Starting Making, Concept 1: Halls In The Mark

Okay, okay, I’ve talked about making games, and I’ve tried to talk about getting started, but I know that just because I’ve mentioned something once doesn’t mean it’s always there for people to find. There is a river of content, and restating things in different ways is worth doing, because it means you are more likely to potentially get a hook

I’ve talked about how to view those things, but I haven’t done a lot as far as showing the process, so today I’m going to show you how I approach this process, by taking an idea I have and showing you how I arrive at decisions of what to do after I have the idea.

Step 1. What Do I Have?

Reiner Knizier said that you start making a game from a component, a mechanic or a concept. A component means some game piece, some object to work with. That can be as simple as ‘I want to create something on some cards’ or something really elaborate like the Mouse Trap style collection of bits and pieces. A mechanic may mean you want to do something like a drafting game, or you may see a game rule in another game and you want to do something similar, in a different game. Then there’s the concept, or a theme or a fiction. That’s what a game is about, and that’s where we’re going to start today.

Okay, I have a love for a podcast about watching Hallmark romantic movies. These movies are very low-threat, aggressively mediocre, and they’re kind of aimed at people who never want to be challenged where you just get to see two people kinda… bump into one another in a very low-failure rate romance. These are also really straight and really white, like, white in the way of people who think that referencing a coastal city is maybe a bit too multicultural. These are really frustrating in how gingerly they treat their audience who are just here to see cute people do one (and exactly one) kiss, and a queer a friend has remarked on how nice it must be to be catered to like that.

Okay, then, what if I wanted to make Hallmark style movies but queer. I don’t have movie making technology, but what I do have is game making technology, and a game could let lots of people put together their own Hallmark style movies that are queer. Okay, right, that’s our concept. I want to make a game that makes conflict-light Hallmark movies, but queer.

Step 2. What Does That Need?

Okay, that means to finish out this game idea, we need components and mechanics. What kind of things do we need? Mechanics, or components give us more space to fill out this idea.

Okay, what if we wanted to talk about adding components to this idea? Components like cards are where I tend to go first, thanks to my experience building card games. There are plenty of card games that make stories – and even simpler versions can work. What about something like Funemployed, where the players are given small chunks of character trait and they have to try and work out how their characters wind up together?

That’s one route, but it is a bit unstructured. It also doesn’t really give players the feeling of being part of the story. It might be a bit thin. An idea maybe worth exploring but I want something that creates a bit more story than that.

Now, if I wanted to make this game a card game an example of what there’s Murder of Crows, which makes a story that can be summarised in a single sentence with mostly interchangeable parts. That’s fun too, but it’s also a game which requires interplay and conflict to be interesting, which seems at odds with the idea of a very gentle game.

No luck with components – what about other games that might work as inspiration in mechanics? One idea that immediately leaps to mind is Golden Sky Stories, a very gentle game of rural spirits helping people have nice days. That’s a great framework. It’s also very supernatural, and kind of rules light when you set aside those supernatural elements. It does have the right tone of simplicity, though – all the players are cooperating to try and tell an interesting story, and rewarding one another.

Now, that gives me another idea; players cooperating and rewarding one another does remind me of the XP system in Blades in the Dark. Blades in the Dark has an open system reference, and does a lot of things to make story pieces workable with tools like tables and structural elements. It’s also a system where the central mechanic for solving problems can be seen as advancing the story – each failure progresses the story somehow.

The things that pull you into any particular direction are going to be arbitary. I could make that card game, and it’d be kinda quick and easy. I could make the voting thing – Cards Against Humanity meets gay romance seems like a niche need. It’d also probably not sell well compared to getting something digital into people’s hands. Plus, I do kinda like the idea of the phrase ‘Halls in the Mark’ as a development name, it makes me giggle.

Step 3. How Do I Make That Happen?

With these options in front of me, I think I’ll try to make a Blades in the Dark hack. What do I need to do if I want to make that?

First, research my framework. I’ll want to give the system reference rules and hack guides for Blades in the Dark a re-read. I think that we can make the ‘gang’ into the people around a town, who all know ‘people’ who need to get together into a romantic relationship, and the game is about being – either deliberately or otherwise! – the various unnaturally helpful people in a Hallmark story who make people’s lives better.

I also probably want to look at sources like TvTropes for more good lists of the kind of events that happen in a Hallmark movie. Maybe even listen to all of Dave and Jeb Aren’t Mean again, because I like it so much, and break down the things they see as happening in every Hallmark movie.

And finally, I should look into queer romantic resources and scenarios – which is going to involve asking my friends the kind of things they like and fantasise about.

That’s it! That’s how you go from an idea to a plan.

I want to do this for other people’s concepts as well – not to show you how you should proceed with your ideas, but rather to demonstrate the process as I see it.