Thoughts on my own game design

I've been thinking a lot about the ideas and thoughts that I have. I've been carving away at what is still true for me and what I've managed to pull in because of wanting to fit in with communities like Google Plus, Board Game Geek or video game collecting and really come to grips with what I feel is true to myself and what I want to create. It's been challenging because there are a lot of things that I glommed onto that I'm now realizing were part of me trying to fit into a community. It wasn't as bad as it seems though. There are things that I explored that helped me understand mechanics better and their place in games, but I spent way too much money trying to find out if there was anything really useful in that arena, only to discover that I don't have the mental bandwidth for a lot of these games. More than once I picked p a complex Euro Game that folks loved, only to discover that it was complex even by Euro Gamer standards. And trying to explain these games to myself, let alone someone else, was just abortive. "We're traveling monks in the historic city of blah blah, and we must visit every monastery to gain favors and prayers in order to ... um, get victory points. And apparently there's a God track." (Note: not a real Euro Game, I hope.)

I thought about turning my 1970s rise of the computer era into a board game, but I think board games are too limiting for what I have in mind. Board Games tend to have various subsystems that coalesce into one grand engine of point-making excellence. How do you model the interpersonal relationships between employees or even individual companies in that space? How do you model "yes, your computer was great for hobbyists in 1975 but now it's 1977 and hobbyists aren't your primary market. How do you model the rise of the IBM PC compatibles dominating the market? I know there's ways to do so but getting it to where it's smooth and highlights what I want folks to understand about the challenges of the 1970s-80s computer revolution is just not something that I think I could convincingly pull off. Nor is it something that I want to explore.

That's not to say these games are bad, or that they didn't teach me anything along the way. There are many well-designed and excellent games out there and they're definitely worth investigating on your own to find out if they resonate with you. I'm just finding that the board games I really gravitate towards are either abstract games or cooperative games (and historic war games, for some strange reason.) I need something a little easier to keep in my head. I think that's why I've gravitated toward Go in recent months: abstract, war game, and plenty of history. And if you're learning with a partner it can also be cooperative.)

I have been culling my collection and reevaluating my design goals to really carve out what I want to say with games. I'm feeling most drawn to combining RPGs with video games because I think we've lost the plot between how to effectively do both. Even the most ambitious games tend to have NPCs that are little more than target practice or quest vending machines. I think we can do better there, but I'm not sure how to go about it. The upside though is that I understand the mechanics of computer games way more than board games and can hide some of the complexity from the players (having 5 different variables for an NPC is easier on a computer than it is on a board game).

I'm hoping this upcoming year to really dig in and make games that aren't direct copies of other games. I feel I've spent an awful lot of time thinking and reading about games rather than putting it to practice. I blame my own insecurities for wanting my games to be great and stand among the games of folks who have been doing this professionally for 20+ years. That's fiction. It's fiction because they have more experience and because they're not afraid to leverage the talents of others in order to craft their vision. I've always been a solitary person when it comes to my designs and programming. I've also worried that folks would think that I'm somehow less of a designer if I used another system or borrowed from someone else's world (with permission). That's rubbish thinking, and it's the sort of Not-Invented-Here thinking that trips up a lot of designers.

I'm still considering what projects I want to work on in 2021 but carving away the ones that I know won't work or don't excite me is one way to help stimulate creativity. Expect a lot of shitty-drafts in the coming months as I try to find my own style in this. 2020 gave me a taste of this with the GUMSHOE Community Content Contest and damned if I'm going to deny myself more tastes of that. It also gave me a huge amount of discomfort where I wanted to quit on multiple occasions, but I didn't. That was the datapoint I needed to uncork that I can do this.

Let's find out what happens.