While waiting for everything for Teratozoic to get here, I’ve been developing a card-drafting game. At first it was built around storytelling/story-building, a version of my first game, Paved With [my…] Intentions, expanded to create a complex multi-act storyline instead of a vignette… but I ran into technical and existential problems with crafting the story-space my imagined/envisioned game would take place in, so I dropped the theme—but my brain kept thinking about card-drafting games. (I’m sure, in part, because I bought several other card-drafting games to study, and have been playing them a lot.)
So over the last week, a complete game sprang forth from my mind & hands, with almost fully functional mechanics and no theme. By mid-week I picked a placeholder theme and re-skinned all the cards, and now I have a fun, fast-paced, competitive card-drafting game in need of more play-testing. The proto-theme is ‘Black Friday shopping’ and the best name I’ve thought of so far (which I haven’t yet Googled) is “Black Friday Blitz”, and it’s got an interesting double-drafting mechanic, where players are drafting from two different decks at once, passing cards in one based on where they’re sitting at the table (as in most card-drafting games) and passing cards in the other based on how fast they drafted from the first deck; it takes the fast-paced mechanic of card-drafting and adds a race element to it.
So far it’s tested pretty well, and I’ve already ironed out some kinks & shortcomings in the initial design, but the artwork is … basic. Nearly every “graphic” is actually a dingbat from one of the many dingbat fonts I have (or found, specifically for this project), which is nice on one hand (all vector graphics!) but is also … fairly weak, and somewhat incoherent (since they come from several different dingbat sets) and not really the sort of thing that, say, people would get excited about on Kickstarter. If I wanted to produce/sell it as more than a prototype, I’ll have to redesign the cards, probably from the ground up, and create 24 unique pieces of art (several of which represent abstract concepts, not easily presented by representative art styles) for the various cards in the current version of the game.
Unfortunately, right now I don’t feel like my own capabilities as an artist are well-suited to delivering on the ideas contained in “Black Friday Blitz”. This becomes a self-fulfilling situation; this is in the nature of being a creative person, that you can usually only do what you believe you can do. Additionally, the tone & style of the artwork which I envision matching that of the theme & gameplay is one which … I almost wouldn’t want to put my name behind. Which I almost certainly wouldn’t seriously consider buying, myself. I have no idea how to sell it, or who to sell it to. Which makes, say, including the cost of paying to hire an artist in a Kickstarter goal to publish the game… even more difficult.
I’ve been targeting POD for this game, trying to keep the rules simple enough to present on cards (since DriveThruCards doesn’t print rules), so I wouldn’t need any big, up-front investment to publish it. That doesn’t work without art. To hire someone else would probably end up costing $1k-$3k, which is no big deal if you’re raising $15k+ on Kickstarter to pay for mass-production, or if your last game was profitable, but my last game raised ~$6k and is projected to net me around $300 (in part because my printer died right before I needed to be able to print ~300 shipping labels, an unexpected extra expense)—I can’t afford to pay an artist to work on this game with the last one’s sales, and I can’t reasonably expect this one to outperform the last one by 3x+, when I can’t imagine who would even buy it. So then we end up back where most of my work lives, with me doing all the work—in this case, all the artwork.
Which brings me back around to my old existential crisis. What am I doing this for? How much effort do I want to put into creating a game I don’t think people will actually want to play? What’s it all for/mean?
I mean, I’ve been really excited & motivated to design the game, and even to play-test it. Like, after the last time it was played (Friday night), I made a couple of small adjustments to the game flow (and wrote out the basic rules for the first time) and I’m still itching/eager to test the new setup. Like, super excited to improve, polish, and play my new game. So on one hand, that’s great. I still love designing gameplay, and playing (at least at first) my new game designs.
On the other hand, I can’t seem to sever things like choosing an art direction and creating the art from the ideas of marketability, audience perception/snap-judgements, and the reactions game reviewers had to Teratozoic’s art style. Which makes even thinking about what the card art should look like transform into this evil, hulking, acidic thing I don’t want anything to do with. It associates the idea of taking the game from a prototype stage to a publishable stage with a feeling of failure, with pain, with suffering, with the idea of how far off the rails my life went to try to raise ~$6k for Teratozoic and how much worse trying to raise $15k+, especially for a much-less-obviously-marketable game, would be.
Now, there are potential alternatives. Perhaps I’ll come up with an easier-to-conceive-of-marketing theme to paste on, over the top of the existing mechanics & theme. Perhaps I’ll start taking mind-altering pills every day which will help me grind through the 24 pieces of art without collapsing into a pit of despair—and can then just dump the thing on DTC and forget about it. (That’s actually my current best-case plan.) Perhaps I’ll put together a compelling package & sales pitch for the game [mechanics] and sell the thing to a publisher which will figure out a workable theme, hire an artist, and otherwise take care of the things which are bugging me, right now. Perhaps I’m just experiencing a temporary mental and emotional slump, a part of my lifelong journey of depression, and I’ll have no trouble completing the game if/when my brain stops doing … whatever it’s doing. Perhaps I’ll be okay with setting the game aside once the gameplay has reached a satisfactorily polished conclusion, without art or public availability, like most of my prototypes.
I’ve definitely set up my life & business so as to not be dependent on continuous sales or product releases. I certainly don’t create with the intention of making money or accumulating fame. That I create at all has more to do with maintenance of my own mental health than with any other factor.
I think that right now I’m just testing out the limits. I don’t want to go *too* far into doing things which upset me or otherwise compromise my mental (&physical) health, but perhaps it’s not a good idea to shy away at the first signs of discomfort. Perhaps I should try to stretch myself, being wary of going too far.
Last time I went too far.
With Teratozoic, I went too far. Much too far.
This time, perhaps I can figure out a way to publish a game without going too far.