Game Design by Example: Introduction

Hey all, I’m Tracy. I’ve posted here at Critical Hits before, but it was a long time ago so I’ll re-introduce myself. I’m a writer and game designer. I co-own a game company called Exploding Rogue Studios with my partner, Brian Patterson. I’ve written and/or published eight different games, settings or fictional works (a few still in progress). I love to talk about games and design.

When I started designing games 4-5 years ago, I used to post all of my designs in public as I was working on them. As my life got busier, I started doing that less and less. I’ve recently realized that I need to do it more.

“But Tracy,” you say, “wouldn’t posting your in-progress designs be better done on a personal blog or something?” It would, so that’s not the end of what these posts will be about.

Lots of people want to get into game design, and there are lots of ways to start. What I don’t see are a lot of resources that give you a process on how to start. There’s a good reason for that: everyone does writing and design differently. If you’ve listened to the Design Games podcast (and you should), you know that there are many entry points, ways of doing things, and means to get to the end of a polished, final game. What I’m going to do here is show you my way.

It goes without saying that my way of doing things is not the only way, and might not be the best way. However, there’s value to this kind of sharing. Like I said above, there aren’t a ton of “how to do this” resources out there.

For me, posting designs in public, as I’m working on them is very valuable. When you’re first getting started, there’s can be a lot of trepidation about when to share things, about people maybe not liking what you’re working on, about not being noticed, your work not being good enough etc. Public design helps address those concerns.

What if No One Likes It/Sees It/Says it’s Good Enough?

No one starts out with an audience already built, or writes their final draft in their first attempt. Everything about the processes of writing and design are iterative. You write something, then you read it again. You make changes. You get feedback. You edit, revise, and rework until it’s where you want it to be. One of the hardest lessons for me was accepting that. When I first started writing online, I assumed that I was putting out final versions of my content.

It turns out what I was really doing was posting early drafts. I’d made a website to share all of this stuff, based on the name of the campaign setting I was working on. I got very ambitious, and I had grand designs to publish the setting for Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and Fate. I was posting interesting ideas, and I was engaging with people on Twitter about them, and I slowly built a following.

That first setting, originally called Sand & Steam, never got finished. I still have all of the documents for it, and I may revisit it someday. Some might view it as a failure. I put all that effort, a year or more of work, into a setting that went nowhere. I view things differently. That setting, the work I put in, the feedback I got from my early posts, that built me an audience. It got people interested in what I was doing. It took some hustle, being a presence on social media, and putting that together with meeting people at conventions, but it worked for me.

When the time came that I had an idea for my first full game, School Daze, I had people who were interested in listening. I designed that game in public, too. When I Kickstarted it, it blew through the initial goal quickly. I’d generated interest and enthusiasm, all by being public about what I was working on.

As with all pieces of advice online, your mileage may vary. The examples and strategies I’m going to post in this series work for me and my process. My hope is that you’ll read them and get inspired to find your own way of doing things. If what I do works for you, that’s fantastic and I’d love to hear about it. If you find a different way, I’d love to hear about that, too. There’s no One True Path, there’s just a bunch of people shining lights on paths that might work. It’s up to any individual creator to pick which direction they go.

Cool, So What Are You Going to Show Us?

For this series, I’m going to use whatever game I’m currently working on as the main example. In this case, that’s Valkyries.

Valkiyries Logo

Valkyries Logo by Brian F’n Patterson

Brian and I announced we were working on Valkyries a while ago. Some of the initial concepting and design work is already done. That means for these early articles I’ll be going back and picking apart how we did what we did, rather than starting fresh. Thanks to the magic of Google Drive saving all revisions, that should be no problem.

Here are some topics I’ll be covering, with more added as I go:

  • Ideas and inspiration
  • Moving from ideas to initial concepts
  • Brainstorming and initial designs
  • Being willing to adapt
  • First drafting
  • What does a game need?

Putting your work out there can be scary. The thing is, if you want to publish or sell what you write, you have to show somebody, sometime. From my perspective, there’s no point in waiting. Doing public design shows you know how to iterate, shows that you know how to refine an idea into a finished product, and it builds an audience for your work as you’re working on it. It’s my hope to do all of that for Valkyries with these articles. It’s also my hope to show other people one way that game design can work. If you find any of this useful, or have feedback, I look forward to reading it.

This post is supported by my Patreon.