Many Diaries

I'm a big fan of Slate's The Gist, a daily ~30 minute podcast that features Mike Pesca, formerly of NPR. I highly recommend it if you enjoy witty wordplay, commentary of culture and politics, interesting interviews, and most importantly, Mike Pesca. Liking him is essential. He's a huge personality.

A recurring guest on the show is Matthew Dicks, an award winning storyteller. Dicks frequently comes on to coach storytellers and generally discuss how to tell a good story. It's fascinating how simple his points are, but also, how pertinent these notes are for game design.

Last week, Dicks came onto the show to discuss one of his latest tips. You can listen to it here, but I'll summarize it for you. He recommends that every day at the end of the day, you open a diary or spreadsheet or some device and in just a sentence or two, log the most meaningful thing that happened during the day. A singular moment.

This could be a small conversation with your wife, almost dying on the freeway (my last Friday), signing a contract, or having a hilarious moment at lunch with your friends. What was the most significant moment of your day, briefly noted?

The idea is that it will help you remember things, not just for future reflection, but the act of accessing your memory will remind you of other events. It'll slow down time, cause you to reflect on what you are or are not doing with your life, highlight trends and patterns, and will hopefully inspire you.

I'm 8 days from the conclusion of my 32nd year on this planet. As I go from 32 to 33, I plan to start this diary on a daily basis. I'm curious where it leads. New game ideas? Stronger inner reflection? A good sense of place on this earth?

Never mind that. You came here to learn about design.

Also inspired by Matthew Dicks, I intend to begin keeping a diary for all my games in testing. Traditionally, after a test I simply make the changes and move forward. The "why" of particularly small decisions is lost to the world. I remember key changes, typically, and why they came about, but nothing specific. Towards the latter half of Hocus, I kept a diary sometimes to log what changed. I'm doing that now with Gaia, but from the start. The hope is to build a history of the game and see how it emerges in a step by step way.

The diary is simple. It tracks:

  • The date
  • The number of tests
  • Who tested
  • My notes

Here are my notes from the first test: 

Make all tiles single type.
Remove actual Desert tile, just make it blank spaces.
Remove Event card Type.
Remove Flying key word.
Add 2 reference cards.
Only build planet to 15 (then add more over time via the supply).
Fix a few glaring balance issues from cards used in test.
For Immortals, did "deal 2, keep 1."
Change to "deal 3, keep 1."
Dealt 5 cards at a time from which to draw.
Didn't finish the game.

Here are my notes from the second test:

Play tiles however you want, no complex rules. Start with 3 random tiles in diagonal line.
Add more ways to remove tiles.
Randomly discard 3 cards from hand at start of game to deck to randomize start.
Cover Means: cover physical card or land
Add Means: play in desert
Desert counts as tile
Add tile accents to make world building more interesting and drive early strategy. Perhaps card affinity?
Spend 2 Actions: Draw your whole hand (speed up game)
Always get top card at start of turn, end of turn shuffle deck.(speed up game)
Murkle - Improve wording
Tidal Wave - remove shift clarification
Tempest - Move 3
Bhuta: "Shift 1 from Bhuta"
Tectonic Shift: "Move any 1 tile and anything on it to any space on planet
Many cards too expensive
Need to fix scoring -- it's too tough
Too much public information to track
Simplify immortal bonus.
Perhaps an affinity or scoring arrangement for Gods? Grouped them by Ocean/Forest/Plains.
Creatures can only spawn on affinity tile.
Didn't finish the game.
Remove most conditional statements. Make cards more flexible and powerful.
Simplify Text

The idea is that I catalog my thoughts and take notes on when things changed. Hopefully, I can observe the progression of my game. Hopefully, as I write these down they'll spark other ideas and force me to really examine what I'm up to.

These are my two new diary projects. Hopefully they bear fruit. One for me, one for my games. Do you catalog your tests or your thoughts? How? How do you keep track of the world around you?


Very cool thought. Whenever I play or work on a game, I keep a journal which I write out as if I am recapping the day / thoughts / game for a friend. On one hand, it's nice in that it is easy to write and easy to return to because I can see exactly what I was thinking. On the other hand, it cannot be reviewed as quickly as what you are proposing. I think I'll have to try this "list" method once this next game is ready for testing.

You've mentioned several times going back to older designs. I know you try to write rules ASAP so that you can always come back and see how a prototype functions, but do you log your thoughts anywhere? Or do you not burden yourself with the "why" of less-experienced Rodiek?

Yeah, I try to write notes here and there, but I'm surprisingly good at remembering details in my mind. I can walk you through thousands of changes for York --> Cry Havoc. Not sure why or how, but I can.