Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm working on a plan to deal with all the feedback on my Philip K. Dick game (Left Coast)

One of the things I only recently realised about creative projects is how much crap builds up around me while I'm writing them: it's like I excrete pages of notes and scraps of paper filled with random ideas and shower-inspired insights.

My first great leap forward in writing organisation was to put all of these into a folder marked "Next Draft". My second great leap forward was to actually look at them.

It's that process of looking at the notes that helps me make decisions about what's in and what's out: what insights have stuck and still ring true, and which insights have helped me move on to a deeper understanding of the project but are no longer relevant.

As I mentioned in my previous post (How would you process feedback on something you've written), I'm working out how to apply all the feedback I've received for Left Coast, my game about science fiction authors. I put all of these notes onto a one-page mind-map, so that I can get a sense of how much there is to do, and what themes have emerged from the feedback. The mind-maps for Left Coast is filled with people's observations from playing and reading the game, and it's also got a section called 'Big Questions' - which is about challenging myself to go deeper into the feedback and test my assumptions.

The other thing I'm doing (and have been doing for a while now, to great effect) is I write a 'Future Vision' of what I want this stage of the project to end up like. This gives me a concrete end-point, which in turn forces me to stop and publish it rather than constantly rework it. The Future Vision for Left Coast looks like this:

I’ve published a massively simplified version of Left Coast that contains radically culled procedures for play and which clearly explains who does what (and when). This version is designed and written to inspire people to play, so it contains plenty of example NPCs, story seeds (and anything else I think is necessary for this ‘half-done’ draft). 
The game is laid out cleanly (with my Times New Roman layout). It’s divided into five sections: i) brief intro to game and some playtesting advice, ii) an ‘inspirational’ essay, iii) how to create PCs and setting, iv) how to play, and v) an afterword.
What I do this is write out where I am right now, and (vitally) I keep adjusting this 'Present Reality' every time I make changes. The Present reality for Left Coast, as at 10 October 2011, looks like this:
I’ve decided to write this draft for ‘my’ group initially, rather than for wider publication: my suspicion is I’ll get more done this way. 
Having added all the feedback to my mind-map, I now need to think about what needs to be done and prioritise it. Now that I’ve saved the rules summary onto my desktop, I suspect the simplest way forward is to run through my Rules Summary two or three times, adjusting it based on the mind-map of feedback, my marked up rules summary, and my marked up rules - and then review where I am. 
So, I need to start that process by putting the mind-map right in front of me and tackling point after point. 
… Then I can comb through the expanded rules for material for the ‘essay’ (which may be unnecessary for this ‘me’ draft). 
I should probably organize a one-afternoon long playtest with Simon, hopefully Mike, and Sophie for November. 
I need to ID all the ‘vibey’ stuff in the main rules, strip it out of the procedures and put it into an ‘essay’ about how you play Left Coast and why you’d want to play it. I’ll put the rules summary stuff after that. I also think that having four sample characters, each with four or five hooky options for NPCs in their ratings will be a good thing to do. 
It needs a table of contents, and I need to look at the Guide to Writing Free RPGs for some advice.
(This process of having a Future Vision and adjusting your Present Reality comes from a fascinating book called How to Make Your Dreams Come True by Mark Foster. It's a free download, and worth a read.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How would you process feedback on something you've written?

I'm writing a game called Left Coast, where you play science-fiction authors teetering on the brink of sanity. In July, I pulled together my notes and created a draft that I thought would be fine for others to play. Since then, I've received feedback from:

- Wayne, who's read it
- Simon, who's read it
- various commentators on Story Games
- Mike, who I playtested it with
- various commentators on the Forge
- Malcolm, Gregor and Per, who have playtested it without me

That's a lot of feedback (which has all been stored in my 'Left Coast - Next Draft' folder). Now I have to pull it all together and make some decisions about what it all means.

First, I'm reading through it all and looking for any feedback that almost everyone seems to be giving me. Usually I get overwhelmed by the thought of doing that, so I'm converting the feedback into a mind-map, so I can group similar comments and observations together.

It's already obvious, just from working through feedback from the first five people, that the game is still too complicated: I've layered on so many procedures, and 'mandatory elements' and 'things to keep in mind', that people are having to spend all their time trying to figure out how to make the game work (rather than finding out whether the game actually does work).

So I have two next steps: simplify as much of the procedures as I can, while digging deeper to see if there's anything fundamental that's lying underneath the feedback: stuff that's non-obvious but is actually the 'real' work that needs to be done.

What about you? How do you process all the information when you get lots of feedback about one of your projects?