student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Changes: Killing my Darlings

Well, it’s clearly been entirely too long since I’ve updated, but since I’ve done almost no practical work on the game in the intervening time, it’s not exactly a surprise.

Of course, specifying that the undone work on the game is of a practical sort, that implies that some sort of, shall we say, less than practical work has been accomplished, and this is, in fact, the case.

Elements has changed a lot since I started it as a project called The Source, about three years ago.  I’ve struggled with so many concepts and ideas that it’s a little like having Ultram mainlined into the brain.  I’ve gone numb upon occasion, running into that special breed of writer’s block one could call Idea Overload Syndrome (or IOS, if you’re into acronyms).  I still run into that problem – or, at least, I was regularly running into that problem.

It’s not like having an abundance of design ideas is a bad thing, you understand.  The problem shows up when the ideas never get much past being ideas before new ideas show up.  It gets worse when those ideas conflict with each other, or when no workable path appears between the idea and the execution of that idea in a game context. That second one was where I kept going numb; the ideas came, and before I could work out how to put them into the game, new ideas flooded in, usually inspired by the original idea or the process of enacting the original idea.

When it came to getting things done, it was the Jackson Pollck method, which might work for modern art, but is absolute shite when it comes to trying to put together a coherent tabletop RPG.

Which brings us back to the subject of less-than-practical work on the system.  I suppose that the work was actually the most practical thing i could possibly do.  Instead of trying to fight through tidal inspiration, I had to sit down and start thinking about what, exactly, I was trying to accomplish, and which of the multitude of ideas I had been playing with fit into that mold.  Further, I had to seriously think about how I was going to accomplish the goals, execute the ideas, and how I was going to, for the love of all things holy, finish Elements.

Stephen King, in his brilliant book On Writing, said that you had to “Kill your darlings”, and that’s what  I did.  I rounded up my ideas, and sat down to a few beers with them.  As we sat about the table, I listened to them, and then quietly slipped arsenic in the beers of those ideas that weren’t going to work out.

It hurt, I can tell you.

My next step was to focus on, and pander to the egos of, those ideas that I thought would be able to form the nexus of the game.  I then invited a few friends of the wordsmith to be collaborators on the project:  Time Management and Scheduling were welcome additions to the team, I can tell you.

So now, I have a desktop calendar that reminds me that I need to update the blog.  Word count goals are almost useless in game design, since word counts have nothing to do wit how much you actually accomplish during the design phase, so I set a tentative schedule for finishing segments of the rules, allowing more time for things that I thought would be especially time consuming (ability and skill design, character and NPC generation, the combat system, and so forth).

I have a timeline now, and that should help.  I’ll share the schedule here when it becomes a bit more solidified; time management or no, I can’t know how accurate my time estimates have been until I get more work done, and sharing a wildly inaccurate schedule with the world would be a superb example of how to annoy people.

In any case, the blog is supposed to be updated at least weekly now.  Let’s see if I can stick to that.

Next Post:  Discussing the Skill and Ability system, and a bit about NPCs.

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