The Tale of My Games; Rejection.

Posted: May 16, 2007 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

First, I’d cover how all of my games are connected, it’s as if the memes contained by each game mutated and were passed on.
First came Cranium Rats, then Slime Octopi and Coral, from the idea of a competitive three+ players and an external agent player.
Mechanical Primum Mobile, my two page technological horror game came third, and stood on its own.
Troll Lands basically took the “Monster Parts” idea of Slime Octopi and Coral, though I only realized it after the fact. If I were to re-write Slime Octopi and Coral, I’d take heavily from the advanced and much cleaner techniques of Troll Lands.
Troll Lands in my mind brought the idea of a shoot-off game, where you play Covert-Ops, ala Nikita (or Alias), with Trolls being replaced with agencies, and different roles changing their names. And your goal, as in Troll Lands, being to resist change (or cause it?).
Juiced Rider, Memory Mecha, my latest game, is in a way also a game of Technological Horror. I knew I wanted there to be cards in the resolution mechanic, and although it’s totally different than the way it’s in Mechanical Primum Mobile, it was always in my thoughts when I made this game’s mechanics.
Edit: My games, except Juiced Rider, Memory Mecha, can be had at Cranium Rats Central.

Now we can talk about my games, pimping of them, rejection, and the feelings involved. Both adamdray and kleenestar asked me about this, on Knife Fight, but I knew from the beginning this belongs here, on my own journal.

When I began designing Cranium Rats, I’ve been a denizen of, but it didn’t do for me what I needed, it was a discussion based community, and I needed a community where the focus will be on game design, on helping with the design, finding playtests, etc.
I went to the The Forge, the Indie RPG community, also lauded as a design community.
The Forge just started its “First Thoughts” sub-forum, I hit jackpot! A forum for the first thoughts and ideas, and initial mechanics pre-playtesting of one’s game.

I got some ideas on my game, some thoughts, some pointers at other people who at the time had ideas similar to my own (there were two), of having one character controlled by various people, each of whom portrays a different aspect of their personality. To note, my game was mentioned to others which came with such an idea for several months to come, which made me feel nice.

I also met Filip Luszczyk and edwardbenedict on the Forge. They were instrumental, and are instrumental, to all of my designs thus far. That’s the greatest thing the Forge gave me, my alpha readers.

Posting additional mechanical ideas on the Forge resulted in some more alpha-level looks, but the critical issue came after I finished writing the first draft of my game. Aside from my alpha readers, my circle, who were now my friends, it was like pulling teeth getting people to read my document, to play my game, or to give feedback.

Some people bemoaned my lack of clarity. I rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. Some people still claim my texts are unreadable. This drives me crazy. I understand the fault is mine, but I’m still extremely frustrated by it. With each re-write more people said they could follow my game, and those who can’t can follow more than they could previously, so I do derive some satisfaction from it. But ultimately I’m frustrated at being unable to communicate clearly. It is so bad in fact, that I think my next version of Cranium and/or Rats will be given to Mr. Bennett (EdwardBenedict) to rewrite into plain English, for part of the revenue (if we get to that stage).
Yes, accepting one’s strong sides, and those that are not as strong, is an important part of creation. At least if you want to get anywhere.

Some people are not comfortable with my.. pushiness. Pimping my game over and over again (though each time it’s to a newcomer, so it’s those who heard it before who suffer), or asking time and time again whether someone had a chance to read the manuscript yet, and if so, what they thought, why they think they thought that, areas to improve, and so on and so forth, but, as I’ll illustrate below, I believe only being pushy got me anywhere at all.

So, my first game, Cranium Rats, had underwent 5 revisions, of various proportions, and is currently sitting still at Beta version 3.0. Many of those revisions were done based on comprehensive feedback given by one or two people. Almost all of the post-alpha stage (the idea stage) feedback I had received was due to me directly handing the manuscript to people. Sometimes this was in person, and sometimes this was online. In about half the cases, I had to do a follow up and “bother” the people every so often till they read the game.

The feedback was almost always very helpful, and the amount which I received by people to whom I did not personally hand the book or draw their attention to it, had been minimal, which lead me to keep acting in this pushy manner, because it is the only manner in which I’ve seen results.

Cranium Rats is the only of my games which had been playtested thus far. I organized the playtesting and took part in them. The posts on the Forge regarding the playtest sessions raised some interesting points, and contributed to my game, but sadly the people who participated in them were only people who either participated in the playtesting or were friends of mine. The Forge failed me beyond the alpha stage, as it did not attract more eyes, nor did it give me any feedback from people that I didn’t already know (the people).
It was as if I was in a community, but only those who were already willing to give me something beforehand gave me something.

