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Subject: How much do you write down before you test? rss

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Moo Cow
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Out of curiosity, exactly how much do people find they're writing down about game mechanics and getting numbers and what not before they actually start testing the game out? Do you do both simultaneously, or do you get the whole game written out before even trying a single thing?

I'm curious what people have found to be the best practice on this.
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Keith Wynn
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I find that writing ideas down as I think of them helps tremendously. For me, I'm an illustrator. And as I draw out ideas, I keep a word document open to explain how I plan to use the components in the game. Usually this evolves into a ruleset that can be quickly edited if parts of the game are changed.

If nothing else, I may read those notes 6 months later and find a cool idea I had forgotten. And sometimes those notes will inspire a new game idea. Writing early and often is always a good thing for me.

Also, Writing can reveal unforeseen problems early in the design process. Give it a try! And if you need motivation to write, I find that writing how to setup the game, or an example of play can really get the juices flowing.
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J C Lawrence
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I start with the numbers. The numbers happen and are worked before I've made anything or thought about making anything.
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Keith Wynn
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clearclaw wrote:
I start with the numbers. The numbers happen and are worked before I've made anything or thought about making anything.
jC, can you please elaborate on what "numbers" are. My first guess would be odds. Then again, many create games for profit. I just design for me.
 
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J C Lawrence
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I start out by building a numerical model of the game. For instance I might start out with the player's starting positions, a measure of what they can do with their assets, derive from there the basic rates of growth or capability of positions, and from there derive a size and shape of the global economy and thence the growth rate and trajectory of the global economy. Then I work backwards and start defining the key resource interactions and exchanges, feeding that back into the model for the economy (to ensure it is getting/not losing the shape I want), etc.
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Greg
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I only write down the things that I'm worried I will forget or that need to be written down for the prototype to work. My first test will be playing against myselves anyway so it's not like anyone else needs to read them.

Unless you count working through a few turns mentally as testing, in which case I write down much less. I have done significant reworkings of things without feeling the need to move a physical piece around a physical board. There's nothing that special about being real
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Bojan Prakljacic
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Yes, those 'mental tests'. When family or friends find me alone, staring into nothingness for unmeasured amount of time, and they ask me: What are you doing?
- Playing a game.
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Pelle Nilsson
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x_equals_speed wrote:
I only write down the things that I'm worried I will forget


Me too, so I have pretty much everything written down. Like a rulebook without editing and in a confusing mess with question marks and often multiple versions of some paragraphs.
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Greg
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8Oj4N wrote:
Yes, those 'mental tests'. When family or friends find me alone, staring into nothingness for unmeasured amount of time, and they ask me: What are you doing?
- Playing a game.


Personally I pace back and forth wearing a hole in the carpet
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Charles Ward
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I would say "as little as possible" but with the right people.
I think there are a few levels of play testers:
- Ones you can show anything to. Close friends/designers.
- Ones you can try specific things out on. Friends/gamers.
- Ones you need to show a perfect game to. Blind testing.
You need all of them.
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Dave Platt
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I write the whole thing down, lists of components, list of cards with text, description of the board, list of tiles, rules. In doing all this I'll need to devise numeric models and explore probabilities. And in doing that I'll have to revise a lot of stuff.
Only when I have a bunch of files making up what might be a playable game will I make a prototype.
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Tiarnan Murphy
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clearclaw wrote:
I start out by building a numerical model of the game. For instance I might start out with the player's starting positions, a measure of what they can do with their assets, derive from there the basic rates of growth or capability of positions, and from there derive a size and shape of the global economy and thence the growth rate and trajectory of the global economy. Then I work backwards and start defining the key resource interactions and exchanges, feeding that back into the model for the economy (to ensure it is getting/not losing the shape I want), etc.


I have got no idea what any of what you just said means.
But it sounds important...?
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Chiky Scares You
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i write down everything: the rules, the carda, i make sketches of the board(s)... then i make very simple components to test, but this usually takes long. Having all rules developed first is what i find more important
 
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John duBois
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I don't really have a best practice - it varies by game.

The thing that I try to keep in mind, though, is that the first few playtests will usually change major parts of the game. As a result, with my early (non-blind) tests, I usually write down only what's absolutely necessary for the game to function, which rarely includes the rules. Then, once the game's engine works the way it's supposed to, I start writing rules out and filling in the details - the things that change it from a functional game to a fun, unique, and thematic one.
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Dave Schroeder
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I write down as much as possible. Passing thoughts to save for later in one place, and then more "settled" decisions in another. Many times trying to write something down in a more technical way can do some of your testing for you. The in your head version of "shoots players in range" turns into "takes 1 shot at players when they enter this range, in line of sight, triggered after X, Y, and Z turn phases."

