Hurry up and make that game!

I’m going to do a 180 from my previous post where I said take your time. This time I’m going to tell you why it’s a great idea to hurry up, and play that game you’re making. Does that mean I suddenly disagree with what I was saying in that article? The truth is yes, well actually, it’s not that simple. Let’s think about game design as a process of steps. I won’t map every step out for you because that would be its own article, or 30 articles, and even then I’d only be covering one possible methodology. Fortunately, what I was saying in that last article, and this one are fairly universal.

Probably the easiest, and shortest part of a design is the period between “I have an idea for a game.” and “I’m ready to make pieces, so I can play test the game.” As I said last time it’s also my favorite. Because of that it’s really tempting for me to linger in that space. However, I learned along time ago you can spend so much time in that space that you never actually produce a prototype, or you overcook the idea, and it just doesn’t work as well. At that point you don’t have to abandon the idea, but it takes longer to get it into a good space. That is to say you can over think an idea for a game before seeing if it’s even worth making into a full game.

The solution I’ve used for my last 3 to 5 games that I’ve designed is what I call my rapid prototyping system. It’s basically a way to get an idea to something that exists in physical space as quickly as possible. I’m not saying I don’t take the time to think about balance, mechanics, and what I expect players will enjoy while playing the game. I think about all of those. What I try to do instead is not over think them. Honestly, it’s probably better to under think a little than to over think by any amount. The reason why is there will almost always be a detail, player experience, or something that you don’t get just right. Heck, there is even the humbling chance the game isn’t worth exploring in its current state. Knowing these things as soon as possible is the best way to make sure you don’t waste your time. Granted it helps to have understanding play testers, but that’s just you communicating to them up front that it’s something that hasn’t been tested, and will in no way reflect the final game.

What sort of techniques can you use to rapidly prototype? There are plenty out there on the web actually. One of my favorites is blank cards, and a marker. The game doesn’t look pretty when it’s in that prototype stage, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to tell me I’m pointing in the right direction or not. Still there are plenty of great tricks out there, and I’ve found every person has their own favorites. The important thing is getting those ideas into physical pieces as quickly as possible.

If you think it through to that right point of design, and follow through with quickly made pieces that won’t wow a single person, then you’re much more likely to make an awesome game in the end.

Pace yourself. Your game is young, and it does not have long legs.

I am going to get straight to the point with this article. When you design a game it’s a lot of fun. I mean the actual thinking about the theme, mechanics, flavor, balance, components, and everything in the concept stage is a huge blast. I love it. It’s my favorite part. I suspect anyone who has ever designed more than one game would agree. Sure, play testing is a lot of fun, one would hope, but for me the creative process is plainly put, the best.

OK, I completely failed to get straight to the point. I paced myself in getting to the point, and now with the clumsiest segue ever I say “in game design taking your time a good thing.” For me this is one of those lessons learned type of things. As I’ve mentioned before, with Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan I was really lucky in that the game has barely changed since the first time it hit the table. It just played well, and was really balanced. The only thing was it didn’t have a ton of content, so being very excited that things were going so well I started making tons of new heroes, cards, Titans, and anything else that could expand the game. It was a blast coming up with all of these new pieces that could alter the game in so many interesting ways. I then began to play test with all of the new additions. At first everything was fine, but then.

I’ll do a quick montage of what happened. I’ll let you choose the music for this montage, but I suggest something from the Karate Kid. It starts with a scene of me playing the game with others everyone is having fun, but then things go a little funny in final scoring. Another scene of the same. Another scene of the same, and I’m starting to look frustrated. People are having fun, but still the scores aren’t where they should be. Another scene, and things are OK, but then the final scene shows a weird final score, and I have this look of confusion. I think that was the anti-training montage actually. Maybe the Karate Kid was the wrong sound track to use.

It took me a half a dozen plays to realize what had happened. I introduced too much too fast. To test this I played Addictive Alchemy roughly 20 times before I tweaked it. After that I tweaked one card. I played it another half a dozen times, then tweaked a second card. Now only after about 50 plays have I come up with a new set of expansion cards. I’m purposely making it only 6 or so new cards, and things are progressing a lot more smoothly with this paced approached.

I’m not saying it’s still not tempting to make a ton of new cards for the game. Especially when play testers keep asking me when they can buy a copy of the game. Addictive Alchemy has over 100 cards I’ve written down in a spreadsheet that could expand it. I’m just now resisting the urge to bring them into the wild until I have more data. The best part is that data helps me refactor those 100+ cards in my spreadsheet, so when the time comes to introduce them I already have a better sense of their impact on the game.

