2005-03-07 : My Working Process and Red Sky A.M.
A bit about my working process, plus an announcement
In the past 6 years, this has happened four times. I believe that it's happening a fifth time now.
Normally I have 3-5 practice game designs going. These aren't real game designs. These are like, let's see, the skiffy game, the Labyrinth of doors, Until Today, the Robin Hood game, Quiet, No Kings' Men, Blood and Wolves, Fearless, Bullet Proof... many others whose names and premises I've forgotten. Nothing ever comes of them - if one's lucky, I'll swipe its title for a real project someday, but that hasn't happened yet so they shouldn't hold their breaths.
Some of them would make good games, if I cared about them, but I don't, and maybe that's a little bit tragic.
Anyway no, they're for practice. What I do with them is push mechanics, rules and concepts around and around, fitting them together this way and that, over and over. I generally spend something like an hour a day doing this. I fill steno pads with notes and diagrams and text. I keep it all in a drawer in the lumpley games office, and a couple of times a year I read through it and throw the oldest stuff away.
Kill puppies for satan, Otherkind, Matchmaker and Dogs in the Vineyard were never practice designs. What happened with them was: here I am, pushing rules around in my notebooks, practice practice practice, and something happens in my real life that sparks me. A bad day, a theory argument with Emily, a dream and a put-up-to-it, respectively. I drop the practice games like they don't matter - they don't - and I throw myself wholeheartedly into this new project.
That's what I've been practicing for, right?
(And when I finish it, I always look at it worried that inspiration will never strike again. "Is this all the game design I have in me?" I say.)
Anyhow I'll add it to "design to expose yourself" as my advice to aspiring game designers: design at least three games you won't finish for every game you will.
But here's what's happening now. Last fall sometime Sebastian, my 8 year old, told me about a comic he was planning to make. He didn't tell me the story, he told me about the story: it's two parallel stories, he said, one about a squad of space marines fighting a war, the other about their friends and families back home. The space marines are going to fight life and death battles, he said, while the people at home are going to have problems and struggles of their own. He told me a little about the marines' power armor and landing crafts. I was there nodding right along and going "kid, you're 8 - how can you be talking to me about parallel stories about marines and their loved ones back home? How do you know this crap? Where do you get these insights?" Anyway and he was like, "want to hear the title? Red Sky A.M."
This blew me away. Red Sky A.M., like it were no thing, like it weren't the best title in the history of space marines. Red Sky A. fuckin' M.
So that's been stewing in my brain. Then a couple of weekends ago Ben was visiting and I was bemoaning (again) the fact that Sebastian thought of it not me. I can't bring myself to steal my kid's genius idea and title! I was saying how I'd design it a game for grownups, not for kids, it would be a game about no shit war (and again, how did Sebastian nail it so perfectly?).
Meg was like, "you know what you could do? You could design and publish, credit him for the idea and the title, and put the proceeds into his college fund."
That was the spark. Red Sky A.M. is the new project.
I have a first rules document and a to-do list. I'll start playtesting as soon as my people want to.
I'm still trying to decide how public to be with the design in progress, and in what forum. So far, not public - nobody's seen the document but me. We'll see.
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