Now, if you follow Cranium Rats’s design log over at Story Games, you will notice how much time it is between each change to the game. That’s what I feel about it.
Every time I get filled with energy, I go forth and design the game again, improving writing, improving rules, incorporating feedback, then I go forth and declare the new version of my game. After receiving no feedback, or receiving feedback of the sort that it’s an unreadable game, I grow tired. After a month or so I’m drained of energy, energy which if channelled was enough to have the game published three times over.
I feel exhausted, drained, sad. I feel that I put in the effort, but it takes me nowhere, that after I do all that I can, I go out and ask others to contribute, and after a certain while, my energy level dwindles. It’s hard to maintain a high energy level, especially in the face of (perceived) indifference.

Now, me, I’m stubborn, eventually I always push again, I always come back to my games and design them further. But I think there’s a problem, the symptoms of which are apparent in my story. What about all the other game creators, that without external feedback will get frustrated, close up shop and never work on their game further?
Maybe they “Don’t cut it” and aren’t ready to publish a game on the personal level. But maybe they just need more external input, more faith from people, and more deeds, less words, but a kind word would be fine too.

  1. drivingblind says:

    Honestly, there are a lot of times where I feel like other designers are the worst folks to give feedback, in large part because they’ve already got so much of their available time tied up in working on their own designs.
    What I long for most (and what I think works best) is the ability to connect to “pure players”, folks who don’t do design beyond a little bit of drift in their home games. These folks are less likely to get tangled up in any kind of theory morass, and are more likely to have time to look at a game.
    But in the end, the online circles I tend to “run in” are pretty rife with designers, I think due in part to those online circles growing out of the forge community. So that’s not always as easy as I’d like.

    • Guy says:

      Yes, I knew I forgot something!
      Many people don’t read my games, because the material is of no interest to them, or that they have a game of themselves to work on.
      I think that is one of the major problems of the “Indie State” right now. It had gotten so good, public and its viability is so high, that there is almost an Indie Game designer in every group, or so it’d seem from the online circles we travel in.
      This results in more games being produced, but less external input on each one, as each person is too busy to get involved with others’ projects, but look at academia, and many other fields, where will we be without others’ feedback? Do we not design the games for others?

      • drivingblind says:

        Oh, I agree. And to a great extent, I “cheat” a lot to address this problem — drafting my local playgroup into testing out game systems I’ve worked on, but also getting to tap into all the fans of Fate that we’ve built up over the past five years, not to mention the occasional reach out into the Dresden Files fandom.
        I just think that relying on designers for feedback is a good way to get insular. While I value that feedback, I tend to value the feedback of non-designers more.
        It’s sort of like supposing I’m a car company, getting all my feedback on a new design from car mechanics. That’s good and useful, and can help my design a lot, but unless I have some every-day drivers get behind the wheel of the thing and tell me how they liked or hated it, my design’s going to tank.

      • Guy says:

        Hm, do you want people to tell you what tanked and what was great, or also suggest opinions on how to fix it?
        Because if the latter, we’re getting into the pseudo- or proto- game design level. Because in a way, all house-ruling is game design!
        I hint at it over here.
        And yeah, I’m a bit constrained with the online community, my offline community is of rather vehement anti-Indie stock.
        Also, seems even online most people who are not designers themselves don’t like to try untested stuff as much as designers are willing to do it. Perhaps out of empathy?

      • drivingblind says:

        Mostly I want the former. I can always ask designers independent of their play for advice that would give me the latter perspective (if I think I need it; since I’m “soaking” in my own system, when a problem is identified in play, I usually already have a path charted to a fix in mind).
        I hear what you’re saying, though. Like I said; some of my “cheats” make my own situation not as broadly applicable as it could be.

