Sometimes, I think about game development in a computer-game-y way. Particularly, I divide system—procedures, rules, crunch, etc.—from assets—the pre-provided things you use to engage with those systems.

As I’ve been working on Et in Arcadia Ego, and particularly thinking about how to make room for continuing content, I’ve realized that the continuing content has to be an asset, though not all assets have to be that pluggable. I’ve also realized that making assets is a very different skill from making systems, and engages people differently.

But here’s the kicker: in a game about stories, you have to prioritize the assets first. The assets are (more of) why people play, they’re more of what gives depth, texture and richness to the act of play.

I think, as designers, we run a real risk of being system-wonks to the exclusion of caring about the depth, texture and richness. Not all of us, of course. And that’s also not bad for all of us, either. Some of us do play for the system-as-such.

Right now, I’m working on a spell list for Arcadia with Stras, and his questions about what a spell should do in this game’s stories are driving what a spell can do. And that’s so right I don’t know how I got it wrong. The spell is not just a fictional effect, either: it’s sound and fury, flash and show. It’s something that roots you in the world of the story each time it happens. A spell should evoke wonder and awe. So we try our best to make that so.

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