RECENT ON BLOG
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.
Yes, its true…. I only wrote THAT title, so I could use that picture!
Wargames are easy, right? I mean, if you are reading this then I assume that you enjoy them. Probably you have been playing a while, and after time everyone starts writing their own rules or scenarios or background. Well, yes, in a way, they are easy. I mean, there are a lot of worse ways I could spend a weekend, even if I have complained how hard wargames are…… I have a marginally obsessive personality, and a bad habit of turning my hobbies into a chore. I used to volunteer to help out and create and get involved in any number of projects. I learned the hard way that the absolute best way to take the fun out of a hobby is to include deadlines!
There are two main aspects of this pastime – rules and background (I don’t generally get involved in design beyond approval of concepts and masters, its not my area). Background is something that is a ‘soft asset’. People will examine the rules, mechanics, miniature sculpts, use of counters and dice….. but rarely will they look into the background of a game – either because the background has already reeled them in, or because they have their own spin or force or theme in mind from the start. And yet….. it is a vital aspect of games and the ‘cinema’ of these little lumps of metal and plastic. Creating this background is one of those tasks that is simple and fun…. for about 45 minutes. Typically, a writer will have a great idea, often from their own games, for a theme or attribute of a race within a game, and will spend about 30 minutes knocking this into shape…. At which point, they will push their chair a bit further back, take a long gulp of tea or non-alcoholic beverage of choice, and nod slowly in appreciation…. and then realise that they have written one aspect of one race. Usually they will then struggle to join the dots…. ‘I know that this race is low tech…. but they also have lasers….. how did……?’ There will then follow a few hours of real work, hammering background ideas into place and trying to fit timelines in and make it all coherent….. At which point, they will realise that parts of it are totally derivative and ‘didn’t that happen in…..?’.
This happens for two main reasons. Firstly, there is nothing new, not really. Creating anything in modern times is like pushing putty into a wall, most broad new ideas are now old, and a lot of current world crafting (and this also applies to the sciences, arts, etc) is really about either putting a new spin on an old idea, or finding a relatively niche idea that is unknown. Secondly, even to the writer, the idea and concept is new, and hasn’t had a chance to ‘bed in’. Part of the reason that the 40K background is so immersive is because it is not new to most people, and its familiar, and uncovering new parts of a familiar landscape is the ideal story. Try bringing someone into the 40K mythos who hasn’t experienced it before and they will find a lot of it silly (and, to be fair, it is), but come back three months later and their attitude has changed.
Writing background is simultaneously the most rewarding, and at the same time the most frustrating, exercise. Its also something that you really need to do to completion. Yes, you may have a good idea of the background of war for this race, but what about their political structure? What base number do they use for their counting system, and is it related to the number of fingers that the individual has? Do they breathe ‘human breathable’ air? All of these things could contribute to how a race might go to war, and their attitude to other races that they share a space with.
See you in 7…. approximately.
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