High-Speed Game Creation

Posted on March 26, 2009

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As a member of RPGnet and a regular haunter of the Tabletop Roleplaying Open forum, I have participated in a series of RPG creation contests colloquially known as “Game Fu”. These contests were inspired by Game Chef, but are a bit less formal.

Each time a Game Fu contest is run, a list of ingredients is presented, usually sorted into a small number of categories. Generally, contestants will be required to choose a certain number of ingredients, one from each category plus at least one more, to combine into an RPG. (I say “usually” and “generally” because the second contest was run with a single list of only seven ingredients; it didn’t go so well, with only two entries making it.)

Vitenka, a fellow RPGnet member and Game Fu participant, has compiled the entries for Game Fu 1-3 on a specially-designed website. He’s working now on putting up the entries for Game Fu 4, which just finished.

I participated in the first three contests. My entry for Game Fu 1, Mad Science Boys, took first place with an overall score of 75/100. MSB was based on the idea of taking the tropes of magical girls and inverting them — magic becomes science! and girls, naturally, become boys. Characters draw inspiration from sources such as Dexter, Jimmy Neutron and Doctor Horrible. Because of the ingredients, the game document has an aborted background story of an alien invasion; if and when I decide to go back to work on MSB, I want to fix that, along with including a bunch of things I thought of after the fact like rivalries and sidekicks.

I failed to complete Game Fu 2; I had several ideas start, but then fall to pieces, and I eventually dropped out with two days left. The best idea that I had, at least according to me, was based on Kepler’s Somnium — a 17th century magical space fantasy that, given time, could become fully realized. Not bound by the ingredients, I could do a lot with this notion.

My Game Fu 3 entry, 1914, tied for first with a 7/10. This is an alternate history superheroes game. The year is 1914, and the Great War has not yet arrived. The world is dealing with the sudden appearance of people with strange powers, and the sociopolitical landscape is shifting. It’s up to the players to decide what they will do, especially if they wish to prevent the war — or to fight it for their own.

I was a judge for Game Fu 4. I thought it time to give back, and let me tell you, it was not as easy as it might sound. I had originally created a list of criteria that would have had me still working. I cut that list down to three simple, broad areas. GF4 was out most successful Game Fu yet, with seven entries. One was incomplete, and one was finished, but suffered from the author’s severe illness. The other five all finished with final scores above average (50 on a scale of 0-100 for my criteria).

Each and every entry for all four contests has been worth checking out. Even if the game itself wasn’t fantastic, it contained interesting ideas. I’m proud to be a part of the ongoing group.

Writing a game at high speed is a bit like riding a roller coaster without restraints. It sounds like great fun, and it really is, but at the same time you find yourself nearly falling out of the car all the time. The adrenaline rush is addictive, which is why I kept coming back, and I plan on entering as a contestant whenever we run Game Fu 5.

The beginning is always the same — once the list of ingredients is posted, we pounce, and the gears start turning every which way. Wild ingredient combinations come together, like a toddler haphazardly throwing jigsaw puzzle pieces about. For me, this period hasn’t rendered anything useful. The second phase is when I empty my head and stop trying to grasp for something — that’s when the lightning strikes. It didn’t strike for Game Fu 2, but for 1 and 3 it was a sudden jolt.

Once that charge has been delivered, it’s on to the guts of the thing. Because of the ingredients list, Game Fu games are tightly focused rather than generic, which means your mechanics are most often tied into the “fluff”. The question is, which direction do you want to come at that from? Both times, I came at the problem from the middle — I had a character type already in mind, and I had to build mechanics to support that. MSB needed rules for mad science inventions and tight focus on exactly what the Boys could and could not do. 1914 needed rules for creating thematic super powers. Both times, this phase took the longest.

Both games are at least partially diceless, a route I took for two reasons. One, I was in a phase where I was investigating diceless roleplaying, having been a dice-based gamer for most of my career, and two, it saved time over trying to cobble together a core mechanic. MSB does have some d12-based dice rolling, but only in situations directly related to Mad Science. Otherwise, it’s diceless resolution, either you do or don’t, with some resource manipulation. 1914 is completely diceless, and only includes resources in the form of Inspiration, which can be spent to boost normal humans around your character.

Next comes the wearying “did I get everything right?” phase: constant tweaking, adding, subtracting and editing. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, which really doesn’t help here. I like to present my entries in PDF format, which means getting them worked up in OpenOffice first and then exporting. That gives me the additional task of making sure it looks okay, not because this wins points (it doesn’t) but because I can’t stand to turn in an ugly document.

After that comes the submission and the waiting. It takes a while to read through so many games, even those created in a week to nine days (two weekends bracketing a week), as I found out judging Game Fu 4. Though there is nothing on the line, it’s still a fun kind of nerve-wracking waiting for the judges to get to your entry.

So that’s it, a little bit about Game Fu. Without it, I never would have created Mad Science Boys and 1914. I eagerly anticipate what might happen next time.

Backup download links for:
Mad Science Boys
1914

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Posted in: Game Creation