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7:42pm on Tuesday, 21st January, 2014:

Early Lesson


When I was about 7 years old, I made a boardgame. I'd made them before, but for this one I had made pieces out of Plasticine and my dad saw them. He asked if he could play the game with me and my brother. This was the first game I'd made that he'd asked to play, and I was really pleased.

So, the board had an outer track and an inner map. You took it in turns to roll dice to move round the outer track, picking up resources and so on when you landed on different squares. When you landed on a particular kind of square, if you felt you had enough resources then you could move to the map. On the map, you moved your piece from one edge to one of three designated locations (changing your mind and going for a different one was one of your options) while other players could use their resources to try to stop you.

I was quite pleased with the design, as it got exciting when you were close to one of the target locations and you had to decide how many resources to gamble on attack and defence. My dad liked it too, except...

...except, well, I've told you what the basic mechanics were, but not the dressing. The game was about collecting bombs to take in your Zeppelin to drop on British cities. When you're aged 7, Zeppelins are cool. My dad pointed out that there might not be many people who would want to play a game in which the aim was to rain death and destruction on undefended cities. The way the game played, it didn't feel as if it should be about aerial warfare at all. It felt as if it should be about travel or exploration.

I was disappointed in this, mainly because I'd put quite some effort into my Plasticine Zeppelins. However, it did make me realise for the first time that there was a relationship between the subject matter of a game and the (what I would now call) gameplay. If the two aren't in unison, then the game will feel wrong. If you want it to feel wrong for some reason, well that would be OK. However, you should think about whether you want it to feel right or wrong before you do that.

Not a bad lesson for a juvenile game designer to learn.

Oh, I also learned that Lego makes better pieces than Plasticine.

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).