#WithGreatProduction 16 August 2015

Not much time for an topical post. I’ve had my most productive week of writing since immediately after DEXCON, but I’ve still got a lot to do in the next two weeks.

I had dinner with Rob Bohl this week and that managed to knock my head into a better place than the mire it was caught in last week. No slight to Rob, but it wasn’t so much anything specific about the conversation as much at the simple act of having the conversation, and needing put my thoughts into words that helped. Writing can become a very solipicistic activity and getting lost in one’s own head is a constant danger.

I’m not a very talkative person in general, and I need to continually remind myself how important it is to talk and listen to put vaguely-defined thoughts into definite words, if nothing else.

I finished the phase overviews!

Goals for Next Week
So much to do in only 15 days! I need to write up the endgame (known as “Gloating Mode”). I also need to start on the introduction and gameplay overview (Yes, I always write the introduction last. Always).

If I can keep up the rate that this week has been, I can do it. Fingers crossed. See ya in seven!

#WithGreatProduction: 2 August 2015

Project management is a skill that I’ve picked up through bits and pieces, successes and failures, trial and error. You need to realistically assess what a project requires: How many resources? What skills? How many hours? You need to make a plan that will get all those ingredients together in the right order and on the right schedule. You need to keep that plan moving on pace, and you need to be able to adapt when that plan proves unworkable. When parts of the plan require more work than initially estimated, you need to be able to keep the whole thing moving, and still moving toward the same goal.

As both the game designer and the project manager, it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of what I need to be working on right now while planning the bigger picture. One thing I use to keep myself focused is an array of lists. Within a few days of a playtest, I make a list of all feedback, and categorize each item as something to change, or something to consider. I don’t make the changes at that point, but my list is all ready for me when I come back to it. Likewise, ass I’m writing, if I change the way a rule works, I don’t open up InDesign and change it on the rules summary sheet. I put it on the list of changes to that sheet. Or if an idea for a sidebar pops into my head while I’m writing a rule, I’ll add it to my list of sidebars, with a few words to remind myself later what I’m thinking about. It allows me to keep focused on the task at hand. Likewise, I have a list of potential topics for this blog.

The other way my lists help me is that, realistically, I don’t have the same skills available all the time. I find game text very taxing to write, so I need to prioritize it on early weekend mornings, or very early weekday evenings, when my brain is freshest. Entering simple changes or laying out sheets or cards is easier for me, so I can work on those tasks at off-peak hours when I have less energy. My lists make that possible.

I wrote the troublesome “overview of phases” section three different ways. I don’t particularly like any of them, but I’m certain I’ll be able to edit together their strongest points into a single overview.

Goals for Next Week
Edit the single overview and write out two of the specific phases.

#WithGreatProduction: 26 July 2015

I had forgotten how much of a different beast writing game text is compared to designing procedures and character sheets, and simply explaining things verbally.

Writing is so slow, at least for me. It gives me too much time to think. I’ll write a sentence, consider how it meshes with the tone of the section and the overall shape of the instructional text I’m writing. Is it too long? Could it be simpler, more straightforward? Does it move the idea forward after the last sentence? Does it setup the next sentence? Is this even the best way to present these ideas? Should I switch to a top-down / bottom-up / metaphorical / “just the facts” / evocative approach? Do I need to give the players more tools to spark to their imaginations? Do I need to back off and let them play the game their way, rather than mine?

It wasn’t so bad in the Hero Creation section, as I’ve verbally explained Hero Creation again and again during playtests. But I don’t really explain gameplay at the table as much as outline it and demonstrate it. Because of this, the writing of this “How To Play The Game” section is going even slower than usual. (This is also the reason why the GM portion of my games are always the hardest for me to design, because I never explain them, I just do them. If I take WGP back to Metatopia this year, I’ll be testing the ability to have a player be the villain player with no prior prep or experience.)

To break this impasse, this week I intend to speed-write the section I’m stuck on several different ways, knowing beforehand that most or all of that writing is going to get thrown out. If nothing else, surrounding the problem and attacking it from different angles will at least allow me to fail faster, and rule out ways not to explain the game.

Finally finished the Villain Creation and Villain Plan section! It somehow metamorphosed into a thicket of oracles and sub-oracles right before my eyes!

