Starting Solo #1: You don’t need an army to build a game!
I have been so busy with getting behind the scenes stuff ready for Foe Hunters that I have neglected a seriously important part of any aspiring designer: the people! Things have finally calmed down to the point where I can start contributing to the community and sharing some of the things I have been learning over the last couple of years.
If you didn’t already know, I spend a decent amount of my time doing personal training and fitness coaching, so I am used to helping people that need some direction or advice. That being said, I am in no way an expert or authority on the subject of game design and publishing; I just know what I know and have picked up along the way. Hopefully I can share some of this knowledge with someone that was like me: had some great ideas but no idea where to start!
So on that note, I will be launching a series called Starting Solo, where I will talk about various topics surrounding game design and business development for individuals. Oftentimes people will have a great idea or concept, but when they realize how much work is ahead of them they tend to get intimidated. I won’t lie, working solo is tough. You aren’t just doing all of the work that has to be done, file prep, design, writing, etc.. You are doing that inside the vacuum that is your brain. One of the best parts of having other people around is the ability to brainstorm and bounce ideas around. Without that, you have to find other ways to establish checks and balances and go outside of your normal boundaries!
When you operate alone you have to be very careful to not get tunnel vision or make your scope too broad. Most people when they start designing a game make a big mistake, and that is adding too much too fast. Virtually all designers have gone through this at some point (myself included!), having a great idea for a game and a *rough* idea for all the mechanics and features. When you start to design the actual mechanics though, things are clunky. You submit to the sunk funds fallacy and figure you have already invested this much time in your project and features, you have to figure out a way to make it work! This is one of the worst things you can do and one of the big problems with working alone: it is hard to convince yourself that you are wrong. Sometimes you won’t even realize you have a problem until it goes to playtesting, just because you didn’t have that person to bounce ideas off of and sort it out before then.
So how do you combat this? Start small! Don’t start with a HUGE project that has hundreds of moving parts and unknowns. Start with a project that has a few moving parts. Start with a project that has a simple mechanic. Do you really need to add dice to this mechanic? Does this need extra counters? Does this mechanic even need to be there? It is very easy to get caught up in your vision and shoehorn too much stuff into a design where it doesn’t belong! Imagine Settlers of Catan, if in addition to the resource system it also had a money system, where players could receive money as well as resources. That is a cool idea, right? Is it necessary though? Most people would say Catan is pretty close to perfect, and you know what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
So think about that the next time you go to work on your design. Think about how necessary all of your mechanics are, what they absolutely add to the game, and if the game would break without it.
Hopefully someone will stumble across this and find it helpful. I know that early on when I was working on Foe Hunters, there were a TON of mechanics that just made the game cumbersome (originally, there were 2 more decks of quests and objectives, it was crazy!) I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be creative or innovative, all im saying is audit your design and your elements, and start small. You can always try to add another layer of complexity in once you confirm that your main mechanics work!
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more installments of Starting Solo!