Categorized | Blogs

Make Something Beautiful Together

Posted on February 12, 2024 by Flames

Pathfinder Infinite is a community content program over at DriveThruRPG that allows creators to publish supplements for Paizo’s Pathfinder and Starfinder RPGs. This month there is a special spotlight on the creative works of the Team+ crew. We have a guest post about collaborative design and group projects that offers up advice and more!

Team+ GUest Blog Post at Flames Rising

Make Something Beautiful Together

    A creative outlet in any form seeks to make something that evokes emotion. Game design, much like any creative outlet, wants to evoke those same emotions. That said, the methods to achieve them are a bit different from other more “traditional” art. It vicariously rides the lines between inspiration and execution, as both are imperative to game design.

    A game mechanic is much like a seed, planting an idea or story in the player’s mind so that it may grow into something more. This sprout takes shape within the player’s mind, often as a character, creature, or specific scene of action.

    Game mechanics can proliferate into many ideas and concepts simply by being read, and can transcend even those initial concepts when they make impactful moments in actual play. A game mechanic may inspire different ideas between different people, or foster wildly different outcomes in actual play, each one serving as a vessel for someone else to create moments of happiness, excitement, anger, sadness, or incredulousness.

    It is these emotions that game designers seek to create. The ones we live to make and experience ourselves vicariously through others. Any good story involving the game designer’s mechanic is a victory, as these stories ultimately cultivate memories. A hearty laugh, an epic slay, a last stand. These are things of beauty.

    Now you might be thinking “Alright, alright. That’s really poetic. But how do I make things like that?”

    Great question! The answer is it’s hard. But it can also be easy. And it can be even easier when you surround yourself with the right people and plan well. The unfortunate truth for a lot of game designers is that if you want to write content that people will use, you have to wear a lot of hats. That said, don’t be afraid to share your hats!

    At Team+, we are extremely lucky to be a duo of different skills. Myself being strong in project management, rules clarity, mechanical balance, and playtest management. My Co-founder, Derry Luttrell, excels at promotions, narrative design, lore reconnaissance, and of course our iconic illustrations. We are lucky and form a symbiotic team duo.

    But some projects require even bigger collaborations, such as assembling an Avengers-like team of contributors. These projects can be challenging and demanding for lots of reasons, but even the big projects can be managed much the same way small projects can. Whether you are working alone or in a large collaboration, these strategies can help you stay organized and ensure your projects make their deadlines with a quality you can be proud of.

    Project Phases

    I will cover the project steps that we at Team+ use for projects. Each of these steps is necessary for us as a publisher, but some may be less important for other publishers or designers, especially those that consider this a hobby. In the words of Captain Barbosa, “They’re more like guidelines”, so feel free to season to taste.

    Concept
    Outline
    Assignments, Planning, and Recruiting
    Milestone Turnovers
    Final Turnovers
    Mechanical and Copy Editing Pass
    Playtest
    Visual Narrative and Art
    Layout
    Launch

    Concept

    The first step is quite simple, you need to decide what it is that you plan to make. Is it about dragons? Ancient magic items? An expansion to existing classes or a system?

    When trying to come up with a concept, it’s important to recognize the goals of your project. Do you want to target a small niche of people, or a large group? How much do you need to make to satisfy the people you are targeting? What do you want people to feel when they read your material?

    All of these questions are important but there aren’t any wrong answers. Be specific, deliberate, and honest with yourself about what you want from the project. Find the concept that meets your goals and expectations and then begin the next step of your project: plotting the path to its realization.

    Remember, concepts can be emerging, so don’t be afraid to deviate from this path if you feel it will help you accomplish your goals or if your goals shift during the course of the project. Visions are blurry for a reason, and sometimes they take shape as things come into focus.

    Outline

    You’ve got an idea? Great!

    Time to organize that chaos into something a little more tangible by putting down a rough skeleton of the work you plan to achieve into an outline. If your supplement has multiple sections, this is where you will define how much content to dedicate to those sections, what the design approach to them should be, and in the case of collaborations, how to divide up the content for those sections.

    This step should be focused on breaking down your project into pieces that can be broken off and consumed as needed by any of the personnel responsible for the work. For solo projects, this can serve as a way to organize thoughts or even keep track of ideas as they burst forth from the ether of gray matter in your head, but may be less needed if a supplement has a concise goal or a single contributing author.

    Assignments, Planning, and Recruiting

    This is the time to recruit and make assignments if you are the project manager for your supplement.

    When recruiting, make sure to prioritize contributors you work well with, a good working relationship is key to a successful project. Also be sure to consider the content that you want them to make. If they are outside contributors, make an application process that details the project, and choose the contributors who have the most to offer. Passion matters quite a bit, so don’t discount someone on their writing credits alone if you feel they have a good attitude.

