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The joy of a massive re-write

I recently had a playtest with Mike Hutchinson (Gaslands, A Billion Suns, Perilous Tales) of a game that he was planning to release (and I think by the time this gets posted, has released) in the compilation magazine Blaster. We absolutely tore the game a new one, pretty much everything in it needed changing and pretty fundamentally too. I was talking to Mike after saying sorry if it was demoralizing, but that the game that it could be should be fun. His response was very indicative to me of what makes a games designer, he said “I don’t understand designers who don’t enjoy this part.”.

What he meant there was that he now had a whole list of changes and alteration that were definitely better than what he had before. He was excited, thrilled, to put those changes and elements into play into the new version of the game, we had given him the chance to create again. A designer needs to have a certain sense when someone comes and kicks over their sandcastle that’s something along the lines of “Brilliant, I get to build a sandcastle.”.

It was an interesting comment for me in particular because I get a similar joy from a really brutal playtest, but for a very different reason. There was a film I remember seeing some time ago, it wasn’t great, but it had a scene in it where a woman walking down the road finds a silver bracelet, abandoned, with her name on it. She talks about that as being a moment where she felt like she knew for certain that she was in the exact right place, on the right path. Now, I don’t much believe in that, but in game design I find a real joy in being able to totally gut my game, because in the moment when I re-build it I know for absolute certain that at that moment I’m just where I should be. The rest of the time I’m in the long grass, feeling things out, trying to find the shape of the game. But when I get to hack something totally to shreds, I know that I’ve hit a corner, I’ve defined the space that the game is in absolutely, if only in the negative. When things go right its often nebulous, people are having fun its sort of fuzzy. They like it, but how much? You can have people rate it on a scale, but its hard to really pin dow