I am feeling pretty good right now. Rift is just over three into its Kickstarter campaign, and we've passed 40% funded. I keep thinking that the oft-spoken initial surge of backing has ending, but then it doesn't; we really are averaging about $1,000 a day.
The most amazing thing, though, has been the strangers. I have overwhelming gratitude for the family and friends that have backed Rift, but I'm not surprised to see their names on the list. To see that a third of the backers so far are total, complete strangers - from all over the world! - is mind-blowing. Sure, new board games are hot right now, but I'm just beginning to dare to hope that it means that Emily and I are doing something right.
I wanted to bridge from the bubbly-happy-excited-intimidated feeling the campaign gives me into talking a little bit about why I designed Rift to begin with.
Rift is not actually the first game that I've designed, but it is the first solid one, which is a very important distinction. Maybe I'll talk more about the other one (codename: the Medici) another time; today, I want to hone in on the process, and how game-making differs from the other creative things I've tried my hand at.
I was pretty quick to decide that I liked designing board games. I am actively excited to spend time tweaking a mechanic, drawing up cards, or writing backstory for characters. But why, I publically ask myself?
1. The Puzzle of It
Working on a board game is exciting because it's like solving a hundred puzzles at once; and sometimes, they all click into place at once. (More often, they refuse to budge, but I think that's just the nature of creative work.) The sheer exhilaration of discovery - no, *epiphany* - is like a drug, and it makes me want to delve deeper into the mechanics of the game to find even more connections, more surprises, and more discoveries.
When I was developing Rift, early on, there was a single moment of epiphany that created the game. I had been playing around with what was, basically, a fencing simulation. You could parry, or dodge, or lunge, and each move did different things based on whether you had the high ground or not. (It was awful as a game.) At the time, I think each player had five hit points or something. Somehow, in thinking about it, my mind spontaneously reorganized and asked a question: what if attacking a player made them discard?
That simple mechanic underlines all of Rift. It combines card advantage (a concept from Magic) and survival into one simple mechanic, and creates the atmosphere of shrinking, ever-more-tense decision making (symbolized by the world under the characters collapsing).
And it felt great. For me, the joy in creative work is in the discovery.
2. The Feedback
I've wanted to be a fiction writer my whole life (and still do, in combination with other things). I will certainly not knock writing, but here's one particular area where creating a board game absolutely, completely trumps creative writing: the feedback you get from people.
This comes in two forms. If I'm play-testing my game, I can feel how other people are reacting to the individual moments we're passing through. That's an enormously helpful tool for a creator. (I've watched people read my stories, too, and it's maddening. Why did they laugh, or why are they frowning? Am I making them nervous by watching them? Very different, somehow.)
For example, before launching the Kickstarter, I did a play-test of Rift with three other people, Magic players all. Early on, they clearly loved the flavor, the action, and the pacing of the game. But then, towards the end, the mood took a turn. It wasn't like anyone scoffed, or got mad, or flipped the table over - but it was clear that there was something oppressive about the end of this particular game. I took that experience, as well as a similar feeling from some of the other test games, and determined that there *was* a problem with the pacing and feel of the last part of the game. I made a tweak to address it, and am so glad I did.
The other kind of feedback, though, is the straight-up, spoken kind, and people love talking about games after they play them. With fiction, I've always found it crazy-making when someone says "I liked it, but it didn't really grab me". It's a legitimate thing to say and feel, but it always leaves me - as a creator - at a loss for direction. Is it something I want to change? Or something I should change? Or - cringe! - is it a fundamental problem with the story?
Somehow, feedback on games is easier. It's not that people aren't vague... maybe it's that we experienced the game together, and that makes it easier to add mental notes to a person's opinion.
But aside from that, there's also something about games that excites the inventor in people. Lots of people have a ton of fun talking about new mechanics, or asking why something works one particular way and not another. In fiction, the words are sometimes a little sacrosanct, I think; but games are for fun, and they can be anything.
3. The Product
Probably my favorite thing about designing a board game so far is this: at the end of this project, I will hold the game in my hands. The whole balliwick of ideas, concepts, and thoughts will be packaged into a finite space, and I'll be able to show it to people. (And, hopefully, people all over the world will also hold it in their hands, and will also show it to their friends, families, and gaming groups - what a dream!)
Writing produces a thing, but it's rarely something you can immediately gauge just by looking at it; you have to invest time and attention to experience it. Theater is even worse - you work hard on a thing, some people come to see it, and then it's over. Some days I really like that about production work, but other days... I just want to make something.
And I am so excited to show Rift to everyone I know. Emily's art is already fantastic, and I'm really proud of how the mechanics look as the game is played; I feel like there's a lot of kinetic energy to the game, with people pushing each other, playing and trading cards, and flipping over map tiles. Even just spending time on the graphic design of the prototype is exciting; sleeving the cards and xacto-knifing the tiles is a great feeling.
I am new to game designing, but I think I like it here. It's good to find something that feels so good and comfortable. But maybe that's just the Kickstarter talking.