    Each person’s strengths in creating differ, so find out what content that person excels at, what other projects they’ve contributed to, and what you think their greatest strengths on the project will be. From here, negotiate how their contribution will be reciprocated, usually through payment. Consider some relief contributors in the event that one of your contributors is unable to meet the requirements during the project or experiences unforeseen circumstances.

    While it can be tricky to make projects that achieve financial success, we at Team+ can assure you that it is possible. It requires the right amount of care, research, planning, killer content, and a bit of luck, but it is possible.

    With that said, do not measure your project success by financial success. Instead, measure it by the number of people who smile because of something you helped create. It might not always pay the bills, but it is something you can take pride in. This is the art we chose.

    Side Note: If you want to produce content that highlights a particular culture or that involves sensitive subjects, be sure to find the right person for the job and consider approaching a sensitivity expert or reader when in doubt. Not only will this give your product additional insight into aspects of these topics, but it will likely produce a stronger overall product for the attention paid to treating these topics with the reverence they deserve. Place care in all things you create.

    Milestone Turnovers

    Okay. Assignments are made and you’ve assembled the team. Time to get started on production! This is usually the phase people are most familiar with. The fun part. The good stuff. To pull from the world of dreams and make them real.

    But just before you and the team fire up the brain forge, be sure everyone understands when they need to check in. It is imperative to make sure that projects stay within reach during this period, as this is the time when your project contributors can become overwhelmed by various unforeseen circumstances or the dreaded “writer’s block.”

    No one, Team+ included, is immune to these things. The truth is you have to plan for things to go wrong. If you have a plan for things to go wrong, it didn’t go wrong! It merely “temporarily displaced the schedule”. Have a back-up plan, and plan for at least one milestone turnover before final turnovers from your contributors.

    The “Milestone” turnover is usually a preliminary turnover of a final turnover to give everyone perspective on how the project is going and how each individual contributor is doing so far. You can also determine whether any portions of the project are in jeopardy or need additional attention, or whether those emerging ideas that may have happened are worth considering before it’s too late. The date of the milestone turnovers usually depends on how many turnovers there are, but if you only have a single milestone turnover, set a date that makes sense for the content you are producing and the magnitude of the project. A good rule of thumb is about the halfway point of the assignment final turnover in the case of a single milestone.

    This is also the phase where feedback is usually involved from the project lead or a mechanical editor or design manager. When giving feedback, consider the ultimate goal of the content you are reading. Try to first to understand, and then proceed with what you feel could cause the content to be misunderstood or fail to live up to expectations. Speak plainly, honestly, and with care. Do your research to ensure that you can provide the contributor with feedback that isn’t strictly negative, but seeks to enhance their vision by sculpting the work into its eventual shape. If you are the design manager or mechanical editor, you will ultimately be responsible for any updates it needs on final turnovers, so give the contributor a chance to keep their voice in the content as much as possible. After all, they were chosen for a reason.

    Final Turnovers

    You’ve done it! You’ve done the thing. It’s done!

    Well, maybe not done, but still! This is a time to celebrate and a big achievement for any project. Projects do not always make it to this point, so find solace in knowing you’ve made it. Thank your contributors, pump them up, and if you agreed to paying them on deliverables, get them paid.

    After you’ve let the success sink in for a bit and celebrated, it’s time to keep going. First, give everything a read, see what you have ahead of you. Try to appreciate what you and your contributors did while puzzling together the shape of your project for the next steps. If you are involved in the later phases of the project development process, consider taking notes on how to sculpt what you have into the final product.

    Mechanical and Copy Editing Pass

    Next up, we have polish phases, and polish can go a long way from making a product that’s strictly useful, to one that’s commercially successful. The first stop on the refinement phases is the mechanical and copy editing passes.

    This phase of the project is absolutely critical. While even the biggest publishers are not immune to mistakes making it into print, this is ultimately what can separate the good from the great. This phase will be highly dependent on the quality of the content you received from your contributors, how well the project managers coached them to hitting the mark, and how much scrutiny the project demands.

    The mechanical pass covers a few distinct markers you want to accomplish to achieve a non-disruptive addition of content to an existing game or a new game. Ask yourself these questions:

    – When reading the content, do I immediately imagine a way it can be used in a game?
    – How complex is the mechanic to run in play and does it slow down play?
    – How does the mechanic compare to other mechanics of its type?
    – Is it distinct enough that it feels unique?
    – Is it of similar power and application?
    – Does it excite you?
    – How does it fit into the project as a whole?

    Each of these questions is important, but will differ from project to project and depending on the content. The best way to design new content is to compare it to existing content of a similar nature and do a lot of comparison research.