I personally also like to do a lot of spreadsheeting to figure out balancing issues. If you set up your variables carefully you can get a reasonable idea of things that are way out of whack before you actually run through a game.
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patrick mullen
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Writing is how I design the game, so I can't conceive of having a version that can be playtested that doesn't have pages and pages of written stuff already. There may be some rules in there that another person could interpret, but they certainly aren't intended for any other eyes than my own.
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Alex Stanmyer
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I write a sort of stream of consciousness mind-vomit onto a Google Doc that has rules, ideas, pieces and parts, and questions that I have for my wip. Usually once that is good and messy, I'll do some initial playtesting, take those results, and start to clean things up in separate docs: one for rules, another for stats or cards, etc.
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Carl Nyberg
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I have done different things for different games. I have a steampunk game where I started testing a rough prototype without anything written down. I have a vanilla fantasy game where I had a rough sketch of the rules on a Word document before I tested, and I have a WW2 game where I've pretty much written the entire instruction manual before I have tested it.

However, for the WW2 game, my regular wargaming group has been busy playing Axis & Allies so we haven't gotten around to playing my WW2 game, giving me plenty of time to write the instruction manual.
 
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Ben Smith
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I try and write down new concepts for games when I have them, so that I don't forget the idea later. The concepts might include some very basic mechanics, but by no means full rules.

With the rules, "the numbers," artwork, components, etc. it's best to not waste too much time creating them without first actually playtesting the game (even (especially?) by yourself).

10 minutes playtesting with a prototype can undo an hour of writing clever rules, as you find that things are too clunky, uninteresting, unbalanced, or just not fun. I sometimes use a Google spreadsheet (sometimes you can simulate the whole game in there) to jot down numbers, then change them, then change them again, as I playtest. Otherwise, I just keep it all in my head, and keep changing it as needed, while I playtest.

The only time when you really, really need to write things down is at the end of a playtesting session!! Right down every detail and idea and change, otherwise you may forget by the next time you playtest.

 
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Ben Smith
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saluk wrote:
Writing is how I design the game, so I can't conceive of having a version that can be playtested that doesn't have pages and pages of written stuff already. There may be some rules in there that another person could interpret, but they certainly aren't intended for any other eyes than my own.


What type or genre of games do you design? I'm curious, since my method is nearly the opposite as I will get the basics scribbled out in a paragraph or two, but as soon as I have something interesting I'll cobble together pieces to try it out. The rules at that point are all in my head, and will change constantly.

The latest games I've done this with are fairly basic ones (meant to be educational kids games), so this method works. I could see that for intense war games or the like that might not work! So, curious what games you feel you like to "write before you play."
 
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patrick mullen
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bugeeker wrote:
saluk wrote:
Writing is how I design the game, so I can't conceive of having a version that can be playtested that doesn't have pages and pages of written stuff already. There may be some rules in there that another person could interpret, but they certainly aren't intended for any other eyes than my own.


What type or genre of games do you design? I'm curious, since my method is nearly the opposite as I will get the basics scribbled out in a paragraph or two, but as soon as I have something interesting I'll cobble together pieces to try it out. The rules at that point are all in my head, and will change constantly.

The latest games I've done this with are fairly basic ones (meant to be educational kids games), so this method works. I could see that for intense war games or the like that might not work! So, curious what games you feel you like to "write before you play."


My current projects are a dungeon crawl, a semi co-op pirate ship combat adventure, and a card game. They are on the heavier side I guess, but meant to be paired down as I find their essence.

I think it is less about what kind of game, and more the kind of person I am. Where you like to keep the rules fluid and changing in your head, not having a set structure gives me anxiety. When anything is possible, I kind of shut down. So I write things out to give it a shape.

When I am playing with components and working things out physically, I always have a notepad and usually write a lot of things down there too as I work things out. I will have a thought like, "oh, strength would be a good attribute for characters to have", and then take 10 minutes in my notepad jotting down all the ideas I have for what strength could mean. If I need to see how it works in the game, maybe I'll make a few cards and interact with them. But I still see it as writing first.

It's not that the things I write are how I mean for the game to be - it's more like a hypothesis. And then working with components is the experiment that tests my hypothesis (usually proving it to be wrong!)
 
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