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Subject: how to get past brainstorming rss

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Steve Mccabe
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So i would like to try designing a game. I'm not looking to get it published or sell it or kickstart it.

I literally just want to be able to bring out a game at my next game night and be like "hey, you guys wanna try this small game i came up with?"

I've tried brainstorming and one time i got pretty far, but realized that what i was trying to create was way to complex for my first time so i put it on the backburner. Also one of the big ideas that i thought made my game unique was implemented in a much more streamlined way in Dead of Winter.

since then i can brainstorm and take notes, but then applying those notes to components and/or a board seems impossible. i get lost when it comes to thinking about a players turn and how a turn would play out. and then i think ok, well what is the players goal, how do they win? sometimes thats in the notes, but then i can never seem to link everything together.

its hard to describe. its like i hit a brick wall.

how do you guys get around "writers block" when coming up with a game? also, do you come up with a general theme and goal of the game first? or is it a special mechanism that drives everything else?

thanks for reading. i look forward to hearing what you all have to say.
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Brendon Soltis
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I think we all "develop" differently. Some have theme and build a game around the theme. Others love a mechanic and apply a theme later. Really there is no right way IMO.

When I hit a brick wall (developing, brainstorming, writing, etc.) I consult with others... For me it usually takes another person to push me further or give me a different perspective.

Is there anyone you know or in your game group who you respect their opinions and ideas?! Loop them in and talk through your ideas. Distill down what you love about your ideas and create a simple prototype first. You can always build off of simplicity.

Just my thoughts and opinion.
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Paul DeStefano
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Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. - J Jenkins.

The answer is DO it.

Write down the damn rules outline and DO it. Don't worry about it until you get there. Then find the ONE thing in your way (victory conditions?) and DO it.
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W Scott Grant
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For me, every game is different. I used to keep a word-processor document (still do, I just don't use it anymore in favor of a newer technology) where I type out my brainstorms. It's a sort of self-dialog where I propose ideas to support the core concept of the game and, often, in the next paragraph, explain why the idea won't work, or how to improve it to make it better.

Pretty much, all my games start out this way.

If, after writing up my initial brainstorm, I'm still excited about it, I'll continue working on it. I'll start another document where I'll sketch out the basic mechanics, rules, processes, and storyline. At this point, I'll start thinking about components - be they cards, tile, boards, fiddly-bits, etc.

If I'm still excited, I'll usually create an Access database (this is my comfort zone) and set up some tables that have all the printed and supporting information. As the game grows, I'll find artwork online (for prototyping only!), create the actual components, print it all out, set it all up, and play it.

Sometimes it makes it this far, sometimes it doesn't. I will say that, with one exception, every game I've brought to a group without playtesting on my own first has failed. Some of those games survived after refactoring and fixing, others have been put on the shelf.

Every now and then, I'll go back through my original document and review the ideas I've written. It's interesting to see my own evolution over the course of the several years I've been actively doing this. I'm to the point now where I can take a germ of an idea and create it, up to where I'm ready to print it out, in a couple of days (for a smaller game, that is). A few games I've brought to this point and they've stalled there. Others got printed, played, refactored, played again, and again, and so on.

Okay, so I've explained my process, but I haven't really answered your question about writer's block. To me, the answer is simple. If I experience writers block when developing a game, I step away from it. If it's good enough, I'll come back to it later. If not, I chalk it up to experience.

I'm presently working on a game that I initially designed in 2009. I got so far then stalled because of writers block. There were too many aspects of the game that simply wouldn't work, or wouldn't create the type of game I ultimately wanted to create. But the idea has never left me.

A couple weeks ago, I realized that this older game's concept would work fantastic as an expansion to another game I've created (and tested quite a bit) in the mean time. The writer's block is gone. I'm excited about it and I'm looking forward to getting onto a gaming table.
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Steve Mccabe
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you use access? i can see how that would work for a game with a large amount of cards like thunderstone or dominion.

could you share how you use access to help realize your ideas? i use access every day at work and have considered using it as a design tool but would love to hear more about how you use it.

also i like the idea of just do it. I guess i get too caught up in "this probably wont work because of the way this other thing works" but maybe if i just make a quick prototype and see how it plays out, i would be able to pinpoint why it doesnt work and fix it. I think maybe i'm brainstorming too much to the point where its all in my head and i cant visualize the game. Maybe I need to be moving components and see the board/cards to help the brainstorming process too.

