I wanted to spin off something from last weeks blog post today – the ‘creative process’. Now, I don’t pretend to know how ‘the great designers’ go about writing and setting out their rules… I don’t really always understand how I do it. But, I did want to shine a light a little on my own process. Most players have something that they are ‘working on’. In most cases, this is a small project such as a new army list for a favourite game, or a new scenario for their local group. I am primarily interested in how rules translate to gameplay, and vice versa how gameplay can be captured by rules. For better or worse, any set of rules – even the most details – are an abstraction. We can’t, or simple don’t care to, simulate the sun in the eyes of the sniper at 8am or how recent rain has affected the siege engines of Ancient Rome. So, accepting this means that the role of a designer is to capture the most value, in the least rules. What is relevant to you? Do you want your troops to be likely to disobey all orders and flee at the first gunshot? Is that ‘more real’ or ‘less fun’?
Personally, I usually have a number of projects percolating in my brain at any given time. I don’t assume that this is unique to me. These are usually focused on theme of a game, or something in particular that I am hoping to achieve in the writing process, usually something that is – to me – different, unique and unavailable elsewhere. I like writing rules, but I don’t have so much time that I enjoy reinventing the wheel multiple times! Usually, in my head, these projects take the form of a broad goal, and then some key implementations. For example, with Dark Portents my broad goal is ‘historically feasible fantasy focused on the troops’, and a few implementations are things like ‘different formation types’, and the spell system that I got over-enthusiastic about one rainy weekend and managed to nail the entire details out in a single sitting of two hours.
I will then set these projects into two categories – primary projects are ones that I really feel I have ‘most’ of the core concepts worked out and they really just lack the flavour details and writing the entire thing down, while secondary projects are ones that I really only have this goal and a few ideas about and realistically they need sitting down at to develop further. For example, at this point in time some of my primary projects are – Dark Portents (obviously!), Depth Charged (new future, post apocalyptic submarine warfare), and Exit Strategy (a game that is unlikely to see distribution as its really a development of the old GW Advanced Space Crusade rules).
When Marcin talked to me about Assault Publishing Studios and creating a rules stable with a number of projects simultaneously under development I was enthusiastic about the idea, and the potential of finally realising a few goals. With something like Dark Portents I tend to create a master file, with all of my notes and ideas bundled together. From there, I try to arrange the ideas into categories such as melee combat, movement, etc. At that point, I begin the actual writing, and for me I like to just start at the beginning and work my way through…. at least for the first draft. There will always be gaps and areas to come back to – currently I have an example of the model stats in the introduction, but until the entire document is completed I won’t be sure exactly how these will end up. After the first draft, I like to put the rules away for a while. Writing is an odd process because often your brain will read what you know you meant to write, not actually what you wrote. It can be important to ‘forget’ your own rules a bit and then come back to them, as this really helps to identify areas that are just not clear enough. Then the rules need to be first checked for writing – style, clarity, any obvious conflicts or issues – and then the playtesting cycle begins. This is also the time that things like graphic design elements come in. When playing, you really start to understand which stats are related to others, which are most important, etc and this can help designing the stat cards and graphics, especially early on.
So, where am I with Dark Portents? All my notes are done, and organised. I am pretty sure that the basics are all covered by the notes that I have, so there shouldn’t be any huge development or decisions now. Writing is coming on, and I am about half way through this now. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I have two small armies purchased and these need assembling, but will form the basis for playtesting soon (I hope).
What I do want to get across is how time consuming this process can be at times. There are times when this rush through and everything just falls into place….. for example, writing my magic rules. But the majority of the time it can take a long time to get the simplest ideas written down. I have been working on the section for formations for over a week now. Also, development time is often stolen either from after hours at work, or from actual hobby time over weekends and at evenings. The bitter irony is that during the writing stage, I often have almost no time to actually play.
Anyway, that will do for this week…. I really want to finish that section on infantry unit formations….
See you in 7… approximately.