About six weeks ago, I made a card game. I fiddled with it for a couple of weeks, pitched it to a publisher, got a soft acceptance, and now I’m in the process of designing it some more.
This is a part of the process I never see anybody write convincingly about in their design diaries. This early-middle, bulking up part. I’m not sure I’m going to write anything enlightening either, but I want to try to get something down.
I am not so far along as to call what I am doing “development.”* Even though I have a fully functioning, somewhat fun, already pitched-and-accepted game, I’m still designing it.
Project DG is meant to be light and play quickly. So adding to it is subsequently more laborious. You have to do more work to make a shorter, simpler thing. But it needs more muscle on the bones. So I’m adding mechanics, systems so gossamer that they barely qualify for the name, trying to add depth without adding mass.
I’m failing so far, but this is to be expected. Welcomed even.
My very first girlfriend is now a renowned sculptor. We haven’t talked in years, but when I read about her process, it resonates with game design. (And I suspect, with most creative endeavors.) Here’s a quote about her work from a short biography:
Stichter’s large sculptures are first solid forms, built up around steel armatures with wet clay that she models and sculpts as she works. The amount of clay involved is huge—often 1,000 pounds or greater—and the effort of manipulating this heavy mass is also huge; Stichter describes literally digging in to the clay and slamming, pounding, working until she tires and needs a break to rest and reflect on the next approach.
In game-design analogy, it’s like making every game Agricola-dense and then hollowing out to get a Ticket to Ride.
I’ve gone way wide of the mark if Project DG gets Agricola-dense! But I’m in the part of design where the game is chunkier and slower and solid-er than the final product should be. In today’s playtest, my partner commented that the game was more strategically interesting, but taking far longer than our first tests of the game a few weeks back. The game has gotten head-scratchy with all these new additions. I’m aiming for a 10-minute playtime, and one game today was probably twice that long.
My takeaway from this is: “Good. Now to add some more stuff.”
I’m actually a little ahead of schedule, thanks to some muse tourism at the start of the thing. But I’m not done tossing more clay onto the armature. Another entire subsystem is probably still in the offing.
You need too much so that you can pare back to the correct pieces that make enough. I don’t know how long that will take, but I’m hoping not too long. A few more weeks.
If you’re reading this in the first half of 2018 and want to help playtest, find my email in the About section.
* For one thing, I think development is someone else’s job. Just as a writer should not be their own editor, a designer should not be their own developer. That said, no writer would tell you they don’t edit their own work! But the writer’s editing is part of the writing, not part of the “editing.”