Trimming Down the One Page Design Doc

I have been working on trying to cut down the design of Web. Obviously features will need to be cut, but as a first step I really wanted to see if I could streamline the overview design doc into something significantly more digestible. It is clear from the amount of text of the previous docs that this design is simply too complex, and while the obvious solution is to break it down to its component parts, there had to be some way, at the highest level, that I could summarize it more nicely. In doing this simplification I realized that this game really isn’t right for table top. It will probably make a good browser based board game (ironically), but there are five components which I left out of/solved with the new design summary which were cluttering up the original board or making things too complicated. However, some of these components are still in the game, they just don’t need to be addressed in the design doc as they become back end systems (or too specific for the overview).

  1. There is no longer a need for board pieces. The web is generated randomly. This also gives an opportunity to have way cooler theming more easily.
  2. There is no longer a need to have numbered nodes as players should just be able to select the location of the nodes they want to hide their special pieces on.
  3. Score cup and keeping score: this can all be managed by the program.
  4. Making it a video game solves the problem of piece clutter. With so many little pieces at different locations things can get cramped. But, with a video game a single icon with a multiplier on it can indicate the number of units of a type at a location.
  5. I removed negotiation. It was a nice idea but it would have made games way too long, and while negotiation might be fun in a table top environment it would be hard to implement and limited in a video game. I would like to return to the idea of negotiation as a main mechanic at a later date in another game.

I’m still not too happy with the amount of text I have for the hidden pieces but overall it is looking much better and more digestible. I don’t look at it anymore and think, ‘Man, that’s overwhelming.’ Now I can make supplemental docs that explain the finer points of play to go along with this general overview:


I will continue to do paper testing, work on the documentation, and see where this goes.

What’s in a name?

R.I.P. Iain M Banks, you will be sorely missed. – 6/9/13

I recently changed the name of my blog again. I had changed it to “The Designer of Games” as a tribute to one of my favorite authors, Iain M Banks, who wrote “The Player of Games” and recently announced he was retiring after finding out he has advanced terminal cancer. His book had a profound effect on me, and helped me to make the decision to go back to grad school to pursue my love of game design. However, it was brought to my attention recently that my blog title came off as “slightly arrogant.” After giving it some thought, I decided that assessment was generous. So, to spite the sentimental value I placed on the name, I decided to change it.

So, why wormholes? Well recently I was asked in an interview, “If you could have any super power what would it be?” I’ve thought about it a lot in the past but never really came up with something I was happy with. But, sitting there, something just clicked. I would want the ability to create and manipulate wormholes of all types. I mean it seems perfect to me. This would give one the ability to travel anywhere in the universe, travel in time, and even allow one to get creative and defend one’s self in battle (against the enemies that would eventually crop up). Think of the endless exploration you could do.

Won’t end up like these guys though (lost AND canceled), their power’s weren’t super:


I think this response is very telling about me. Sure, it speaks to what a sci-fi geek I am. But, you’ll note that I don’t want to be invincible, invisible, or something of that sort. My life up until now has been about seeking knowledge and being creative, and I think that this “super power” would just be an extension of that. Of course it does occur to me that if I had a second super power wish I should ask for invincibility since exploring the universe through wormholes is going to be hard without all sorts of sophisticated gadgetry and protection. But, I figure it wouldn’t be too hard to raise the money once I demonstrated my unique abilities. Given how telling it was, it seemed like a suitable new name for my blog.

Initial Designs for Web

I was walking home with my roommate Ross a few days ago and he asked me, “If you were going to put a project on Kickstarter, what would you do?” My first thought was that I would get a team together and start making an RPG. I have some outlines, and  art for one I’ve been thinking about for several years now. But, then I thought, ‘Don’t be dense, start small.’ By the time we got home I had the beginnings of a board game in my head. I don’t know if this would be what I would put on Kickstarter, but it certainly is a good exercise for me right now.

I have been interested in a number of concepts that I think would make interesting elements in a strategy board game:

  1. A game with almost no random chance, but which had a fun way of randomly introducing an element one per game in the middle of play that could conceivably change the way the game was headed or being played (perhaps giving a player who was in a weak position an opportunity to get back to a position of strength).
  2. Dynamic terrain that gives opportunities to play with a variety of styles and still achieve victory. Maybe a player uses large formations of units, maybe small groups they spread out like a net. However played if they are creative and cunning there is an opportunity for a player to succeed.
  3. I really like the idea of hidden pieces that players can reveal at any time.
  4. Finally, I wanted to explore the possibilities for negotiations in game and wanted to keep it as open ended as possible.