  2. Anonymous says:

    (Reposted from – Filip)
    1.It’s not like you get less feedback or buzz than any other novice game designer. Generally, one needs to already have name or connections in the hobby to get these.
    2.When it comes to indie stuff, that by definition doesn’t have too wide an audience, the above statement is twice as valid.
    3.Actually, you get quite a lot of it in comparison with an average guy out there. I wish I had as much feedback and buzz as you (too bad I never knew how to sell myself well, heh).
    4.Everyone is designing games these days.
    5.The sad truth is, nobody cares about a game only because it’s being designed.
    6.Also, nobody really cares about a game only because it is finished. There’s plenty of them everywhere, who needs more?
    7.If you write a game specifically for yourself, the above statement is twice as valid. Cause, who really cares?
    8.On the other hand, if you don’t design games for yourself in the first place, it’s better not to do it. (Now, if designing games is only means to some end to you, it’s obviously a dead end – cause, for the designer, designing games should be an end in itself.)
    9.Not every game needs to be published and sold.
    10.Not every game needs to be completed at all.
    11.That said, you’re not writing that many of them. I’ve left behind more projects this year only than you list above.
    12.It’s not good to focus on one project too much.
    13.It’s not good to care about one’s projects too much. Distance is important.
    14.Why aren’t you posting more APs from your inside playtests everywhere around?
    15.Man, are you a whiner… πŸ˜›

    • Guy says:

      1. I think that’s exactly the problem! Look at all the other novices who get ignored, and who as a result of that don’t keep designing!
      3. How much feedback did I get? Or are you referring to my blog, or the other Competitive people?
      5. That’s the community’s problem, if the community says it’s there to help design games, then it should care just because a game is being designed.
      6. Market saturation, that’s the problem of publishing these days. Find a new territory, succeed, others come, make territory not as worthwhile.
      7. Yes, but then, you probably aren’t going to external people asking for feedback, and if you are, why? Total agreement here.
      9. Total agreement.
      11. I’m using me as an example. Also, do you think Cranium Rats doesn’t need to be completed?
      12. Definitely, one of the reasons I participated in two contests, which resulted in Juiced Rider and Troll Lands, was to have more projects on hand, so when I get filled with endless drive and energy, and one project is going nowhere, I could just alternate and get mad work done on another project.
      13. But where is the balance between caring too much and caring too little?
      14. The playtests I had were the ones with you guys, nothing else.
      15. Gee, thanks, I love you too πŸ™‚

      • Anonymous says:

        1.Well, this is a problem for novices and only for them (heh, us). It’s not a problem for acclaimed designers, and it’s not a problem for gamers. Also, there’s no reason for everyone who tries designing to keep doing it. Not everyone can design a game and it’s only natural for some to drop out on the way, for one reason or another.
        3.Generally, I’d say you’re getting much more feedback than me – more people actually cared to tell you anything about your game at all. E.g. as you say, people mention your games are unreadable. See? There are *people* who give you feedback.
        Also, I’m still waiting for your comments on Absolute Destiny Apocalypse πŸ˜›
        5.By “nobody cares” I mean rather “nobody has any real reason to care”. We should be thankful there actually are any communities at all. Cause, nobody pays people there for their feedback.
        6.Yeah, market saturation is a pain.
        11.I think you certainly overdid it on CR in the past, dunno how your work on the game goes now. But back then, you’ve been pushing that project so hard that you’ve almost fried your brain.
        Dunno if it needs to be completed, it’s a question you can ask only yourself. (I know that it’s not really a game I want to play myself, but it doesn’t have anything to do with whether it needs to reach completion or not.)
        12.Yeah, way to go πŸ˜‰
        13.The moment one’s overprotectiveness starts to hurt one’s child, it’s definitely too much.
        14.And this is your worst problem, I think. You design a lot, but you don’t playtest enough. One session of playtesting can be worth more than ten dry rewrites.
        15.Oh yeah? So who was and is instrumental again? πŸ˜›

      • Guy says:

        1. Recent posts leads me to believe that this is not true, that everyone these days has a hard time getting external input. Seems most input people get is from their friends, and they’ll get that anyway, published or otherwise.
        3. As said above, these were the result of me directly handing the game to people, being brave and perhaps even rude.
        You’ll get your comments, when I get to your game. Heh.
        11. Due to depression, I actually don’t do anything with my games right now. I’m letting them sit. Once JR gets a playtest I may do a complete rewrite. Troll Lands is still awaiting a comprehensive rewrite, I just didn’t get to it.
        14. I hate playing on-line. I need the immediacy of offline response, or at least for CR, it may not be as requisite for my other children (games).
        I completely lack an offline group, which is a very nasty issue for me. You can playtest my games, and then it’ll be less dry writing versus playtesting, even though it won’t be by me. But I have come to accept that as my current situation, which may change in October, when I begin university.
        To note, Absolute Destiny Apocalypse is Filip’s latest designed game.

      • Anonymous says:

        Depressions suck. Sell it on E-Bay or something. You’ll feel better when someone else has it.
        Well, I currently lack offline group as well – but I’m playing pretty often on Skype, and I don’t complain about the immediacy of responce. On the other hand, there are two other designers in my current online group, and every one of us has some games to playtest. Also, we like to play actually finished games from time to time. So, not much chances that we playtest your game (well, unless you design something that will scream “Play me, now!” to us).

