Flexing Design Muscles

A while back, I had the chance to go to a little local convention, Orca Con, and attend a few panels on game design and publishing. There were lots of great ideas and tips there (far too many for me to try to recount here), but one thing really struck a chord with me and I wanted to talk a little bit about it.

In one of the panels, the question was raised about how to get into game design. There were, of course, several suggestions, but one really great one was to start by taking known games and tweaking them into something  different. Going a little bit further than the “house rules” route, the idea is that not only do you just make some changes to the rules, but then you need to follow through with all the rest of the work required: play-testing, revising, proofreading, etc.

Why I think this is a great idea (and why we’re doing some small projects here at Green Fairy Studios that are exactly this!) is two-fold. First, it helps you get used to analyzing the rule structure of a game, and trying to figure out its “internal metaphor.” Every game has some kind of core mechanic that it uses to represent whatever its driving theme/goal is. Well known mechanics include Worker Placement, Drafting, Trick-taking, Resource Management, and tons of others. Next time you sit down with your gaming group, take a few moments to look at whatever you’re playing and figure out that core mechanic.

The second reason this is a good idea is that it will also help you practice the process of game development. Nobody can just scribble down some rules, publish it, and have an award-winning, ground-breaking, multi-million-copy-selling game. It takes some work, and if you’re not used to it or familiar with it, you will stumble. You need to train for the process, just like you need to train for running a marathon or any other big task. If you expect to go in “cold” and succeed, you will most likely become discouraged and be faced with a really, really hard time.

Speaking of such projects… We here at Green Fairy Studios are working on some small, stand-alone card games that we plan to have in the same setting as one of the larger products we’re working on. These card games are going to be tweaks of classic card games like Rummy, Hearts, and so on. We’re using these to get used to the process of writing the rules, learning layout software, editing them, play-testing, refining, and even contracting art (which we’ll be able to use in other projects as well!), and getting familiar with the printing process. Even for a “simple” card game, there’s a lot to do to actually publish it, and with more complex games with more parts, expansions, whatever, that complexity just goes up exponentially.

One of the guiding principles at Green Fairy Studios is to build a network of people who can help each other in every aspect of game design and publishing. I hope that this post has been at least mildly interesting, and inspires you to try your own hand at creating your own games. When the time comes that you really think you have something special, we hope to be here to help you with whatever part of the process you need.

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