Sunday, September 15, 2013

05: Always Improving, But Seemingly Never Finished

One thing that I didn't quite grasp before I tried designing an entire game from scratch was just how much things change during development.  I had the notion in my head that a game starts as a good idea.  The designers would then work with that idea and continue to tweak it until it was perfect and the game was fun. After all, it was so easy for me to see the "right" answers to the shortcomings of other games and how to fix them, the answer should be obvious for my own creations as well. Well that's just not how it works, at all.

First off, you scrap ideas, even good ones, all the time.  Things don't just change, things completely flip from one extreme to the other as you trash some ideas and come up with others in desperation to fill a rules hole. Part of the reason that even good ideas are scrapped is because while they could be a great idea, they might not be a great idea for the game you're making.  No game can have everything, and I think that when a game tries to do that it is going to suffer from rule or content bloat and fail to be as fun as it could of been if it was more streamlined or focused.  One of our big design goals for Space Frontier was to keep it simple and accessible to people that might not have ever played a complicated board game before.  However, we also wanted it to be a game that hardcore board game fans would still enjoy playing.  It turns out that a balancing act as delicate as that one is quite hard.  That meant that a lot of cool ideas that were dripping with theme were removed to keep the game focused, succinct, and keep a good pacing.

The other thing that is constantly changing is the "state of the prototype."  Our prototype, like every other game creator I imagine, started out as a mere idea that we doodled on paper or scribbled onto Paint.  We knew we wanted a character card that gave information, but what information?  The look and content of that character card changed with the game and what was on it and what the game told you was always evolving. Likewise, only so much information could be fit on that card, which we decided would be 10"x4" so we had to make sure the booking of the game and all the information that had to be tracked could fit on a 10 by 4 inch card.  Here are "some" of the iterations of what is now known as the Fleet Card as it continued to develop into the modern design.

As you can see, our first character card was WAY different from the direction we ended up going.  We originally had each fleet of ships with a commander card, or an equipment card, we just weren't sure yet. After further deliberation we decided to go in a different direction, but not because the first idea was bad. Fleet captains and characters would have added a lot of story and fun tactical depth to the game, but it would also complicate it.  We decided for the sake of simplicity it would make more sense for the command ship itself to be the "character" of a player's chosen race and leave commander cards as a good idea that we could use for something else at a later time.

This last rendition is far from final.  John and I would like to add a recipe list, a place to put your money, more information on the research hexes, player color/title, and a lot of other information that... we're not sure how to fit yet.  I'm not worried about those problems being unsolvable because we have been constantly plagued with unknowns like this during the design process.  We continue to work through more problems and improve the game, update it, playtest, and repeat.  At some point we're going to be done, but that's a bit of a ways off.  We are however constantly getting closer and that is a very gratifying feeling.

In my next blog entry, I want to talk a bit about finances, and the struggles of trying to develop something when you have little to invest other than vast amounts of free time.


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