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Month: December 2017

Busting Block

Busting Block

Creative blocks are something all creatives face at least once. I’ve suffered from it in the past with many pursuits and spent significant time exploring it with reflection and tons of reading. Here are some thoughts and suggestions that have helped me and I hope they will help you.

Your creative energy is a limited resource which must be grown, managed and guarded.  You grow energy by being receptive to your ideas and faithful in executing them. Similar to a physical exercise program doing a fun thing consistently builds strength, stamina, and confidence to do more and grow. You manage your energy by knowing it is a limited resource, everything you do has a cost and considering risk versus return. There are literally thousands of ways you could choose to spend your time so you need to focus like a laser on the things that give you something back. Good things cost too. Try cutting back on reading or TV and see what happens. Finally, you need to guard your energy as there are tons of negative things out there that do siphon it away. The biggest offender is our constant connection to social and news media which by design is meant to keep you constantly looking at and processing mostly negative stuff.  You likely only really need a few minutes a day to focus on the good aspects (information and friends) so limit your exposure and save all that processing for the good stuff.   The other big offender is not maintaining your health. Your body is the engine that drives everything so do your best to take care of it and get a good night’s rest. It absolutely matters.

Your ideas are absolutely nerdy and stupid. So were the ideas of Tolkien, Spielberg, Roddenberry, and Lucas. Really think visions of magic-fingered aliens, glass-jawed weapons of planetary destruction, fuzzy-footed munchkins and pointy-eared bastards made sense or scored dates when first brought up?  Of course not!  What mattered was they were authentic to themselves and creative visions and that resonated with audiences.  They didn’t even try to live up to anybody else’s idea of what is cool and creative to be successful and neither, should you.  Their reward was being happy, cool, rich, loved dorks who got to do it again and again. Think about that, Poindexter.

There are literally thousands of recipes for borsch but the best I ever had was my grandmother’s. She knew how she liked it and through experience and feel knew how to get it there. We all loved it and a dank bowl was never served.  Your work should be the same. Don’t get too hung up on exact formulas and historical or data accuracies.  Go with what you like, test it and get it to meet your goal. History wasn’t certain and nobody cares how many cooks are in the mess tent as long as the 101st Airborne is there. Consider that and others will be ok with the result.

Finally, your environment matters so mind it. Build yourself a space filled with things that make you happy and nostalgic. My bunker has a shelf full of games and books, and a computer desk covered with pictures, open books, some dice, a drawing pad and lots of little-scribbled notes. I always have music playing and sometimes even an old movie on TV. This chaos keeps me focused and if I drift it’s to something great. Likewise, I only invite fun like-minded people who want to have a good time in. The good ones want to be part of a tribe that is building something worthwhile. Value and support them and they’ll return the favor.

Nuff Said. Go do.


Providing Value in Game Encounters

Providing Value in Game Encounters

Every encounter in your game should be meaningful to your players. Meaning is gained by rewarding or penalizing players psychologically or their side or characters mechanically. This doesn’t mean the impact has to be earth-shattering “I have the power” or ” lost my mojo” kind of thing but it should give something back for their efforts.

Mechanical awards and penalties are easy to come up with as most game systems offer them as part of the game design. These include points toward or against level advancement, addition or attrition of the enemy or gain or loss off loot. It is critical to scale these appropriately to the situation and overall tale. Its okay to give them a Star Destroyer early on if the story is short and sweet or it will have some critical immediate use. It’s not so fun if it’s the start of a long campaign and they’re cruising around using it to pockmark every low-level planet in the Universe.

Psychological awards are a deep subject that many people have dedicated careers, books and millions of dollars exploring. I don’t think you need to be Frasier Crain to succeed in game design though. People like to be in charge of their lives and exciting stories. Nobody likes to be bored even if they are rich, famous or powerful. These two statements should guide you in developing your own awards and the focus should always be on what you are providing not expecting. I used the word, their, in this article for good reason!

Your job as a game designer, scenario editor, writer or game master is to give players the pieces to form group narratives. Game and role-playing enjoyment are directly linked to the draw of collaborative storytelling in that players find it much more enjoyable if feel they are a critical team member crafting an authentic story or plot. This mirrors the same intrinsic values (authenticity, competency in work, connectivity to others) we as humans hold dear and it is carried over into our fantasy lives as Conan, Dead Pool, Patton, H.R. McMaster or Master Chief. Likewise, when we value extrinsic values such as meaningless wealth, fame and power we become bored and unfulfilled.  The Picture of Conan on his throne looking bored to tears tells a tale!

Providing and encouraging unique action in an encounter is critically important. I figured this out quickly in the 90’s when I figured out the back and forth control rhythm needed in Sega NHL hockey to score on my roommates at will. The first couple times it felt great and I tortured a Peachbelt star pitcher with it but the resulting rage quits and dorm room battle royal wrestling matches quickly filled the action void the challenge less routine left. It is utterly worthless (sometimes painful!) to give players a repetitive combat or challenge less role play that yields exactly the same as the combat before it. You must come up with unique experiences that allow players to be creative and yield interesting results.  You must also encourage it from them by adding unique challenges or twists to each so they don’t hang their hats on routine.  They will actually thank you for it!

These are my current conclusions on this but definitely open to a dialog on it. I like people and learning from them.