Kirb your enthusiasm!


"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Friday, May 11, 2012

Project: Biomorph: Heirarchy

I seem to have gotten very popular very fast. I've spent almost all day fielding calls, sending out emails, and making plans. I apologize if I didn't respond to you in my first post, and I apologize in advance if I don't respond in the future. I do read every post you guys make, but there simply isn't time for me to do much with the vast majority of them. I also appreciate those of you who put out your negative views, it's helpful and brings a lot of potential challenges into the spotlight.

I would like to kick off this project by explaining two things: our organization and project goals. We'll talk about them in that order, with hierarchy today:

Organization is divided into four layers: lead design, designers, playtesters, and support staff.

Lead Design is the person who is in charge of the project overall. They're the person who makes all the final decisions for what will and won't be included, and directs the project testing and development. This is the person who writes the rules: he takes advice, he heeds warnings, but ultimately, he is the author and his word goes. This is not a democracy, lead design has final say. In this project, I am lead design. While I will have people editing, helping with layout, giving suggestions, etc. I will be the ultimate deciding factor.

Things have to be this way. Design by committee doesn't work. Having some co-design can work, but it's much slower, and in this project, we need to move quickly and boldly.

Designers are a tier down from lead design. They're mostly the people who have ideas bounced off of them. They suggest changes, point out problems, and most importantly bring a different perspective to the inner design process. Everyone's brain is wired a little different, and it takes more than one person to iron out all the little kinks in a rule set. A good idea can be made 10x better after a short discussion with the right people.

Playtesters are an extremely important, extremely frustrating and frustrated group. That's because playtesters should be kept out of the inner-design loop. Why? Because if they know what's happening, they tend to gloss over rules. Imagine this: the version the playtesters are playing has a problem with vehicles, they're too hardy, and the damage chart is unbalanced. That's an issue that should be reported. However, if the playtesters know that the designers are soon going to implement a change to heavy weapons, they may assume that there's not actually a problem, because the new update will already fix things.

That's an issue. If something isn't fun, or doesn't work correctly, we need the playtester to be absent that crystal ball. I want to hear report after report about it, because maybe that IS an issue that I just didn't realize, and the heavy weapon changes have nothing to do with it.

This also gets very frustrating for the playtesters, because they see a lot of a broken system, but have no idea what the designers are doing behind the closed doors. To them, it can look like a bunch of incompetents putting our broken thing after broken thing, totally oblivious to what's happening.

It's also frustrating because a lot of playtesters fancy themselves designers. What design mostly wants to hear from playtesting is “this is a problem”. What design gets is lengthy responses that say “this is a problem, and there are three ways to fix it. Way 1...” I know from experience that it can be infuriating when there's a problem, and design says “ok, got it”, and it just disappears. It's important for playtesters to know that they're being listened to, but not everything they say is going to make a difference. Design is for the design team: they know a lot more about what's going on, and for better or for worse, they MUST have the final say.

So that's tricky, because playtesters are invaluable, and brilliant, and tend to feel completely undervalued. It can make it hard to find people, but god the ones who stick it out are winners.

Support Staff include all the people who don't contribute to the design or playtesting work, but are necessary for the project. For this kind of thing, we'll need people that can do the following:

1.) Art. Art is awesome. Having good art can totally make a game, it does a huge amount of the selling to a person flipping through. Art is also expensive. For a volunteer project like this one, that means we can: A.) Take volunteers, hope they deliver, and use whatever they give us, no matter how crappy, or B.) We can find people who have made pieces that are already good, and see if they'll give us permission to use them. I may invest some of my personal money into buying art, but even commissioning a single piece is expensive, commissioning a book's worth is impossible for me.

2.) Layout. Make no mistake, doing book layouts is a skill. I can learn to do this, but it would be much, much better if we can find someone with experience to help out in this area. Presentation matters a lot in a rule set, it can make things easier to find, the book easier to read, and the pictures really pop with the text.

3.) Editor. This one doesn't really need explanation. I misspell things all the time- I'm sure I've made multiple mistakes int his article alone already, despite my self-editing.

4.) Fluff Writers. I fancy myself a pretty good writer, but for my fiction to be anything more than average takes a ton of time and work for me. There are people that are really passionate about this, so let them at it.

Filling out these positions is going to be a bit of a challenge. A lot of people have volunteered to be playtesters, and I really would like them to be, but I get a feeling they think of themselves more as designers. The designer slots are already pretty much filled, I'm afraid- I have people who I talk to constantly about design stuff that will naturally fill the role.

What I want is to create communication throughout this tree, though. When I've been involved in playtesting in the past, it's isolated and somewhat impersonal. I send emails, I get curt responses. I'm looking into forum options for this project, I would love it if the designers and playtesters could interact and have an actual dialog. I'd also like to do regular Skype chats, both among the designers, among the playtesters, and among everyone. Good communication is critical to project success!

On a personal note, I am really exhausted at this point. It's been a busy week for me for a lot of reasons. I hope this all makes sense. Please, ask your questions in the comments, and I'll answer whatever I can.

Project goals will be in the next post, as well as an outline of our deadlines. I will also begin fielding requests for involvement at that time, I'm working on a method to keep organize and keep track of everyone at the moment.

Again guys, no post in the morning to give this some more exposure :).

Edit: For the moment guys if you want to participate drop me a line at the old email address ( - something more specific will likely be set up in the future but for now use that (or Biscuit's email if he puts it up).

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