Monday, March 28, 2005

Back and Forth

So when I started this blog I gave two basic reasons for doing this. The first (and primary) reason was to discuss the thoughts and decisions that make up a design for a professional RPG product and the second was to just share my random thoughts.

Looking over this blog, one might come to the conclusion that what I think about when I work is... not work. The "what I'm thinking" posts have the "work process" posts so flanked they get an attack of opportunity for making their attacks of opportunity.

So, to even things out a little, let's look at the state of Legends of the Samurai.

One of the things that makes up a big part of any design process is the back and forth between the designer and the developer.

The role of the developer is one that's really misunderstood and is often invisible to the reader of a book.

In part this is because the developer is part of the background. You see the words, and the art and the layout. They immediately leap off the page as integral parts of the work and if one of them sucks then you know who to flame on your favorite board, cause his name is in the front.

However if the developer does his job badly then you might just end up flaming the wrong person.

When you work on a project, each member of the design team has his head in his own piece of the puzzle. This is a good thing. Writing, art, cartography... these things are pretty hard and the people doing them need to bring all the talents they have to bear to make them as lights out as possible.

What this means, however, is that these people also have blinders on. The developer is there to watch over the whole process and make sure it gells. He keeps his eye on all the people working on the book and makes sure they're all moving toward the same goal.

Here's an anaology. You're in a maze. There are 4 other people in the maze too. There are 4 seperate ways out of the maze, meaning that you all stand a great chance to make it through to the other side. However, you all need to exit by the same door for maximum results. Maybe only one of the maze's exits have cheese behind them. Maybe one leads right to a moustrap. Who knows.

Now the developer isn't in the maze... he's there to make sure everyone reaches the right exit at the right time. Since he isn't running the course, but is watching from above, he can track things.

Ok... for those of yelling "enough with the fucking mice" in your best Tony Soprano, here's a more concrete example.

Say you have hired a top-notch cartographer to work on a book. He's doing a map of a primary campaign setting to be included in that book, along with several smaller maps of churches, a town, a city.

These maps are nice eye candy, but if the writer provides detailed descriptions of them, they become a much more useful piece of the art budget than some random line art. The developer can make sure the designer knows he needs to provide some map descriptions and can give him a detailed look at what areas the maps are going to cover.

In the case of RPGObjects, a small company, everyone tends to wear multiple hats. Chris Davis, the owner and guy who signs my checks (and a wonderful, wonderful person) does the layout and also serves as the developer for almost every project I write. We have a great working relationship and our back and forth (the bouncing of ideas and concepts between designer and developer) is a big part of the synergy that makes our books click.

Sometimes the back and forth is about something big. Armor as DR? Might be too different from the mainstream. Why is that important? Well the more easily things work together the more utility the book has. In the case of Legends of the Samurai, for example, we want people to be able to adapt OA adventures from Dungeon as easily as possible. So even if Armor as DR is a better option overall, it might be the best option here.

Sometimes the back and forth is about something... not so big. Maybe the book needs to be a few pages longer or a few pages shorter. Maybe a complicated rule needs an example.

These things might not always be apparent to me as a writer. Im too invested. Nothing needs more explanation, my writing is clear. It is beautiful. It is art.

As I get back into the flow of finishing Samurai, I'll have more thoughts.



Chuck said...

Yeah that was my thought going in was a lot of variations on the combat system.

However we wanted to keep the ability to easily port adventures from other d20 oriental games (and just d20 in general) so that limits the scope of changes you can make.

This is what Ryan Dancey meant when he talked about the open gaming environment serving to shape products.

With a great resource like Dungeon out there for adventures, it shapes what changes you're willing to make.

Chuck said...

Wherever you'd be most comfortable really... here, ENWorld or the RPGObjects boards will receive the fastest answers.

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