    Sometimes, you will have nothing to compare it to, or new information can come to light during the later phases of the project (particularly post-playtest if you run a playtest). Make adjustments as you receive feedback and newfound knowledge. Make the changes while you can, but don’t be afraid to call it quits after a certain point. Perfection is the enemy of good.

    My personal take from a mechanical editing point of view is to retain as much of the original contributors voice as possible in this phase, while making it the most successful version of itself that it can be within the project. You want to amplify their voice, not muddle it. If you aren’t sure of intent, be sure to keep close contacts with your contributors so you can ask questions (if they are open to it of course).

    Copy Editing is a meticulous piece of the process that includes checking for typos, formatting, syntax, and other noted issues. This process depends once again on the project, but essentially boils down to proofing the content so that it is easily functionable, understandable, and consumable by your target audience. Don’t be afraid to hire a professional, and consider using as many basic tools to help yourself as possible if you can’t (remember to spellcheck!).

    Playtest

    This is where the fun begins! At least for your playtesters.

    The playtest phase can be extremely important for a variety of reasons, but mainly it serves to tell you whether you are (or aren’t) accomplishing your goals. Generally, any kind of early feedback is invaluable and project managers that lead this phase of the project should understand that your playtesters being willing to give their time to look at your content is a gift, and actually playing it is a blessing. Getting people interested or willing can honestly be a huge task in itself, but when in doubt, test it within your own circles or personally if you can manage nothing else.

    The amount of quality one can derive from a playtest is exceptional. Much like any process that involves quality assurance, there are things contributors and game designers just don’t always account for. These types of things can go overlooked in grander discussions, but present themselves under niche scenarios or duress. There will always be instances where having a new set of eyes can bring about insight. Contributors and designers are often too close to a project to understand how their audience would consume it, especially in emergent development. Always assume that a person’s feedback represents a portion of your audience, as that is usually the case.

    During this phase you might receive feedback that is negative, though hopefully packaged in a constructive way. If you do, understand that negative feedback needs to be considered just as much as positive feedback, as it indicates a failure of your goals. People will often remember the one bad thing over the good things, so don’t be afraid to change something for the good of the project.

    The one key element you want to keep an eye out for in this phase is passion. If a playtester is passionate about a particular part of content, good or bad feelings, that passion indicates a sense of “self” within that piece of content. That is a good thing. It means that a piece of content struck them in a way that sparked passion. It is passion which an artist seeks above all else. In that same vein, lack of passion, can be key as well. In game design, it would be preferable for a person to be passionately critical but interested over completely apathetic. Even controversial designs, ones that have mixed feelings, are much more preferable to ones that excite no one. Look to stoke the fires of passion where possible and if a piece of content fails to spark passion, consider altering it or cutting it entirely.

    There will be times when feedback from a playtester cannot be incorporated or the expectation of the playtester doesn’t match the design. In those cases, evaluate what the “ask” is and decide whether you can incorporate it (in one form or another). Playtesters might suggest implementations, usually with suggestions that won’t work perfectly, but you can still evaluate the suggestions for their goals and accomplish the goal with another solution.

    Since playtesting increases the quality of a product significantly and it often takes time and enthusiasm, consider rewarding your playtesters for their participation. While it can certainly be nice to get access to content early, even a small concession as a thank you can go a long way. Maintaining positive relationships with your playtesters is important. After all, you will want them to continue to give you that valuable feedback on future projects.

    Visual Narrative and Art

    Time to razzle dazzle!

    You eat with your eyes first is a saying for a reason, but it applies to more than just food. Before your audience is going to want to chew on your content, you’ve got to catch their attention with your cover art or main product image. This is the first impression your work gets to make on your audience, and statistically having a good visual presentation at the start goes a long way to making a person feel secure in choosing your product. If the project has room for expenditures, putting it into your cover has shown to be effective.

    That said, art is not a marketing ploy. Telling a visual narrative in your body of work gives shape to your ideas. It helps cultivate those “imagined scenes” mentioned in the concept phase. There are people that respond to visuals more than any other type of stimulation, so a visual narrative can sometimes be the “number 1” for people in your audience. While a core part of your audience may value the other parts more, art always makes an impact even if only subconsciously.

    An important part of your visual narrative is consistency and meshing well with your content. If your content has a particular tone, make sure your art and visual narratives match that tone. If you have a brand or the project is part of a series, make sure that your visual narrative is consistent.

    Choosing your visual contributors is much the same as any other contributors and may have assignments and turnovers. If your project seeks to have a lot of visual assets that would take time to produce, ensure you include this portion of the project in the prior phases if you want to keep a tighter deadline.

    Layout

    Layout, my old nemesis.

