Game design is a mild form of mental illness. You think you’re rational and sane and, therefore, the things that you write must also be and are, of course, right-minded. But, they’re not. When you look at something you wrote in the past, your reaction is never, “Go me, I did a good thing!” No. No, that’s never the reaction. The reaction is, “This is fucking garbage, why did I write that?” Yeah, so that thing I said was pretty much potted – the Connections stretch goal – isn’t, because game designer reasons. Fear not, I’m on it!
So, before I get into that, let me first say that the stretch goal I’m talking about is the one where Undying might just play more like an episode of Vampire Diaries. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading now. Watch it or don’t, but do before you go further.
OK, now that we’re on the same page, here’s what I said about the stretch goal in my Kickstarter, “Connections brings the drama between predator and prey. Your connection is a person who means as much to you as unlife itself. Connections is inspired by the vampire TV genre. This expansion adds a completely revised set of moves, based on a early playtest edition of Undying, that give you the tools to explore a predator’s emotional connection to prey.” I portrayed this as a thing that was mostly done. At the time this was true. Now it’s not. I’m re-writing it. That’s how game design goes.
This will make sense later: don’t stop believing is now playing on my Pandora station…
Game Design in Action
What I’m about to share with you is an example of my game design process in action. Fair to say that I’ve been noodling on this for a few days now, reviewing my old manuscript – and largely jettisoning it.
A note about my process: words in my head are a distraction. Words on paper are a burden. Only words in electronic form have utility. So, the act of creation for me is extracting meddlesome words from my head and typing them into my word processor, so that I can clear room for new thoughts. Repeat.
What follows is a transcript, if you will, of a live action game design effort I did tonight. My goal, breakthrough thinking: establish the key principle that defines a predator’s relationship with their connection – a special person in their unlife. It starts with:
What the fuck do you do with a Connection? And why the fuck should you care?
Do you build scenes with them? If so, what do you gain from it?
Do you create problems for them? If so, how do you fix them?
Is it just that they (and other predators) cause problems for you? If so, why have a connection at all?
Do you have a move that deals with your relationship at all? Is it just negative space in the design? Does that make the whole system too mechanical?
The answer is humanity. Hard part: what’s the right question?
Mmmm Woodinville rye.
OK, let’s say you have a move that lets you call for a humanity vote following a scene with your connection. What’s the trigger? Is the default state either fixing or fucking up your relationship? What if you have to choose some really emo shit, like betraying an unknown truth about you, sharing your real feelings (or lack thereof) about them, show that you understand and care for them?
Yessssssss! When the levee breaks just hit my Pandora feed! 8 minutes to crank out a move. Oh fuck, bohemian rhapsody! This is the miracle moment – squeeeeeee! Damn it, whiskey’s empty again, shit! Won’t get fooled again – Christ, this is the most epic Paul music trilogy ever! “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!” In my time of dying! The gods surely smile upon me! And to wrap this up, For those about to rock, we salute you!
In the span of the songs listed above, which, admittedly, is like 2,000 hours, the winner is…
Test your Relationship
When you share a close or tense moment with your connection, say what happens and then answer one or more of the following questions, you choose:
- What hitherto unknown truths (or secrets) about yourself do you reveal? Do you try to hide it?
- What honest feelings about them shine through?
- Do you show them that you understand and care for them? How?
- Do you put their needs and wants before your own? How?
- In what ways do you nurture them?
- What personal baggage to you dump on them?
- What risks do you face together? Are they your savior, your partner, your arm candy, or are they just a victim?
- How do you (or don’t you) value them when dealing with other predators?
The GM considers each answer you give; weighs your connection’s feelings; and then, in secret, chooses one and takes note:
- They really get me! Mark +1.
- Meh. Mark 0.
- They really don’t get me / they’re a dick / they’re full of shit. Mark -1.
For each question they should have answered, but didn’t, mark -1. Then, sum the total.
- If it’s >0, your relationship improves 1 step or stays close.
- If it’s 0, nothing changes – on balance the two of you stagnate.
- If it’s <0, your relationship trait worsens 1 step or stays hostile.
Tell them if or how their relationship trait has changed and then describe their connection’s reaction. Are they happy, sad, angry, depressed, in denial, or in doubt?
In my design process, a good hour or two, some tasty booze, and some good tunes leads to breakthroughs. Welcome to my madness!
And now, sweet home Alabama… that’s just how this night’s going. Whiskey glass is empty again… gotta fix that.