Friday, October 18, 2013

Design Journal #2: Brainstorming


A few weeks ago I wrote up my DesignDiary #1.  Today, I’m continuing this saga.  But before I get to today’s issue: a rabbit chaser.  Every designer has to deal with personal distractions and tragedy along the road to publication.  Who knows how many thousands of would-be designers have had to abandon their games due to addiction, loss, disease, or what-have-you.  I feel the pain of those designers and my life is an exemplar of that struggle.  So hopefully, this design series will serve not only to instruct nascent game-makers in the art of design and publishing but also instruct them on the art of dealing with real-life barriers that come up during the process.  More on that later, tho.  On to brainstorming.

I want to stress to you just how important to the design process letting your mind generate ideas and at the same time, writing those ideas down are.  The human mind, especially mine, is weak.  I can’t remember every mechanic or piece of trivia I come up with when imagining how my game will work.  Once I have envisioned play, I begin the process of brainstorming.  Everyone has their own method for doing this.  My post today is descriptive not prescriptive, but if you like my methodology, feel free to employ it in part or in whole :)

Back in the olden days (1998-2001) I kept stacks of composition notebooks around me all the time.  Each notebook would be dedicated to a different topic: Chargen, Resolution System, Rewards, Magic, Setting, etc. etc. etc.  After my first game was published in 2002, I switched to computers.

Now, I keep a single file with all my notes.  I have a specific system that I use, and I’ve mentioned it before.  My notes are kept in a stream of consciousness outline.  I let the inspiration flow, and I type it out as it comes.  Sometimes, I still jot things down on random scraps of paper when a computer isn’t handy, but it all goes into my file in the order it came to me.  As an example, here is the first half-page or so of my design notes for this game: NOTES EXCERPT

I have to confess one thing.  The “Dungeons” label for the game came after the entry on Moldvay and Keep on the Borderlands.  It wasn’t until then, I had even the faintest idea what I wanted from this thing.  In a future post, I’ll explain how I arrived at that decision.

Anyway, I find that keeping my notes this way lets me see where I made decisions in the design process and why I made those decisions.  Sometimes, when you get half-way or even 2/3 of the way through a text, you forget why you made a certain rule.  You look at something and go, “What the…Why’d I do this?”  Keeping my notes in a stream of consciousness, helps me understand my game’s purpose SO much better.

Also, it helps me organize my text.  I have an outline ready to go that will only need a small amount of tweaking before I dive right into the writing process.  I found that it makes writing my games more efficient.  This isn’t fool-proof, though.  As you can see, those notes are quite busy in some places.  Sometimes I’ll copy and paste a section of my notes into its own document just to separate it from the clutter as I’m writing.

The entire document is well over 20 pages now, but not everything will make it in.  Stuff I’m not using stays in the notes, but I might make it “strikethrough” or highlight it in a different color so I know not to include it in my text.   

Anyhow, that will just about do it for my entry today.  Brainstorming is the second step I take after envisioning play.  I have kind of a wacky system for doing.  Yours could be even wackier.  If this is your first time writing a game, I recommend putting all your ideas down somewhere.  Whether it’s on paper, on the net, or in a file: write them down!  If you don’t, I promise you’ll forget.



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