2005-11-05: The suck of having an idea
The suck of having an idea is that then you have it sitting in your brain taking up space that you could be using for other things, like doing laundry or returning library videos on time. There's a whole rash of new 'get your ideas out of your head and onto paper!' things out there, as Emily noted. Now, for some people, this is really helpful. For some people, this is how they get the ideas in the first place. Not me. Let me tell you about my idea and me.
See, it started on the way home from GenCon '03. Vincent had just had his mind blown by all the great cool indie gaming world, especially Universalis, with its uber-cool reward-system for play participation. Soooo, I was thinking about what I'm longing for in RPG-land, and after about hour 3 of the six-hour drive home from Rochester, I had this IDEA. Crap. I'm not a game-writer, or a game-designer. I'm a game-player, and game-runner, and a quilt-designer. I don't, historically, like dealing with mechanics, or resolution systems, or lots of stuff that makes Vincent and Emily and other friends get all bright with excitement and glee.
So what the heck do I do with my idea? It's a decent idea, I think. The few people who have seen it seem to think it's got potential to grow up to be an actual game someday. WTF? I don't want to write this thing; I'm pretty sure I'd do a crappy job anyway (this is not defeatist, just honest - I write great stuff, but not RPG-stuff), and I don't get time to play games, let alone write them! So, my question to you, dear reader, is what now?? Way I see it:
Option A) farm it out to be written by someone else. This sounds good to me, except for the loss-of-vision it would inevitably suffer, becoming in the process Someone Else's Game.
Option B) wait and hope some else writes a game enough like it that I don't have to. I know this has worked a few times in the past for others.
Option C) forget the whole thing. There are already plenty of games about multi-level intrigue with an Arabian flair and funky mechanics that reward good GMing, right?
Option D) suck up and deal. Get feed-back, find time to write it, play-test, re-write, play-test, re-write, repeat until exhausted or content, whichever comes first.
Part of my quandary is the delicate line between getting feed-back and having the whole thing slip away from me. I understand why some people design in private and don't share their process, yet I'm new enough, not a game-designer enough, and ambivalent about the whole thing enough, that I feel like without outside eyes I'll miss huge chunks of what it needs to be a viable game. Like task resolution, for example.
In a world seemingly bubbling over with cool game ideas, even half-baked ideas that got turned down in the Ronnies, I think what I've got is a pile of ingredients.
2005-11-06 00:21:01 Judd
I'd imagine you could gather around you a decent and trustworthy cabal of designers who would give you delicate feedback should you ask for it.
Write some notes so you don't lose it, let it marinate while you pick people for a small e-mail list, maybe 3 people and e-mail them your refined notes.
I'd think that'd work.
Or lock yourself away and write it, showing it to no one.
What do I know?
2005-11-06 01:27:00 Meguey
Yeah. The notes thing has happened, and when I read it over, I go back and forth between 'this is crap!' and 'well hey, this might actually be something!'
2005-11-06 01:28:40 Meguey
Part of the challenge is deciding who to ask for feed-back. That feels touchy to me, and I need to really know where they are at as designers first, because some folks have very different design goals that what I imagine I want. As you said, though,WDIK? (<= officially my new favorite condensed phrase :) )
2005-11-06 02:41:42 Ben Lehman
2005-11-06 03:52:35 Meguey
2005-11-06 04:25:21 Ben Lehman
Uhm—I'm in favor of option D, 'cause I like your idea, but I didn't really have an argument for it or anything and, brevity being the sole of wit, I condensed my opinion to one letter.
Then that looked like a command, rather than an opinion, so I added the "please" to soften it and get the tone I was going for.
I guess I should say that, in terms of creative endeavours, I've always had the most emotional satisfaction from your option D—regardless of whether such attempts actually produce a finished product or not. I am somewhat biased in this, though, because:
1) I'm someone who is right now getting most of his satisfaction from creative products.
2) I want you to finish the game so I can play it.
2005-11-06 13:08:27 Emily
You are so not alone. Sometimes game design is like waking up every morning to cheerfully bash your head against the same wall, again. I feel the same way about several of the game ideas I've got in my head. And even if you do get a working set of mechanics—then you have to take it to the next level and describe the darn thing so that other people can understand how to do it to.. (Stupid other people, grumble, grumble)
There's also this wierd limbo zone that a game enters before its been playtested. Especially if you've been working with it for a while. You don't know if or how your elements can fit together so it stops making sense in your head. Like when you look at a word too long & suddenly you can't believe that we really spell "two" that way (a "t" next to a "w", that's crazy talk!).
'Course it may not feel like it's getting better fast once you do playtest it, since then you run into all the stuff that doesn't work. But it really is much better. You get something tangible, even if it's a small percentage of what you had originally. The game can take shape as a flow of play instead of just a random assortment of procedures. And it lets you know where the real holes are, so you can fill them. Or find someone who can help you do so!
I dig 1,001 Nights, what I've heard about it. Whatever options works for you, I hope it's not, C!
2005-11-06 18:31:14 Brand Robins
I'm going to plead you go with D.
