The Power of Time in Game Design


whatsyourstory

We here at Inspiration to Publication want to share stories from other designers about their process of getting their games published. So if you are a designer and you have a story – we want to hear it! Please contact us and we’ll figure it out.

Here’s a guest post by fellow game designer, Patrick Lysaght. Patrick took us through his impressions of attending Origins as a designer – which was quite insightful. Today is an exciting day for Patrick because his game has launched on Kickstarter! Let’s see what time does to a game design.

Glory and Riches

The Power of Time in Game Design, by Patrick Lysaght

Glory & Riches launched on KickStarter this morning. By the time the campaign is over, the design will be two years old. It will be another 6 months or so until the game hits shelves. At this point, the primary changes will be the final cuts with art/layout. Reflecting on the development of the game over the last week brought something important to my attention. Waiting for something to happen is not wasted time, it is a critical element in the refinement process.

When an idea is fresh and new, the creative process consumes your brain. You rapidly innovate, solve problems, and face large challenges. If a design show potential, you transition into a development phases where the problems become simultaneously smaller and harder. A primary example in Glory & Riches was the balance between the strength of Economic Expansion mechanisms and Military Conquest mechanisms. I spent months tweaking, adjusting, pouring over minute details, and frustrating playtesters. This is essential to a solid design, but it is not fun.

This second step, however, is not the waiting I am talking about. For me, this step ended around October 2013. At this point, I thought the game was done from the design standpoint. Effectively, I stopped working on the game, and focused on some other things. I was ready to handoff the project to the publisher and artist. I actually thought I did. I was wrong. One day a few months later, a new layout design occurred to me out of nowhere. It elegantly solved a problem I had brute-forced with an earlier method. The new concept reduced production cost, answered playtester-feedback, and was very visually appealing. The cost of this idea was months of subconscious thought. Without that time, the game would not be as good as it is today.

Another key ingredient to the power of time in game design is the outside perspective it allows you to gather. For example, Glory & Riches is a resource-management and area control game. Early on, it suffered from the first-player initiative problem. Going first conveyed too powerful of an advantage. I developed a system which reprogrammed turn order based on geographical control. I solved the problem…too well. The game exploded from 2 to 4 hours. Players could not sustain any gains. I reverted to the original scheme out of a desire for simplicity and gameplay. Then the breakthrough came.

Months later in a meeting with the publisher (Jolly Roger Games), the owner suggested an auction format. This simultaneously resolved the initiative problem, increased player agency, and balanced the value of resources in the game’s final phase. He didn’t see all of those elements at the time, but his suggestion made the instant connection in my mind. I couldn’t have arrived at that point without outside input. Importantly, this meeting happened a month after the initial target date for the KickStarter. The delay afforded insight, and produced a much better product.

From what I have gathered, 2-3 years has become a standard cradle-to-shelf window. When I started, I thought it could move much faster. If I could have rushed it through the process, I probably would have. I’m glad I didn’t. I am proud of the finished product. I hope that you will enjoy playing it as much as I do. Give your game time to age into maturity. You will be surprised how much a few extra months can improve it.

Here’s the link to support Glory & Riches on Kickstarter!

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