What did you learn from Game Chef?

edited June 2013 in Story Games
I thought it would be cool to see what folks learned from Game Chef this year, either by participating or just reading the games that folks submitted.

For me, something clicked about how important it was for a game's various components to work together to create a specific effect, kind of like a good short story does; ideally, the mechanics actively help reinforce the theme or feel that you're going for.

Anybody else had any epiphanies or observations on the art of game design?


  • I learned something by not completing the game I started for this year's Game Chef:

    Don't get too twisty and complicated, at least at first. I started with a simple mechanic and a simple idea about a character pulled between competing forces. I then made it too convoluted by trying to make it fit any genre and situation. Shoulda stuck with the inspiration that brought me instead of overthinking. Had I written the game in my head in the first few days and then worked on the other stuff, I'd have had something to submit.

    Still waiting for the waters to clear so that I can re-approach the initial idea with some clarity.
  • As organizer, I realized that I should have pointed people more directly toward a central forum, and done more to encourage collaboration and brainstorming throughout. At times the "community" aspect felt lacking.
  • I learned that I can actually write an extremely in-depth review of a game just based on reading the text, and that such a detailed level of feedback is absolutely not expected — but it's always well appreciated by the receiving designer, even when it ends up being a rather harsh critique.

    I learned that providing careful enough feedback to other participants that I can really feel proud of it is at least as hard a task as designing a game, probably more.

    I learned that getting positive, even enthusiastic reviews doesn't make you into a winner or nominee. I also found out that even enthusiastic feedback doesn't make me especially happy if it feels like it's based on just a hasty read, and that after wallowing through heaps of praise to find just a single comment about a possibly broken mechanical bit that's the one useful gem I'm glad for.

    I learned that playtesting my game and finding out it plays exactly as I expected is every bit as rewarding and motivating as any nomination could be.

    I learned that you can lay out text in such a way as to make it more readable for dyslexic people and a couple tricks toward that end I can easily adopt. I also learned a couple things about composing text in such a way that it works with screen readers.

    I found out that it's easier for me to design small-scope games about small things, these days.

    I learned that the sheer size Game Chef has reached means it's harder (harder for me at least) to participate in it at all levels compared to similarly structured but smaller-scale competitions: harder to feel engaged, harder to be confident in my entry, harder to stay in touch with others, harder to provide feedback, harder to keep myself detached and objective, harder to feel like I'm part of a community, harder to care about the winning entry, harder not to care about who wins, etc.

    That's quite a lot of learning, actually.
  • I learned that I can't rely on players to discover neat things about a game, I have to sell players on them.
  • I learned that I need to budget my time better, so that when I get spontaneously pulled into a weekend convention (and get con crud), I can still pull out a coherent game in time.
  • I learned that Joe's got this, and I can totally relax and let him organize things, which is great!
  • I learned there was a scene in Italy and I have to go and try one of their cons :D
  • I learned that if I'm not prompted to do so, I'll just write yet another game of black humor and biting satire in which the PCs perform mundane, underpaid jobs in a fantastic or metaphysical environment.

    I continued to refine my sense of how enthusiastic I am about a game and how that translates into others being enthused about the game. Games that I write and then decide I don't intend to do anything more with tend to be games that don't catch anyone else's attention, either.

    I learned that reviews and feedback can be helpful even when all the advice contained therein is mistaken.
  • I learned that reviews and feedback can be helpful even when all the advice contained therein is mistaken.
    That's interesting! Can you say more about that?

  • I learned that icons inspire me way less than words or phrases.
    I did never have a real idea and since I was sorta busy that week anyway and so didn't even get started on writing.
  • edited June 2013
    That's interesting! Can you say more about that?
    Basically, the feedback showed me that there were issues to be resolved with the game, although they weren't the issues brought up by the reviews themselves. Rather, they were the underlying issues that led to the reviewers providing that feedback.

    When writing my game, I was sure that people would ask for a an endgame mechanic. I considered adding one and deliberately rejected it as unnecessary. Some mechanically constructed way to And sure, enough, four of my reviews asked for an endgame mechanic. I've run and played and designed enough similar games with various groups to know that such a mechanic wouldn't be needed. The hypercharged situation constructed at the start of play would naturally sort itself out into a stabilized equilibrium without any external pacing mechanic. I've also designed other similar games where a mechanical endgame system caused problems as the story resolved itself separate from the pacing mechanic. I playtested this Game Chef game without any endgame mechanic, and everything worked fine (as I predicted). The situation clearly reached its own ending without being told to by the system.

