Muse vs. Focus

Whisper, whisperIf you’re familiar with the classic Greek concept of the Muses, you’ll know what I mean when I refer to my muse giving me an idea for a game … or when I say that I’m waiting on my muse to help me figure out the answer to something I’m working on.

I don’t actually believe that I have an invisible woman following me around, whispering in my ear with new, creative ideas. But, I’ve always found ……the creative process to be as much about feeling and expanding on inspiration as it is about planning and executing on well-made plans. (Most of you are already aware of my own lesson in how plans can get preempted sometimes.)

Castle Danger, 10th Anniversary Edition, Mid-Game Shot
Midway into a game with the 10th Anniversary Edition.

Truth-be-told, I’ve nearly always leaned more toward the muse-side of things when it’s come to game design, just as I had with story- and song-writing back when I did those things more often. I’d just get a new idea and run with it for a while. It meant that I would be very excited about something up until the point a new idea presented itself and then I would go with that one for a while instead. It made for rather scatter-shot results that covered wide and unrelated territory. I think this was mainly a way to exercise the random-idea-generation part of my brain that wasn’t as useful for my day job, which has almost always relied on structure and plans. And the things that I completed that worked the best were those where others showed an interest or where I had a formal commitment to others, such as Castle DangerJump GateSpace Mission, etc.

Land of DangerSo, as I started to outline toward the end of last year, I’m putting more focus and structure around two specific sets of games — Land of Danger and Jump Gate — that I plan to publish myself. I’ve already given a brief setup for the story behind Jump Gate and am listing the 9 games (not counting Space Mission) I expect to have in that line. I am in Colonies of the Jump Gate - Example Player Componentsthe process of lining up some bigger plans in this area, as I continue to work on the designs for the Jump Gate: Colonies expansion and Thunder Run to Gratis-3. As for the Land of Dangers games … current work is on Danger at the Walls, which I will have at game testing events this summer and fall. When it’s ready, I expect to combine it along with King of Danger into a 2-game pack. Beyond that lies some pretty interesting territory that I will be revealing soon: the 200-year history of the land (including why you can’t find it on a map these days), and a line-up of around a dozen games, including a 7-game solo-play series with each game focusing on one of the key time periods in Danger’s history.

Magistrate: Cards, Cubes and ActionsWhile I will be using this pre-planned structure to guide me on what games I will be working on, I don’t plan to entirely divorce my muse either. Of course, I’ll be looking for that spark of inspiration to hit when working on the design for each game, but I will also be keeping my brain open for non-JumpGate/Danger games that would be good to target at other publishers. I think I should be able to work on 1 or 2 games for each of my key themes while still having 1 or 2 other games in development as well.

So, how do you work best on your creative stuff? Get struck with some inspiration and wing-it on that, or plan things out in a structured way before you start?

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