Stuck in Thought

I've been rather quiet lately, primarily because I don't have much to say. I find that I have many opinions on process, theory, and practical design when I'm deeply involved in a project. After all, when I'm testing and developing the game I find all sorts of topics simply as a result of what I'm doing. However, right now, I'm not really working on anything. It's not for a lack of trying!

I find it difficult to pursue multiple designs at once. Empire has been sent to a potential publisher, so I'm putting the current game in stasis as I'd rather respond to their feedback instead of push forward in a direction that may not be useful or desired. Even though I'm not working on Empire, it's really dominating my thoughts. It's my baby and it's difficult to leave her on a bench while I go chase something else.

I spent some time working on a cooperative game and I simply couldn't get it to materialize. Every time I thought of something useful I'd slam into a wall and I never really found a way to recover. I failed for a few pretty clear reasons:

  • Cooperative design is incredibly difficult. You must create compelling win and fail conditions, a relentless and compelling AI, cohesive player actions, and more.
  • I pursued a theme more for others than for myself. Several friends said "space is great!" So I pursued that. But, my heart wasn't really into the idea. Make a game for yourself and you'll be more successful. I should know better.
  • I obsessed over the theme to the point I couldn't move forward. I kept thinking about all mechanics in light of the theme and it made it impossible to move forward. Typically I'm able to do this cohesively, but here I was stuck in theme world. One thing I might do is re-approach the design in the most theme-less  dry fashion. Literally create cards with numbers and generic actions. Can I create something there and re-approach it with a paint brush later?
  • I obsessed over simple components, and only simple components. It's important to keep components in mind at all times, but doing so to the point you can't even consider mechanics creatively due to component limitations is just bad design process. I do this because I want to self-publish a game. To do that, the game components need to be on the low cost end of the spectrum. But, if I can't make a game in the first place, the components don't matter!

Experienced designers know that even the biggest failures render gems of hope. For my cooperative game I thought of a neat way to use double-sided cards for terraforming. That may come about at some point. I spent a few weeks thinking heavily on chit-pulling. Nothing really great emerged, BUT it was a useful exercise just the same. I had a really interesting idea, inspired by my friend Ray Mazza's book, to have an evolving ecosystem that was actually, potentially, quite simple.

Alas, I failed.

I shifted my thoughts back to 1901, my alternate history war game about an Imperial German invasion of America during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. I still love this idea, and may pursue it, but I'm encountering some issues with it as well. Primarily, I don't think there's enough breadth to the strategy. I can't settle on conflict resolution mechanics and I find more and more I don't want it to be anything like Empire. Why create the same game twice? I'm also not happy with the challenges presented by the map (the eastern seaboard), which plays a bit into the strategic breadth issue.

Again, my thoughts here have led to some interesting kernels of usefulness. I'm REALLY interested in asymmetrical teammates working cohesively against another team. In 1901 this was going to be naval and army versus a similar pairing. I find myself drawn back to the simplicity of cards, as opposed to boards, tableaus, cards, chits, and more. This has led to some really simple and interesting thoughts on map development. I've thought of a neat twist on drafting and how it can be used for a war game. I've also revisited a favorite theme...

I'm reluctant to talk about any of this in too much detail. Lately I have a tendency of saying "I have this great idea!" and it completely dwindles away minutes after I hit "publish" on the blog. Poor Abby, the cooperative game, 1901... Really, I want to get a prototype together, a set of rules written, and an initial test held as a basic proof of concept. Then I'll start sharing. I can't stand it when creative folks announce new projects every 30 seconds and never finish anything.

But, as a designer on Twitter reminded me, there's the "rule of 10," which is something along the lines of: For every 10 ideas you get a prototoype. For every 10 prototypes you get a game. For every 10 games you get one published.

This seems to be my path as of late and it has really led to a great deal of creative analysis, thought, and troubles. It's time to put something together!

Where are you lately in your creative travels? Create anything amazing? Hit a wall?


Grant, I think many designers share the kind of pitfalls you're describing. I think I tweeted back to you once about how I got wrapped around the wrong theme and had to completely change what the game was about in order to pull together a design that played better. I posted briefly about that epiphany last June, and my work-in-progress, "East India Company," has been rolling forward ever since.

Looking forward to hearing your engine catch and start firing on all cylinders with the next design idea that sparks your imagination.

My old writing teacher used to crucify folks who explained their stories before they were finished. He screamed that by revealing the secret of what you're trying to create, it tricks the brain into believing it's already created and therefore the joy of discovering what the story is really about... disappears. Damn it, he was right very time.

I believe that unless you were born on a slide rule and you eat calculus, the act of game creation is the same. Be happy for the spark. Shut up and let the spark drive you. Don't go on social media and humblebrag about your idea. Just start making it.

Also, yeah, BIG believer in the Rule of 10.

Well, in my defense, I don't really think I'm humble bragging. I just like writing about my process and design. Typically in the past this hasn't been so much of an issue, just lately things aren't panning out. I don't know if I'm in a rut, not inspired, what, I just hit walls I don't seem to be able to solve.

I like discussing ideas early and often. Perhaps it's my professional background on creative teams? I like getting feedback early and gauging excitement. If people are really interested and light up? I may have something.

1) The humblebrag comment wasn't directed at you, Grant. More like a "Royal you".

2) You know how you work better than anyone else can hope. If you get your spark based on feedback, I'd do everything I can to get more of it, throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. If that tack not working... honestly, I'd take a Archimedes-style break for a day or two and absolutely NOT THINK about the game/issue. I know for myself, when I try to "power through" a block, I fail. And when I take that break, I realize that I've been addressing my problem in the wrong way. That break gives me fresh eyes and better solutions.

Personally, I'm hitting the wall with Gorilla. There's a solid base there, but there needs to be... more. The more I try to jam into the existing structure, the more it resists. I'm taking a breather on Gorilla until after BGG.con by working on other things I'm not going to discuss for fear of losing the spark. Also, my sister is about to have her first child any day now, so I'm going to be distracted in other wonderful ways.

You're one of the wiser people in the room, G. You got this.

I'd not heard the Rule of 10 before but that strikes me not only as basically true but eerily accurate.
…I mean, it might be closer to the Rule of 2d10 for any single game, but over a large number of iterations...
Actually 1d10+1d8 is closer… but that's not very elegant.
Aaand that's how my brain works.

You play too much Magic ;)