    Endgame mechanics are great for other games, just not necessary for this one. And several reviews gave other good advice beyond the request for endgame mechanics. (I don't mean to belittle the reviewers or their contribution. Their feedback was very useful to me.)

    But what I took away from this was not that I should add in an endgame mechanic. What I should do (if I work further on the game, which is unlikely) is make it clear that the situation will resolve itself. Maybe provide advice or tools to see when the game is gliding into a natural stopping point on its own power and how to wrap things up. The GC feedback was useful because I now saw that the game didn't present itself very well in text. The broad structure of play was never really presented to the reader, and that led to specific kinds of feedback.
  • I learned that I can't rely on players to discover neat things about a game, I have to sell players on them.
    You mean when they play it? That's definitely telling you something.
  • @Nickwedig: I see what you mean, yes I had a similar thing happen with a review, it showed me where I could be more clear by how the reviewer read the game.

    @Mease19: I'm also interested in what you mean there and what your experience was.
  • edited June 2013
    @dreamofpeace The game I submitted was, lets just say, brief. It's a little procedural machine that accepts player input and cooks it into a quick scene. It's like a microwave, the fun is in putting in different things in, turning it on, and seeing what happens. It's also got a specific theme, which I didn't spell out explicitly. The problem, I think, is that I didn't actually say, "Hey, these are the parts that are neat, look at all the different ways things could go!" Just reading it, it's not obvious what's to like - Like a microwave, if you don't put anything inside then it just looks like cabinet with a light.
  • I see so it's not that people couldn't find anything fun in play, it was that by just reading it alone people would have a hard time telling what play is like. Would adding examples of play have solved that?
  • I learned that if my first game isn't working for me, it probably won't work for anyone else, so I trashed it and made a second game, which I actually want to play. I've completed Game Chef every year since 2006, and this is one of three that I'd actually play. The others are my first, which I playtested and played and have enjoyed playing. And I'd love to play last year's if I could find people interested in setting up a shadow puppet stage and engaging in a parlor game. I think if I do Game Chef again, the most important thing for me is making a game that I really want to play. I learned that on this round.

    I also learned that I like game design contests better with lower word counts. It makes reviewing easier and I think it forces the designers to cut the wordy words, which just leaves the best parts in the game. 1,500 feels about right to me.
  • I learned that highlighting an aspect/mechanic of a larger game I want to design/play as a small game using just that mechanic, I can get valuable feedback about that aspect. I learned that even as a small game I want to design something that is fun for me to think about and play, which I did, but I was tempted to go in another direction which I kind of started to see in other people's initial thoughts.

    I also learned that people don't think they are spontaneous and quick witted, so a game that encourages that might not be picked up as readily, even though I see success with other types of games that do just that. (Apples to Apples, Say Anything, Wits and Wagers, etc.)
  • I learned that a text isn't a game until reading it makes you picture an interesting setting, clarifies how to engage with it through the rules, and inspires you to try things like playing it, GMing it and even hacking it. And by 'you' I mean the author. That's how you know it will work as a game.

    I also learned that three icons can be inspiring, but also quite limiting. I'd have used less of them.

    And having your game look too much alike an existing fun game makes it unpopular; though I was aiming at making it good and different, not better than Paranoia :P anyway, next year I'll try to make something less done before.
  • edited June 2013
    If you're going to playtest, secure gamers before the last day when you're done. (oops)

    A forum thread where you can have a running dialog is handy. It's also provides a nice working space after the contest is over.

    Biest wrote, "I learned that icons inspire me way less than words or phrases."

    Funny, I have totally the opposite effect. Of course, I'm also a huge fan of Rory's Story Cubes. So, pulling a story out of a few icons is something that I literally practiced for three months straight last year (I'd roll the dice at the beginning of my work day and craft a mini story.)
  • I learned that every reviewer had a completely different opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of my game. There were a couple of opinions that ran similarly, but most reviewers had very different thoughts on what I needed to work on.
  • I learned I like images as ingredients way better than words (thanks Joe). Also, that an idea I wasn't sure of ended up being a pretty popular idea. Finally, I learned 4,000 words is not a lot of words, lol
    Dave M
Sign In or Register to comment.