Saturday, 11 November 2017

Writing games. The Suck (tm)

Everyone has ideas.

Many people are hard workers.

A good chunk of people are clever about a topic they are interested in.

A small number of people can write well.


So by my back-of-the-envelope math, we should have millions of games about any given subject.
Why don't we?

Well, for one, writing a game takes time, testing it takes time and not all ideas turn out to work on paper (let alone on the table).

But there's a much greater reason a game never takes shape, I think.

The Suck.

What is The Suck?

The Suck is every single page you don't want to write.
Doesn't matter if it's miniatures, role playing, board games, cards or interpretive dance.

Every word you don't WANT to write contributes to The Suck.

What kind of stuff contributes to The Suck?

That depends on who you are.
What do you NOT want to write? Game examples? Designer notes? In-depth explanations of the artillery rule? Optional rules? A chapter explaining the philosophy of the rules so people will play it "right" ?

For me, it's always terrain rules. Anything that involves counting out different types of table top scenery and how each unit type interacts with it.
Oh, and don't forget jump pack troops and what if you teleport INTO the feature and does it count if only half the model is within the area and....

I hate it.

And every time I work on something, I dread writing the terrain section.
Every time I pick up a new game, I skip that part, read everything else, then realize at some point, some goon is going to wander into the woods and I'm going to need know what happens.

The Suck lurks?

So you have a clever idea. Maybe it's a dice mechanic (FAD began literally from the idea of rolling two dice and picking the highest) or a concept (NEIS began with the idea of permanent overwatch).
Maybe you read a lot about a particular battle and you're stoked to make rules for it.
Maybe you are just writing up the homebrew you play at the club.

You write an introduction and some notes. You begin fleshing out the rules and fixing up a few bugs and special cases.
You come up with a clever mechanic for morale that builds off the main dice system and you feel great.

And then it jumps at you.
The Suck.

It laughs in your face, taunting you.
"Nobody is going to take your game seriously without me, and unless you include detailed terrain rules, you will get 8 emails a day asking how to handle a slightly grassy boulder"

How you react at that stage is what determines if your game is ever going to be finished and seen by anyone but yourself.

Do you give up? I have. Many times. Sometimes the combined weight of things that contribute to The Suck just makes you realize you didn't care enough for the idea.

Do you power through it? When you've done it enough, you learn to churn out 5 pages of Suck and have it read pretty decently. After all, if it's a part you don't care about, it just has to function okay. Games are full of bits that are "okay".
As long as the rest is cool and this part isn't broken, it can be "okay" and nobody will notice.

Do you ignore it completely? "Fuck it, who actually reads the designer notes?"
You can always insist your game is "avant garde" experimental design (alternatively, say its "not for rules lawyers" and you can get away with basically selling people a to-hit table with the text "rolling well is probably better")


* * * * *

So there you have it.
The secret to being a designer. The Suck.

It has its claws in all of us and it takes a different shape for every person.

What is The Suck to you ?