    This part of the phase is the painstaking but rewarding process of putting the pieces together. Usually, this applies to written supplements, but it can also apply to any type of arrangements that may be present in your projects.

    If your body of work is a written supplement, this is where it’s important to make sure that your content is presentable, easily navigable, and easy to use. You want to keep content together, prevent “widows and orphans” so that it’s more legible, and evaluate the consumption of your product. If you budgeted your content with page count in mind, that will hopefully allow you to properly structure the beginnings and ends of your sections.

    You may need to make adjustments in this phase however. If there was content you weren’t sure if you wanted to cut, or weren’t sure if you wanted to keep, those pieces might be pivotal in avoiding having large blanks spaces and gaps. Use your art, sidebars, or other breakout sections to solve these problems as well. These pieces can give the consumer a way to break up the monotony of a repetitive layout, but it can also fill the pages so that they look prim and proper.

    Consider hyperlinking your Table of Contents, creating bookmarks, linking to outside references, and adding any other tools that may make it easier for your consumers to use your product. Oftentimes how usable something is will take a higher priority over how nice or fun it might be. If someone cannot use your content in the ways they want, even if it’s good, they might not be able to justify the extra effort. Layout won’t always be able to solve this problem, but it can certainly make a sizable improvement to your audience.

    Launch

    5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Blast off!

    You’ve put in the time and effort. You’ve honed your content, given it pass after pass to improve it, you’ve shined it up, polished it, and you’ve set the stage for the final frontier. This is the last part of the race, but it is not over until it is over. Do not make the mistake of losing steam when you are this close. Make sure you plan your launch to give it the most success, so all the time and effort that went into your project can be maximized. You owe it to yourself and your contributors.

    First and foremost pick a date and time to do the launch. You ideally want to target a time when the social media platforms are a buzz and ripe for new content. Targeting just before peak hours on these locations can give your project the signal boost it needs to get into the air faster and reach as many people as possible.

    Second, write the snippet describing your product (ideally one that doubles as the product description). Make it exciting. Cover enough of the details to get people interested, but keep enough out of the spotlight so people get curious. If you have art, consider teasing art or using the cover to grab people’s attention. Use what it takes to get people to stop scrolling.

    Third, hit the social accounts to promote. If you have a target core audience or platform, start there first, as your core audience is likely to signal boost you too. Choose long-lived social media that will keep you in the conversation longer, and then use your supplementary social media accounts to drive traffic to the long-lived ones. The higher you signal boost long-lived traffic promotions, the longer your launch stays in the conversation and the more exposure you will get.

    Lastly, but certainly not least, stay in the conversation. Watch your launch progress, but also don’t be afraid to jump in and join the conversation when it makes sense. If you see someone asking questions, be ready to answer. If someone notices an issue (inevitable for any launch), be ready with a response, thank them for finding it, and queue it up for the first iterative patch for your product. If you receive positive feedback be thankful, and if you receive negative feedback be graceful and remember your product may not be for everyone (humility goes a long way). Remain present and active in the discussion so that your audience understands that this isn’t just a promotion job, but something of value, something that you truly care about.

    Once the conversations start to die off on launch week, now you can pop the champagne (if you haven’t already). You’ve done it! You ran the gauntlet on a massive collaborative project and your care and attention to detail has paid off.

    You rock! Not everyone has the capacity to make something beautiful, but you did it. Be proud of yourself and your team. Go ahead and give everyone involved a hearty thank you for their role in the project (don’t forget the playtesters too!). Then, if you are able to, take a break! You certainly deserve one.

    Tags | ,

    Print This Post

    One Response to “Make Something Beautiful Together”

    1. If you ever have any questions about this, feel free to stop on by the Team+ discord and I’ll be happy to chat about it 🙂

    Leave a Reply

    Email Newsletter Sign Up

    Click Here to Sign Up for FlamesRising.com's Weekly Newsletter.

    You will receive horror and dark fantasy updates, news, and more once a week!


    11 Tales of Ghostly Horror

      Reviews Wanted!

      The new Review Guidelines have been posted on the Flames Rising website. We are currently seeking a few good reviewers to help us expand our collection of horror and dark fantasy reviews. RPGs, fiction, movies, video games and more are all welcome on the site...

      What do you get out of it?

      Beyond helping out fellow Flames Rising readers by letting them know what you think of these products, we're giving away some pretty cool stuff. Regular Reviewers can earn free products to review, which is their to keep after the review is submitted to the site.

      Note: We are especially looking for folks interested in reviewing eBooks (both Fiction & Comics). We have lots of great titles in digital format and even get advance copies sometimes.

      Use the Contact Page to submit reviews or let us know if you have any questions.

      The Devil’s Night WoD SAS

      Free Devil's Night | White Wolf