Saturday, November 30, 2013

Turn To 100: The Goldilocks Dilemma

  • Has it really been over a month since I posted on this blog? My goodness. Let's fix that.

  • Although I submitted my entry for the 2013 Windhammer Prize, I still could not stop thinking about gamebooks. I am happy with this year's entry, The Independence Job. But I could not get out of my mind that maybe I could have done better. So I starting thinking about next year. This series will chronicle my development and writing of my next gamebook.

  • My first idea was a fantasy story about a woman who runs the family farm after her son goes off adventuring.

  • That lived in my head for about three weeks before I realized that I have no idea how to write that book. Initially, I wanted it to be a farm simulation crossed with an exchange of letters between the mother and son that shapes their development. I thought that I could make a fun little game that would influence the mother's options as she wrote to her son.

  • But the more I thought about it, I realized that the rule system did not support the theme I wanted to explore: the connection between a parent and a child. As a designer, I detest when the rules are at cross-purposes with the theme of the game. The Fortune mechanic in The Independence Job is all about pushing your luck and the consequences of failure (or failing to push at all). Farming might be fun, and it might provide interesting encounters for the game, but it has nothing to do with the main story line. In effect, it was an elaborate minigame that would dominate the entire book. It would have to come out, but that left me without a system to hang my narrative on. I like the idea too much to let it go, but I need to mull it over until I find a game and not just a story.

  • My second idea was to model an MMO in gamebook form, with zones and quests from level one to level fifty, dungeons and raids included.

  • This one stuck with me for a couple of weeks. I plotted out each zone, the quests, and calculated appropriate rewards. I like the idea of tracking separate gear and character levels, but I'm not sure how much that adds to the system. I'm sure it can be worked out in playtesting.

  • But as I mulled this new idea over, the results came in for the Windhammer Prize. My entry took a Commendation Award. I really liked my gamebook for what it did well (which some people really appreciated). But it ran afoul of one of the cardinal sin: lack of replayability. There are some curves in the road, but my entry was quite linear and I think it suffered in the voting for that. I was writing another book that, although it allows for open roaming, would also be quite linear. It is in service of the story and fits the theme, but I'm no longer sure it is right for the Windhammer judges. In a crisis of confidence, I abandoned this as well.

  • First, I had a story without a system. Second, I had a system, but I was no longer confident about the story. Neither idea was just right. So, I needed a third idea.