Unexpected projects at work and illness of family members joined forces like a pair of supervillains to rob me of most of my writing time this week. I wrote a few paragraphs of the Phases summary, but didn’t make much headway. Luckily, my schedule included allowances for these sort of delays.

Goals for Next Week
Finish the summary of the Phases (Which now that I look at it, may end up longer than I anticipated) and the description of at least one Phase.

#WithGreatProduction 19 July 2015

So, at DEXCON, I mentioned to Clark Valentine that I had been designing With Great Power in character sheets and quick-starts, and therefore had effectively no “real game text” written yet. He asked for more details, so here it goes.

More than a year ago, the always-insightful John Stavropoulos wrote about how vital character sheets and quick-start rules summaries are for RPGs. They are the user interface of your game. Most likely, only one or two people at the table is ever going to read your game’s rulebook, but every single player is going have a character sheet. That is going to be their portal into the game world—the piece of paper they will be looking at all session long, every session. John’s point was that character sheets and quick-starts should not be treated as an afterthought to game text, but should take a central role in game design.

John is absolutely right. I’ve been trying to design With Great Power to work with dice for more than three years now. I’ve gone through ten major “restart from scratch” revisions. And all of that design work was carried out on character sheets, quick-starts, and notes to myself. I play and playtest games almost entirely at conventions. Getting simple, clear, quick-to-understand information into the hands of the players is vital. I need the players to know their options, have reminders at hand, and maybe even be a tiny bit inspired by the source material. Writing rules text gives me _none_ of that.

At least in the style of role-playing games that I design, when you’re at the stage of testing when you need to know if a set of rules actually does what you hope it will, precisely how those rules are phrased is irrelevant. Put a reminder of the rule on the character sheet. Summarize it in a bullet point in a rules summary. Jot yourself a note with any clarifications. If the rule helps players say interesting things during the actual playtest, then you can take the time to write it up, seeking out the right words to teach it through text. If the rule doesn’t achieve your goals, changing it is just a bullet point away.

Finished Hero Creation section. The Villain Creation section expanded considerably while I was writing it (I was going to put section on Villain Plans later in the text, but decided they should really be with Villain Creation), so I’m not quite done with Villain Creation, but I’m happy with the progress. Wrote a few sidebars as I went. Started on the playtester survey form, which I’ll fill in as I go.

Goal for Next Week:
Finish Villain Plans. Write the introduction to Phases (what they are, how they work, general guidelines), and the description of at least one of the four types of Phase. And more sidebars. I can’t write a game about superheroes without sidebars!

See ya in seven!

#WithGreatProduction: 12 July 2015

No, it is not 1999 all over again. I am, however, doing a production blog for the next phase in creating the With Great Power, reimagined edition.

Why a production blog?
Because I have a busy life and have no project manager to nag me about getting stuff done. Also, it is months until my next game convention. Conventions always light a fire under me and I cannot afford to let this project languish that long. Being responsible to report to all of you good folks on the Internet will keep me moving forward. There are some other reasons, which we’ll get to in future weeks.

What’s the current state of the game?
The sessions I ran at DEXCON were great fun, and very productive. The process of play itself is largely working the way I want it to. The next step is external playtesting.

However, I have no text to send external playtesters. I have been designing through iterations of character sheets and rules summaries. I need to write the text of the game to get the information on how to use those character sheets and rules summaries out of my head and into other people’s heads.

What’s the projected timeline?
I am not the world’s fastest writer of game text. I’d like to have an external playtest edition of the game ready by August 31. That’s eight of these blog posts between now and then.

Won’t a production blog siphon off time you’d be using to write the game itself?
Not likely. I just put in several hours and am starting to lose focus. It’s time for a break, so I bang this entry out, as the first part of the break.

Okay, so what did you do this week?
As I said, I ran the game twice last week at DEXCON. I got lots of great feedback from players, and my own observations. However, it was scattered on character sheets, rules summaries, origin cards, and my trusty notebook. I reviewed all of that, fixed the things like typos that were quick to fix, and compiled the more involved changes into a worklog.

I also reviewed the textual outline that I had been neglecting, brought it up to speed, and started to write the text for the Hero Creation section. I also made a list of sidebars I need to write. Oh, and a list of topics for this #WithGreatProduction blog.

What are your goals for next week?
I’d like to be able to finish the text for hero creation and villain creation. Anything extra would be bonus.

See ya in seven, True Believers!