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Game Design: Step by Step

Flood of Ideas

by Gareth-Michael Skarka

March 15, 2000


First of all, I'd like to extend my appreciation to those of you who sent me emails of condolences regarding my recent misfortune.  Thank you all very much.

For those of you who are unaware, a water main broke beneath my basement apartment, flooding the whole thing with about 4 inches of water, wall to wall.  About a third of my belongings were ruined, and I'm currently scrambling to find a new place to live, in what is probably the most cut-throat housing market in the world, barring Tokyo or Hong Kong.

Not a fun time, let me assure you.

Luckily enough, none of my files on UnderWorld were damaged, and so I'm free to continue my work unabated.  Unfortunately, the financial setback of having to a) find a new place and b) move what's left of my belongings over there will almost certainly push production of the game back even further. There's not a whole lot I can do about that, unless I come down with that rarest of medical conditions, "Money coming out of the Wazoo."  However, as I said back in the first installment of this column, you cannot really allow production concerns to affect the design process.  You keep working until you've completed the design, and then you worry about production.  So that's what I'm planning to do.  The process of designing UnderWorld will continue (as will this column, since it has become a part of that process), and I'll worry about production when I'm done.

(...and, just to let you in on a little secret:  UnderWorld may not even be the first product released by Prodigal Publishing Group.  The company's first release may be a smaller-scale product...definitely a cool game in its own right, but much cheaper to produce than what I've got planned for UnderWorld.  More on this later, perhaps...or, if you're really dying to know, you can email me privately.)

So...let's see....where were we?

I believe I said that this week (or rather last week, but this know what I mean) we'd take a look at GameMastering (or, as it is referred to in UnderWorld, Conducting).

Well, I'm not.

This week's column, inspired by my witnessing the destruction of large amounts of my stuff,  is devoted to another portion of game design that I thought you should
know.  Never throw anything away, if you can help it.

Like most designers, I have begun more games than I have completed.  It's the nature of the beast.  You start work on a project, then for whatever reason, you
stop--maybe you just lost interest, maybe something else came along that "scooped" your idea, or maybe you just found something else that drew your attention.
Happens to me all the time.  The thing is, I always keep the materials that I've worked up.

Going through my stuff, salvaging what hasn't been damaged (sidenote: boxes on the floor is not a good storage method), preparing for my forthcoming move, I find
that I have 6 games, in various stages of development:

Black Powder, Cold Iron:  A role-playing game of Napoleonic fantasy.  Our world, during the early 1800s, with magic and bizarre inventions added.

Infernal Devices:  A straightforward Steampunk game, abandoned because revisiting a genre in which I've already published (in Age of Empire) quickly lost it's
allure, and I thought it was too much of a niche game.  Although, with Steve Jackson releasing both GURPS Castle Falkenstein and GURPS Steampunk, I might have been wrong about that. Hmmm.

Mob: The Game of Disorganized Crime:  a board game that mixes wargame-like combat and diplomacy in a tongue-in-cheek look at the Mafia.  Dropped
because it began to bear a close resemblance to WEG's wonderful Junta.  No need to re-invent the wheel.

An as-of-yet untitled Spy game:  I love this genre, being a total James Bond freak.  Originally, it was entitled Agent X, and was going to appear as part of Event
Horizon Production's Cinemaction line, but someone else released a game with that title, EHP no longer exists, and since the end of the Cold War, spies have been
really lagging as a genre.

Legends of the Vale:  Every game designer has one--this one is mine.  A variation on the standard "epic fantasy" genre...this time set in a late Renaissance/early Reformation period, rather than Medieval.  I seriously doubt whether this one will ever see the light of day.

RetroFuture:  A personal favorite, currently languishing due to it's total "niche-yness".  A neo-pulp RPG...set in the modern day, but the modern day as envisioned by the Pulps and World's Fairs and Popular Mechanics of the 30's and 40's.  Flying cars, world-threatening villains, jetpacks, etc. (Think Tom Strong by Allan Moore, and you're not too far off)  I really like this one...but I'm not sure of the mass appeal.

Now, a lot of material from these games has found its way into UnderWorld.  For example, the idea of the Artificer's invention ability being linked to their madness came from the design of Infernal Devices.  The magic system of UnderWorld contains elements of the one that I was developing for both Black Powder, Cold Iron and Legends of the Vale (actually, it first appeared in Legends, which influenced the design of BPCI, and so on).

The point that I'm trying to make here is that as a game designer, you should never throw away any design.  Even if you think that its never going to be something that you want to finish, you never know when some element of it might present itself as being perfect for a later project.  The die mechanic from your superhero game might end up being just the thing for your fantasy game.  The ship-construction method you originally worked up for a science-fiction wargame might end up providing you with the basis for character creation in your World War II RPG.  You never know.

That has become my watch-word during not only my design career, but  my recent experience with the flooded apartment as well.  You never know.

See ya in 7,

Gareth-Michael Skarka

Underworld, and all related terms and concepts contained herein are copyright 2000 by Gareth-Michael Skarka. All rights reserved.

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What do you think?

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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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