Over a year I’ve been struggling with this damn game. Mostly out here, in public, on my LJ. After GenCon ’06 I thought doing a weekly update would keep me on track and focused. Instead, it kept me feeling guilty and pressured into producing something, even if it wasn’t worth producing. Couple that pressure to perform with one of the most stressful years of my life, and you have a recipe for what I have on my hands with By The Stars: an 80% functional game that I don’t particularly like. That’s what I’ve had on my hands all through the summer convention season.
I ran the turn-based version twice at Origins. The first time had 4 players plus me and crashed and burned. The game itself did not give us enough to work with. Plus, all the “clever” fiddly-bits of keeping the turn-based system running were too much trouble to keep track of. The second time had 8 players and went better, although still not real great. Both games at DexCon folded for lack of players. At GenCon, I jettisoned the whole turn-system and rolled it back to the LARP rules. For the GenCon Thursday game, I got 12 players and they had the best BTS game yet! The players even applauded when it was all over (not bad, considering I sat around and did nothing for 3 hours). On Saturday, I had 8 players and it was a rougher, more strained. Both GenCon games had strong critics among the players (often those who were succeeding very well, mechanically.)
Looking back, I see that the game structure I’ve crafted doesn’t do much but encourage players to get into lots of conflict after conflict. The attitude and imagination that the players bring to the game determines completely how the game is going to go. I’ve made noises about possibly polishing it up and releasing it as “By The Stars: The LARP,” but I’m not familiar enough with the LARP scene to be able to promote it properly. Perhaps I could format it as a PDF and sell it that way, but it’s not top of my priority list. I feel guilty to set aside all the work I’ve done, and all the great feedback that my playtesteres have given me, but this path is not working out.
Neither are the regular updates. I’ve let them slide over the summer, and I’ve seen my game more clearly. The only constant game design methodology I have is “Keep doing whatever works, stop doing whatever doesn’t work.” Thus, I’ll only be posting updates when I have something to report.
However, I have narrowed my focus on the game, have new, fresh ideas, and am working on it. One of the unproductive design goals I’m jettisoning is the “must be playable with up to 12 players.” It was seriously tripping me up. And I’ve regained some badly-needed focus. By The Stars is no longer going to be simply “a game inspired by my love of Star Wars,” but will be “a game inspired by my love of the Luke-Vader duel scene in The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s all in there. I just need some time and thought to tease it out.