Design Woes

Now that I’ve got a page layout program I can work with I’m finally having to reconcile myself to the fact that my Secret Project is too damn big.

Too many rules.

The moves are too cumbersome.

Too many things to keep in your head at once.

Too much too much too much.

I’ve got enough design work jammed into this thing for probably five games. And then I’ve got a 8.5×14 sheet in front of me, physical paper mind you, thinking that little extra space might help store all the information (and folks were more than happy to buy legal paper for years before AW2E), but…no. Not even close.

Probably the most elaborate I’ve seen is Space Wurm vs Moonicorn, which is two sheets/four pages (standard) and might be maybe too much for some people. I’m not sure I’d want to put something out more elaborate than that. All the Magpie games (Urban Shadows, Epyllion, Masks) land at a solid two pages, with some nice layout to pad things out. The Veil is very tight, tiny type, maybe the densest layout.

I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me until right now to really take form factor into account. One of the killer apps of the biggest PbtA games is that everything a player needs is on their character sheet plus outside references. Apocalypse World kind of raised the bar with, what, 4 reference sheets for players?

This is what I get for putting my nose into Scrivener and not coming up for air for literally years. Maybe I can build four more games out of whatever I core out of it.

0 thoughts on “Design Woes”

  1. I’m totally not a designer (despite what the indie crowd says about the subject), but do you think editing things further would be a detriment to your project? Like, cutting, rearranging, reworking/rewording the design? Or would that remove the lifeblood from the Thing?

  2. Adam Day I honestly have no idea.

    It’s so far gone at this point that the right answer might actually be to just stop working on it, and start several other projects with the bits and bobs.

  3. What I do at that point is to metaphorically throw everything away and start again from scratch. What is the absolute minimum amount of rules that you can put together to approximate the game experience you want? Slowly add things back in until you get to a minimally playable state. Then you can experiment with adding in some of the other stuff. It may be things you’ve already written, which is why we’ve only metaphorically thrown it away, or more often I find it’s a more elegant version that I wouldn’t have thought of without the ritualistic elimination of previous design.

    Or I run away from it and never come back. I’ve had success both ways.

  4. Why don’t you make a multifaceted game? Not sure if it applies to your brainchild, but maybe you can split it into 5 games that can be played together. Some kind of salted caramel chili nori chocolate covered almonds.

  5. Two ideas, both stupid:

    1) Playtest extensively, in long sessions scheduled as regularly as you can bear. When you, or the any of the players, start to cry salt tears, strike out the rule most recently invoked.

    2) Print the draft. Touch each paragraph in turn and see if you feel joy.

  6. Playtesting opportunities are thin on the ground here. It’s not fun by any stretch and I don’t want to wear out my regular crowd. But yeah, it’s what needs to happen. Might need to carve out a second day with opt in.

  7. Paolo Greco’ has a good suggestion.

    Legacy: Life Among the Ruins did a great job at putting separate-but-related systems in one game: play your PCs in one phase, play their families in another. Arguably, a third system comes into play when you zoom out of the current play era and time-skip ahead to find out where the families are in a few years, few generations, etc.

    There are playbooks for PCs, and separate playbooks for families. There are basic moves for PCs, and separate basic moves for families. But the player only has to focus on a playbook/move sheet for either their PC or family at any one time, and the ideas are consistent throughout so it isn’t too jarring once you get used to the perspective switch.

    Is your game complex because of interconnected systems that support each other, but don’t come into play all at once? Perhaps there are clear dividing lines you can draw between the systems. This might give you an idea to develop it for phased play, with simplified playbooks/worksheets that you only need during a particular phase, while the others go back in the folder.

    Edit: also, instead of designing on CorelDraw, did you think about sketching everything on autumn leaves, and scanning them to .pdf at Kinkos?

  8. This sounds like a good realization to have.

    Separately, even as a fan of your stuff, the more likely something requires more reference, the less likely I will be to play it. This is different than content and systems, weirdly. It’s HOW you unroll the information. From what I hear about AW 2nd edition, I’m becoming less and less interested. TOO MANY MOVES. And this from a Torchbearer fan. Maybe it will be cool if the basic moves snowball into the less-used ones? I don’t want to crack open the book unless specifically directed to.

    Ugh, never listen to your fans!

  9. I will say that this whole process has been incredibly educational. I’ve learned an awful lot about what’s appealing (to me) about the platform I started this on (PbtA), and I’ve come to appreciate its shortcomings and limitations as well.

    I’m not calling anything quits here! But I think for my mental health I may need to re-evaluate my goals.

  10. To riff on what Keith Stetson was saying, try to figure out he Minimum Lovable Product. That’s the new hip thing at my work.

    I.e., forget viable, and instead focus on the minimum need to produce something you’d look at and think “That’s really cool!”

    Or, walk away, and work on something else. Maybe this project will work its way into other projects, and maybe that’s really its only purpose.

  11. I’m kinda sorta aiming to have a New Thing ready for real Dreamation testing.

    Also: the secret thing I’m most excited about is maybe hard to use online. And that’s a huge disappointment/problem for marketing/audience/testing reasons.

  12. Paul Beakley yeah, I have two irons in the fire and neither is super feasible online. Add that to the fact that a third member of my in-person group is moving and playtesting is about to get really difficult.

  13. Paul Beakley Yup. It’s a change in mindset from MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Instead, you’re looking to release something small that you’re actually happy with.

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