I keep ideas everywhere, on scratch paper, in computer text documents, on my phone, in videos or audio files I’ve made where I’m rambling about game design. I set them as reminders in my phone for days and weeks to come to make sure my memory is jolted semi-randomly by them.
I get more ideas than I know what to do with, which can become rather frustrating. I’ve probably forgotten more game ideas than I’ve produced to completion.
It’s very hard to get playtesters for anything. It’s hard to get the attention in the first place, then to find people willing to playtest the game, then getting those people to actually play it and then getting them to give useful feedback. So many people are wedded to one system or one campaign that it can be virtually impossible.
I get playtesting done as best I can, simulating scenarios by myself to test out different aspects of the game with different characters. Like editing your own work, this is tricky, as you know exactly what you meant and don’t necessarily see the errors. For similar reason, playing with your regular group is helpful, but not likely to be hugely helpful.
One of the boons of producing material electronically is that it is relatively easy to update it later on, to ‘patch the game on the fly’. It’s annoying when computer games companies do this by not releasing a complete product, but it is useful from a game designer’s perspective when you find things that need correcting.
So, most of the time, no playtesters. I wish it were otherwise, but it’s just not that practical for a small, indie company.
I don’t know that there is one particularly. There’s bits and pieces of all kinds of games but there’s no single game that I can point to. This is a bit like asking about influences again. Game design is also not purely mechanical, but can reflect aesthetics, goals, mood and so on.
Best answer I can give is my most played and openly influential games that I’ve done.
- Middle Earth Roleplaying
- Dragon Warriors
- Cyberpunk 2020
- Vampire: The Masquerade
- Mage: The Ascension
- Mind’s Eye Theatre
- Iron Kingdoms
- Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Well, the problem at the moment is that I’m not very inspired. When my ‘oomph’ comes back it could take off in any direction. There’s a few things I’ve been thinking on over the last couple of years though…
I’ve really gotten into the idea of team mechanics, rules that promote the players working together to solve problems, to give each other buffs, to think tactically and to ensure that all players can contribute to the action. I’ve experimented with this in the game Kagai! and I intend for it to be integral to a couple of other ideas I’ve been working on, a tribal/savage/barbarian game setting, and a survival/technohorror series. This isn’t something that’s really that well explored in game mechanics, other than fulfilling ‘roles’ in a team (Fighter, healer, rogue, magic user).
I’m interested in the aesthetic of all-out horror, not just splatter but hopelessness, death, decay, surreality and so on. I like the idea of horror, but horror films never really do it for me unless there’s something more cerebral or genre-bending going on. Not many modern horror films really do that for me, though short films focussed on ideas are interesting and there are gems amongst the dross when it comes to things like creepypastas. I’ve enjoyed The Void, the music of Primitive Knot and the aesthetic of games like Kingdom Death, Darkest Dungeon and Bloodborne while considering this.
The aesthetic and idea of a ‘green apocalypse’, life after a collapse, is appealing and integral to my post-apocalyptic game idea. I was first struck by the beauty of this aesthetic while playing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but a similar style has shown up in games like The Last of Us and, to an extent, in movies and TV like The Road, The Walking Dead, The Girl with all the Gifts and Revolution.
My first writing partner was Steve, with whom I produced the Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming. He doesn’t work in gaming anymore, even a little bit, though he did assist with another early effort, Iron Empire (steampunk before steampunk really became a ‘thing’). He still games though, and we meet up with the rest of our group about every month and a half for a weekend-long session.
Otherwise I’ve worked alongside and with a lot of people in different games and books and to different levels of cooperation. Mostly though, I prefer to work independently, by myself, accountable only to myself. Once you’ve had that kind of freedom it is very hard to tolerate cooperation as it tends to read as interference.
For the longest time though, I have had a partnership with the artist Brad McDevitt, an industry veteran who sells stock art through me and has artwork in more of my books and materials than anyone else.
I live in a fairly isolated village, at least by British standards. There aren’t really coffee shops or places to hang out and work on a laptop as there might be in a city. You could sit in the pub, I suppose, but then you can’t listen to music or Youtube videos while you work and nursing booze rather than an exorbitantly priced novelty coffee is expensive and debilitating to the ability to work.
So I work in private, at home, in various rooms, surrounded by research material and references. Twitter is my ‘water cooler’, Youtube my office gossip.
That said, I often am puzzling over ideas and systems while I’m doing something else, and inspiration can strike at any time.
That’s a huge question to ask, and it’s not that clear on what kind of influences it means. Does it just mean gaming influences? Hard to know.
Then there’s the matter of how you’re influenced and whether you even know you’re being influenced, and in what way.
Not to mention things that influenced you in the past may not be the same things that influence you today. Things change, people change, hairstyles change, interest rates fluctuate…
So here’s just a bunch of stuff off the top of my head, divided into different areas:
Film & TV
Gullermo Del Toro
Big Trouble in Little China
Sapphire & Steel
Dr Who (pre NuWho)
Robin Hood (84-86)
ICE’s Middle Earth Roleplaying
Mind’s Eye Theatre
Storyteller (Old World of Darkness)
Call of Cthulhu
Over the Edge
Grand Theft Auto (Series)
Far Cry (Series)
Magic Knight (Series)
Silent Hill (Series)
Sun Tsu’s Art of War
Skies of Arcadia
Life After Man
Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction
E E ‘Doc’ Smith
How to be a Superhero
Phillip K Dick
Nine Inch Nails
School of Seven Bells
The (English) Beat