working title: MOLD

working title: MOLD

production blog

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a lesson learned – about GameDesign documents

September 12, 2013 ,

(the latest revision of the story/playthrough)

(the latest revision of the story/playthrough)

When i started to work on mold, I had to decide how to approach this pretty nonlinear endeavor. I did read some classic gamedesign documents like Grim Fandango, and some of the Larry(s)…. but clearly, computers must have evolved since the 90s, so maybe there was a more modern / better way to approach it, I naively thought.

the wrong way.

So eventually i went with a vector schematic of the game… in the beginning it worked out great (except some tech probs ;) ), changes could be made with ease, and it was great to have an overview over the entire game…

but as complexity grew, it was getting harder and harder to play it through (mentally). Why? because when you work on a screen, u just see a tini-tiny portion of the schematic (you can’t read it without zooming way in), and printing it, would need tons of paper and a lot of space…


a bloated, useless schematic of the game

spontaneous ideas

well, they are great, aren’t they? sure… but they can also be the last nail for your coffin, You can’t imagine how many little notes were written into my sketchbook and on dozens of loose papers, Mainly, because

  1.  I don’t always have access to my digital files,
  2. when you get to a certain complexity, a small and great idea can change a lot.. so sometimes I just want to write something down fast.

in my case, eventually, I had a big bloated not-up-to-date digital schematic with most of the story, hundreds of papers and sketchbooks with all kind of changes, puzzle ideas, backstory elements, hell even “new” parts of the story. Unneccessary to say, this totally crippled the process… I arrived in “stucktown” so to speak.

being stuck for months


my workstations cpu-cooler, right before i had my cleaning frenzy

I cleaned my office down to the screw, bought and setupped a new workstation, reinstalled old ones, added a new blog theme, and did a lot of other unnecessary things, just to accomplish something useful during that period ;) (besides my commercial jobs at the time, I hope ;) )

So eventually to overcome this state of unproductivity, Babette and I sat down, she took pen and paper, and we talked the story completely through (with the goal to continue even if something is not right or still unfinished). It took around 4 hours to work it through, still with a lot of stuff which was kinda “meehhh, maybe ok at most”, but now I knew where to start.

Since then, I searched and collected everything useable from old sketchbooks and papers, and revised the story several times (especially during vacation). Just to give you an idea: the first draft had 8 pages, the most recent one has 23.. so the oldschool approach is definitely the way to go in my opinion.

Game Pitches has an interesting collection of game design documents, in case you are into this kind of stuff ;)

my final thoughts

I can’t speak about those numerous tools written to organize/plan explicitly adventure games, but working on a story is hard enough itself, the last thing someone needs is to struggle with buggy tools or technology… so don’t hesitate to give paper a try ;)

If you are totally stuck I would recommend:

  1. walk/talk your story completely through, write every action down in short and simple sentences.  Don’t stop when something isn’t right (even if it’s a major problem), work it through to the end. Always leave a few lines space under each sentence (it does make “analog” editing a lot easier, later)
  2. read / work / talk it through several, SEVERAL times (it took me 2 months, after being stuck) until you are sure everything is solid.(a brainstorm partner helps a lot here) – you probably have to update your word document from time to time.. (it’s getting really hard to read with all those handwritten little text addons and notes)
  3. eventually when you are (almost ;) ) completely satisfied, a reduced schematic just showing Sets/Items and Characters would provide a good overview over the project (it’s also useful to calculate the costs later)

so in my humble and home-educated opinion: a printed step by step story plus a reduced schematic (something like this) is the way to go.

that’s all folks! ;)

What do you think?

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