Three Development Sessions
I was just on a walk and I began thinking about the three types of sessions I have developing my game. Two of these are obvious, but one isn't, so I thought it might be useful to others to discuss how I go about developing games.
Session One: Discuss the Game
This session requires at least one other person. If you have a co-designer, or development friend, this is great. I discuss my games almost daily with Josh or Antonio, and it is a constant aid.
The discussion topics vary based on the point in the development cycle. Earlier, you tend to hear statements like:
- What makes sense with this theme?
- Would it be cool if players could do X?
- What type of mechanisms are you interested in right now?
In the middle of the cycle, especially during early testing, the questions shift to:
- X is a problem. What are some ways it can be solved?
- Testers are frustrated by Y, but I think it works. Do you think that's really the issue?
- What's the best way to describe this mechanism in the rules?
Late in development, the questions might be:
- Do you think Card A is balanced against Card B?
- Are you worried this is a possible strategy or outcome?
- What is the optimal layout for the card?
The key to this development session is actively discussing the game, its problems, and its potential with someone who is informed about the game and your goals. It's important to have questions against specific problems. Earlier you can wander and brainstorm, but very quickly, these conversations bear more fruit if focused.
Do you have a discussion partner? You should!
Session Two: The Targeted Fix
These sessions are typically very quick. This is when I sit down at my computer with a very specific goal in mind. These sessions usually occur after a Discussion session, Testing, or receiving a report from a tester.
The Targeted Fix usually involves:
- Tuning a specific card, faction, or mechanism
- Fixing wording, including typos, grammar, clarity, or function
- Modifying or re-designing card or component layout
- Editing Rules
- Re-writing rules
- Fixing rules
I often complete targeted fixes in minutes. The decision occurred previously and the only element that hinders me is the quantity of the fixes. I typically write rules early in my process, so maintaining them takes seconds or minutes at worst. I invest the time to create card templates so that I can update and modify cards quickly as well.
More lengthy targeted fix sessions include re-writing rules from scratch, or changing the graphic design for the game. Otherwise, this is a very in and out style of development.
Session Three: Fishing
This is the most common and arguably least fruitful form of development, but I believe it's massively important and can be overlooked. It often feels unproductive, and can easily lose out to watching TV, designing something new, or staring at a wall, even. But, I think you can improve a game's score by a few percentage points by fishing often.
Fishing is about sitting in front of your games components to re-read them, shuffle them, and ponder them. I often have my rules open in a tab on my laptop and I re-read them while watching TV. I open up my card content excel in another tab and read that. I open up the card files and check those out. It's about soaking in the content and, if this makes sense, people watching.
Fishing might result in:
- Finding text errors.
- Shaving 3 words off a sentence in rules.
- Finding a better way to write a card.
- Finding an aspect of your game you present badly.
- Staring at a thing long enough to admit it bothers you enough to finally fix it. This could be a mechanism, layout, or an individual card not pulling its weight.
- Spawning ideas for new content.
- A fresh card layout.
- A new rules flow.
- Forcing you to ponder why a mechanism serves your game.
An overwhelming majority of the time, fishing results in nothing. You have to accept that. But, by soaking yourself in your design and forcing your mind to constantly consider every aspect of it, you'll tease out new ideas, new fixes, and small and even grand ways to improve your design.
It's easy, and most obvious, to simply test your game and then make changes. But, working to have someone to discuss changes with goes a very long way. It forces you to think through the design change, answer "why this is needed," then implement it with thought and care. It's easy to then close your laptop and go do more obviously productive things. But, the key is to not develop a game that works, but to develop a game that's special. The key is to know why every part of your game needs to exist. The key is to sift until you find that gold.
I challenge you to think about your development efforts. How do you spend your time? How do your sessions serve your design? What are you lacking from your development frame work? If you answer those questions, you can then seek the solutions to improve your development output.