A few years ago I sent a game proposal to a new game company called “Victory Point Games”. I never submitted a design before, albeit always loved to do “house” changes to existing games, and wrote a few “miniature” rule sets in the past. The fact that Alan Emrich, the “famous” game designer/developer of my all-time favourite “Totaler Kreig” was head of the company was at the same time inspiring and intimidating.
Well, hundreds of design hours and thousands of exchanged E-Mails later, here I am, with a few published games under my belt. It was a terrific learning experience, so let me humbly try to give the other aspiring game designers out there my own small bit of advice, learned the hard (but fun) way:
The 10 Commandments of Game Design. Delivered to Carl Paradis, in his basement study, after countless hours of newbie game design work:
#1 You shall steal.
The first thing to do after getting that cool game idea, is to check around if someone did beat you to it (very probable!). Try to check as many game designs possible, covering the same subject as your game, and look at how the others did it. Shamelessly steal and improve on what the competition did: don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to! There is nothing wrong by using an entirely novel way of doing things, of course, but be prepared to work hard! You can also port great ideas from other designs that cover a completely different subject matter and/or scale. Steal, Borrow, Copy if you need to!
#2 You shall be original.
Yep, this is the complete opposite of the previous commandment! After looking at how others did it, using it as a foundation, learning from their mistakes, put your own spark of genius in the mix! I try to give to my game project a unique basic concept, and I build stuff from there. For example: “There will never be a sure thing in the game, as far as Combat resolution is concerned”. Speaking of foundation, especially for a historical game: do your Research! You can never have enough sources of information: build a good basic database.
#3 You shall worship your game.
I find peculiar the some people will blast a designer for putting a “10” perfect rating score for his own creation on some Web Gaming Sites. I mean, if you don’t think that your new game idea is not one of the best and fun game that was recently invented, then you definitely lack some enthusiasm to do carry your project to the end (but see #5 below)! If so, go back to the drawing table and get excited!
#4 You shall covet your neighbour’s wife for playtesting.
When you playtest a game, do try to get very Average and Bad players to try it. The majority of gamers are just indifferent protagonists and do not think too hard about what they are doing, they just want to enjoy themselves! Only testing it with a group of fanatics and dedicated persons will just prove that the game works very well with experts... But of course do try to get expert playtesters to help you, too; they are invaluable, especially for historical research validation.
#5 Honour your Developer, so that your project may be successful.
Finding a good developer and taking care of it is VERY important. That person will be the key to an even better product and will provide an “outside to box” view that will help immensely. Try to help his/her task by not sending the poor person tons of changes to your game at all times, unless you want your developer to die of a thousand cuts. It’s a team effort and not a war of minds. After your parents and significant other, it will be the most important person in your game designer’s life!
#6 Remember that, once, you were a Gamer: so keep the Sabbath day.
The goal here is to have FUN! True, some of my best “game-related” experiences were creating and testing my games. But if the “job” somehow becomes too tedious, there is definitely something wrong going on: check if you are not sinning and not following one (or many) of the other commandments. Don’t take things too seriously. Take a break, often, and go back to your gaming roots. I never work more than 2 days in a row on a project: I then play some cool games, or go skiing.
#7 You shall kill.
Sometimes, a game design will not work: be ruthless, RIP. Usually your developer will blow the whistle soon enough, but you might get to act first. Trust me, it will happen. The best thing to do is to cut your losses, and either kill the project before too much pain is endured, and start from scratch. Or go back to another project for a while (you have more than one game that you want to do, right?): time will do wonders. If all seems lost, don’t despair; you got some experience to show, and there is always a bit of the work that can be used later on.
#8 You shall not make yourself above the gamers.
If you think your rules are easy to understand, then think again: they are NOT! Put lots of examples of play (nice graphics help immensely), repeat important concepts. People will get everything wrong anyway, so be prepared to answer lots of “obvious” questions. Gamers will immensely appreciate that you are talking the time to respond to their queries; they are your fans and ambassadors, take good care of them!
#9 You shall keep things simple.
Keep things SIMPLE! Enough said. :-)
#10 You shall have no other goals but to make people happy.
The goal of all this game-designing business Hobby is to have people enjoy playing your game, while you enjoyed making them happy. So always be positive, have fun, work hard; then when all is done (and did I say “Work Hard”?), and the world praises your game, you’ll finally say, with some justified booming pride in your voice: “I published my first game!”.