Monday, December 3

Design Lag

As I mentioned last week, I'm converting the art from A3 pages to card size ones. As part of that, I have to admit to myself that I'm actually creating a new version at the same time. It started out as some layout/design improvements, then a couple of card tweaks crept in, based on playing the new version several times during lunch break at work and at Games Night. As I get more plays of the newest version under my belt, I'm thinking of other things I could be adding, which cards/decks are weak and could do with improvements, which cards could be changed to better fit their theming, etc. I've now got to the point where almost every card will change in some way, again.

In the dim, distant past, before I became a father, I would knock up a new prototype whenever I had a new idea, so the cycle would be pretty much: play the game once, have an idea, make a new prototype, play it once, have an idea, make a new prototype, etc.

Now I want to spend my free time with my family, especially my daughter who I only get to see in the evenings and on weekends. But I also want to make progress on Codename: Vacuum. It takes time to do the card changes required when I have a new idea, and more time to print them out and cut them out. Probably about four or five hours in total and this time it's taking even longer due to the time required to change the document page size and re-layout all the cards.

I fit in making new versions when I've a bit of time when The Wife and The Daughter are asleep, usually early in the morning while I have my breakfast, but as you can imagine it takes several weeks for this time to add up to the several hours I need for a new version of the game. So new versions of the game are several weeks apart.

Of course, I'm still having ideas at the same rate - a few every time I play the game and I'm playing the game two or three times a week. So the ideas are stacking up. I'm going to call that 'design lag'.

As with anything, this has its pros and cons. To my mind the benefits are:

  • I spend less time making prototypes that are only played once
  • I get a good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of a version from 5-10 plays of it
  • I don't rush to snap decisions based on a single bad experience
  • New versions feel quite different, often like a big step forward

However, I think these are the downsides:

  • I get to play a version that's got a particular problem several times, aware that I have a potential solution in my head/in my notes
  • It's frustrating to have to wait a few weeks to find out if a potential fix works, or not
  • I don't get to test changes in isolation which makes it difficult to find root causes to problems

On balance, I think the design lag I'm currently experiencing is a good thing. I'm focused on testing things not making new things all the time, and each version is more thoroughly tested as a result. Plus, it frees up time for important things like spending time with my family and trivial things like blogging.

One final thing. Codename: Vacuum is just that, a nickname to describe the game while I think of a real name for it. It's a game that conceptually charts 200 years of history, starting in a steampunk alternative universe circa 1900 to approximately 2100. How does: "Full Steam to the Stars" sound? Thoughts? Surely someone has got a better idea?

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