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Friday, November 1, 2013

Play test: like brushing your teeth.

Before I start, Happy November 1st.. Damn...The year is just clicking by.


Play test: like brushing your teeth
As often as possible, after every meal if you can, and do it early….rinse ..repeat..
I am planning a quick and dirty play test of mechanics for my new game with some friends that I have been gaming with for a long time.
It’s very early in the development cycle for me to even think about playing a ”real” game, but I have to kick the tires.
So what are my thoughts on play testing?
I think that the only way to get a feel for a game is to play it. Not only to play it but at least for the first few times play it with people whose opinions you trust and play styles you know. It makes for a good barometer of your system if you know the players starting points.
For example if you have a player who likes crunch in his games and you are making a less than crunchy system you already know they might say “I never felt satisfied during the fights.” You as the designer could translate that to, “for a gameist player it could use more of a frame for combat” and you know where they are coming from. As the designer you can then make informed decisions about the system, without having to guess the players perspective coming in.
This being my most ambitious project system wise, (ambitious meaning the most outside of the box game I have worked on.) Knowing the normal perspectives and tastes of the players will really help me know if I have crawled too far out on a limb or not.

This Limb

I absolutely think open play testing is the way to go once a system is more mature. Nothing is as effective as getting real opinions from players who have no stake in your game, your feelings, or your time.  The feedback from such play testing will inform every aspect of a games design.
Speaking of game design, what exactly have I designed to play test?
In effect nothing.
Well ok, not nothing, I have a design document with the general narrative system written out, a brief character creation document, and a sketch of the setting I want to build around.
Every game is nothing until someone plays it. I have pages and pages of nothing on a thumb-drive in the very spooky “graveyard of dead game ideas.”
In my eyes this is enough to run some play tests that will be admittedly rough.
What I expect to have happen is things will stumble into the “how do we handle this?” and I will have to see if the system can accommodate. If it does great, if it pops like a balloon, I have some work to do.

Formatting the Play test:
Here I have a MacGuffin, the table.
I think every game should be play tested face to face at the table. That’s my thing, my hang up.
If I am gaming and one of my friends raises his eyebrows in a certain way, I know I just did something that does not jive with his sense of the game. That kind of feedback is invaluable, as a designer and as a GM.
If I am playing on Roll20 and Skype as we often do, I don’t get all those little visual cues and body language feed backs.  In fact half the time I can’t even get a good Skype call.  (WHO THE HELL IS RUNNING A DOT MATRIX PRINTER IN THE BACKGROUND! It’s 2013 damn it!)
On top of that I have no idea how I am going to work my new games system on a service like Roll20. No clue. None. Nada. Which as a design is limiting. With such a large amount of gaming going on via the internet these days, the internet really is something I have to consider carefully when creating a final design.
(Table vs. online will be another post for another day, but for now that I always vote table should be enough.)

I have dragged this out enough, I hope to get a game set up pretty soon and share the results on this blogg.

Expect a play test report here as soon as I can run the test done, digest the information, and get things typed out.

Untill next time, enjoy.