Emo Design Whines

Writing is rewriting.

I’m starting my fourth comprehensive, bottom-up rewrite of my Monsterknights project. Some of it may very well be delaying tactics, like…if I start it again, that means that I have an excuse to not have something ready to play in time for some arbitrarily selected deadline (NewMexicon in this case, in mid-April).

But you know what hurts the most? It’s tossing out — I know I know, I’ll get to that in a second — it’s tossing out tens of thousands of words. Like those words are the product and not the process.

I mean I toss words out all the time when I’m doing long IGRC posts. But they’re kind of invisible and the end work isn’t more than a couple thou long. But I’ve got an 80-part doc in Scrivener I’m about to file away because it’s actually becoming more work to carefully revise what I’ve got than it is to just restate everything from scratch.

Once upon a time when I was a gerbil on the mid-90s trad supplement treadmill, one definitely didn’t spend much time rewriting. Because that’s just eating into your earnings. You ever wonder why so much material from that era was literally unplayable? Look at the release schedule and the per-word pay rates.

Now that I’m trying to build something for-real playable from scratch, those motives are completely gone. I don’t have an outside publisher who needs my words to be done more than they need my words to be good. And modern small-press games can be pretty procedurally dense! Mine is, at least. It’s not like I’m putting together a small core resolution system welded to a simple XP-style advancement system, and 90% of the text is setting and situation material to mine.


* Every time I start over, the ideas get processed down denser and better. Each iteration is definitely better than the last.

* I’m learning an awful lot about how and why many PbtA games are written how they are. I’m also seeing where reinventing the wheel is a losing proposition, mostly in the zone of what even moves are for. There are other wheels to reinvent!


* I might not ever finish. Perfect is the enemy of good/done.

* The deeper I get into a draft, the more I resist throwing it away. It feels wasteful even when I know perfectly well that it’s necessary.

My old freelancer/journalism/stringer instincts are really not working for me here.

0 thoughts on “Emo Design Whines”

  1. As the owner of a graveyard of half-finished games, false starts and bold claims, all tucked neatly away in deep, dark depths of Google Docs, I both sympathize with your plight and admire the extreme tenacity it takes to restart a project.

  2. It goes a long way toward explaining the extraordinary popularity of stories featuring designers who just tossed something off and it played perfectly without playtest or revision.

  3. RE: perfect as the enemy of the good, do you think getting outside feedback would help with that, knowing that someone else thinks it’s “good enough”?

  4. Writing is by far my least favorite part of the process. Which means that getting into revisions is like seeing the sun break through the clouds, each word thrown into the memory pit is one less obstacle to getting to the finish line. I envy you being in this blessed stage!

    You can see by my casual mix of metaphors how well this works for me.

  5. I just went through a round table design group in the Games on Trial group that I found immensely useful. They’re setting up a second round of it right now, might be worth a look.

  6. The biggest pice of advice I would throw out is to setup a schedule. The creative process is one that will always grow to fill the time allotted. Set a date for first play test and work backwards from there.

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