PART 3 – Reaching the Final Design

Last time I talked about the re-theme and the development of a story. This was just the beginning of the new game. Immersing myself in the worlds of William Gibson and Warren Ellis set the scene, but it also helped me create the game.

I told you how the core mechanics were the heart of the game – a deck of cards that empowered you to act out changes on a modular board, with pieces that evolved and each had special powers. Now everything had to fit the new theme, and that meant throwing away 90% of the guts of the game and re-writing everything. The core mechanics were the framework, they were the “idea”, but they were not the game.

The worst outcome would be a game that felt like the theme was “pasted-on”. So, the design aspects that fleshed out the framework hadto be thrown away. Okay, they are in a drawer waiting to find a new framework to work around, but fundamentally they just weren’t going to be useful any more. Things had to radically change.

And this is where new framework ideas also came along, some of these directly influenced by the Development team Victory Point Games put in place. For example, a player’s units became double-sided and commands could “flip” them (i.e. they could be reprogrammed to perform a different function); player profiles were given a special command that only they could run and which influenced they way they were played, giving each of them a unique flavour; the SMC countermeasures were given their own AI to make them more dynamic instead of static forces locked in what were towns.

The theme itself gives a game life and allows card effects to “make sense”. For example, we could introduce a Trojan Horse (a well known computer concept), but how does a Trojan Horse behave? Let’s create an effect that replicates this behaviour, a behaviour that only makes sense because it’s a Trojan Horse. So now the theme drives the development of the design, and is no longer “pasted on”.

One of the most fun parts was giving all the Advanced Command Cards special abilities that made sense only in the context of a Renegade hacker. Initially only a few had special abilities. But finally all cards were developed and evolved to become the “Execute” effects of the advanced cards. They became a focus of my design because this was one area of the game where players got the most enjoyment – the specials “broke the rules” and empowered players.

As the countermeasure cards became more difficult and the SMCs became more aggressive, I had to increase the capabilities of the players, otherwise the game became too difficult. And this is where the game finally started to shine as an immersive experience. Players became more engaged with their developing deck, their character’s development, with the variability of the setup, the order of cards dealt, the variety of card combinations, and the different behaviours of the enemy opponents, that created a unique gaming experience each time they played.

But, of course, this variability creates lots of problems for the designer! It means ensuring all combinations of effects work together, and work in all situations. I remember one effect that allowed players to recover cards from their discard piles, but this soon ended up on the cutting-room floor as it created infinite loops that would crash the game completely. Likewise, there were certain setups that made one player profile stronger than another, so adjustments had to be made to balance out those corner cases. It was a long long road of playing and playing until I was sick of the game and couldn’t face it any more…… How could anyone love this game if I am getting sick of the sight of it ??!

Then something crazy happened. Those minutiae, the refinement of player profiles, the balancing of the difficulty, the need to cut back from a deck of 50 different advanced cards to a list of just the best 20, the streamlining of all exception cases in the ruleset, suddenly they hit a critical point. All the chaos suddenly resonated together to create a beautiful symmetry, a harmony of logic, that made me sit back and smile and say, “It’s ready”. And not only is it ready, I am no longer sick of it. Suddenly I wanted to play the game again and again and wonder how it all came about. Suddenly Renegade became a game I felt proud of and can’t wait to share.

Sure, it’s more of a heavy-weight. Sure, it has lots of familiar concepts with new levels of complexity. But have we seen all these things working together in such harmony before? For sure this game will not be for everyone. But have I created a game that I want to play? This is the question I set out to answer and which is where we have ended up. I’m proud to hand this over to Victory Point Games who, more than ever, I know will deliver a game with the right rules, the right components, comprehensively tested and made for the kind of gamer I am and the kind of gamer that will love this game. I can’t wait to show it to you….