a series of interesting choices thoughts on game design from paul sottosanti


indiecade + board game designs update

On Friday I'll be giving a talk at IndieCade alongside Chris Hecker entitled A Dialogue on Depth. It's rather surreal to see my name in a list with a bunch of indie luminaries, but hopefully I'll be able to live up to expectations. As Chris pointed out, though, we're in a timeslot opposite the Experimental Gameplay Workshop, and pretty much everyone in their right mind will be over there, so it should be a small and intimate gathering. Thanks to that we're planning on involving the audience during the talk.

Also wanted to give a quick update on my various boardgame designs:

City Draft - This 7 Wonders inspired drafting game is consistently liked in playtests and has been improving slowly and steadily. I've recently changed the rules to allow players to buy resources from any other player at the table, which opened up the possible strategies nicely and evokes a more interactive feeling in the gameplay. I'm also playing around with adding more "build around me" tiles that come early in the game, so that players can have a direction and get especially excited about tiles that they might be able to pick up later. At the most recent playtest, one 7 Wonders fan said that he actually liked this game better, and another player mentioned that she couldn't wait to buy it in stores, so hopefully that will happen sometime soon.

Prison Break - This is the experimental cooperative game with restricted communication (for the first half) and realtime aspects (for the second half). I thought I was onto something here after I hit a design breakthrough a few weeks ago but I'm getting discouraged again based on recent playtests. The game feels too easy, doesn't have enough strategy, and doesn't seem to quite evoke the feelings that I'm looking for. I think I need to go back to the drawing board on some of the core mechanics and try to find something that's more interesting and involved. Maybe I'll get a chance to playtest it at IndieCade and see if people have some ideas.

Dungeon Game - This 1v3 competitive game has a great core mechanic and then a thick layer of RPG elements and high variance on top of it. I'm currently torn as to whether or not the added complexity from the RPG elements is worth it. Dan Kline was already inspired by the core mechanic to work on a much simpler version of the game with a different theme, so I think I'm going to keep this as a dungeon crawl for now, and look for ways to simplify the game without losing much of the flavor and depth. I think the greatest chance of this design seeing the light of the day is to pitch it to Wizards of the Coast as a good fit for the D&D IP, so I'll be looking to do that next time I'm in Seattle. People who enjoy RPG experiences tend to have a great time with it.

I also have one more design that's currently in Cryptozoic's queue for publication, so with any luck I'll have a couple more games out in the market in the next year or two. Good times!

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In Seattle right now, happy to be done with the talks so that I can relax a bit at PAX before heading off to Burning Man. The talks went well; as with anything they could have been better, but I learned a lot about presenting and I'm excited to apply it next time. Tonight I'll be on the Hollywood Squares - Game Design Edition panel, 6 PM in the Kraken Theatre.

I've added a new (short) page to the site with a list of my panels and talks as well as slides for the Practical Systems Design talk. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on what I spoke about.

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what the future holds

My last day at Electronic Arts was officially last Friday. No need to worry; it was an entirely voluntary decision on my part and I hope to get a chance to work with the Maxis crew again in the future. Why did I leave? Well, there were a lot of contributing factors, but essentially it boils down to this: I was no longer excited about getting up and heading to work every morning. I realize that I speak from a position of privilege here; a lot of people don't have the luxury of doing what they love for a living, and are just happy to have a job in this economy. Still, I owed it to myself and to the people around me to make a change.

So what's next? A few things. For one, I'll have more time to update this blog, for another, I'm going to go back to my roots as a paper designer and work on designing some board games, and finally, I'm going to be trying my hand at indie game development. I've always loved the sense of innovation and exploration that's only possible in indie games, when you don't have shareholders to appease and huge budgets that have to be recovered. I've always loved the idea that you could make a game just to advance the medium, not to sell the most copies. I've always loved the way the community supports and rallies behind one another.

I'm also planning on brushing up on my programming skills; I've let them lapse a little bit over the years, and there's no room for pure designers when a team is anywhere from 1-3 people. I don't have any illusions of making the next Braid, or even anything as ambitious and impressive as Monaco or SpyParty. But I'm going to make some games, and put them out there, likely for free on this blog at first, and see how people like them. And I can safely say that I'm excited about that.

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on the spot interview and darkspore launch

Two quick updates:

1. I appeared on Gamespot's live video show, On the Spot (32:57 - 47:35), the other day to talk about Darkspore. Usually when doing video in the past I've had the luxury of re-shooting if anything goes wrong, but here the combination of 4 large video cameras plus a plethora of other equipment, a huge green screen, and the knowledge that some large number of internet denizens were watching my every word was quite intimidating. Still, I think it turned out well enough.

2. Darkspore launches on Tuesday! I feel like a proud father whose baby is about to get assessed by a group of stern looking judges immediately after birth (probably how pretty much everyone feels when launching a digital game, but working at Wizards didn't give me a whole lot of experience on that front). Waiting for reviews to start popping up on Metacritic is agonizing but I'm confident the game will put up a good showing. Can't complain about starting out with an 85.

I'll be staying on the Darkspore team to keep improving the game after launch, so I'll be reading any and all feedback eagerly. Hope you all enjoy it!

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new blog design, darkspore enters beta

While I liked the old design, I'm sure I wasn't alone in getting a bit tired of reading the gray font on gray background. This is still just a stock WordPress theme but it combines a lovely font (Vera) with high contrast text and some solid design choices, so it was an easy switch.

Darkspore is currently in beta testing and we're in the oft-maligned crunch period of the project as we try to get everything finished up for launch. In this case, though, the extra hours aren't mandatory in any way, but the team is putting them in because we want the game to be as good as it can be. The posts on the private beta forums from players enjoying the game have been more than enough fuel to keep us going.

Rest assured that I have a large queue of topics to write about at this point so when I find a pocket of time there will be updates aplenty.

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