It's Only a Model

In my day job, I’m regularly modeling systems. Typically the models involve relatively concrete concepts: a page, a navigation structure, a financial transaction (previous job), or a place on a map. These models can be defined with a noun: Page, Navigation, Payment, Placemark. The models themselves have methods, or verbs. (i.e. render, publish, and pay). Loosely, this is part of the definition of object-oriented programming.

Recently, I’ve had the urge to work on table top game-design (and no I’m not quitting my day job). One of the things that surprised my partner is that I haven’t done any game-design. After all, I am a poor soul hopelessly consumed by gaming.

In large part this inspiration has come from reading D. Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World, Ryan Macklin’s most excellent (and mouthy) blog, Fred Hick’s very transparent blog concerning gaming, Gnome Stew’s blog (in particular about improv), Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel and Adventure Burner, Graham Walmsley’s Play Unsafe, Bully Pulpet Game’s Fiasco, Brad J. Murray and crewsDiaspora, Evil Hat’s Dresden Files and Spirit of the Century, Grognardia, the Alexandrian, Daniel Solis; listening to Fear the Boot and the Walking Eye; and countless other influences. In fact my Google Reader is loaded with all kinds of game related blogs. My @takeonrules account follows several game designers.

But most importantly, the tipping point came from two sources on the same day: Mike Roe, my coworker and an all around creative spirit, who spoke on creativity; And my partner suggesting that I design, as a Christmas present, a game for our children. I don’t know if I’ll get to that, but that is my present goal.

The problem is…What kind of game do I want to design? My personality is one that enjoys refactoring and tinkering with other people’s work. Getting started on a new project is very daunting as is pushing it through to the finish (I’m great in the middle innings).

I did a little bit of research, and ultimately settled on Game Design Concept’s blog, in particular the entry concerning a game design syllabus and schedule. I went out and bought, from my friendly local bookstore, Scott McLoud’s “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art”, Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun for Game Design”, and Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber’s “Challenges for Game Designers”. I’m working my way through the most excellent recommended reading, and will then begin in earnest working through the syllabus.

Clearly the game will need a theme and the underlying system should model that theme. However, my training for modeling has thus far been focused on more concrete objects (i.e. Page, Navigation, Train, Shoe, Radio). Modeling a theme requires modeling something much more abstract (i.e. Scarcity, Hope, Depravity, Corruption, etc.) than my standard fare. So how do I go about doing that? (This is not rhetorical, but may come off as such)

From my reading, it sounds like Apocalypse World 📖 does an excellent job at modeling scarcity. Clearly depravity and corruption are not something I want to model with the kids. So I’m going to be thinking about Hope, but I’m sure there may be other themes I want to explore.

What are Hope’s associated verbs? What other models interact with Hope? That is the exercise left for the writer.

As a side note, I don’t think I’ll be working towards Daniel Solis’ Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge:

Create a game. The game can be of any theme or genre you desire, but there is one restriction: You’re creating a “new classic,” like Chess, Tag or card games. So, create a game to be enjoyed by generations of players for a thousand years.

That is a little too lofty of a goal for my first game design.