Going to start all of these posts off with that sweet logo that Brian did. Cool? Cool.
For Valkyries, we want the open development to serve as a possible blueprint for how to do this game design thing. Everyone goes about it differently, so ultimately you need to find your own way.
Trying to do that can be tough. Like, needle-in-a-haystack-made-of-brambles-so-really-it’s-a-bramblestack-tough.
So read on, and hopefully what we present here will be a help!
Where to Start a Game
five or so time s you go to write something, it can be a hard thing to figure out. There are tons of ways to present RPG information, and all of the different ways have merit. Before you even begin to outline (yes, you should outline), you need to have a good idea of what your game is.
Idea -> Concept -> Testing
Valkyries began life as something Brian and I codenamed Vault Hunters. I’ve been obsessed with the Borderlands franchise for a few years now, and recently picked up a PS4 and Destiny. Open-world shooters, with strong RPG elements, and snappy writing (in the case of Borderlands, at least)? Yes, I want those things in a tabletop RPG. Brian did, too.
We chatted back and forth on Twitter, email, and video chat. We bounced ideas off of each other in terms of mechanics, presentation, etc, and we got a few things defined for sure:
- We knew what our inspirations were
- We knew we wanted to have cards figure into the game heavily
- We wanted defined archetypes for power sets and play styles
- We wanted to have gear figure prominently
- We wanted combat to move quickly with little decision lag.
Our initial design was all card-draw based. An Action Deck with Hit and Miss cards, with gear defining how many cards you drew. We made a set of weapons, and a set of Archetypes with Action Skills/special abilities. I ran it through two playtest sessions, mostly stress-testing the combat. There were some good moments, but it didn’t click the way we’d expected it to. Too much card flipping, or not enough, Archetypes didn’t work as expected, or worked too well. Not enough happy middle ground. The design stalled a little bit.
You’ve got to explore your initial concepts, make sure they are what you think they are.
For Valkyries -> Vault Hunters, that took two playtests and some thought. For your design, it might take more, or less. You won’t know until you try. We tried some things with Vault Hunters, but it was missing some oomph. We had a neat mechanical concept and some good inspirations, but it would have taken us longer than we’d have liked to make it all work1.
And here’s an important lesson I’ve seen repeated recently online by Fred Hicks: No design is wasted design. It might not end up being what you think it will, but you always learn something from design work. So build and test, early and often. We didn’t end up using much of the initial Vault Hunters design. That’s fine. We now have an interesting set of mechanics that could become something else, and we know what the game isn’t; almost as important as knowing what a game is.
The below bit is how we’re going to wrap up these post: a summary, and a teaser for the post to come.
Lessons Learned: Decent initial concept, interesting initial mechanics, not enough of a core to stand on. It took testing to realize that.
Where It Goes from Here: We refine the concept further and find the heart of what becomes Valkyries.
Hope this was helpful. We’re open to feedback or questions, so feel free!
- This is a constraint we face because we’ve chosen to try and put out content pretty regularly. A long design cycle means less content. It’s a balancing act we’re still figuring out.