Thanks!
 
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Carl Nyberg
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Instead of just thinking about how a turn would play out, cut out some pieces of paper and draw on them and use them on a piece of paper that is the "board". With this rough prototype you will see what a player does in a turn, and how to adjust it.
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Gary Boyd
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Realize that at least the first few games you design are almost certainly going to be crap, then design them so you can get them out of the way. I can't remember where I read this (A Book of Lenses maybe, but it's very good advice.

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W Scott Grant
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sirstevie3 wrote:
you use access? i can see how that would work for a game with a large amount of cards like thunderstone or dominion.

could you share how you use access to help realize your ideas? i use access every day at work and have considered using it as a design tool but would love to hear more about how you use it.

Even small games.

Go to my Forum: http://indysligogames.freeforums.net/

Create an account and log in, then go to the General Ideas section and find the thread titled "MS Access as a design tool"

We can discuss the details there. All you other designers are invited to join my free forum as well... ;-)
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Shanen Opolis
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Geosphere wrote:
Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. - J Jenkins.

The answer is DO it.

Write down the damn rules outline and DO it. Don't worry about it until you get there. Then find the ONE thing in your way (victory conditions?) and DO it.

The Nike method of game design cool
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Shanen Opolis
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For me, designs typically come from unexpected inspiration. I might have an idea for a theme, or a mechanic, but the more it rolls around in my head, the further it gets from the original idea. I usually keep all my notes in a spreadsheet, adding sheets of notes until it starts to become more organized. I might talk to others in the beginning or when I hit a roadblock, but I have a dozen projects going at once, so it's easy to put something on hold and think about something else for a while. Some day I'll have some unexpected inspiration and jump back into an old project. I usually have a playable game in my head, and the card/board data written up in a spreadsheet before I print any cards or do any playtesting. I create prototypes pretty late in the development, because I happen to be pretty good at visualizing and testing mechanics in my head.

Everyone has their own methods, though, so you're going to need to find patterns and practices that work for you. Don't be afraid to experiment with all sorts of ideas.
 
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David Janik-Jones
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Don't brainstorm (at least in the traditional, free-for-all BS form most companies subject their employees to that has been shown to be ineffective since a major study in 1963).

Write up your rules, get some print-and-play scribbled components together, and play it. Over and over and over. Take notes during every game session. Listen to what players tell you, clarify with questions, weigh those thoughts, revise rules if needed, and play more. It's always surprisingly after three years that players still can suggest more efficient ways of doing "X" in my games.

Play the thing until you're sick of it and play it some more. At one point when you're happy with it, call it done then get onto the next designs that have been bubbling up from off-the-wall comments from your previous game.
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Joseph Courtight
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Here is my process:

1) Pick the focus of the game.
2) Design with all the feature you think would be cool.
3) Start eliminating rules and combining them till it is reasonable.
4) solitaire the game.
5) write down all the things wrong with your design.
6) Write down all the things your game did awesome.
7) return to set 2 keeping everything you wrote down in mind in the future.
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Pierre Rebstock
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Geosphere wrote:
Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. - J Jenkins.

The answer is DO it.

Write down the damn rules outline and DO it. Don't worry about it until you get there. Then find the ONE thing in your way (victory conditions?) and DO it.

Couldn't agree more. Sit down and write down the rules, don't just think about it in vague terms. I find this extremely useful to objectively (re) assess where I'm going with a design. It is often easy to get sidetracked into specific aspects (and this happens... and then that happens... if they draw that card then this could happen too....oh, i got this great idea for a card...etc, ad nauseum).

