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Subject: Weird design headache rss

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Simon Lundström
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Posted on the BGG down, reposting it here, just for the sake of it.

As often happens when I am in a shitload of work, I get this creative surge in me about a game I've recently been into. How I liked the game, what I liked with the game, and how I could change the rules to make it bigger, more suited to what I want and what I missed, and what I could do without or whatever.

Now, that doesn't bother me that much – I've known for a long time that nothing lights the creative fire in me as a huge amount of work panting down my neck. But as I sit there thinking of how I am to adjust it, I barely can sit still for the urge to discuss or rather explain to others my brilliant vision, and to set their souls on fire just like my own is on fire. It's not that I want to get praise for the ideas, it's that I want to convey the vision I have, work together to do something more, even larger… shortly, I want company in my enthusiasm for Creating Something.

But.

Invariably, I notice that once I start sharing the ideas, be it a discussion on BGG or a phone call to a friend, the creativity fades away. It's not so much that the opinon of others drags me down to Earth's reality, or that I fail to adapt to the ideas of others (at least I think so). But I often fail at conveying what it is I want with my ideas. I often fail at setting their souls on fire. And my inability to do so causes my own enthusiasm to die down. I've noticed this on several occasions, that when I am forced, or just happen, to do everything myself, at most times the result has been at least something half-done, at least playable. But when I've tried to juggle the ideas with others, it has always ended with not being anything at all left save some idea scraps on paper.

I know there are several things that can hamper creativity. For me, one is to try perfecting some aspects of an idea instead of building the whole base first and flesh out the details later, but that's fixable by doing a priority list of what should be done (I rarely get to the end anyway, but at least I get closer). I realise that most entertainment - be it films, video games, comics - is usually better off being the result of one creative soul, but that creativity itself, for me, could be hampered by the mere sharing of ideas is bit of an eye-opener. Especially as I am usually aching to share whatever ideas I have, I am now trying NOT to do so. Perhaps the whole idea is that I should keep the lid on, and let the pressure be the energy to do the boring parts of actually realising the ideas.

Or something.
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Mike Cooper
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Part of what you're describing is known as "scope creep". You start working on something and other ideas start worming their way in because you (or someone else) realizes that that would be cool, too. If you pay attention to scope creep, then you get the same results - a half-completed garbled mess.

Enthusiasm for an idea is great, but I've found that when I'm designing a game, if I give people too much information about it and get them fired up, then the suggestions start coming and it's no longer my game.

So, as you suggested, you need to sit on your ideas a little longer and get them fleshed out first. Then, when you tell people about it, take note of their suggestions, but leave them separate until you finish.
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Scott Nelson
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Scope creep is when I tell them my idea, they try to help me, and end up with a completely new game idea that I tell them to run with, and I go back to my original idea. Found a few closet designers this way, but no help on the idea. I work with my ideas until I have a game, then a rough prototype, before sharing it with others. Then their input can enhance the original game they are playing, not a single game idea that could easily fit many other game themes/mechanisms.
So the advice comes down to staying with the idea a little longer before sharing it unless you have a friend who will help you design the game (I have a wife who loves to tell me when an idea is not going to be fun). And take ideas thrown out to you with a grain of salt - if it seems like you keep hearing the same thing, that is a clue, but if you only hear it one time, write it down, but don't go crazy trying to implement the idea which may or may not "fit" with your original idea.
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Matthew Kloth
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I'm kinda the opposite. When left to my own devices I have a hard time limiting myself. I can't seem to force myself to focus on a tight design. I go down dozens of "what-if" tangents just to see if there is something interesting down that rabbit hole.

