick.

But by Jove! I appear to have turned into Neal Stephenson. I had best drink some more Wine quick before I unleash 2700 pages of this kind of Pseudo-Archaick nonsense upon the world.

The Gamester At Large said...

Thanks for the words hix, Ivan.

And yes, I am aware that my game is kind of similar to Baron Munchausen, which I haven't read but have heard much discussed.

And you should really do something about turning into Neal Stephenson... the world really shouldn't have more than one!

matt said...

Congrats Mike - the final product looks pretty good. I shall sneak the reading of it in between marking and watching the end of Lost, and will give you my valuable feedback (such as, "yeah, it's good", or "we drank too much wine when we played it, and I don't remember what we did")

The Gamester At Large said...

I think that if you drink too much you should always assume it was good. I mean, why not?

Ivan Towlson said...

I'll try to remember to bring my copy of Munchausen by when it arrives from the UK (probably a couple of months). It's pretty short, and even if you don't get any ideas out of it, it's a hoot just to read.

The Gamester At Large said...

Thanks, Ivan, I'd appreciate that.

matt said...

Having read two thirds of the game (including the handy summary) I have a pretty good idea of how it might work, and I wanted to say:

Awesome work, my good man. Wunderbar.

The text is easy to read, the ideas behind it are very cool, and the writing is funny. I particluarly like your use of footnotes.

It looks like a very fun game to play, and I shall be convincing some friends to indulge in a little wine-drinking and entomological tale-telling in the very near future.

Kudos old chap, well done.

The Gamester At Large said...

Thanks, Matt. I look forward to hearing what happens when you play it...