Earth Delta Design Diary 4/18/2010
Slouching Towards Beta
It’s very easy to assume projects are abandoned on the Internet. Recently, doing some searches for things and checking out old bookmarks, I spent a fair bit of time wandering through the ruins of once-proud websites. "Community" sites set up with a dozen different boards, none with any posts on them since 2003 (save for those which didn’t filter spammers, which were filled with "new" posts delivered there by hard-working Russian robots.) Thus, these design diaries, which are not just records of my random neuron firings over game design (TLDR for pretty much all of them:"This is HARD!"), but also serve as a reminder to my hypothetical readers that, yes, I’m still working on it. Actively. I just broke 100K words, and the Scholar, subject of so much hemming and hawing on these posts, finally hit level 10.
So at what point does an Alpha become a Beta?
(Oh, for those coming in late… Earth Delta is my take on "Mutants and Mayhem" style adventuring, using the rules from Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition.)
Beta Late Than Never…
Trust me, folks, there’s worse puns in the game. My original plan was to find a program which did automatic linguistic shifts, creating an internally consistent "future" language so I could type in "Laser-Eyed Grizzly Bear" and have it spit out "Leezoried Greezlehbar" or something. However, the one I found which did that stopped being developed sometime around Bush’s first term in office and simply doesn’t work on any modern system. So I went for the next best thing, which is, mostly, horrid puns mixed with halfway decent descriptive names. Thus, we have thermites (fire-spewing termites), squirkills (evil squirrels) and tumblebleeds (evil plants), mixed with blightspawn, groundbreakers, and black ropers. In a way, the monster names are an aspect? Incarnation? Symbol? manifestation.. yeah, that’ll work… manifestation of my design goals — to allow goofy without requiring or assuming goofy. There are samples of both "serious" and "not so serious" names, serving, in a sense, as markers on the spectrum from "Grim-n-gritty" to "Wild-n-Wacko". Perhaps more importantly, even the creatures with "silly" names, most of the time, are written so as to make some kind of sense in the setting. Fine, "thermite" is a silly name, but firstly, I submit it’s no sillier than "blaash" (an iconic Gamma World creature, a mutant moth which emitted such intense radiation that, pretty much, if it flew near you, you died). Secondly, while I don’t have a 90 page dissertation on its mating habits, life cycle, and biology, I do have a paragraph or two that gives it a place in the world and discusses the impact it has. (In a word: Bad. These things show up near your settlement, you stop fighting over whether mutant animals should kill all the humans or mutant plants should kill all the humans, and go and wipe them out before you’ve got nothing left but charred earth.) I am a believer that most critters ought to have a story hook, a role, a reason why you have to go kill it and take its stuff. For those which don’t, they still have to have some purpose beyond mobile sacks of hit points, whether it’s to show off local color, to give examples of how the world has changed, or to provide a marginally interesting twist on a standard niche-filler.
And this has nothing to do with beta. Sorry. Back on topic now.
One problem I have, a problem which kept the Alpha from being released until it had hit over 30K words, is that I never feel I’m done. I’ve got way too many ideas for this thing, too much stuff that can be done. This is a huge, vast, open, space covering two swathes of creativity — rules hacking and world building. I am concurrently designing a set of rules (granted, this more modification and evolution that pure design), and all the things which use those rules, and the process is iterative — new ideas breed new rules, new rules breed new ideas. So it’s taking a while, and I have a hard time saying "Done!"
However, this is precisely what leads to many of those aforementioned abandoned projects. It’s a problem that plagues a lot of people with a particular mindset — you get 75% of the way there, then you have a new idea, then you rip out everything you’ve done and start over — lather, rinse, repeat. See "Babbage, Charles". I am struggling to avoid that. I don’t want to lose ideas, so I stub them in, but I’m trying not to stop from finishing old things just because the New And Shiny is calling to me. Calling.. calling… shut up, you!
So, anyway, I’m defining "beta" as "You can reasonably run a game in Heroic Tier". This means making levels 1-10 as complete as possible, including plenty of tech items, mutations, powers, feats, and monsters. It also means putting in a few signposts on the road ahead, solid markers on where I intend to go from here.
At this point, beta is close — very close. I can’t put it off until I’ve used up every possible idea I have for levels 1-10, because that could take years. "Enough to play" isn’t "Every possible concept exhaustively explored". Stuff that gets shoved down a bit is more extensive retooling and options for existing classes. The Savage is going to remain a name with no stats for the moment. Higher level powers and mutations are being put off. Getting the Scholar to 10 was a major breakthrough. The next truly large task is filling out the monster list, which is In Progress, and then just verifying that each category of item has enough entries that a viable game can be played. Based on current rates of progress, this could take anywhere from one to four weeks, but beta by the end of May, at the latest, is both viable and probable. In the meanwhile, Alpha 1.4 ought to be up today or tomorrow; enough new stuff has been added that it’s worth posting, in my not so humble opinion.
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