I started in on designing this game, which I have given the working title of Web, by deciding to try to do one page design docs. Because Ross works at Maxis and socializes with that group I have had some recent opportunities to meet and speak with Stone Librande. After being impressed by a board game we played at a party and some documentation I saw from Sim City, I started familiarizing myself with his work on one page design docs. I also attended his GDC talk, where he talked about many of the lessons he learned from trying to design a game with all the complexities of Sim City using one page design docs throughout the process. I have been really impressed with this process and have been trying to work this way with my recent design projects. Getting things onto one page and presenting them in an aesthetically pleasing way forces you to organize your ideas well. You get a real clear indication that your documentation might be too dense by just looking at the layout of your doc. I have found myself doing way more iterations of my one page docs than I have ever done on a written doc. And, to be honest I’m still not happy with them. But either I need to start using a bigger page (right now I’m using 8.5 x 11), or (more likely) I have a long way to go. I feel I’m getting better but I am nowhere near where I want to be yet. It is clear that this is a skill that takes time to cultivate and Stone has said this numerous times. I am posting my docs for Web (which might be better named Net, but I really need to find something that doesn’t actually remind me of the internet) below and you can click on the images to see them enlarged. I think though that I will be breaking at least two of these down even further and trying to make better use of the negative space across all of them. But, this is the first draft of the Web documentation (no theming yet really). Feedback is welcome:

Edit: There is too much text, the text has too go which means this system is too complex for the medium, which is obvious just from initial paper playtesting, and from the fact the text exists.





I have built a board and ordered pieces. Once I get a chance to playtest I’ll post some results and we’ll see how the game changes. Right now, untested, I’m thinking I will have to choose 2 of my core design goals to focus on and cut the rest, but we’ll see how it goes.

As an added bonus for getting this far in the post I am linking you directly to Stone’s printable Garbage Flow Stickers. I think it would make him happy to know people were out there sticking them in random places, it would sure make me happy.



The Designer as Generalist

I recently attended a luncheon during GDC thrown by Crystal Dynamics, and one of the designers from Crystal D said something that struck a chord with me. She said that a designer has to do a lot of living, just like a professional writer. Because you have to know about a lot of things, understand many different ways of thinking, to design well. This might seem really self-evident to many, it does to me. But, to some this is somehow not intuitive.

I think it goes to something Jason Vandenberghe mentioned during his GDC talk (Applying the 5 Domains of Play: Acting like Players) and that is this concept of “design empathy”. Now, he was talking about understanding different player types, and why they play so that you could have a better understanding of how to effectively design for them. However, I mean this in a broader sense, I mean understanding people and what motivates them. Life learning, learning in general adds to your understanding of people. Jesse Shell, in his second class of Game Design every semester, talks about how design is at it’s core intuitive. You think something might be fun, then you build it and see if it is, then improve on it until you run out of time or money. But, to get that honed intuition; to have good design empathy from the word “go” I think you need two things. One is life experience, and the other is general knowledge.

As a designer I have always been working to improve on my general knowledge and abilities. I have learned Maya and Max, I’ve learned to do some scripting in LUA, XML, Javascript, and even a little C#. I’ve made tools for Unity and character art for game prototypes. But, how much of that can I show? The answer is, pretty much none of it. Not because it isn’t good. Some of it is, some of it isn’t (for example I won’t claim to be more than a dilettante when it comes to programming).  I can’t show it because it confuses people. If I fill my portfolio with examples of icon packs, UI/UX wireframes and documentation, 3D character models and animation, VFX tools, and web applications people start asking, “What does he do?” Well, I’m a designer, isn’t it obvious? No, the designer needs to understand all the disciplines and embrace them, but he can’t BE them. If he shows that he is them to any degree he starts muddying the waters.

I seek to be a generalist; that is what I am and what I will continue to try to be. Because, I’m convinced that, the greater my breadth becomes, the greater my design depth becomes. I think this is the best thing you can be as a designer. It allows you to work more easily with others because you know what their disciplines require, and it allows for greater design empathy. It’s the modern equivalent of trying to become a Renaissance Man. But, I won’t go posting my environment art in my design portfolio any time soon. But, if you want to see some of my art, you can follow the link above to my art portfolio.