But, when I work with somebody else I execute their vision like a relentless robot. All the designs that are closest to completion are ones my wife (she's a hardcore gamer too) guided me in. She doesn't design the mechanics, but tells me what does and does not fit her vision of the game (I have to like it too, but we have similar tastes). I did this same thing on the geek with Skirmish Wars: Advance Tactics. TGov was asking if anyone wanted to help him turn Advance Wars into a boardgame. I helped design the mechanics with his guidance. That was probably the fastest I've ever made a functioning game system. It was all because he kept the communication open and limited the design when I wandered off (If left alone I would have likely re-designed it 30 times and grew bored).

I found the only way for me to get a design done is in a specific design pattern. I start with a theme that interests me. I figure out what broad mechanics fit the theme and scope. I figure out what physical form the game will likely result in (card game, etc). Then I start zooming in bit by bit. Everything is theme first. What resource system, end goal, and play space? Then I figure out what mechanics fit that. Back to theme to figure out specific sub sections. What does the combat "feel" like? Then I design the mechanic for that. I keep focusing in until I'm down to small details.

The whole time I incessantly dismantle and question things.

I seem to take their passion for the game and turn it into results, that hopefully re-stoke that passion. If I can just keep them interested by making interesting mechanics and pretty pictures (I'm an artist and graphic designer too), then the game usually gets pretty far.
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Christopher Todesco
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Right, it's not expanding scope/feature creep, it can be summed up as:

"I can't properly put the awesome vision is my head into words on paper/email or in speech."

I've had this headache too and this is not the only creative field that has this same problem. Unfortunately a lot of times this "awesome vision" we have of our creative works isn't a fleshed out design, but rather a set of emotions or feelings that you get about the idea. Since the idea is based in strong emotions, we feel very strongly about the game, and its very frustrating when we can't properly translate those feelings into a proper design (or description)-- and even worse, when we actually get into writing the rules, we may feel we can't make the rules "line up" with the vision, and the result may not elicit the same emotions that we felt in our original vision.

Just keep pushing. Eventually you'll realize the description or set of rules that properly fit your vision. But the worst thing you can do is not put anything down on paper-- only the best painters, sculptors, architects, and composers have the entire work complete in their head down to every detail before starting... You have to get SOMETHING down, then you can start modifying it-- or better yet, move on and work on another part, and the design of that part may inspire the change needed on another part that makes it finally fit with your vision.
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Benny Sperling
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Simon,

I know the feeling about designing and then involving others and then getting frustrated. What I do is design alone, scribble down as many ideas as I can wrap my brain around then I make a semi-playable version and try it out with the other folks I work with at Gurken Games. They help refine everything and I don't feel like I have been left with scraps. It definitely helps to have a full playable thing before you start showing it off.

By the way, thank you again for help on play testing Pirates Versus Ninjas, once we get enough photos of people dressed up as pirates and ninjas we'll be putting that one out. If you need someone to be excited about ideas and not cut up what your working on, shoot me an email.
 
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Scott Nelson
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After reading a couple more of these posts I have noticed some of "me" in there. The worst "me" is having an idea, then a prototype of something I am "pumped" about. Then I take it to the FLGS for some tests and it gets trashed. They didn't see my vision, which is also a hard way to see that my vision might not have been do-able unless foreced to think and act my way to make it work. My last design I took down had a really unique bidding mechanism I thought was "ingenious" and so "cool" it couldn't miss. It got trashed. One guy simply didn't play like he should have, and there's the rub, people don't always play like I hope they will which means the idea would not work without a lot of forced decisions and that isn't going to cut it. Thanks all for letting me in on some of my own psyche I didn't notice until I started reading. Now, next time I get an idea trashed I will feel I didn't test it in enough ways solo before letting it out of the bag.

PS I still have tried that bidding mechanism in now 3 types of games in different ways, and it fails each time. I think it might be the mechanism and not the game placed around it that has a problem.
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Simon Lundström
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Interesting read, and thanks for the hints.

