Bez ShahriariUnited Kingdom
Folk talk about 'when to shelve a game design'.
I feel like shelving a game can sometimes be easier than scrapping a mechanism and trying something totally different.
Shelving a design is something that can be undone. You can grab that design again.
I could probably argue that making a wild change to a game is more difficult, emotionally. You're not just abandoning a thing, but admitting that maybe its entire DNA was invalid.
But that is the nature of design.
Start somewhere. Add things. Change things. Sometimes you need to remove things. Sometimes you need to change the game completely. In some ways it's a different game.
In the same ways that we keep changing each moment, and 'you can never step into the same stream twice', you are constantly killing your game.
You have to be OK with that.
I am a full-time designer/artist/self-publisher and I am available for freelance work. I go to cons as a trader and help run the all-day Friday playtest sessions in London. I left my last 'real' job in 2014. I was getting benefits for a few years. I'm currently writing sporadically, but getting back into the habit of daily posts. If you have any questions/topics you'd like me to address, send me a geekmail and I'll probably address the topic within a week.
Archive for concept/idea/brief generation
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19 Nov 2019
"I need to do X."
It's always worth asking why.
You need to breathe in order to live. Do you need to eat? Certainly, if you skip a meal and don't eat for most the day it won't be the end of you.
Do you need to attend the event? Only in order to do whatever will happen there. Only in order to engage with that event.
Do you have to pay taxes? Only in order to enable the government to spend slightly more money, and not get in trouble.
There is a desired outcome to every 'need', whether that's staying true to your own morals, having the social contact you crave, or continuing your life. And, of course, we have a hierarchy of objectives. Something may need to be abandoned in order to facilitate the bigger goals.
What do you prioritise?
It's always worth asking what your purpose is.
Is X a great idea for your game? It's all contextual.
I loathe games that can end in stalemates or require weird rules to end the game. But Chess continues to be loved.
I love a system of economic that means the game plays wildly differently with different groups. Kawaii and Container epitomise this same aspect well, despite being entirely different experiences. But there is no single mechanism or even any single trait that would benefit every single game.
Someone else wrote, "great ideas and marketable ideas are often not the same thing". Well, what are the ideas that you want? What do you need? What is the purpose of this idea?
If your goal is to sell lots of units, then an idea that doesn't do that isn't 'great'.
If your goal is to establish feelings of discomfort and explore the notion of discrimination and subjugation of power, then an idea that takes away from that experience is not 'great'.
I posit that a 'great idea for another game' is a redundancy. Or an epithet to coddle a playtester that is now giving you bad advice. Any idea could be great in another context. I suppose the more useful notion would be to say that an idea is 'great for another game that I MIGHT MAKE.'
Anything can be a need. Great. Or terrible. Or, quite possibly, all 3 depending on your goals, intentions, and purpose.
Only if you know what you're trying to do can you really say what you 'need' and what is 'great'.
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Maybe you have to use a lighter in a skilful manner, burning some spots but not letting others be destroyed.
Maybe you set fire to a fuse - slowly setting up a network with a cathartic release as you set into motion the plans you have been laying.
Maybe the game involves wax. Maybe the wax needs to cover certain spots. Or maybe it's an artistic image you're creating.
Could you char something? even paper can be blackened (but not totally burnt). Maybe part of a pictionary/creationary-style game?
Maybe there is a weird thing where you need to burn a hole, or just blacken a new mark, without making a thing fall. Like Don't Break the Ice.
Fire has danger. I mean, it can literally kill you. But it probably won't as long as you're sensible.
Fire has the same sort of unpredictability you get with magnets or gravity or kinetic motion, that you can slowly learn to manage.
Fire is versatile.
The danger aspect is clearly why it's not part of any mass-produced games I know of. Those who are willing to risk a law suit are those who will probably just make a few copies as a hobby. And I'm glad that at least one example exists.
But let's have more games using fire.
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Giving games away to those doing social good. A sincere offer to any teachers or social workers out there.
03 Oct 2018
I'd like to think that there are folk who would benefit from playing my games. They can help teach all sorts of things. Reading, empathy, co-operation, spelling, vocabulary and use of language... And sometimes they just make folk smile and enjoy life a little more than they otherwise would.
I'm aware that financial factors can be an obstacle. Honestly, that's part of the thinking behind the Series: Wibbell++ game system - opening up a variety of game experiences for anyone who can't afford to buy many things.
I'd like to work out some system for getting games to those who will use them for what I perceive as social good. Schools. Libraries. Hospitals. Social workers.
