Ten years ago this month, my first self-published game, Invasion of the Saucer People! was crowdfunded.
Today there are 40 Lester Smith Games titles on DriveThruRPG, another 11 on DriveThruCards, and some freebies on this website/blog. (Check the menu, under “Games.)
All due to the moral support of some wonderful players, play-testers, and fans, several of whom have become my close friends and confidantes, even if only through social media, even if across oceans.
Whatever else you might say about the Internet, it keeps a guy like me connected to the world, and allows self-publishing to be more than just a local vanity press. For many of my old colleagues and public figures I follow, it’s a full-time occupation. For others like me, it’s an outlet for bucket-list projects and new inspirations, a place to discuss them, and maybe pay for coffee.
Games, like coffee, are best brewed with care. Anybody can boil some water and toss in a spoonful of instant. Literally and metaphorically. The result is its own punishment.
But to get a good cup of hot coffee, you have to start with the basics, at “ground” level, if you’ll forgive the pun.
- Choose roasted beans that suit your taste. I prefer a dark espresso roast.
- Grind them to the right consistency—err on the side of coarseness, to avoid silt in your cup.
- Use fresh water, heat it to a simmer, and introduce the grounds for the right amount of time. I use a French press, so about three minutes. For a percolator, no more than five. Any longer, and you’ll extract bitters.
- Pour it over ice, if you want it cold on a hot day.
- Drink it fresh. Nothing’s worse than a pot that’s been sitting on the heat for hours, steaming away to harsh sludge.
To extend the metaphor to game design, I like to …
- Start with a solid idea, something new and fresh.
- Grind it into a first draft—whether that’s an ordered list of ideas, an actual outline, or a few paragraphs of synopsis, with details jotted below as they occur. Without grinding it too much by fixating on specifics too early.
- Expose it to the fluidity of early play-test, generally alone at this point, to see if the dice rolls and/or card draws feel like I thought they would, and if questions arise I hadn’t thought of. Then dive deeper, examining the mathematical odds, using them to adjust details.
- Pour it onto the page in full sentences, with headings and any graphics needed.
- Have other people play it, and watch their reactions. It may mean I need to refine my brewing process for this game, though I seldom have to trash the original bean of an idea.
That’s not a perfect metaphor. But it suits the image I put together for this post!