// June 23rd, 2012 // Comments Off // Uncategorized
Someone recently asked a group of us about game design that springs from emotion and feeling versus game mechanics. I think we’ve gone this route in our upcoming Monster Loves You!.
Back when I worked for a Commercial MUD, we’d run periodic D&D-tabletop-style events, the best of which always triggered some sort of emotion. To prep, Dan (Brainerd, also now of Dejobaan) and I would begin by passing back and forth a document touching on event’s backstory, fleshing it out in passes, and getting our themes straight. What’d we want to say? How did we want the players to feel? We used that sum of information to create our narrative. And from that, the puzzles always just seemed to fall out naturally.
So, for example, one event included themes of isolation (from home) and distance. We wrote up a quick document and passed it back and forth between us (here’s the first draft of such – from the timestamp, it looks like we ran this one in 1994(!)), each building it up as we went along. We conveyed isolation by sticking the players on these giant rafts (with no way to get back home), and distance by setting them across the ocean (bye!).
Ideas for gameplay would pop up after a few passes. “How can we make steering the rafts interesting? How about a system of navigation via the stars! Say, these rafts are big — who lives here, and what do they do? They’d probably have an oral tradition, since they didn’t have much to write on, except soggy seaweed. So, their magic would be spoken. What if we created a system of magical syllables the players could learn?” and so forth.
From there, we’d triage and go with the best bits.
18 Years Later…
Dejobaan’s games are supposed to be about delighting people and making them laugh, so it’s been a while since we’ve led with any strong emotional theme. But we’re now working on a title with Radial, about hatching a baby monster, navigating the rigors of monster society, and dealing with the larger problem of angry monster-human relations. We originally thought “Creature Tamagotchi,”but the gameplay has evolved as we established an idyllic, 18th century setting, gradually built backstory about how monster society had come about, and set out to explore the raising of a creature in that context.
As an example, we considered how we’d implement rites in Monster Society, and had this conversation:
- “The Oldest Monster is coming to town and you must make sure it stays happy while it’s here.”
- “Like a Tea Ceremony. Something highly ritualized. Food. Monsters love food.”
- “Follow the instructions in the Manual of Monstrous Manners to a T and don’t get partially eaten.”
- “No! Reading pages of text is boring. What if you just picked bits and pieces up as you do most common knowledge?”
- “Yes, and what if your monster could actually communicate something by how it conducted the ceremony?”
The concept of being able to nuance your interpretation of the ceremony intrigued us. If you (the player) had paid attention when watching monster TV and talking to monster elders, you might know that laying out forks would be a terrible insult (“You have just implied that your guest doesn’t have the claws to cut its own food”), or that refusing it entry into your house was an honor (“You have spoken the ancient words of the ritual, formally rejecting your elder and, in so doing, truly inviting the old one to violate your commandment and barge inside.”).
So, my steps would be something like this:
- Forget about the mechanics.
- Consider emotion, setting, theme.
- Start writing shit down.
- Pass it back and forth with a respected creative type, building on the best ideas.
We often have these “aha!” moments that then translate into gameplay.