Making a Game: There and Back Again

Being an account of the last two years.


The last couple of years have been strange. I think nobody will deny that. Plague, war, inflation, isolation.

With all that, my local group here collapsed and though I played some games online, they never quite captured the feel of in-person roleplay. That special buzz of hanging out, making a world, inventing jokes, and sometimes even rolling some dice.

I think that’s a large part of why my plans of 2020 for releasing a simple game went … well … I won’t say astray, but there and back again.

SEACAT

The skeleton of SEACAT (released as part of UVG) was meant to become a relatively simple and modular mini-series game. Something you could pick up, use to run a 3–5 session arc, get some rest, then run another arc. A game to share out the many roles of a GM and prevent burnout. Not too serious, but robust enough to give customisation options.

I thought I’d have it done and published in early 2021. June at the latest.

That didn’t happen.

INSECURITY

I often feel insecure about my work. That it is not good enough. Not professional, not sharp, not creative, not novel, not elegant, not large enough. Having my whole gaming life move online didn’t help.

Two kinds of voices are very visible online: fans who want more and critics who poop on the smallest flaw.

The people I played with offline and who’d get bored with over-intricate mechanics and suggest we play a board game instead (a great design constraint!) … well, they were absent.

So, out of a desire to prove that I was good enough, I wrote and drew and designed and wrote and drew.

BIG SEACAT

By this summer Uranium Butterflies (BIG SEACAT) was over 320 pages and I was done with it. As done as I would ever be. The rules worked, the art was there, the writing was done, it was laid out and all that.

Baroque, ornate, massive. A hundred backgrounds, different traits, masses of equipment, a hundred spells, pets, mutations. Interlocking rules that give explosive, unpredictable outcomes. Over 400 pieces of art.

It works. It’s fine as a game.

Before releasing it beyond the patreon, I’ll give it another pass, trim some fat, remove duplication and optional stuff, and especially remove the bits where my insecurity oozes through, but that’s it.

However, it’s not quite the game I like to play! I like simpler, more protean games. I wasn’t willing to admit that yet, however. Cue discomfort.

UVG 2E

Late this summer the Ultraviolet Grasslands sold out and with Exalted Funeral we decided to do a hardcover reprint. Since Uranium Butterflies (UB) was also ready, it made sense to give UVG a bit of a refresh and make it more compatible with UB.

I did a thorough review of UVG for the first time since 2019 and I got Skerples to give an editorial once-over to both UB and UVG. The feedback on the UVG was great. The feedback on UB. Well. Hey, Siri, what are the stages of grief?

It was the first time I had been able to read the UVG since 2019. I was ready to cringe at every page and feel like a fraud.

Instead, I realized the UVG was pretty good. It was much better than I had remembered.

Honestly, it was worst where I apologized for one rule or another, where I waffled and suggested over and over that “players can also do whatever they like.” And, absolutely worst of all, the parts where I played down SEACAT. I’d been pretty sure, going into the editing, that it was going to be a disjointed skeleton, and instead I found an ok game. Could be reorganized and tweaked, sure, but … eh. Fair enough.

I followed Skerples’ thoughtful input to restructure the rules section and put the focus on the caravans and trade. Fixed some of the tables that didn’t work (see the Alexandrian’s commentary on market research). Added a bestiary, because everyone loves a bestiary.

And shortened the rules.

To one page.

1-PAGE SEACAT

So, after a journey of writing UVG and the skeleton of SEACAT, insecurity drove me to write a 320-page rulebook of all the different options and possibilities and weird intricacies of the Given World (the setting of the UVG). All the implications and suggestions of the world hanging like flies in the amber of all the different rules and possibilities.

Then, after revisiting the source and revising it, I returned and found the game I had wanted to write.

All 1 page of it.

And it took me just a little over 2 years to write it.

RENAMING CONVENTIONS

SEACAT was ever only a placeholder name, I suppose. The ability score acronym of strength, endurance, agility, charisma, aura, and thought. With the journey (nearly) complete, it was time for a name.

I bounded around many different names. One that I kind of liked at some point was Synthetic Dreams Wholesale as a shoutout to PKD’s book We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. However, I was told in no uncertain terms, that Wholesale sounded weird and not cool. I grumbled, because I’d already drawn a logo.

Then, I flipped the “W” in the logo and set about finding a good “M” word … Marsupial … Mendicant … Metroid … Murderhobo …

That took a while, but eventually:

Synthetic Dream Machine.

COMING SOON

Not final art. Liable to change. Rights restricted under Code XX-2 of the Dream Canopy.

The last couple of months I’ve been working hard to make UVG 2E pretty and ready for print, but I’ve also been working on forking Uranium Butterflies into Synthetic Dream Machine (SDM).

If all goes alright, the next few months should see the following books and products:

  • UVG 2E – with more pages and bigger art and fewer rules.
  • The Grand Map 2.0 – grander and prettier and longer than before.
  • The UVG Screen 2.0 – see above.

and, all new:

and, probably:

  • SDM: Magic B Sides – Magic and 100 spells from the music vaults of the Synthetic Dream Machine
  • BIG SEACAT – a single limited-edition manuscript run of the big book. Artbook, process, game. All in one.

and then, I can embark on the next project …

writing illustrated 32-page adventures for a change!

Happy holidays and good fortune in 2023, folks!

—L.


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12 replies on “Making a Game: There and Back Again”

Hi Luka. Thanks for sharing your creative process with all its up and downs. Looking forward to all the wonderful new works and perspectives. For the one page rules: brilliant! The only thing that caught me off guard were the references to ha, ba and ka that only appear in the magic section and seemingly no where else (except if I am blind).

They appear later in the UVG as well: in the creatures section, the death and dying section, and some other places through the text. That quick mention is more a mini-glossary (this is what this translates to). The longer “this borrows from Egyptian afterlife concepts) is later.

Looking fantastic, but you’re going to bankrupt my hobby fund with all these releases.

Whew. That’s a lot of stuff. Exited for it. So this is coming in the next few months? It is getting a bit complex with the “forks” and iterating. (Not that I am complaining). How does one stay abreast and not miss anything? Any chance of a pre-order all in bundle?

The easiest way to stay abreast is right here on the blog. I’ll post everything.

It’s a bit of a … developing situation, but even with all the forks, this is the way it’ll probably work:

The One Page Game (codename: 1PAGECAT)
Synthetic Dream Machine (codename: SDM) – the short rules
BIGCAT a limited print / release of the big manuscript as it is.

Then, future products I write are going to reference SDM and 1PAGECAT. BIGCAT is going to stay it’s own little island. Like a player’s options book.

I had an additional idea for the 2e release of UVG. There has been a lot of chatter around on how to run UVG in different systems. It would be VERY COOL to see a couple of appendixes or zines (even as PDFs) which had rules for running UVG, say in the following: Knave, Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland, and Troika. Those present as the natural and obvious choices if one were to not use OSR/OSE or SEACAT. These also appear to be the systems that folks seem to have discussed online for options for running UVG. In addition that could be a nice bone to throw to those who purchased or backed 1e and are also going in for 2e. It would really EXPAND the scope (and options) of UVG as opposed to being just an edit and redraft (as cool as that sounds). Thoughts?

I think that would be great – but it’d have to be a collaborative zine kind of thing. Maybe something I should bring up with the good folks at Knock! magazine?

Sorry, got confused with the last comment: BiGCAT is SDM with more content? Or ti has different rules?

It has more content and rules. A good way to think of it is as a book of many options for the UVG, while SDM is more stripped down.

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