Tuesday, September 9, 2014

HeroCraft 2.0 - The State of the Game

About the middle of July I had the pleasure of playtesting HeroCraft (v1.8) with a friend who hadn't played before. Tyler is an amazing game designer, and I've wanted his feedback on the game for quite a while. After cracking open a few beers and dishing out pizza, we settled in to play. In addition to Tyler there was one other new player, and two veterans (myself included). I began explaining rules, setting up the board, and getting everyone to select their starting attributes. Tyler was taking notes throughout the game, but I didn't need him to explain that our start-up took way too long. I don't recall the actual clocked time, but we didn't start exploring Crucible for at least twenty or thirty minutes.

Soul Syphon by Mike Messer
The rest of the game went by swimmingly, as version 1.8 is a rather well-oiled machine. The four of us had fun, and we ended the game within the one-to-three hour window I've come to expect. Tyler compiled his notes and we spent another half hour discussing. Overall, the game was fun but he brought up some incredibly poignant observations.Without getting into the exquisite details, he felt a few of the systems in HeroCraft felt tacked on, as if they were half-baked mechanics from an expansion. As I mentioned previously, the start-up of the game was far too long, especially for beginners. I thanked Tyler and retired for the night, mulling these observations over.

Let me preface my following comments with a statement: Tyler is right, from an absolutely objective point of view. I've made some critical mistakes during the development of the game, and a lot of the systems evolved and changed as time went on. My initial reaction was to dig in that night and attempt to correct the mistakes that were brought to light, but as I thought more and more on it I realized I couldn't just change one or two systems. That's how a lot of these current problems began, by tweaking, adding, and removing sub-systems and patching it all so it ran. In order to address some of these issues I needed to do some overhauling.

This late in the development, overhauling (my safe word for starting-over-completely) is really dangerous. I felt trapped between two philosophies. If I overhauled the game I'd be putting the project in serious jeopardy, and at risk for falling into the never-ending-development trap that I've seen too many projects fall into. On the other hand, I could trudge onward and ship the game with these problems and deal with the consequences, if any. I spent the better part of a month agonizing over this decision, knowing on some level that I needed to make changes, but afraid to. 

After consulting with others, it was the wise words of a friend that gave me the courage to attempt what could be potentially be suicide for the project. HeroCraft is almost there. It's excruciatingly close. Sometimes, though, you need to step back, detach yourself from emotion, and look at hard facts. There are some big flaws, and in order to fix them I need to redesign the game's foundational mechanics. It's incredibly frightening, but if it all doesn't work I still have v1.8 to fall back on. I know where I want the game to be, and now it's just a matter of designing all of the components to work seamlessly. 

As frightening as it is, this process is also intoxicatingly liberating. I've given myself permission to take my metaphorical lego castle completely apart and rebuild it, armed with better instructions and more experience. Whether or not this decision was the correct one remains to be seen, but as I work I can't help being excited.

HeroCraft 2.0 will undergo its first playtest in early October with some of my veteran playtesters, and I'll document the experience here. Cheers!

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