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Conrad Zimmerman's blog
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Conrad Zimmerman avatar 4:53 AM on 07.04.2012  (server time)
I think I need to make a game

I'm not saying that I'd like to create a game one day, that it would be fun to try and turn what I've learned over my years of playing and thinking about games into one of my own creation. This feels more serious. I'm struck often by inspiration at three in the morning, just as I'm starting to think about the prospect of a decent night's sleep and the idea won't go away. It sits there, nagging like an unhappy wife, until I listen and allow the concept to take enough form that I can dismiss it as being of little merit or I have something that I think I'd genuinely like to play.

There's been an itch inside me to create games for as long as I can remember. Being an only child teaches you to find ways to amuse yourself and playing games was always the thing I liked better than any activity. As there's little satisfaction to be found in simply going through the motions of a board game, playing for two or more in a feint of actual competition, I soon took to trying to adapt the games I liked best with rules which would allow me to challenge myself using the mechanics of the game as a guide. I still do this today, almost as a sort of mental exercise, whenever I'm introduced to a great new board game.

In elementary school, I made my first fully realized board game as a class project, based around Greek mythological trivia with spaces on the board referencing major tales with relevant effects. It was a crude prototype in a lot of ways; Contact paper applied to an old Monopoly board, lines drawn in permanent marker, cards printed from the noisy dot matrix job in the office and sturdied by some kind of plastic laminate.

It was an ugly thing, but pretty impressive if you knew of its construction over a frantic weekend, when I announced to my parents that this was a project I'd put off for weeks and was due on Monday. It was also entirely too difficult in play, and required either a level of knowledge on the subject most people could not be realistically expected to have in their memory or incredible luck to win at. This led to games which would drag on far longer than anybody would have had a good time on. Nonetheless, I was proud of the effort and, actually, it probably could have been a pretty decent thing with refinement.

Once I discovered role-playing games through Dungeons & Dragons (and then started having fun by finding other really good RPGs to play instead), I found in them a more direct outlet. Much like adapting the board games years earlier, they provided for me a framework and inspiration but granted the freedom to express my own ideas, to throw out the parts of their rules which made the game less enjoyable to play and introduce new mechanics. I would spend hours in my bedroom with graph paper, planning adventures and running them against myself in order to be prepared to share them with others.

A tabletop mech combat game based on a lesser-known, skirmish based miniatures ruleset, WarEngine, which allows for unit customization on a microscale without sacrificing speed of play. A satirical, "screw-your-neighbor" card game where players assume the roles of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, vying to reap the most of their allotment of souls before Jesus shows up. I have notebooks filled with tables, layout concepts and barely legible notes containing designs for these and probably a couple dozen more game ideas. They're not all good. Most of them are pretty awful and don't last the length of a page before I've reasoned out some fundamental flaw in my thinking, but I'm struck by how many there are and how urgent I seemed to have been when I wrote them.

I feel that sense of urgency more keenly now than I have in a very long time. Over the last several months, I've been bombarded. But I'm not immersed in board games at all the way I used to be. My social interactions more limited due to responsibilities and a lack of convenient, nearby players, I haven't even played a board game in over two years. Videogames are all I think about any longer. Day in and day out. And while I've always had that same sense that some of the ideas I have could be really fun, there's a significantly greater barrier to making a videogame than something which can be played with cards and dice.

But the feeling in me is growing, the nagging more persistent, and I can't sleep again tonight.

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