Thursday, February 7, 2013

Torn Armor

One of the real benefits of being involved in the hobby games industry is the people you meet. There are a bunch of witty, creative people in this business. At worst, you have a few interesting conversations. At best, they become your friends, and you get to impress gamers by telling them about the time jim pinto was so drunk he threw up on my cat. ("Oooh, pinto vomit" is the usual response. Like it's special... you should read his games some time.)

Believe it or not, hanging out and being friends with game designers is just what you think it's like -- you end up creating some really terrific stuff, or at least hearing about it long before others do. Torn Armor is one of those things.

It's no secret that I've been out of this business for a long time, and I only just started coming back. A lot has changed over the last ten years, and one of those things is a person called "Alyssa Faden." I became involved with her through my involvement with Castle Nystul. She did the maps for two of his projects. Turns out she's become the go-to person when it comes to maps, and her work is stunning. Friend requests were swapped, because that's what you kids do these days and I'm nothing if not "hip." Then, one day, she asked me to look at her game -- Torn Armor.

I get a lot of these requests, but this time it was from a friend so I took a look.

Now, let me say right off the bat, not thrilled with the title. Torn Armor sounds just like you'd think -- ruined armor. I wouldn't wear torn armor, would you? Turns out the name of the world is Torn, too. Same with the company name. So it's Torn Armor, in the world of Torn, brought to you by Torn. Seriously. Find another word.

Turns out that was one of the few things I didn't like about this game. I received from Alyssa a detailed product concept document. That's what told me she had an idea about what she was doing. Alyssa comes out of software design, which means she works for Corporate America. Corporate America doesn't do anything -- not even buy paperclips -- without a document.

That's something I learned working for WotC. Believe it or not, most game companies (well, successful, top-earning game companies) don't design anything without a product concept document. This tells you what the product is, what it looks like. It covers everything from the product's specifications (page count, cover type, paper stock, etc.) to what's inside the product.

This becomes your blueprint for the product. And if you're not thinking about your game as a product, please stop writing and designing right now. Go back to playing Pathfinder. This blueprint defines what the game is, and what it isn't. If you're designing a miniatures game set in a fantasy Europe, for example, then you know you need dudes with swords, and not space marines with pulse rifles.

But, moreover, that product concept document also tells you what era of European history (Medieval? Restoration? Renaissance?), and how all the elements fit together (are there dragons? Trolls? Undead? If so, how?). It was clear from Alyssa's product concept document that she'd put a lot of thought into her setting. She knew what was in her world, how it fit together, and what some of the central conflicts were.

She and Jack Cull may have no idea what a signature is, or paper stock, or fulfillment. But that's all stuff you can learn. And she's learning it. At least she has a firm grasp of what her product -- Torn Armor -- looks like.

The document wasn't perfect. Far from it. She's the first to admit that. In my next blog, I'll tell you what she sent me, and break it down for you.

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