So gather your bits and pieces from your brainstorm sessions and try to create a coherent document. It doesn't need to be 100% complete but should provide enough of a base for you to expand on. Once your core mechanics, game phases, components and/or victory conditions are laid out on paper, you will be able to take your design further and enjoy the fun part

(I recommend the various Mindmap apps available if that's your sort of thinking)
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Steve Mccabe
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thanks for all the feedback everyone! i actually stayed up in bed for 2 hours last night just writing rules down, scratching some, changing some, and some new ones altogether. even introduced a couple new mechanisms/ideas into the game i was stuck on.

i didnt have components to shuffle stuff around on a table, but i started a bulleted list of rules to how the game works, and in parenthesis listed the major components involved in that rule, or the core mechanic relating to the rule.

Just do it was the best advice i could get. i was stuck on brainstorming all nilly willy and it was coming out sloppy which hindered my vision of the final product. so i said ok, just write a short and to the point "rules reference card" for the game with all the important rules and components and mechanisms on it. this helped immensely! it may not sound like much progress to some of you design veterans (i went from scratchy notes to bulleted notes) but it was definitely progress for a novice like me, or at least it feels like it. i feel like i got to the point where if i did print out some stuff i would have a working prototype.meeple

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Derek H
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sirstevie3 wrote:
you use access? i can see how that would work for a game with a large amount of cards like thunderstone or dominion.

could you share how you use access to help realize your ideas? i use access every day at work and have considered using it as a design tool but would love to hear more about how you use it.
You guys still use Access?! Wow, that takes me back about 20 years to the "dark times" when M$ was the only game in town... I really thought Access went the same way as VB and XyWrite - still around but in a niche/hobby type of way.
 
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Derek H
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sirstevie3 wrote:
thanks for all the feedback everyone! i actually stayed up in bed for 2 hours last night just writing rules down, scratching some, changing some, and some new ones altogether. even introduced a couple new mechanisms/ideas into the game i was stuck on.

i didnt have components to shuffle stuff around on a table, but i started a bulleted list of rules to how the game works, and in parenthesis listed the major components involved in that rule, or the core mechanic relating to the rule.
My take is that making some very basic paper components (that you scribble on ... or tear up!) can also help prevent wooliness - being able to see something in front of you connects very deeply!
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Brian Blackwell
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My biggest piece of advice for "writer's block" is to find something broken to fix; something -- anything -- that you can get a wrench around to keep your creative muscles active.

I also agree that getting something physical on the table as soon as possible would be of great value. Take one small aspect of the game and actually play it, even if it's cobbled together abomination in its present state. Don't wait to have your ducks in a row -- play something now.

If you were making a dungeon crawl, for example, test one small aspect of it in physical form -- even if it's just a few scraps of paper and some dice. Check to see if your combat system is even viable. Write down stats for 2 characters, grab some dice and go. You may have had a great plan and then realize, "Hey, these guys can never hit each other with the system I've designed," and this will give you something broken to fix, which equates to progress.



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Carlo
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I find the biggest roadblock in this regard is "analysis paralysis", where you start thinking about problems and mechanical issues before the game is even playable.

My single piece of advice is: make something playable that night.

If you are mulling over an idea, just letting it rattle around your head on the bus ride and in the office, then when you get home sketch something out on paper and play the game against yourself. It doesn't have to be winnable or pretty, and doesn't even have to make a lot of sense. But actually sitting down and PLAYING boosts motivation so very much.
Also you might find you think about a mechanic for 4 hours of the day, then realize it's completely unworkable within the first 5 minutes of actually playing with it.

Once you have a core playable prototype you can add and remove pieces, tweak rules, revamp theme, etc. But keeping the game in a playable state at (nearly) all times really helps. Most boardgame players have a dozen ideas vaguely floating around in their head, but few of them take that extra step to transform those ideas into concrete, playable mechanics.

For example when brainstorming a tabletop skirmish game I had some basic combat resolution methods. I knew I eventually wanted customizable characters and weapons, but instead of getting those systems in place first (which probably wouldn't have stalled me on the project) I basically made up some realistic looking stats, put some stuff on the table, and gave it a whirl. This let me see whether the core dice system for attacking was workable or not, and also helped motivate me to do the fiddly, boring bits like charts and examples.

Also designing a game is one of the most rewarding experiences in the hobby. If you're just aiming to play locally with friends, focus on what you and your group find fun, instead of worrying about mass market acceptance.
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