Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Mistakes, Process, Simplicity, and Communication… A Game Development Chat with Corvus Elrod

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 23, 2011

I had a conversation with indie game-maker Corvus Elrod this last week, which can be read over at his website. This one is mainly about design and development thoughts in general (though we do talk about Frayed Knights a little):

A Chat with the Rampant Coyote

The focus (in my mind) is a lot about process – improving the process of game development. Corvus is finally finishing his big tabletop storytelling game project, and I’m finally finishing my big CRPG project, and we reflect on what can be done to make things better.

It’s a little embarrassing, but he does ask me the hard question about simplicity in design. I preach simplicity. I warn newbie game devs to keep it simple. And then I produce a gigantic project like Frayed Knights. What gives? Am I just a hypocrite?

Well, yeah, in some ways. It’s also taken way too many years of my life, so let that be a lesson to you. But here, I actually try to amend my principle a little: Simplicity is not necessarily the end-goal. Simplicity of design – being able to clearly see the “core” of the game – is critical.  If you have that solidly in mind, then things like “feature creep” are no longer a big concern. You’ll have thousands of ideas, but be able to tell the difference between which ones truly improve the game, and which ones clutter it or distract from it.

At least that’s my thought now. You can read more over there. I’m not an expert designer, or an expert businessman, or really an expert anything, so I welcome feedback and suggestions.

Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Calibrator said,

    First of all: Simplicity doesn’t mean simple. What you are talking about it getting priorities straight!

    With all the games experience I have by playing for more than thirty years now even I can’t say what will be commerically successful or not.
    Example: A revolutionary game like Ultima Underworld raked less money in that it should and even if it wasn’t a flow it didn’t earn the money it should. It was clear to me from the very first time I played it that this will be the future of games. Not just role-playing games but also action games and adventures. Well, adventures mostly died shortly afterwards because companies like LucasArts and Sierra got out of this business but they were reborn thanks to smaller companies, as of today practically only mimicking what LucasArts and Sierra did to supply a lot of fans like myself.

    Still, Ultima Underworld is a cult favorite and sites like yours are still praising it rightfully – and you don’t do this just because the game “was good” and you “had fun playing it”.
    You praise it because it was far ahead of the rest, designed by clever people not just concentrating on the money. They were on a mission to change the gaming world and they did succeed. How can one not like and honor that?

    So, producing simpler titles may enable you to produce games at all and put yourself on the map – but will these games change anything? Perhaps sometimes but as a matter of fact only cutting edge stuff changes anything and with cutting edge I don’t necessarily mean symphonic orchestras producing the musical score and thirty graphics artists working on different trees.

    Remember Pong? Even that was cutting edge at some time. Simple? Yes. Cutting Edge? Very.

    Yes, dear reader: Producing a simpler title may bring you on the map but it may also be a complete waste of your and our time with nobody paying for your uninspired crap. We don’t need additional Tetris clones, even if they are on new systems like iOS.
    If you want to produce crap try to get hired by some of the big companies in the field but if you are able to develop on your own you should indeed get your priorities straight and decide with what clever ideas you should fill your game and which ones to leave out.

    Simplification is for getting a larger piece of the market but if you want to create a game that is liked you sometimes have to do your homework.

  • Eh none a mouse said,

    A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away – Antoine de St-Expurey (said in Leonard Nimoy voice from Civ IV)

    So is FK:TSoS-D still up for Wednesday release? Want to schedule my week appropriately for some indie rpg loving 😀

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    @Eh none a mouse

    I have always adored that quote and try to live by it whenever I design something.

    I also love these three quotes on simplicity:

    Simplicity is not the goal, it is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations. – Paul Rand

    Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.
    From the great Leonardo da Vinci himself.

    Make it as simple as possible. But no simpler. – Albert Einstein

    Will Wright has always been one of my favorite game designers, and I think one of the best, because he doesn’t design games at all. He designs toys. He designs a system of conditions, factors, and rules about how things work and sets the player loose to have their own fun. It is supremely simplistic, like carving wooden blocks or filling a sandbox and setting a child in it with a shovel and pail. It is also the most fun.

    It is one reason one of favorite games is Princess Maker 2. There are certain “rules” but you make your own fun and own goals. Producing a horrible, spoiled, and evil daughter is just as valid a goal as producing a good-hearted princess.


    Good timing on the release! My studio just finished a few weeks of crunch time and pushed our project out the door! (Nothing like no days off for 3 weeks and 18-20 hour days! You know . . . in case anyone was wondering why I suddenly wasn’t here writing my wall of text comments lately . . . .)

    The (pompous and picky) professional art designer in me cried a little when I saw you’d used the Papyrus font for the trailer, but I’m eagerly awaiting getting my hands on Frayed Knights!

  • xenovore said,

    At least it wasn’t Comic Sans. =P