My current thinking is that I'll sell any of my things at cost to these sorts of people. I want this to be a sustainable thing though, so giving them away is clearly not an option.
However, I want to make it something that I do for the long-term future at zero profit. There will be a small £7 surcharge (within UK) applied per order, so I can basically pay for postage, and get someone else to do the packing if it ever really takes off.
If you represent a school, library or other body that you think would be eligible, please get in touch.
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28 Aug 2018
Replace the object
Game rules imbue each object with inherent characteristics. Remove the object and replace it.
E.g. Maybe you have a wooden token representing wheat. After taking an action, you replace it with a wooden token representing bread.
Add chits onto the thing
E.g. Maybe it's a mini and you slide in card chits to show it has some additional powers/properties. Or you can use the base of a standee.
Add cards onto the thing
E.g. Creature enchantments in MtG.
Putting other things onto the upgraded object
E.g. small cubes onto chits, swords onto meeples with grippy hands...
A separate pool of cards representing stats
By separating the stats from the physical object, you allow for a lot more space for info and added readability.
Adding chits/cubes to a player board
E.g. Dominant species
Similar to the above, but adds the barrier of knowing up-front what icons mean, or (as with DS) a very simple/elegant system.
sliding cubes/other markers on a sheet/player board
Susceptible to being knocked on the table
But when it's a cube on the stock market of a massive board (e.g. 18xx) I think it's fine.
Writing numbers on a player sheet
Placing cards onto a human
E.g. a financial/stock market expansion for Yogi that I conceived but will probably never sell, because of reasons. (As an aside, I would like to get this ready for my next birthday. And I'll probably offer the expansion as a free PnP if it's ever good enough.)
The pool of cards IS the object.
Maybe the company/animal is represented by the collection of cards. To modify it, you simply add cards. This is the same as having a 'separate pool of cards' but without any representation on a board.
As you can maybe tell, I found this list quite challenging to write.
Do you have any other ideas? Have you seen any other ways to represent things evolving/upgrading? What is your favourite method?
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23 Aug 2018
Sometimes, you need to take a step back.
It's all well and good starting on something and then refining it, but having a brief - even one you write yourself - can help you make something of real value.
I mean, there is value in a game that is fairly mediocre, simply mixing the same mechanisms together with new numbers/details, presenting a new set of puzzles for groups to explore together.
Or to simply add a new option in a niche category that some folk have bought every example of.
Be honest with yourself. What do you want to make?
What experience do you want to elicit? Mirth? Introspection? Thoughtful calculation?
If you're designing for a particular audience - specially a classroom, where you might be trying to teach particular lessons - it's imperative that you first work out exactly what it is that you want to create.
What lessons should folk walk away with?
Or, if not lessons, what memories?
If you're designing for a particular classroom, bespoke audience, or particular publisher or franchise, then it's not enough to make a good game. Even something that's 8/10 on BGG may be terrible for the game you are trying to make.
I like to make prototypes quickly when I can. But there's no shame in letting things simmer for a while. Or trying a prototype and then scrapping it all.
Work out - what you want to do? What do you want to make?
Knowing your goal makes it so much more likely that you'll succeed.
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16 Aug 2018
Why do we want simplicity?
There are so many games where simplification would make it worse.
Yogi is better (in my biased opinion) by virtue of its complexity if we consider that it has 54 unique cards.
I bought a new game a few days ago for research and there are 4 copies of each card. But it's a party game. You draw random cards and they combine. More variation would have made it more exciting, adding so many more permutations of possibilities.
I am going to guess that this was a product of the time/testing budget they had available.
Let's call this complexity under the hood though.
To a first-time player, it doesn't really matter if you have 13 different cards or 52 (or 54). That's not going to make their learning any easier.
I guess what is important is that you have simplicity in the up-front information that needs to be learned.
Yogi has that simplicity where it matters.
I guess one key reason for simplicity is accessibility. If it takes me 30s to explain the game, then that's a sign that far more folk can play it than a game I can teach in 1 minute. The same applies to a more complex game. If it takes me 20 minutes to teach all the minutiae but I could retain 99% of the fun and make it possible to teach in 10 minutes, then that's probably great.
Cards are a great way to hide complexity.
Recently, people have tried to add rules as games go on. Via Fear, Fortress and Flee but also via legacy games like Pandemic Legacy: Season 1.
It all works towards getting people into the game as quickly as possible, and then adding some extra rules and exceptions via new cards. You can have a lot of text on a card; give a lot of info; and they are cheap to print.
