Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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Recovery & Planning Ahead

United Kingdom
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Context: Divergent Thought

You may notice that I've missed two weeks of updates on this project. That is because two weeks ago I managed to ruin my spine such that I couldn't so much as sit at a computer, let alone do any serious game development. Early on I managed a few minutes a day between being in too much pain to work and being too high on painkillers to do anything. I used that time to make sure that manufacturing / shipping for Kickstarter projects I'd already been paid for happened as close to schedule as possible. Still, I hate missing updates and part of the point of writing the development blog for this game before looking for any supporters is to establish a track record of reliability.

I guess part of having a "dry run" for this is being able to find kinks in the system and have solutions prepared. So what I should take away is that it's worth having someone trusted who has access to the account, who can keep everyone up to speed when something like this happens.

The other half of the equation is deciding how I'll behave once I'm recovered. I don't like the idea that if this project were live some people would've paid their monthly subscription in order to get nothing at all. I think that the second take away message is to put in some extra hours to prepare some bonus material - maybe an extra monster or something like that - that I can put in a drawer and release if circumstances beyond my control cause me to pause work on the project.

So it's been a painful couple of weeks, but I guess at least I've learned some things about solo project management for when this thing does eventually go live.

Enough about project stuff, let's talk about the game!

Now I really like some things about the game, I'm very pleased with it capturing the subject material well and just a description of a round feels like an epic action sequence. However I was a little worried that a lot of moves seemed to be procedural - the best thing to do was fairly obvious so the player does that. The extreme version of this problem would be the complete elimination of all interesting decisions and therefore the absence of any meaningful gameplay. Something to be avoided at all costs!

Thus my thinking time (and I've had a lot of thinking time lately) has been devoted to ways to put more meaningful decisions into the game without generating a lot of extra complexity.

I got a chance to try out a few of my ideas today. These were my favourite two:

1) Rather than drawing a card to see which unit acts, have a track of five cards indicating the next five units to act. This proved a huge improvement, leading to a lot more tension decisions (e.g. "I want to move and attack, but if I do I'm blocking LOS for this unit that'll go next") and challenges (e.g. "I can see it'll breathe fire in four moves and that's got a huge area of effect, what's the best thing I can do with these four actions to mitigate that"). The mitigation challenges were particularly important because they created a tension between "Maximise damage dealt" and "Minimise damage received" that had been missing from the game up to this point.

2) Make it possible to attack for short term or long term gain. The old rules pretty much resulted in one of a couple of attack patterns, with little variation. There was usually a mathematically "best" part of the monster to attack and no reason not to do that every time - making the "What bit of the monster am I aiming for?" a meaningless decision. I tried a few variations on this, but combined with the idea above the best one came out along the lines of "If you attack a part that's on the initiative track, shuffle its card back into the initiative deck". This created a tension between "I should stab for its legs to injure it and bring it closer to victory, but a slice to its arms will stop it clawing me next move and that might kill my leader". The 'shuffle back into the deck' also had a nice side effect of creating a slew of monster attacks following on from each other if the player goes too far in the direction of trying to stun it.

It's interesting how having an enforced period of lying down for a couple of hours between each hour at the table affects my work flow. I find that I wind up *really* thinking about the decisions that I'm making - I wouldn't recommend spinal injuries for game design - but perhaps setting an alarm for "30 minutes of don't look at or touch the game" time to ensure that I take the time to mull things over in future might be beneficial.

I'm quite pleased with the changes - I think that the faction and monster design has produced enough combinations that I've got enough of a basis to tinker with the core gameplay until I'm happy with it.
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