It seems to be my month for consulting on projects which have hunkered down in people’s notebooks for fifteen or twenty years, refusing either to get past a design hump or to yield gracefully into “not gonna do this game” status. The full name for this one is Variations on a Private and Lonely Hell, which Jesse might like either to lift into moving, playable form or (I suspect) to put down for good in the backyard all game designers should maintain for this purpose.
There are characters moving through symbolic scenes and situations of potential trauma or at least personal disquiet, there are surreal meet-ups for the characters as players exchange and bestow cards, there’s a “good” GM and a “bad” GM, and ultimately a diffuse judgment of the characters …
There’s a reason I drove straight into “what does it look like in play first” mode – lately, I am coming down even harder than usual on the engineering or IT mode of game design. It’s not because of the formalism, which in fact I rather like, but because of the emphasis on product. Not even the commercialism either, but the notion that you know what this will do, you know how it’s supposed to do it, you have implemented it, and now it’s time to test that very function in both the “how well does it perform” sense and the “breaking point” sense. The quicker we recognize that we are not experts and not specially-qualified, the better. I’m not talking about one single rule or procedure or intended aesthetic or social result until I know what might happen in some fictional circumstance of play and what it should be like in terms of raw aesthetics.
Now I’m just raving away on the street corner instead of getting to the business of this consult, but one thing Jesse said, briefly, did peek out like a quasit from a cookie jar, and I know some more of you out there say it too: the idea that you have to convince anyone to play a game in design, with the implication that it must be pitched to them, promising them that it is in fact already “good” or “awesome” or “just wow” before they get there. This is total paralysis: one cannot design (the verb) by showing off a design (the noun). One shouldn’t be playing with anyone who isn’t ready to pitch in and be supportive, no matter how provisional or rudimentary the current procedures are.
Anyway, back to this project which is not really in dire peril in these ways, just a little danger nearby is all. Now that I kind of get the idea of play-imagery and situations, I’d like to get into the numbers. I think card transfers and cycling across the participants are wonderful for RPG design, so all this aesthetics talk sets us up to learn out what any procedures and numbers are for. Jesse ran a simulation to see what the current rules would do at random, or in terms of play, if no one cares what they choose for another person’s hand. Looking at that will be my homework for the next session, but I have some other cards-based mathematical logic in mind to apply as well.