About getting the idea on paper, it's interesting as I've always been a "then write it down n00b!" kind of critic when I hear someone coming with their fantastic idea for a fantasy novel/comic book/game. Evenso I seem to slip into the same trap myself, although not as obviously. Most of my designs are just remakes, or "more complicated variants" for already existing games, so I always have a rather concrete idea to play with. My problem is rather the other way around, as I don't have to narrow the focus. Rather the whole concept of my "variant" designs is to broaden the focus, but mostly the idea expands so much until it's diluted enough to just evaporate. This is especially the case when I get more ideas to work with.

someotherguy wrote:
If you rely on someone else to cheer you on to write your first novel, it will never get written.

is probably the part that hit the spot best I don't think I _rely_ on others to cheer on me, but I think the cheering is the carrot. When I look back on previous projects, I think that once I spurt out the concrete ideas on whatever variant I am working on, and I get the "hey, that sounds great!" it's like… "OK… I guess I reached my goal… someone thought my idea was great." upon which point the fire to spur me falters. I need to keep that carrot waiting until the variant is really playable without fail. And I need to ignore the details that I know won't be well cooked by less than thorough playtesting either.

But I guess I am learning. Gradually. At least the current idea is taking physical form, although slowly. And for the decks of cards I need to do, I've set myself on just scrabbling stuff on simple paper for the first go, not trying to do nice print-outs. Let's see if the idea this time actually will be finished.
 
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Benny Sperling
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Quote:
Scott wrote:
"PS I still have tried that bidding mechanism in now 3 types of games in different ways, and it fails each time. I think it might be the mechanism and not the game placed around it that has a problem."


Scott,

I know this feeling very well. I have definitely felt I had the most brilliant mechanic ever, but it fails to meet the rigorous demands that actual playing puts on it. Something I do is try to intentionally break the mechanic when I do my solo plays. I try to think about how the mechanic and be abused and worked over so that it either fails completely or becomes such a weird variation that no one can lose using that strategy. This was something I over looked when we originally did Pirates Versus Ninjas. I still have the original cut of the game where it did not work and after many many many play sessions the mechanics came together. It is a boon for those of us who design to be able to see other souls torturing themselves with the same demons we run up against.


 
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Scott Nelson
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Learning that I need to try various extreme strategies is what I see as a NEED in solo testing. You have to think unlike yourself to see these. Sometimes a stupid strategy is even a way to break a game; testing is need for all kinds, great and small, smart and stupid, and all extremes. It becomes all of those "what if someone tried to do this?" extremes that I now think hard on before setting it in front of anyone.
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Benny Sperling
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I find myself putting all of the weird possibilities in the rules. I'm sure there are other instances I miss, but I try to be thorough. I think the best thing to do is to design and then put the rules all the way together after it gets beat up in solo. I know of my new games took a lot of breaking in solo before I even showed it to brian so he could try to break it further.
 
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Søren Staugaard
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Strange that this condition actually has a name. I'm very familiar with it both when it comes to writing or trying to design games. For me, I think it's a matter of distinguishing between "hobby" and "work". At work I can be bored half to death and still finish papers because I have to. At home, when I'm bored with writing or designing, I do something else. Maybe part of the trick is to mentally and practically turn your hobby into work. Take six months off and try to be a full time writer or designer...
 
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Rick Medved
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The problem is, you need to have your idea in a completed state before sharing it with others. Then others can add small tweaks that may improve it, but if you start with a half-baked idea to begin with, you are going to get a bunch of garbage in the form of advise and it will always turn into a mess.
 
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Matthew Eklund
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Rick_SP wrote:
The problem is, you need to have your idea in a completed state before sharing it with others. Then others can add small tweaks that may improve it, but if you start with a half-baked idea to begin with, you are going to get a bunch of garbage in the form of advise and it will always turn into a mess.


I had expected to be the minority here... but most everyone here has got it.

Game design is by its nature an individualistic and introverted process... only the last 5% of the product should be swayed by other people... and this includes seemingly benign things as design ideas from playtesters and looking at other games of the same genre for mechanisms...

 
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