Game Design: Step by Step
Inspiration to Perspiration
October 26, 1999
Welcome to "Game Design: Step by Step." This is the first in a series of articles that will act as a journal of the process of designing a game from the ground up. It will hopefully offer insight into the workings of the designer's mind (scary as that sounds), and allow you to see what goes into the creation of a roleplaying game, from inception to production.
First, a small introduction is called for-my name is Gareth-Michael Skarka. I am a game designer. A few of my games have seen print, although only one achieved any real degree of market presence: HONG KONG ACTION THEATRE!, which I designed for Event Horizon Productions in 1996. Since that time, I have freelanced here and there, including work for Last Unicorn and Steve Jackson, among others.
Now that introductions have been taken care of, we can move on to the meat of the matter: designing an RPG, from the beginning.
The inspiration for a game has occurred to me. For now, I will not concern myself with matters of marketing and publication: I have enough contacts in the industry who'll consider it if I should submit it to them, or, barring that, I have enough production experience (accumulated through 6 years in the industry, as well as working in mainstream publishing via my day job) to self-publish, if I decide to go that way. To be honest, dwelling over the likelihood or obstacles to getting the game onto the market can be a major block in actually getting the design work done on the game itself, and so I will back-burner that aspect of the process until such time as it becomes imperative.
The inspiration comes from a discussion I have with some friends on the subway. Among other things, we discuss the general level of coolness to be found in such works as Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE-a fantasy set in the tunnels of the London Underground. This leads to a general discussion of similar works: Lisa Goldstein's DARK CITIES UNDERGROUND, the unseen societies of Clive Barker's CABAL (made into the film NIGHTBREED), and television's BEAUTY & THE BEAST series. A seed is planted. The thought germinates. Over the next few days, I find myself drawn to the idea of a post-modern take on the epic fantasy genre, set in the hidden worlds beneath our cities.
I find myself really starting to spark on the idea. I find several websites devoted to the abandoned subway lines and stations beneath New York, unknown and unseen to the millions of people who travel the system everyday. I find a book, THE MOLE PEOPLE by Jennifer Toth-a piece of investigative journalism on the society of subway-dwelling homeless in NYC. All of these ideas begin to coalesce in my brain: A hidden society living beneath our "real world"...abandoned stations, secret chambers....magic...other races, older than man...swords, sorcery, and subways!
The first thing that I need to do is decide upon a title. I have found that the selection of a title can lend a focus and direction to a project that it otherwise wouldn't have. HONG KONG ACTION ACTION THEATRE! Began life as "Kung Fu Action Theatre!", and was originally only going to be devoted to the Saturday-afternoon kung fu movies that I had grown up with...when I changed the title to encompass all of the HK action genre, the focus was changed.
With this game, I want a title that has the same ring to it as "Neverwhere"-a title that to me was very evocative of the setting. I also want it to have more than one meaning, if possible. After mulling it over for a bit, I settle on a preliminary title: "UnderWorld". (in fact, ignoring for a moment my own rule about not thinking of marketing or production until much later, this title immediately suggests an ad campaign to me: "Unseen...unknown...unbelievable...UnderWorld."-or something like that.)
Suitably armed with an idea, and a title, I set my sights upon the concepts and features that will drive the game forward.
Until next week;