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Game Design: Step by Step

Inspiration to Perspiration

byGareth-Michael Skarka

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.


9/7/99

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;
Gareth-Michael Skarka
prodigal@prodigalpublishing.com

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What do you think?

Go to forum!\n"; $file = "http://www.rpg.net/$subdir/list2.php?f=$num"; if (readfile($file) == 0) { echo "(0 messages so far)
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All "Step by Step" design columns

  1. Inspiration to Perspiration October 26, 1999
  2. Comin' wit da Nifties October 27, 1999
  3. Concepts Continued October 28, 1999
  4. Character is what you are in the Dark October 29, 1999
  5. Forces of Occupation October 30, 1999
  6. Forces of Occupation, Part II October 31, 1999
  7. Head Count November 2, 1999
  8. Subterranean Ass-Kicking, 101 November 9, 1999
  9. Next Stop, Rune Station November 17, 1999
  10. It's All 'Bout Da Merlins November 23, 1999
  11. Miscellany December 1, 1999
  12. Lords of the UnderWorld December 8, 1999
  13. Lucky 13 December 15, 1999
  14. Miracle Under 34th Street December 22 1999
  15. Gareth's December 27th 'edition' is a survey, on what you want for future Underworld columns.
  16. Statistics and Junk January 5, 2000
  17. Reality Slap January 12, 2000
  18. Once More Into the Breach... January 20, 2000
  19. The Mechanics of Mechanics January 26, 2000
  20. Junkmen and Soundtracks February 2, 2000
  21. The Iron Forestries of Hell February 16, 2000
  22. And Now, For Something Completely Different... February 24, 2000
  23. Confessions of a Language Geek March 1, 2000
  24. Flood of Ideas March 15, 2000
  25. A New Direction? March 24, 2000
  26. The Envelope, Please... March 29, 2000
  27. Generic Systems, My Ass! April 5, 2000
  28. Big News, and Magic April 12, 2000
  29. Big Guns, Razor-sharp Swords, and a Bit with a Dog... April 19, 2000
  30. What's the Story, Morning Glory? April 26, 2000
  31. And now for something completely different, Survey time! May 3, 2000
  32. The Fever for the Flavor May 10, 2000
  33. Random Acts May 17, 2000
  34. A Run Through Dark Places May 25, 2000
  35. Service Interruption June 1, 2000
  36. Endings and Beginnings June 29, 2000
  37. A Brief Return to the Underworld July 13, 2000

Discussion of UnderWorld

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Earlier Comments (Issues 1-7)

(Editor's note: I'll consolidate these when I get a chance)

Other columns at RPGnet

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