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.

1. On 2005-03-07, Eric said:

Wow.  That's one smart - and lucky - kid.  If and when you decide to open up with the design process and/or punt for playtesters, you know you got 'em.


2. On 2005-03-07, Pete said:

Heh. I'm stealing my 6 year old's idea for my best selling kids book. I say go for it.


3. On 2005-03-07, Matt Snyder said:

Man, this hits me on so many levels.

First, yeah, that's me designing too. I've got stacks of notebooks half-filled with sketches, ideas, and numbers.

Second, design to expose yourself? For me, designing games is an outlet where I can be honest with people. It hasn't worked for me in creating other stuff. This, it works. Right on.

Third, designing in the open is hard on the designer. This isn't to say it's wrong or a wholly bad idea. I am not speculating.

Fourth, Red Sky A.M.? Brilliant. Skip that kid a few grades already!


4. On 2005-03-07, Luke said:

keep it secret, keep it safe.


5. On 2005-03-07, Judd said:

That's about the sweetest game design story ever in the history of game design stories.


6. On 2005-03-07, Matt Wilson said:

Awesome. Sebastian is like a way cool version of Doogie Hauser. You should ask him to do the artwork for it. That'd take your game right to the edge right there.

I also do 3-4 games at a time, but they're all the same goddamn game, back and forth, and it makes me and the baby jesus cry.

BTW, If I had a game group that was functional, I'd totally offer to playtest. I'm still offering, but you know, with a caveat.


7. On 2005-03-07, Ben Lehman said:

I'm happy to do that... thing... that I did with Dogs, whenever you're ready for it, if you want it.


P.S.  Dude, man I was just talking up Red Sky AM last night, to the players who played Dogs.


8. On 2005-03-07, ScottM said:

When you first mentioned it, it sounded like you were thinking of it as a cool structure for a PTA game.  I suspect you're not going to design the game to be a PTA clone... at what point did you decide that it needed to be its own game, not a cool PTA game?

[Note: I'm not invested in seeing this as a PTA game, of course, I'm just trying to get some non-specific designer info into the world. Yup, selfless questioning here...]


9. On 2005-03-07, Michael S. Miller said:

Lookin' forward to Red Sky A.M. Let me know when you're in the market for playtesters.

As for the private design vs. public design, I suggest looking at all the indie games on one's shelf. Separate them into two piles: Those that were designed in public and those that were designed in private. Which stack is bigger? Definitely the privately designed stack.

Now, if I could only follow my own advice...


10. On 2005-03-07, Vincent said:

Scott: " what point did you decide that it needed to be its own game, not a cool PTA game?"

Pretty much when the lightning struck. Sans lightning, it could easily have been a potential (and maybe eventually real) PTA game for the rest of its life.


A GMed game, with everybody else playing two characters, a marine and a civilian. Play will alternate between the front and the home front, with resource feedback between them.

Both at each front and operating between them, the dynamic is "who's giving up what for whom?"

Also: strict but sufficiently fearsome limits on the GM's mechanical resources.


11. On 2005-03-07, Brennan said:

Very cool. Sebastian sounds very sharp. I really love this age (Crispin just turned 9), because they are still kids, but they have these flashes of grown-up sophistication. Awesome.

Crispin just pulled one of these the other day. Krista has been talking about the iPod as her "Precious" for weeks now, and she comes into the room carrying it while Crispin is doing his homework. He looks up and says, "Gimme the iPod." Krista says, "Why?" and Crispin says, "Because it's my birthday and I want it."

Oh, and I am an eager volunteer for playtesting.


12. On 2005-03-07, Clinton R. Nixon said:

I'll be short and to the point:


Man, I've been looking forward to hearing more about Red Sky A.M. ever since you first posted about it.


13. On 2005-03-07, Kaare said:

I'm feverish as I write this, but this might be the "war"game I've always wanted to play.


14. On 2005-03-07, Mike Holmes said:

Have you asked Sebastian yet? I don't want to sound all doomsdayish, and he'll probably say yes (if he hasn't already). But there are some potential problems with "stealing" the idea. Let's say that your game does well, but he doesn't manage to get his comic completed. Don't you think he might resent you for stealing his thunder? Even if that's just a rationalization on his part? And that's just one scenario.

