David Cole

3.1.2011

Identifying and Preserving a Flame
One tricky thing for me when beginning the game design process is discovering the essence of the game, or knowing what to preserve at all costs. Typically in my work there’s a technology solution or business model that informs everything I do. Even when I’m making high level product decisions, there’s a theoretical audience and use case that I’m designing for. With Menagerie, I’m not exactly aiming for financial success, I just want to see the game design process from beginning to end.
But the idea of just designing right out of the gate was… scary. I find the best creative environment is one where I have clear points of inspiration and clear points of constraint, but not a clear path to the end. An astronaut needs fuel in the tank, and a route that doesn’t lead into the sun, but a too-tight course means they’ll never discover unknown, exotic planets with alien babes. This is how space travel works, right? Right.
As I said, I had a lot of ideas competing for my attention. I wrote down a bunch of design goals that I was interested in pursuing:
Make a game that produces content by virtue of playing it
Make a cooperative game that allows for a broad variety of play styles
Make a game about divergent motivations based on the same goal
Make a game where people enjoy recounting their play sessions
Make a game about secret alliances and backstabbing
Make a game where cooperation and team spirit come voluntarily, not by rule
Make a game that is situationally funny, not gag funny
I also have media reference points that I’m channeling:
Primarily: the combative, reluctant teamwork of True Grit
The self-identification and humor of Oregon Trail
The freedom of self-expression through game choices of Far Cry 2
The doom-inspired cooperation of Pandemic
The thriller trope of friends turning on each other of films like A Simple Plan and others
The escalating narrative and loose linearity of Talisman
These are fairly grand ambitions, and if I’m being honest with myself I typically don’t finish what I start when I aim this high. I had to lay down some constraints to help focus me:
The game has to work on an iPhone, with asynchronous play
The game must be no more complex than a game of Monopoly
The game should appeal to a broad audience in theme and gameplay
Sessions should take less than an hour, ideally closer to 30 minutes
The gameplay should be familiar enough that most people have played something similar
When a conflict between goals and constraints arises, I choose to cut one or the other, leaning towards cutting goals. For example, I’ve already cut “make a game about divergent motivations based on the same goal”. I had initially planned on giving each player a secret motivation that modified the pure, shared goal of survival. In practice, the intricacies of having two levels of victory (survive or survive while fulfilling your motivation) proved confusing to explain and difficult to implement, violating the “no more complex than Monopoly” rule. I might revisit this idea in the context of an expansion or DLC, but for now it’s cut and the game is much better for it.

Identifying and Preserving a Flame

One tricky thing for me when beginning the game design process is discovering the essence of the game, or knowing what to preserve at all costs. Typically in my work there’s a technology solution or business model that informs everything I do. Even when I’m making high level product decisions, there’s a theoretical audience and use case that I’m designing for. With Menagerie, I’m not exactly aiming for financial success, I just want to see the game design process from beginning to end.

But the idea of just designing right out of the gate was… scary. I find the best creative environment is one where I have clear points of inspiration and clear points of constraint, but not a clear path to the end. An astronaut needs fuel in the tank, and a route that doesn’t lead into the sun, but a too-tight course means they’ll never discover unknown, exotic planets with alien babes. This is how space travel works, right? Right.

As I said, I had a lot of ideas competing for my attention. I wrote down a bunch of design goals that I was interested in pursuing:

  • Make a game that produces content by virtue of playing it
  • Make a cooperative game that allows for a broad variety of play styles
  • Make a game about divergent motivations based on the same goal
  • Make a game where people enjoy recounting their play sessions
  • Make a game about secret alliances and backstabbing
  • Make a game where cooperation and team spirit come voluntarily, not by rule
  • Make a game that is situationally funny, not gag funny

I also have media reference points that I’m channeling:

  • Primarily: the combative, reluctant teamwork of True Grit
  • The self-identification and humor of Oregon Trail
  • The freedom of self-expression through game choices of Far Cry 2
  • The doom-inspired cooperation of Pandemic
  • The thriller trope of friends turning on each other of films like A Simple Plan and others
  • The escalating narrative and loose linearity of Talisman

These are fairly grand ambitions, and if I’m being honest with myself I typically don’t finish what I start when I aim this high. I had to lay down some constraints to help focus me:

  • The game has to work on an iPhone, with asynchronous play
  • The game must be no more complex than a game of Monopoly
  • The game should appeal to a broad audience in theme and gameplay
  • Sessions should take less than an hour, ideally closer to 30 minutes
  • The gameplay should be familiar enough that most people have played something similar

When a conflict between goals and constraints arises, I choose to cut one or the other, leaning towards cutting goals. For example, I’ve already cut “make a game about divergent motivations based on the same goal”. I had initially planned on giving each player a secret motivation that modified the pure, shared goal of survival.┬áIn practice, the intricacies of having two levels of victory (survive or survive while fulfilling your motivation) proved confusing to explain and difficult to implement, violating the “no more complex than Monopoly” rule. I might revisit this idea in the context of an expansion or DLC, but for now it’s cut and the game is much better for it.

Notes

  1. irondavy posted this