Giving my game time to grow more slowly has actually allowed me to bring it to maturity a lot more quickly. So remember your game just needs time to catch up because when it’s young it has tiny legs.

What is it like to play Ryuutama?

Recently I talked with Matt Sanchez about the incredibly popular Kickstarter Ryuutama. Myself, and some other people had followup thoughts and questions for Matt, so he kindly agreed to let us get some more details about the upcoming game. I think the important thing to remember is if you haven’t had a chance to check out the Kickstarter you should. It’s a very unique project, and looks to be a lot of fun. Although, Matt can describe it better than I ever could.

Dave: Matt thank you again for meeting with me. I must say people really enjoyed the last interview, and I thought while the Kickstarter was still going we could talk a bit more about Ryuutama.

Matt: Great! We have less than 1 week left and there are still some things to come.

Dave: First I want to say at the time of this interview the Ryuutama Kickstarter is doing more than incredible. 1,519 people have pledged $74,359, and there is still roughly a week to go. Can you tell us what it is like to see your project become successful so quickly, and then continue to grow at such an impressive rate?

Matt: Well, the amount of interest and the high energy level of the fans is humbling. I’m really happy that I can be a part of this project! I know Okada-sensei has put a lot of heart into this game, and I think that’s why it’s doing as well as it is.

Dave: On the Kickstarter page, and in other places you guys have talked a lot about what people can expect from the rules, setting, tone, and general world of Ryuutama. However, I was wondering if you could share with us some of the experiences you’ve had in the game. Although, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. I was wondering if you could share with us your role playing experience leading up to Ryuutama?

Matt: I was sort of a late bloomer, I guess. I talk about this in one of our more recent podcast episodes, but I didn’t start playing RPGs of the tabletop variety until a year after I graduated college. I played for a year in LA then moved to Japan, where, long story short, I fell in love with JRPGs. I have run and participated in lots of different games, from Fiasco to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, from Trail of Cthulhu to Iron Kingdoms. Someday, I will fulfill my dream of writing the perfect Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure RPG. Until that day, I cannot die.

Dave: As you know with RPGs sometimes the first experience you have with one is as a player who hasn’t even read the rules. What was your understanding of the game the first time you played it? What role did you play? What was it like filling that role the first time you played? What unexpected things happened?

Matt: The first time I saw the book, my Japanese wasn’t that great. I flipped through it at a Yellow Submarine and looked at all the pretty pictures and imagined something pretty much exactly like the game actually is. The art really adds a lot to the book’s tone. The first time I played, it was with my Japanese group and I was a plucky konekogoblin (tiny cat-goblin). I think I was a hunter/attack type, because I launched myself at enemies first chance I got. Of course, since konekogoblins start with low strength scores, it didn’t amount to much! I think somehow my character ended up learning that not everything had to be solved using violence…

Dave: That sounds really adorably violent. (Is that a thing?) Anyway, moving on, was there a moment where you said “a-ha” this game gives me something I haven’t seen before in other games? What was that like?

Matt: Yeah, it was probably the traveling stuff. It was actually exciting! My little guy had stubby little paws and tended to get himself in trouble just by walking. One bad day of travel and you didn’t want to get caught in anything dangerous!

Dave: It sounds like konekogolbins might be an advanced class? Or would you recommend them to beginners? Either way do you have any additional advice for future kitten goblins?

Matt: No, they’re not an advanced class, just another optional race for character creation. I probably wouldn’t recommend them to beginners (there are certain classes listed as such in the book) but I wouldn’t tell a beginner that they couldn’t play one. I think that if you’re a cat person like me, you probably won’t need much advice to play a konekogoblin!

Dave: Just about every RPG campaign of any length has one of those moments where things go off the rails. Can you tell us about one of those in Ryuutama?

Matt: Hah! Well, in the campaign that you’re in now, Dave, it has jumped off the rails several times. First may have been when the gob-roach man ended up summoning a horde of gob-roaches to destroy the steampunk town you guys crash landed at. But then we got it back on the rails you guys killed the gobroach queen. And then there was the part where someone bought a strange idol from a creepy old dude at the port town… (Editor note: The play session with the idol was not recorded.)