Just be sure it's OK with him. Even if the game payed for his entire college costs, it's not worth your kid's trust. So, again if you haven't, tell him your plan. Chances are he'll love the idea. But don't even start on it without asking first.

Just my $.02



15. On 2005-03-07, Vincent said:

Mike, yes! I talked to him about it a few days ago (after I was sure I wasn't losing interest in it) and got his approval. He was kind of nonplussed, like "huh? that old idea? Whatever dad, sure."



16. On 2005-03-07, Poh Tun Kai said:

God, that's cool. I remember you mentioning Red Sky A.M. way back, and it is such an awesome name that I envy you and Sebastian thoroughly.

Colour me very interested!


17. On 2005-03-07, Keith said:

You kid is wicked smart Vincent.  I love the idea of you paying for his college with a game based on his idea.  That rawks!


18. On 2005-03-08, Chris Goodwin said:

Andrew is three.  I hope that when he is eight he is as cool as Sebastian.


19. On 2005-03-08, Matthijs said:

Resource feedback between home & front sounds like a great mechanic! Sounds like a good game. But yeah, you should probably keep design private - it's hard enough to kill your own darlings, and if everyone else starts having darlings as well, it can get even harder to kill'em. In addition, if you take a pause in the process, it looks bad if you're doing it in public ("did the game die?"). If you do it in private, nobody will know, and it's easier to get back to the game again.

Putting my 3-year-old Benjamin to bed was the inspiration for the bedtime story game "A trip to the moon", btw.


20. On 2005-03-08, Meguey said:

Ok, now I want to hear more about "A trip to the moon"


21. On 2005-03-08, Emily Care said:

Trip to the moon is on our list of games to play, as a matter of fact. It's a keen one. I think I mentioned it at dinner over your house one night, and Seb was really into it!


22. On 2005-03-08, xenopulse said:

Well, Matthijs posted "Trip to the Moon" to the Forge. It's something I might try when my Aidan gets old enough. I'd love to give a link, but it looks like the site's been hacked and is down :(

And this Red Sky AM idea sounds very cool indeed.

I've actually just implemented some things from Dogs in my current freeform game. I'll post details to AP once the game gets started.

- Christian


23. On 2005-03-08, Ninja Hunter J said:

You've known where I've stood on Red Sky A.M. from the breeding grounds, not even the starting gate, V.

Spin me some rules!


24. On 2005-03-08, Else said:

You asked for a "trip to the moon" link?
downloading can happen here :

The title in Norwegian : Reisen til m???n

And getting ideas and inspiration from kids is a great way of comming up with things, after all, it is playing we are doing. ;)

Red sky A.M really sounded like a great idea, btw.


25. On 2005-03-08, Else said:

Note; I have no idea if this link is translated or not.


26. On 2005-03-12, John Harper said:

This comment is a little late, but I just managed to find the link:

On my Forge wishlist from 2004, I asked Vincent for a war RPG called Two Clicks. I knew V. was the one to make the kick-ass war RPG that I desperately want to play.

Wishes really do come true.


27. On 2005-03-15, Vincent said:

For my own future reference:
Gear list


28. On 2005-03-22, Vincent said:

This is a test.


29. On 2005-04-01, Carrie said:

From the ops gear site:
"butt packs". Hee hee.

Hmm, looks like this thread got quiet when you started into details of Red Sky A.M.—is that because people want to protect your creative process despite the baby step towards being public, or coincidence, or that it went into the 'antiquated' pile at the same time?

Home world people might be hankering for supplies like these. I know I am right now.

Just wanted you to know that game is really exciting. Playing two people opens up interesting relationship stuff ... fun fun. I'm already getting into it.



30. On 2005-04-01, Carrie said:

From the ops gear site:
"butt packs". Hee hee.

Hmm, looks like this thread got quiet when you started into details of Red Sky A.M.—is that because people want to protect your creative process despite the baby step towards being public, or coincidence, or that it went into the 'antiquated' pile at the same time?

Home world people might be hankering for supplies like these. I know I am right now.

Just wanted you to know that game is really exciting. Playing two people opens up interesting relationship stuff ... fun fun. I'm already getting into it.



31. On 2005-04-07, Vincent said:

Oh, hey Carrie!

Yeah, I think only the top three or four posts on my page get comments. Like notice how long it took me to notice yours!


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