I sat down at our kitchen table with a notebook, a deck of cards, and a nefarious plan. I was going to steal the best game in the world.
As you might’ve already guessed, I also had a theme.
The night before I’d fallen asleep watching the move Heat. The movie was set to replay. I woke up periodically throughout the night to visions of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino face to face across a table. I will not hesitate. Not for a second.
When I woke up I was ready. Well, after I woke up and drank my coffee I was ready. After I woke up, drank my coffee, and took my meds, I was ready. After I woke up, drank my coffee, took my meds, and had a bathroom break… I was ready.
I made a list of all the heist movies I could think of: Heat, The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs. They all had some essential elements that I wanted to capture. Evidently, I wanted to do so with a standard deck of playing cards.
There have been times while designing games that ideas have vomited from my brain out of the ether. I have outlined the bones of an entire game in a single hour and the game played fairly well right out of the gates.
This was not one of those times.
My thought vomiting ether machine was broken. Or maybe someone had stolen it. I didn’t know, but as I sat there shuffling the cards, laying them out in various configurations, and not designing a game, I became intensely frustrated. Then I felt like a fraud.
What was I doing here? Why had I chosen a deck of cards? Why didn’t I leave this all to the professionals? Even if I had ideas for games, I’d never be able to get one into good enough shape to sell it to a publisher. I was sitting on Kaiju waiting to me publishers. I was nervous and insecure about showing my games to a publisher.
Still, I sat there.
I fiddled with the cards for what felt like forever. Eventually I had an idea. I followed it up with another one. That worked okay so I tried another. Okay, this wasn’t bad. After four hours I had something that was, at very least, playable. It wasn’t great. I don’t think it was even good, but it was playable.
Heist was a card drafting game in which players worked as master thieves: to develop crews, find jobs, and make heists. But they also had to watch out for the heat. Unfortunately, it never ended up playing like I described it.
I was getting closer, though. Because this time I’d stuck to the game plan. I knew what I wanted to design and I worked towards it. I wasn’t capable of dragging it across the finish line, but I’d gotten one step closer.
Game design is similar to writing in many ways. Most people who read think they can write, and most people who play games think they can design them. There’s another parallel with writer’s block.
Writer’s block sucks, but it can’t be overcome by not writing. The same applies to designing games. If I’d put down those cards that day, I’m not sure that I ever would have picked them up again. It’s funny that a really mediocre game feels so instrumental in my development as a game designer, but there it is.