Starting fresh but with constraints

Dave Berlin Design 1 Comment

This is part 1 of a series about our new game, The Council of Adventurers. I’m documenting the development of this game in order to keep myself honest about its prospects for publication, and to share some mistakes I’ve made with others on the same journey. This post is about the initial game that came out of the death of Prism.

Part 0: The Death of Prism
Part 1: Starting fresh but with constraints

The beginning of a new game

I got home from meeting with the publisher and broke the news to Jessica. And then we had a long talk. You know the kind. I wasn’t sure that we should spend any more time on game design. I wasn’t sure that I could design a great game (or, let’s face it, even a good one). I wasn’t sure I was good enough to be a game designer.

I didn’t want to shut the company down, not after one rejection. After all, we had those 26 pitches for Micromanage that never went anywhere. On the other hand, we learned a ton about the industry, about game design, and about ourselves in that process. But then we went and spent a couple years on Prism. Although, again, we learned a ton. Were we moving toward a publishable game? Was this what you would call progress?

I argued that maybe we should stop doing game design and do something else, like make software for game designers. I’m interested in this space, because I think game designers have monumental hills to climb and need all the help and technology they can get. Or we could shut the whole business down and I could do game design as a hobby and quit stressing about it like it’s work. Since big decisions are rarely served well by tired decision makers, I decided to sleep on it.

By morning I had resolved to give game design another shot. Even after this experience, I wanted to try once more. Even after 26 publishers rejected Micromanage. Even after years of trying and still not being able to figure out how to go from a blank piece of paper to people throwing money at me.

After all, game design is the ultimate game. I like it because it’s so difficult; I like the challenge, along with the creative outlet, and the excitement of other people enjoying my work. I like the label game designer. And so we came up with a plan: I would try again to make a game, but this time with more constraints. If I didn’t make fast progress–like, demonstrable progress toward a published game by the end of the year–we would re-evaluate the situation.

Two weeks before our Unpub Mini SD event, I sat down with the following list of constraints. Create a game that:

  • was closer to $30 retail than $80, which means components totaling $5,
  • borrows the tableau-building puzzle mechanic from Prism, and builds the entire game around that,
  • potentially uses a similar theme to Prism (I grew attached to my wizards),
  • featured real-time or near real-time play, so you’re not off cooking dinner or catching up on your Netflix when it’s not your turn, and

Where to start? Logically I should figure out what you are building up in your tableau. I knew it couldn’t be literal swords and shields, because, as my new publisher friend pointed out to me, who wields five swords at once? They would have to be attributes, like strength, dexterity, and so on, and you’ll use these to fight monsters. Although, hmm, just monsters? OK, how about lots of different types of challenges?

Being an aficionado about details that don’t matter, I spent a few hours reading up on different RPG attribute systems. During this research I decided the game would be about adventurers, not wizards. And I settled on these attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, Stamina, and Agility. Strength would apply to Monsters, Charisma to Quests, Dexterity to Research. Intelligence might show up on a Research card or a Monster. I made up a bunch of these cards, with random values like 2 Strength, 1 Stamina, 1 Agility that gives you 1 victory point, and 1 permanent pink energy and 1 non-permanent yellow energy to spend on upgrades.

Let me try to summarize into an elevator pitch:

You are all Adventurers who must seek out and overcome great Challenges, from defeating horrible Monsters to completing dangerous Quests. Your tableau represents your hero’s attributes, and through overcoming challenges you will be able to train and improve those attributes. You do this by purchasing cards with randomized attributes on them and then placing them on your tableau, potentially covering up some existing attributes. You decide whether to specialize in a few attributes or stay balanced for whatever comes up next. You can also spend your winnings on increasing the size of your tableau, opening up new possibilities in card placement. Turn actions include taking a Quest so that it becomes your goal; completing a quest; buying an attributes card; upgrading your tableau; or taking energy if you can do nothing else.

I don’t even remember what the win condition was, but it didn’t matter. For a first version, this was enough. I just needed to play it with Jessica to see if there was anything there.

Comments 1

  1. Pingback: The Death of Prism | Galvanized Studios

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