Hey, it’s my 100th post! Here’s some insight into how I design.
Recently, I listened to a debate between game designers TC Petty III and Aaron and Austin of Dr. Wictz Games about when to write rules. It’s a short and very interesting discussion of two different approaches to design. TC follows the approach of waiting to write down the rules until the game is fixed, so that he can change them rapidly at any time, even in the middle of a playtest. I personally fall more on the side of Dr. Wictz, writing rules down as early as possible and working through them as you make changes to make sure everything works. The debate really made me think about why I write my rules the way I do. And I came up with something that wasn’t really mentioned.
Part of it is memory. When you’re developing a game, you will have a lot of rules that interact, so being able to look at them all to study how they interact is an important part. But there is another side to this.
I write down rules to make them real.
When I work on rules, I am working in a sort of quantum sea of ideas. For every possible rule variation, I am sort of considering all of the options simultaneously. By writing them down, I lock the ideas down to one point, in order to focus. But I don’t write the ideas down in order to establish a fixed version of the game. Instead, once they are on paper (or virtual paper), I can manipulate them much more easily than I can in my mind.
I think part of this is growing up in the computer age, where word processors make it much easier to change your words a hundred times before you print them out. It is a naturally fluid medium for ideas. When I design, I take advantage of this to write down a rule with maybe two or three variations, and see what specific version of it I like the most. It’s almost an effort of trial and error, but instead of actually playing through a game, I can temporarily hold all of the other rules fixed and quickly go through variations to tune the game.
I guess my rule writing is a lot like my play style, prone to analysis paralysis. I start changing my mind and thinking about all of the potential changes it causes in play. Instead of considering how each action is affected by changes in all prior and subsequent steps, I can consider just one course of action. Writing down a rule, just like picking up a piece, helps me focus on one set at a time.
Because of this, I don’t really keep versions, except when I’m making radical changes to a game that require a major editing of the rules. Then, I do so to take the burden off of my memory. I can go back to the original at any time. But the rest of the time, I write right over top of the previous rules, moving things around, deleting lines, and crossing things out in case I want to come back to them.
For me, the rules are almost a tangible part to the game, as real as working with a prototype. Figuring them out is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Whey you start you have a general idea of what it will look like and a box of jumbled parts. So you start with the things that are easy to identify. The edges give you a rough framework, and as you start putting things in place, it gets easier. You connect the big pieces and finish all the details to get the final product. Writing the rules lets me get in with my hands (through a mouse and keyboard) and play with the game, so that I can play the game.