The Balance of Color and Utility

September 19, 2006 at 6:44 pm (Game Design)

I realized something while I was drafting some of the skills for Bloodlines yesterday.  I have a certain type of skills called “Talents” that are basically supernatural skills that some characters possess.  One of those skills is Ghostwatch, which I had added as an afterthought because I thought the idea of seeing into the spirit world was cool even though I had no rules to back it up at the time.

 After several draftings, Ghostwatch is the best Talent Skill I have in the chapter.  It is useful, it is efficient, and loaded with just the right amount of “color” (or “flavor”) that I want for my Talent Skills.  All of my other Talent Skills which were designed to fill a particular niche or grant players certain options have little notes in the margin saying, “Needs more color.” 

I have come to realizing that color always, always, always must be designed before utility.  You can always add utility later, but it is next to impossible to add color onto game mechanics and still get comparable results to something with which you started with color and added utility. 

 It’s not enough to just come up with it either.  It has be written down.  Too much of my game has been written with the idea that I need to get the basic skeleton structure of the rules down first, and then add in the color which I have written in the synapses of my brain. No. No. No.  That can’t work.  I need to re-write those chapters from scratch.  Color first; no excuses.  It’s going to be harder for it, but I honestly believe the result will be a much better game. 

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