A Few Recent Thoughts on Design

July 27, 2010

Design what you need right now.

Most likely, what you need right now — in order to try out your game concept with some friends tomorrow night — isn’t a fully written, well thought-out game or even a full playtest draft. Most likely, what you need is a bunch of notes, maybe notes only you understand, hacked together from some of your better ideas and some other stuff blatantly stolen or hacked together from other games.

Along with that, play early and often.

When you are stuck, when you are tired of writing or think you might be heading down the wrong road, when you’ve spent more than a week without making real progress on a project, it’s time to take whatever you have and play it. The sooner, the better.

Design for yourself (and your friends) before you design for others.

What do you want to play tomorrow night? Design that. Publishing… what’s that? Don’t even consider that until you have a game that you want to play with your friends tomorrow night.

These are all thoughts directed at myself. I am the “you” mentioned above. But if other people find these useful, that’s awesome too.

8 Responses to “A Few Recent Thoughts on Design”

  1. Simon Says:

    This describes the process I’m using for Dungeonfuckers, and it’s working well! The first time I played I’d typed up the bare minimum the players needed to play the game, and it worked and was fun. After that I wrote until I got stuck again, and then played.

    It’s only now that I’m putting together a playtest draft.

    Come to think of it, On Mighty Thews fits the bill too. I wrote the first draft in ten minutes while my friend waited. Then we played, and it was awesome. I wrote the game to be exactly what we wanted to play at that moment.

  2. nemomeme Says:

    I like this. I’ve been doing it for thirty years. Publishing? What’s that indeed? 😉


  3. […] on some of what Jonathan said over here: when you’re making a new game, start with something you know. I take the dice mechanics from […]

  4. tony dowler Says:

    Very nice! Yeah, this is exactly what I need to be hearing right now.

  5. Gregor Says:

    Yes, yes, yes.

  6. ejboyddesigns Says:

    That really hits me where I live right now. Thanks for writing it.

  7. Darin S. Says:

    Easy to say, hard to practice consistently. Great post; and the “you” is also me.

    If you haven’t already, you should check out 37 Signals design philosophy.

    Test in the Wild
    “There’s no substitute for real people using your (game) in real ways. Get real data. Get real feedback. Then improve based on that info.”

    Rinse and Repeat
    “You don’t need to aim for perfection on the first try if you know it’s just going to be done again later anyway. Knowing that you’re going to revisit issues is a great motivator to just get ideas out there to see if they’ll fly.”

    These are both from Getting Real – http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ – but if you want a version less focused on software, you should definitely give their new book ReWork a look.

  8. Bret Says:

    Great post. Any time The Final Girl is languishing in design, it’s because I haven’t played it recently.


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