      • Anonymous says:

        Dude, I always read your journal.
        I rarely have much of value to say. But I’m reading.

  3. nekoewen says:

    I don’t know where to begin to address all of this, but I know I have a heck of a time getting any feedback at all on whatever I’m working on. I am lucky enough to have a local gaming group that’s willing to try stuff out, which is good since I never could get into online gaming for some reason.
    I hate to say it, but I have never found the Forge useful. It’s occasionally interesting to read, but I feel like (1) I’ve missed the boat and it’s golden age is past, and (2) its tightly controlled format is a poor fit for how I like to do things.
    My problem is that I tend to get so many ideas that I want to do something with that there’s *always* something new demanding my attention. I usually come back to old projects eventually when the mood strikes me That’s what happened with Tokyo Heroes, which I started more than 2 years ago. Also, the way my current lifestyle is set up it often winds up being the case that RPGs slip to number 3 or 4 on my list of priorities (after school, freelance work, and sometimes writing fiction). Plus sometimes — like over the past month or so — I just get generally burned out.
    I do admire your persistence in pimping your games though, regardless of the outcome. I don’t really have the personality/inclination to do that, so in that respect I’m not sure I’m cut out to be one of those indie designers. Mostly I just like making and playing the games.

    • Guy says:

      I still think you’re the lucky one. You get to play what you create.
      I get to pimp it.
      Then again, once life is calmer for you, I’ll once again try to rope you into running one of my games…
      Friends, that’s what it seems this is all about in the end, just like everything else.

    • Anonymous says:

      (Hey, I still intend to send you some feedback on Tokyo Heroes – once I manage to get down to reading it whole, that is πŸ˜‰

    • Hey man: More than the Forge, I find that Friend Networks are FAR more important for getting critical feedback (if those friends are critical, and not just patting me on the back… which IS important, too).
      Anyway, I’m in your friends network, why not throw your data/files past me sometime? Or toss your ideas on a directed Story Games thread? πŸ™‚
      PS: I never read Cranium Rats because I was never comfortable really with the word-steal from Planescape. For months, I assumed the game was about playing colonies of Planescape’s Cranium Rats. When I found out otherwise, my thoughts changed to “…why not call it something other than Cranium Rats, then?”

      • Guy says:

        Well, you are welcome to read it now and tell me what you think.
        And I just like the name, heh.

  4. Luke Crane and I were talking about this yesterday. It seems like, a great deal of the time, it takes a ton of work to get people (anyone, game designers, fans, people who’ve bought your game) to actually play it. Getting them to read it can also be hard, but getting all the way to actual play is the real challenge. Luke was talking about when he first started going to conventions and realized that nobody had played his game — and so they really didn’t know all that much about it — even people who were fans and had bought it.
    So there’s a huge hurdle between putting something out there and people actually connecting with and implementing it.

    • Guy says:

      And how did he feel once people did play it, and he met them?
      I got nothing to add aside from a big, slightly apprehensive “Yes”.
      I’m hoping JRMM gets playtested in two weeks, it’d be the first time I get an external playtest.
      Sure, several people said they’d play in a game if I’d run it, or are interested in playing, but you know how real life often conspires against that.

      • I think he’s totally jazzed when people do play his game. But he was just disappointed that he often had to run it for them before they got around to doing that.
        Good luck with yours.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If you are having trouble with organization and communication, have you looked at my design outlines that I posted on Socratic Design:
    This is how I write games. Seeing it might provide you with some ideas, especially Design Outline #8.

    • Guy says:

      Re: Outlines
      The PDF Download is dead.
      And it seems it’s not only book order, but my writing, for some more examples/opinions, I present this.
      I have a Clarity – Understandability polarity/dichotomy.
      And thank you for the reply, lemme know when the PDF download is alive again, or email it to me.

    • Guy says:

      Re: Outlines
      I have a tendency to do XII and break down VIII and IX in it.
      As in:
      Playing the Game:
      >Resolution Mechanic and when it is called on.
      >> What goes here.
      >Reward Mechanism and when it is called on.
      >> What goes here.
      It seems people have more of a problem with my writing, but I’ll try to just shift things about and see if it changes the way people interact with the text, though I suspect it’d require rewriting according to outline?

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Outlines
        Oh yeah, I fully expect that a person will take those outlines and then customize them for themselves. They are a starting place, not a precription for writing.

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