However, if'n you can't quite, then I say that you should also force Vincent to be useful to you.
Mo has started designing a game of her own, and she is forcing me to be useful to her. It's working out very well so far, and we're excited about the game that's coming out. It isn't exactly the same that either of us had envisioned at the start—but it's probably better than either of our ideas alone.
So if you honestly feel that you can't do your idea justice flat on your own, then don't. Get someone else and make them do justice to it. If it changes a bit in the process, it's probably for the better.
What matters most is the idea that other people play, as none of us can ever get the idea in your head. So if it has to change a little from the later so that you can get people playing something that you started, its worth the effort.
2005-11-06 21:02:04 James
I really know where you're coming from, Meg. In my case, Death's Door was personally compelling enough that it dragged me through the process, but every time it went to someone else's eyes, I was on pins and needles, trying to second-guess myself about whether they would "get" it - not necessarily how to play; the first draft was (in hindsight) pretty much unplayable - but really *get* it and be able to comment usefully.
All that aside, though, Death's Door was actually the second idea for a game I had. The first game I started to write was Companions and Associates. In my head, it's a cool game. When I explain it to other people, they say it would make a cool game. But your analogy is perfect: it's just a pile of ingredients. I would suggest option E.
Option E) Remember that you aren't on a deadline. There is no publisher breathing down your neck. Nobody's waiting on the income you'll make from this game to pay any bills. Option C is not forever. Let the game sit, in the back of your brain. Every once in a while, you'll get a cool idea, or another game's mechanic will appeal to you, or some artwork will speak to you. File all that stuff away with the game and let it stew. Some games need that kind of time. Some designers need that kind of time. And a slow cooker recipe rarely looks like a stovetop recipe.
Alrighty, I think I've pushed that analogy to the breaking point, time to shut up.
Hope that's useful to you.
2005-11-07 01:53:42 Meguey
Brand, I'm glad the colaberation thing is working in developing Mo's game - I'll go look on her blog for more on that.
James, about Death's Door - This is in my top three list of games I want to play. It was the first one I knew I wanted at GenCon this year. I'd love to talk to you about it more; can you e-mail me (Tell Meg)or something? And Option E is a good one; I'd forgotten about Option E. I like Option E.
2005-11-07 17:29:15 Matt Wilson
Yes, like everyone says. You should do it. And I hereby commit myself to providing help if you want any. If you don't want any, that's cool. But mama B, you should totally do it.
2005-11-07 18:21:02 Joshua BishopRoby
Option E is a good one. I would add in writing down those ideas that occur to you, so you're slowing snowballing the game. At some point, it will get to the flash point where you're ready to assemble notes in order and actually write the damn thing.
2005-11-07 20:24:59 Meguey
Ok, so all of you who have written one or more game and are encouraging me to go for Option D, how long did your ideas stew before they resulted in an actual, writen so someone else could play it form? This one's been getting poked at for a two years now.
2005-11-09 17:34:38 anon.
Though I'm late on it, I thought I'd chime in. Get in the way back machine and stop yourself from even typing Option B or C. If you're actually seriously considering those, default to A and throw the idea at Matt.
I'd point at D, though. Put aside a chunck of time - a couple of hours in a room with nothing but you and a pad/white/black board and put down everything that's been ruminating in the last couple of years. Just writing it out will stir it up, then seeing it up there in front of you will facilitate your conceptualization of it. Write down a list of goals that you want to accomplish with the game. Identify the areas that feel firm to you and list them. Identify areas that are too vague or malleable or not at all there and list them.
Either start to work on the former and let the latter come or recruit some help for the latter and use the former and the rules to guide you. If you're concerned about creative control, set down deliberate, articulated rules about how you're sharing it and what you need other people to do so that everybody's clear and you would feel safe regaining control if you needed to.
Enlist people that don't intimidate you because you either a.) trust them or b.) they're n00bs like me and don't think they know enough to try and take over (even inadvertantly).
But by all means, get it out there. You're way to interesting a person to let your ideas go to waste.
2005-11-12 17:58:05 Gregor Hutton
I'd just say that sometimes it can be tougher than tough to work through on a project on your own, especially if you don't have a solid drive to do that straight off the bat.
For ideas that I feel I know the way, then I want to go for D. No question. It's mine, and I know what I need to do and I want to do it.
But if you aren't sure, then I'm not sure I can recommend putting yourself through the wringer on your own. It's supposed to fun, y'know?
Maybe you should explore option A? You see, there might be someone out there who wants to (and can) do all the bits you can't do, but can't do the bits you can. If that makes sense. The bits that are yours will stay yours, and the idea is that the other designer feels ownership of the bits they put in too.
The greater whole is a collaborative thing, but you can see your stuff in there for sure.
Just my two cents. :-) Great blog by the way!
2005-11-12 16:31:35 MDS
I vote for E or if you want A, since you'll have a newborn around soon that will keep you incredibly busy already.
Speaking as someone with a newborn trying to work on a game, the two things do not actually synch up and make either job easier. Either way enjoy yourself and have fun with it when the ideas race across your head.