Developing a chronic illness in 2018 fundamentally changed how I play games, which also changed which games I can play. This past spring I've started to take what I learned as a player to modify my design approach so I am creating games people like me can actually play.
This is not, to be clear, "how to design games while coping with a chronic illness," but more about how I have changed my own views on "good" game design as a result.
Revisiting the concept of a play pyramid for game design recently helped me focus my editing process for game mechanics.
Crossing Worlds is going to be a new game based on mechanics developed for Karma in the Dark. But just hacking Blades for a Shadowrun inspired setting (Karma) required mechanical adjustments; taking Karma into a game world about Cherokee futurism in a off world sci-fi setting would definitely require mechanical adjustments. I also learned a lot in my three years of designing Karma, so many of my mechanic choices now seem...questionable.
I've been grappling with this pretty massive revision project, and not well. My direction for tackling the revision drifted over the past few months as I struggled to find a good way to making editing decisions.
Then I watched Cory Barlog's GDC presentation on reinventing God of War. As he described the process of moving from the original franchise to pitching a new game to actually developing that new game, one image stood out: the play pyramid for the new game.
Thinking about pilars of gameplay isn't revolutionary (I've even looked at it before for Karma in the Dark) but this image struck me for two reasons:
This dynamic appealed to me because Karma (and by extention, the first draft of CW) had begun to feel unwieldly. There were too many ideas, too many systems, too many rules to learn. I wanted something more streamlined.
I stepped back and asked myself what the play pyramid would look like for Crossing Worlds.
As I've been revising the foundational rules of Karma in the Dark for my first full release of Crossing Worlds, I've been reconsidering the utility, theme, and synergy of every mechanic. I found myself stuck on what to do with Harm for weeks. In the basic Forged in the Dark engine, harm is one of five possible consequences from a roll that doesn't get a 6 result. If you take harm, you write a short description in the box. Level 1 means you have decreased effect, level 2 means you have -1d, and level 3 means you need to push yourself or get assistance for actions.
Harm as it stands achieves three main purposes: narratively, it captures more long-standing injury; during scores, it creates a penalty for failure; and during downtime, it acts as a time/money sink because it requires downtime actions to recover.
Examining each purpose through the lens of Crossing Worlds, it didn't seem to fit.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.