Sunday, September 02, 2012

Making Games With Friends

Recently, I've been looking into a lot of options for making games. This isn't really anything new, though it's the first time in a while I've been remotely serious about it. In high school, I made several table-top games by myself and with friends. We adapted RPG systems into new settings

My favorite memory of this was a homebrew White Wolf-derivative set in the Aliens universe but using some of the weird technology from the Final Fantasy movie. No, not Advent Children. The proper one with Donald Sutherland in it. Anyway, that ended with blowing the bottom out of an elevator and falling to (relative) safety as we exploded a hallway full of xenomorphs. You probably had to be there. There was also the Mech Game, which was basically a simplified Battletech and was the origin of Trusty Rusty, Copek's bizarre cowboy-robot.

I don't recall if that was before or after the Country Game, which was sort of the magnum opus of our group's game designing days. I forget who pitched the original concept, which was basically a giant multiplayer Civilization-type strategy game in a fantasy setting. This was around 2000, mind you, so it fit an empty gaming niche at the time, plus it was a fun experiment to see if we could come up with a functioning strategy game that could be played with only pencil and paper.

It turns out that no, we couldn't really. I spent days coming up with the factions, growth rates, buildings, resource models, and possible combat mechanics, research trees...then I typed everything up and distributed it to the group. I fully expected feedback, but they'd trusted me with the initial burst of design. Then they basically took what I had, cut half of it out as "too complicated", and came up with a slimmed-down version of their own in a couple days. My underpinnings were there, but boy, was it different.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind. I got pretty far up my own butt with the mechanics and, while I still think they would have made for a decent strategy game, I was definitely designing something that was much better suited for play on a computer. In retrospect, I really should have realized this: I wrote a program for our graphing calculators to help us keep track of population and resources.

So we finally settled on a semi-final draft of the Country Game (the names for our games were the best) and got everyone together to start up the game. Several of us had spent lots of time writing up the backstory and lore of our factions, and I'd drawn several oddly elaborate maps of my elves' homeland. I even drew a topographical map, because what else was I going to do in high school German class?

As it would turn out, writing the backstory and drawing maps was much more fun than the game turned out to be. We played for a couple hours, meticulously tracking population, stone, gold, etc. I don't think we ever got to the point where anyone fought, which was good because if memory serves, combat rules were practically non-existent.

Even in those hours we weren't able to accomplish or build very much in-game. Record-keeping by hand (my calculator program didn't work with the updated rules) was slow, and we quickly realized that our Civ II-esque pacing for expansion was utterly glacial when brought outside the computer. Add to all this the fact that one of the players was either unimaginably bad at math or actively cheating, and I don't think we even had a second play session.

With all these games, we spent far more time making them then actually playing. We went through several drafts and weeks of arguing on the Country Game alone, and only played it for about six hours. Most of the time, the game creation was more interesting and satisfying than the actual play time. Even when we really enjoyed our play, it was definitely enhanced by knowing that we created these games.

Recently, I've been trying to recapture that feeling. I'll be making games on my own, at least partly because while I've previously created games by myself, I've never actually brought any of them out for others to play. Often this was due to unfinished design, but in several cases I was just too afraid of the response. I need to rectify that. In my next post, I'll muse on which medium to work in for this new spurt of game creation.

Note for the annals of history: Sadly, all the files and printouts for the Mech Game, the Country Game, the Aliens RPG, and probably a few I'm forgetting about have been lost to the march of time and new computers. I thought I'd backed up all my files from those days, but I cannot find the files for these games. They're probably on a floppy disk somewhere, already encountering the problems of preserving our digital heritage. None of the friends involved have records of them either, so at the very least, this can act as a recording of the wacky game-making exploits of my group of high school friends.


Josh said...

I actually have the documents for many of the games you list in hard copy. I found the Mech Game, Aliens, and the homebrew anime-sword-style game awhile back.

Some pretty good stuff in there.

Peter said...

Oh nice! I'm glad those live on somewhere.