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Now, the Twist: Live Fast, Take Chances

The Chess GameColin McComb’s Now, the Twist takes a long, hard look at game design.

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Weeks ago, we talked about the price of freedom and what it means to have an external code imposed on us. Today, we’ll turn that around and discuss what it means to have an internal code that we use as a guidepost when creating games. I don’t mean the publisher’s or developer’s code—I’m talking about the internal regulator that tells us when we’ve gone too far… or that we need to go further.

It’s All New to Me

One of the defining characteristics of game designers is ego. I’m not talking about pride, mind you, but ego: the notion that what we create has some intrinsic value. If you’re doing this professionally, then this is true, in the objective sense that people are willing to exchange their money for your ideas.

This is both gratifying and worrying, especially if you’re not entirely sure what it is that they like. This is the case in any creative endeavor; it’s part of the reason why a second or third album by musicians is frequently more tentative and unsure of itself than the first, which the musicians simply recorded in a burst of creativity. Still, once you’ve put in some time and people keep buying your work, you start to feel like you have a handle on your work.

This might even be true…

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Now, the Twist: Inspiration—A Preliminary Toolbox

The Chess GameColin McComb’s Now, the Twist takes a long, hard look at game design.

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You know, of all the questions I’ve answered in my career, there’s one that doesn’t come up with the frequency it deserves. I mean, yes, I’ve answered it before, but I didn’t give it the answer it deserved, either. That question is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Nearly every writer and game designer finds themselves confronted by this question at some point or another, and depending on the project we’re working on, we’re most likely to rattle off a litany of the particular sources we used for a project.

What Do You Know?

For instance, with Birthright, I read Mallory again, studied feudal structures, played war games, looked into tribal cultures (African and Asiatic), and listened to lots of mildly grim classical and synth music. For Planescape, it was industrial music, Piranesi, Hieronymous Bosch, Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs, Hellraiser, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, Goya, and anything I could find that represented at least a small deviation from the mainstream, finding darker and darker materials with every door I opened…

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Now, the Twist: How to Make a Good Turnover

The Chess GameColin McComb’s Now, the Twist takes a long, hard look at game design.

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So we’ve discussed the importance of editors already and why it’s important to make their lives easy. Here’s one great way to do that: make a clean turnover.

It’s much easier to say this than to do this. It’s extra work you don’t necessarily budget ahead of schedule, but it’s also crucial. I don’t just mean a manuscript that is buffed out, shiny, and filled with new-car smell. I mean one that covers the points the editors need covered—or, at least, one that provides them with a good launching pad for moving forward on each of their assigned tasks. For all the work editors put into the job, their lives are made much easier if they have a starting point that lets them build quickly and easily…

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Now, the Twist: … and Tear Us Apart

The Chess GameWelcome to Colin McComb’s Now, the Twist. A dangerous journey, forcing him to take a long, hard look at game design.

Join him, won’t you… in his ongoing struggle to pass Go.

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Last column, I wrote about the essential similarities of games across the spectrum, positing that—at a fundamental level—they share qualities that are immutable, without which they would cease to be games.

They might be puzzles, experiments, imaginative play, art, or other ephemera dancing around the edge of games without actively engaging in a full gameplay experience. They might be fun, they might be engrossing, they might be challenging… but without those formal elements, they’re not quite games.

Any arguments? No? Excellent. Well, now that I’ve tied all games together, I’m going to tear them apart again…

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Now, the Twist: The Ties that Bind

The Chess GameWelcome to Colin McComb’s Now, the Twist. A dangerous journey, forcing him to take a long, hard look at game design.

Join him, won’t you… in his ongoing struggle to pass Go.

[previously]

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When I talk about games, at least when I’m speaking professionally or professorially, I like to point out the essential similarities among games of all sorts. Mechanically speaking, roller derby has a great deal in common with chess, and if we want to understand games, we need to understand exactly what sorts of underpinnings are common to all our endeavors.

Or, in less high-falutin’ terms, we need to understand how games are all alike…

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