Choppin’ Broccoli: The Process of Game Design

Some folks liken any discussion about “The Process” as ugly work akin to making sausage. Well, you’re not gonna get that here. Nope. The way we do it is is all assembly line vegetables. We give you what you need, and you will eat it.

Okay. Let me reel that back a bit. Game design requires one to be somewhat schizoid. Got that? A good, old fashioned mental disorder used for good.

You have these voices in your head. Some say do this. Some say do that. Ultimately, they are broken down into four discrete camps.

1. The Creator: This is the voice you’re most comfortable with. This is you who is all shaved and shiny and professional like. This is the you which drips with professorial wisdom, like a, um, err, professor.

2. The Lazy Bum: This is probably the real you. The guy who wants to veg out on the couch and eat nachos while playing Call of Duty at the same time. You know how’d you do things and rules, schmoolz. Lucky for this guy, the Creator keeps the lights on. This guy just wants his next video game fix. Or, hey, more nachos. And razors? Those are for antelope and mange-ridden grizzly bears.

3. The Audience: Okay. I said there are four voices, and, bear with me, there are, but we have an A and B swooping in on you. (See Mr. Hester, I did pay attention in AP: English.)

A. The GM: You’re writing to tell this guy the whys and wherefores, fleshing out the bits of information not covered in the character’s section. You want to use your wits and wiles to be succinct and entertaining and convey what you need to convey. Don’t mince words. Serve ’em up whole.

B. The Player: Who can ever please this guy, right? You know, because you are him. You know what he wants, because he is the YOU who is sitting at the table. The one who is participating in the GM’s wonderful stories.

Okay. All these voices can create a cacophony unless you separate them out. What is one to do?  Let’s find out.

1. Brainstorm: If your creative well is dry, make it rain. Come up with stuff that you’d like to play. Don’t worry if it’s been done. Let go of the filters like a drunk at two a.m. in a bar.

2. Scrutinize: Now, hungover from your blissful list, examine it with a more critical eye. What interests you most? Put a check by it. What doesn’t exist? Put a check by that. What exists but you think you could do better? Put a circle by that.

3. Prioritize: You have your pretty list and it is now battle scarred. (“Fritz! They killed Fritz!”) If you have a lot of x’s and circles, which you most likely do, then start numbering them like you would if you had a tiny lifeboat and your ship was sinking. What idea would you save first, and so on. A lot of these cats are gonna drown. Don’t mind the sackcloth, you’ve got work to do.

4. Visualize: You have this idea. (Yay! Finally!) And it’s just taking up space. What do you do with it? Kick back and think of the possibilities. What is this thing about? Really? Go nuts. Yes, you’re kinda brainstorming again, but you’re looking for purpose and intent. You’re tricking yourself into the first phases of a design document. Just don’t tell your brain. It shouldn’t really be listening at this stage anyway.

5. Particularize: Okay. Wake your brain up. You’ll need its critical thinking. You have all these groovy ideas, like everyone plays robots. Okay. Vague. Whatever. Where’s the story. We’re just hanging out going to the Jiffy Lube or what? Give me more to sink my teeth into. This vampire’s hungry. Okay. We’re part of a robot army. Are we transformers? Nope. Too easy. What if we’re off on some alien planet. Let’s get off earth. Okay. We’re there. It’s a rancid, humid planet. This ain’t good. We were sent here for a three day tour. And we’re getting rusty now. Both sides of the war lost. However, we have our programming. The other army is still out there and it has its agenda. And, yeah, we’ve been fighting this war for a thousand years. New civilizations have arisen around us. Some treat us like gods. Others as demons. Still others as protectors. So, let’s tighten it up a bit. Robot Army is about mechanized soldiers who fight for survival and a way home. Why? As our story begins, we find out the other army has found a way home, a way back to earth,and that army (built by some funky aliens) want to eat Earth for lunch. It’s not Shakespeare, but I’d play this game, I suppose.

6. Mechanize: What do we need to make this game happen? We define those rules and parameters. We focus on those elements important to the game. Skiing doesn’t matter in Robot Army. I, imagine, however, rules for repair, the effects of weather, and breaking down will be mighty important though.

7.  Actualize: Once the rules are done. We go back to the particulars and wrap it around the mechanics like a suit of armor. We introduce flow and context and other good bits not done during the mechanization process.

8. Abandon: You let it go. It should be easy enough to do. If you’ve done your job well, you need a little time apart. Pass it on to your crew, if you’ve got one.

9.  Revise: You come back to it. It should be sanguine if delivered from the hands of another or, at the very least, it will be fresh. Give it a thorough going over. And repeat steps 8 and 9 until you are satisfied.

There are a few more steps, if you’re going for publication, but I don’t think those are salient for today’s discussion. This should give you enough to chew on. I’d love to hear what you think, and how you approach things.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!



1 Note on “Choppin’ Broccoli: The Process of Game Design”

  1. Excellent insights, sir! While I’m not one to often ponder The Process, it’s great to see it laid out like this. With such a map, it’s much easier to not get lost!

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