New units, or tokens that need to be looked up can achieve some of this.
I don't know of games off-hand that introduce new units mid-game. But this would be analogous to drawing new cards in Magic: The Gathering or whatever. The base rules are (relatively) simple but the cards add surprises, variance and complexity.
I guess maybe Small World? That's brilliant. Such simple rules, and each race/class has a power, leading to so many possible combinations. And you only need to consider a few at a time.
With some cardboard tokens you can flip them over, then refer to the rulesheets. There is no need to learn all that ahead of time. If there were 8 types of tokens, all presented at the start, then the game would be both more and less simple. More to consider at the start and less potential things to consider over the course of the game, and repeated plays.
I guess simplicity is a multitude of aspects and we can ponder not only the simplicity at any given moment, but the simplicity up-front, mid-game and also over the lifespan of the game.
MaRo talks about, "Comprehension", "Board", and "Strategic" complexity. These are good things to consider.
But the strategic complexity up-front should be less than mid-game or after game 20. (I want some idea of what to do - some 'first level heuristics'!)
We are allowed to have more comprehension complexity as long as it's not front-loaded.
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What is a 'primary mechanism'? What is a 'secondary mechanism'?
At some point you need to decide.
Games don't always need to be simpler. Sometimes, a game even needs an addition - a new dimension to consider. A new strategy to pursue.
But everything should support the core engagement loop.
What is the most interesting part? What is the most fun?
Everything should support that. Try to amplify that.
Often, the other mechanisms might just be diluting the entire experience. When you work out what the 'primary' mechanism is, maybe try to make the other bits as simple as possible. If you need to get cards into people's hands so they can make words (the key part), maybe they could just pick up those cards?
There is value in expanding those secondary mechanisms. As I say, sometimes you want secondary or tertiary paths to victory. Multiple ways to win and more things than you can evaluate over a single game.
Maybe a more complex way to acquire A before you convert it to B, which turns into pts.
Maybe the complex web itself is the focus rather than any single aspect. Feld is a master of the 'point salad' game, which sticks a finger up at any attempt to prioritise one aspect when playing. The skillful player will juggle all the potential ways to gain points and that itself is the appeal.
Working out your focus - working out what IS your primary aspect - is the key to finishing your concept.
Then you can start the design in earnest.
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05 Aug 2018
On Wednesday, I was at Leisure Games, demoing some of my stuff.
A cheery, smiling figure comes in. They run some social gatherings, trying to be fully accessible to blind folk.
They ask about suitable games.
I take a moment to chat and help out.
I think that she should get Last Word.
I mention Nyctophobia.
Neither are available in the shop (indeed, one isn't available anywhere yet, really). We ponder the fact that not much exists.
Before she passed on, I bought a copy of Incan Gold for Cherry. We hadn't played it yet but I was hoping that the boardstate may be simple enough for them to remember (or be reminded of as necessary).
I can't think of any other game that would easily work.
Any existing examples?
Anyone working on such games?
This seems like a valuable area to explore, expand and maybe refine.
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When talking to Drew Richards (a recent product design graduate), they touched upon how a thing needs to be justified before its creation.
Let's say you want to make a corkscrew out of titanium. Is that actually fulfilling a need? Do people want it? Will it function?
With a game you don't need to justify anything beyond 'this will be fun for some folk'. In theory, your sole justification for making a game could be 'this will be fun for at least 5 people'. I mean, if 5 people will absolutely adore your game, then maybe it's still worth your time and effort to create? You could then use some Print-on-Demand service, whether you want to get money, or are making some in-joke that's really a gift for some close friends.
When you take a game to mass-production, with the hopes of making an eventual profit, you should have an expectation of thousands of folk loving it enough to pay for the game. Market research can be great once the game has been made as a prototype that fully captures the core appeal. Or, if a KS has funded, hopefully that's enough indication of a wider interest.
But you can never simply ask folk, "What do you want?" "What problems do you experience that you need solutions to?"
The purpose of a game isn't to satisfy a simple need that people know they have.
Well, it could be. I mean, you could totally make a game for that reason, but that's certainly not the reason for 99% of the games you'll find on a random shelf.
The purpose of a game is to delight. To surprise. To entertain. Maybe presenting something that folk never imagined.
Trying to justify something via market research, before you begin, may be folly. Most folk aren't designers and can't imagine the thing you're asking them about.
Make it. See if it delights/entertains/provides any worthwhile experiences.
And only then can you really tell if it's worth finishing.
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