Monday, January 23, 2006

An Interview with the Designer

God has this to say about ... itself: I got started designing things early on ... time being one of my first inventions, it is hard to place exactly when that would be in human terms, of course. I played around with the usual stuff: alternate realities, black holes, pasta salad, and so on. The easy stuff. Basically short creations and variants on these designs.

My first successful grand design was a beautiful universe where beings lived in happiness, accomplished great things, and pretty much all got along. They also had discovered the unifying equation for all forces and made a pretty darn good domestic beer. Unfortunately, I lent my only copy to one of my knuckleheaded angels for playtesting and it left the designs lying around where they fell into a puddle of star-fat. They were so ruined that I eventually threw them out with the trash down a black hole.

It took me a while to reconstruct this design; I think I managed pretty well. Some changes were introduced by the development team before it got released. I'm still not entirely happy about some of the changes they made, but I guess it's my fault for offering to let them contribute to begin with.

What inspired you to come up with the idea for a universe in the first place?

Well, the angels and I were playing around with a game of galaxy dice (not recommended - when you roll them, they tend to crash into each other, merge, and then spin off all mixed up in random directions; damn chaos theory!) when I got the idea of creating a game with more detail about the stars themselves. You know, so you could have more personal control over local fusion, that sort of stuff.

Then one day Sammael was just soused up on a cheap domestic hydrogen nectar, and said, "Hey, wait, wait! No, wait. What if, like, we are just, like, our entire concept of existence was just, you know, inside the tentacle of some strange being? Yeah, no wait! And like, what if you know, inside this, you know, galaxy, were these really teensy, teensy, little *hic*, um, like, ..."

That's all it got out before falling over into a puddle of its own puke. But it got me thinking. I could go even smaller than the stars, you know? Put some little life-forms in there, let 'em have a little free-will, and see what happens.

You know the rest.

Did you have any help with the design

Yes, like I mentioned earlier. I created the basics on my own, but due to some contract negotiations, union stuff, and so on, I felt that I needed to take on some production assistance for some of the actual creation; good will, and all that, you know. The angels got to make some of the components (following my guidance).

Some of them went beyond what I asked, and some design changes and errors may have crept into the results. Especially the cooperation and reward charts. Some of them got quite excited while working on the game, but a few of them couldn't really handle the job. One of them, for example, kept babbling something about his "lovely little crinkly work" on the fjords of Norway, so I had to remove him from reality and place him into a work of fiction.

Some of the major flubs were not in my original plans, of course; I had nothing to do with Justin Timberlake.

The best contributions came from the archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and the rest of that gang.

Did you do a lot of playtesting? Any major revisions?

Of course, we played the heck out of it a couple of times. Early versions were crap, of course. Mostly I was trying to recreate the one that I lost.

Well, the original design was tops. OK, yeah, I know, it's "the one that got away," but it really was. After reconstructing the game, I went through seven revisions before agreeing to release it. The previous versions ranged from being too easy (boring) to too hard, etc...

You'd be surprised by the amount of loony input you can get from a bunch of divine beings after a few drinks of entropy juice. Everyone wanted to have their input, and they made these wacky suggestions: the creatures could trade and spend resources to build big towers and make space-bridges, or the animals and people would cross-breed, or people would be able to own resources, like countries, objects, or ideas.

In the end it was all my own design. I didn't use any of their suggestions, although occasionally some of the suggestions pop up in the finished work in some minor way. These generally cause headaches, which I solve by rolling an event tesseract.

How did you get it published?

The game was self-published in a signed, limited-edition format (one printing). It was more expensive, but I felt that the quality was important.

Actually, some people have complained about the quality of the components. The playing surface is easily ruined and there don't seem to be enough resources to go around. Others complain about the lack of a coherent rulebook, random events, and so on. Any response?

Well, with regards to components, that's not a design flaw in the game; it's a problem with the players. The game is meant to be cooperative, not a war-game. If you took a game of Pachisi and complained that it wasn't an accurate military simulation, or that it didn't supply you with enough different units, you can't blame it on the game.

As far as rulebooks go, I thought the rules were simple enough that they didn't need a rulebook. When I saw everyone floundering around, I gave a few hints and verbal instructions to some of the key players. Then I gave out the designer notes, then comments, and eventually an FAQ.

The problem is not the lack of rules but the damn rules-lawyers. You wouldn't believe the crap people come up with trying to justify all sorts of garbage, trying to get away with it by saying "Well, the rules don't say that I can't", or "But if you read it this way or that way then you should be able to do this", or even "I spoke to the designer and he said such and such", even when it is completely contradictory to my obvious intentions.

In my opinion, the less rules the better. People need to have meaningful choices and be able to play without any early-player elimination. If the game is played cooperatively, most people are not going to find themselves in a position that they just don't have a chance. Yeah, there are random events, but you can still prepare yourself for most of them.

And remember: the win conditions allow for multiple winners - everyone can win.

If the players ever got in line they would get to the next stage of the game which goes beyond resource management, trading, and building; right now you're still pretty far away from that.

How are the expansions working out? Any further expansions coming?

I'm not very much in favor of expansions. The original rule set is actually pretty flexible, and there's a lot of game play left in it.

I still have a complete expansion ready to release which I'm keeping hold of. I guess most people have been hearing about it for so long that they thing it's vaporware, but I assure you that it's been ready to go for a while. Since no one has even mastered the basic game yet, I'm still keeping it in reserve.

What other projects are you working on?

I'm pretty busy with customer service issues regarding this universe. A couple of trillion planets, moons, comets, ethers, and pulsars full of people is no walk in the park, let me tell you.

But I'm working a new universe made entirely of pasta salad. It's based on string cheese theory. It's going to be a Muenster warp game.

Any advice for aspiring designers?

Yeah. How long can you tread water? (ha ha ha)

Thanks for agreeing to the interview. It was great to have you. Any final words of advice?

Stay out of dark alleys. Don't eat yellow snow. Treat other people the way you would want to be treated. And stop watching television and playing on your computer; There's a whole world I created out there.

Be good.

Thanks, God! -Yehuda

1 comment:

Gerald McD said...

This was great! Well-written! I look forward to more like it.