Dave: Things did go a bit off the rails with the gobroaches didn’t they? At the same time it made for an exciting adventure. To anyone who has had a chance to watch your Youtube series it’s clear you know how to roll with the punches as a GM. However, I’ve noticed in the Kickstarter comments that some people backing this are new to RPGs. Any advice for them when things go off the rails? I’m sure the first time a player does something they don’t expect they’ll panic.

Matt: As any GM will tell you, a GM’s plans very rarely survive contact with the players. A new GM should keep in mind that they can’t plan for all eventualities, so they should be flexible. Remember that each session you run is a dialogue between the GM and the players and ultimately the players will have as much input as the GM as to where the story goes. The skill of improvisation will come with practice and nobody is expecting you to get it right the first time. Just relax and have fun!

Dave: So you’re saying that it happens all of the time. Ryuutama offers a little more player agency for world building than most RPGs. I imagine some pretty interesting ideas can come up when this happens. What are some of the more interesting/bizarre traits you’ve seen appear in the world building?

Matt: In our current campaign, we decided that the world is sort of a hollow-earth sort of deal. I thought that was kind of cool although it was totally off the cuff. I can’t think of anything TOO crazy off the top of my head–Oh wait! Sharktopus gang leaders! (The Sharktopuses are also in the not recorded session.)

Dave: What are some of the world building traits that were just so awesome they had to be rejected for the campaign?

Matt: We left it all in, I think! It’s a glorious wonderful mess!

Dave: I think there is an important statement in that about the nature of running an RPG. Whenever possible say yes, or at least “no and”, or “no but”. Speaking of RPG tips I’ve noticed some of your backers have picked Ryuutama as their first RPG. In response to that a little while back you posted a video explaining how to make a character in Ryuutama. You also offer some tips for making characters. I was wondering if you’d be able to share some additional advice to new, and experienced, gamers a like on team world building?

Matt: Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions, but also don’t be afraid to say when you don’t like someone elses’ suggestions there should be room for compromise. However, if someone has something that they strongly object to, the group obviously shouldn’t include it. I think next time I’m going to try assigning each player an aspect of the town and have them come up with something interesting, then compiling it all and see what happens!

Dave: That sounds like an awesome idea. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Dave: Some RPGs almost require that every player fills out a “role” that is every group needs a healer, a tank, a damage dealer, a “skill monkey”, etc. Does Ryuutama have roles that need filling in a similar way? If so what should players do to make sure their group has the best chance in the wilds? What if they are down a man? How can the GM help make sure they still have an interesting story told?

Matt: There are no “roles” as in Dungeons and Dragons 4e, but there are certainly advantages of having characters with certain abilities around. Hunters, for example, can help keep the group fed while Healers keep the group healthy. The three different Types also have ways of making a party balanced. For example, a group without a healer would do just fine if one of the party members had healing magic. That being said, there is no hard and fast rule as to what classes or types need to be present. A campaign of only merchant PCs could be fun! The GM might have to be careful what sort of obstacles or conflicts appear in the scenarios, however.

Dave: Will the game come with some predefined adventures for players? If so what sort of adventures can players expect from the books? What sort of tools does it include to help build adventures?

Matt: Absolutely, there will be some example scenarios in the book. There’s already a published scenario that you can grab off my blog or from the G+ community. There is also a section in the book with instructions and worksheets for those who might need guidance for creating their own scenarios. I hope that players can share what they’ve created on the G+ community for others to use, as well!

Dave: I can’t wait to try creating my own scenario. As you’ve noticed the merchant really speaks to me. I might make something about trade routes, and trade guilds. That could be a lot of fun. Still, I wanted to thank you again for sharing more about Ryuutama. I know there are a lot of people who can’t wait to play it for the first time.

Introducing The Enchantress

Some of my regular play testers for Prophecies: In the Shadow of the Titan probably have gotten fairly comfortable with the heroes in the game. Well today I’m throwing a twist in here for both the new play testers, and the experienced.

Meet the Alluring Enchantress

Alluring Enchantress

Here we can see her in a bit more detail

Alluring Enchantress wip

Of course this isn’t final art for the Enchantress, but you can believe that this is pretty close to what she will look like.

As far as her powers go?

That’s something that has to be experienced in person, but lets just say she has an uncanny charm, captivating presence, and graceful glamour that give her control over the game and others in ways that haven’t been seen before. Would you expect anything less from an enchantress?