Thoughts on Game Development

Oct 12 2008

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So I’m working on this tabletop RPG system, Gunwave. The goal is to make a fun group game that imitates the fast action of an anime action series with giant robots. Lots of Mega Beams, psychic blasts, and charging at your enemy while screaming about the futility of war.

A few things I’ve learned:

  1. It takes time. Time to write, time to tweak, time to review, and time to playtest. A really clear rule set requires a lot of words, often re-arranged many times to achieve optimal clarity.
  2. Playtesting is key. I thought I had a great system, until I sat down with some players. We had fun, but obvious problems with the system reared their head quickly. Every playtester has been worth their weight in fusion reactors.
  3. Get lots of feedback. This ties into playtesting. At the end of every playtesting session, ask the players lots of questions. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. Ask them if a particular fight was fun. Ask them what could have made it better. Ask them what they’d like to see. Ask them what could be dropped. I’ve also sought advice on various RPG design forums, including Chatty DM’s Forums and RPGnet’s Game Design Forum. Lots of people are just waiting to give you advice. Much of it can be ignored, but some of it will massively improve your game.
  4. Take lots of notes. Playtesters, critiquers, and friends will toss out all sorts of ideas, especially at the end of playtests. Write them all down. Many won’t work as they stand, but will give you a great idea when you review them a week later. You’ll get ideas at odd moments, too (showering, driving to work, etc.) — write those down, too, and toss them into the pile. I currently have a text file with 328 lines of Gunwave notes (the vast majority of those lines contain at least one idea).
  5. Expect extensive changes. The current version of the system looks almost nothing like the first one. I completely changed the dice mechanic halfway through, requiring changes to almost every page of the rule set, and a completely new look at how every dice roll worked. And it made the game fit my goals better. Speaking of which:
  6. What do you want out of your system? Define it. Fast? Simple? Comprehensive? Atmospheric? Hint: “Fun” doesn’t count.
  7. Make it look nice. I use NeoOffice to format my documents, and I’ve deliberately learned a lot of neat features that make it look professional (different styles for different types of content, headers displaying the current chapter name, an automatically-generated index, etc.) Folks have commented on and gotten excited about the Player’s Handbook just because it looks nice.

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