Overdesigning: Is there such a thing?

edited March 2006 in Story Games
As I'm working on Dramatikos, one of the conundrums I've put myself into is the very real possibility of overdesigning. I find myself trying to create rules for every contingency and every "what if" that crops up in my head. As a result, I find myself spinning into a death spiral of ever increasing structure on what was supposed to be a relatively simple game. I'm always worrying about how my system will support the sort of game play I'm trying to get out of it. In doing so, I just keep going and going and going, and I can't stop doing it.

Part of it, I wonder, may have to do with the assumptions I've been inadvertently starting with. Namely, that the players of this game are blank slates that will not do anything with the system they are not told to do. I know I need to rework this assumption, but how can I apply it to the game? How do I keep from micromanaging the game into stasis?


  • Playtesting.


    P.S. I'm a fan of "simple rule plus lots of exceptional cases" game design -- Polaris is like this. But you need to make sure that each special case is, in fact, furthering your goals with the game.
  • "Over-designing" is certainly a common issue. Personally, I've found that part of the problem is when I go into a design without clearly defined goals for what I want the game to be about, both fictionally and real world play-wise. If I have a clear idea of what I want the game to be about, it's (somewhat) easy to look at a particular idea and say, "I don't need that, it doesn't further my design goals."

    What this requires is that I spend a significant amount of time thinking about the meta-structure of the game, both fictionally and play-wise, before I ever start writing down mechanics.

    It's interesting that when you do this, some mechanics just jump right out at you, just based on your goals. But admittedly, some goals become very difficult to translate into mechanics in a satisfactory way.
  • Yeah, what Ben and Tim said. Have you playtested yet?
  • Yeah. I've seen it happen with a lot of good games they start out with a solid idea and because of play needs, and desire for "better, BETTER! BETTER!" it gets rewritten to death.

    I've done it mind you. But It isn't omething I alone begin with.

    I'm a fan of common core play element that is used to cover a variety of situations and is flexible (same system for all tasks for example, combat or not.)
  • I haven't playtested yet. I'm rewriting the core mechanic (sorta) to make things simpler.
  • Hi, :)

    Hmmmyes, I can see how that can be a very real danger.

    One thing, though: from a player standpoint, I'd rather read and play an overdesigned game than an underdesigned one. If there's one thing I dislike is playing for the better part of five minutes, only to discover that the rules simply don't say what I'm supposed to do next...

    This combined with the fact that I'm convinced that 90% of design work comes _after_ the first full version of the rules/design document/whatever is written, tells me that, yeah, overdesigning is a danger, but it's way less of a danger than would appear at first glance.

  • Ah, well, play it and all of the real flaws will become evident. In solving them, you'll realize what a waste it is to overthink the rest of the rules.
  • As a reason/goal of overdesigning stands another problem; Fear.

    You fear that the game is not ready, that it is lacking, it is missing. Every thing you disliked about each and every single game and session you've ever played creep up and sneak on you.

    The solution is simple: As soon as the game is playable - let people play it. Design but at the same time receive feedback that the holes aren't as riddling as feared.

    Gordian Knots also work, unless you're looking for mini-games of the tactical/char-gen nature, cut out everything that doesn't apply. Return bits later at a slow rate, but begin naked.

    You were born naked, so should your game.
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