Phase-Apathy Prototyping

I'm sure this is not unique, but this is a prototyping model that I've developed, and very much works for me.

The key is that all ideas live in a Phase continuum all the time. Every single one of my (hundreds of) ideas moves around between these phases, and sometimes an idea gets stuck in a phase. That's ok. Disinterest and apathy about a particular idea is normal. If it passes, the idea might change phases and progress. Or it might stay stuck in a phase. Let it go, and move on to other concepts. When/if you return to it, the apathy might have moved on, and so can the idea.

With that said, let's talk about the phases. An idea visits each phase in turn, but may jump back to a previous phase. Note that, in the following, I use idea/prototype/product pretty much interchangeably. They're simply terms for the same thing at different phases.

Phase 1: Conception - each idea begins as just that, an idea. A single sentence is enough. All ideas are written down, good or bad. To some degree, if I thought of it enough to consider it, there's some value in there. It gets written down in a big list. I just use a flat markdown-formatted text file, because I like simple tools.

Phase 2: Elaboration - after some time, I go back to an idea and add content, explanation, additional subconcepts, etc, etc. This is the first value checkpoint. If I can't think of more to add to an idea, it stays in Phase 1. This is, again, just a simple text file.

Phase 3: Actualization - this is the point that I make a draft, proof-of-concept, physical prototype or mockup. It rapidly becomes apparent whether something is going to work or not. I use various rapid prototyping tools for this, depending on what I'm building.

Phase 4: Consideration - this phase is typically when I sit back and actually attempt to use the product. This may involve playtesting, printing, listening, watching, demoing, or just posting on the net somewhere. The goal is to gather additional information about the prototype to see if an introduction of information changes it for good or bad.

Phase 5: Production - I take the prototype to a full production product at this point. It's generally in a usable state (though may not be complete), and it's had enough 'grab' that I feel like the product has some viability, though it may well be niche.

Phase 6: Introduction - a viable product is made into a release that is put out for consumption. As I mostly make digital products, this means posting it on the internet somewhere -- App Store, Play Store, web store, streaming site, etc. Occasionally, I do make physical products, but my inclination is to use on-demand manufacturing to essentially transform physical products into digital ones. At the point of release, the market takes over and it becomes, to some degree, a marketing problem. That's a post for another day.

And there you have it. From idea to market. It's a little rambling. I've only had half a coffee so far this morning.

Meat Cookies

When growing up, we used to get factory seconds from a cookie factory. It was great! Slightly misshapen, but usually tasted just fine. They came in a big box, within a sealed bag. The box was so large, us kids would just leave it in the freezer, half-opened, and take out a cold cookie or two or eight (don't tell Mom) when we wanted some.

The trouble started when my mom bought a few roasts from the butcher, wrapped in butcher paper, and crammed them into the freezer, not knowing that us kids had unsealed the box of cookies. The unsealed cookies quickly took on the flavour of pork roast. You HAVEN'T LIVED until you've had sugar cookies that tasted like soggy cardboard and raw pork.

We used to dare each other to eat the Meat Cookies. In hindsight, not the smartest thing.

Nobody got sick. I think. Pretty sure.

Pungeons & Flagons: The Story

This weekend, I published my first tabletop game, Pungeons & Flagons. It's a classic indie RPG, in the same genre as various story-heavy games, like The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and A Penny for My Thoughts. Like Munchausen and it's sibling game, Once Upon a TimeP&F is a competitive storytelling game: the various players compete for control of the story... by interrupting each other with puns.

But every good storytelling game needs a good story.

It was a dark and stormy night. The rum and ginger beer had run out, so I had to explore other alternatives. The keg was dry, and so were the other steakhouses, so I went up the lane to my favourite tavern, The Banned Bandit's Band Band. While The Band wasn't playing (they were banned), the Band was packed. There was a new contest at the Band. I had hopes that the new contest was not a no contest like the old contest contested. I was pleasantly surprised. By the contest; the overly hopped beer at the Band was a bitter disappointment. From that day forward, I told the story of Pungeons & Flagons. But sometimes backwards.

The Procrastination Engine

I have this need to create. Unfortunately, I also have a lot of things that consume my time, leaving 'spare time' immensely valuable to me. I've devised a system that allows me to get things done while also balancing the things that are important to me. One of these days, I'll code something up that does all this (Timeful was close, but alas, Google bought it and wrecked it), but I thought I'd write it down here - it's a useful technique on paper too.

  1. Create a TODO list with everything you might want to do, INCLUDING entertainment time. Open-ended things should have time limits. Large things should be broken down into single-task chunks (or treated as open-ended tasks)
    • Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • Play Overwatch with my son for an hour
    • Update calendar
    • Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • Start Too Quiet proof of concept
    • Write blog post about productivity system
       
  2. Assign each task an expected utility value of 1-10. In economics terms, utility is the expected satisfaction or value that one gets out of a thing. Important things have more. So do really fun things.
    • [3] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • [3] Play Overwatch with my son for an hour
    • [8] Update calendar
    • [2] Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • [5] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • [5] Start Too Quiet proof of concept
    • [9] Write blog post about productivity system
       
  3. When you have time to do a thing, always do the highest value thing on the list.
    • [9] Write blog post about productivity system
       
  4. Every time that you work on something on the list, adjust its value:
    1. If you complete the task, remove it from the list
    2. If you don't complete the task, reduce its value in the list. I typically reset entertainment tasks down to 1, but halve the value of ongoing 'productive' tasks.
    • [3] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • [3] Play Overwatch for an hour
    • [8] Update calendar
    • [2] Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • [5] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • [5] Start Too Quiet proof of concept
    • [DELETE] [9] Write blog post about productivity system
       
  5. Every day that something is on the list, increase its value. I typically double values because that makes important tasks increase faster than non-important. However, that means that the lowest value tasks hit the top value in about a week (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128), as I usually max out at 100. But do what you want.
    • [6] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour
    • [6] Play Overwatch with my son for an hour
    • [16] Update calendar
    • [4] Edit podcast episode for an hour
    • [10] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)
    • [10] Start Too Quiet proof of concept

      Edit: doubling values falls apart in long-term usage, as tasks quickly get to the max and just stay there. Something needs to be figured out for a long-term time scale. Go logarithmic instead of exponential, perhaps?
       
  6. Repeat, adding new tasks as needed. If something new is really important, feel free to add it to the list with a value higher than 10, so that it can work alongside things that you've already ignored for a few days... but I'd argue that such tasks shouldn't really go into the Procrastination Engine if they're that important.

This system allows you to simply add stuff to a list, and forget about it until it's time to do it. The more things get ignored, the more pressure is added to do those particular things.

Note: a todo list that allows priority sorting is useful, but most only give you a low/medium/high priority. That's not really good enough.

Rediscovering a hobby

It all began with The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Somehow, I found the game during my wandering on the internet, and after purchasing a PDF copy of it, I wanted to write a companion app that would take the provided story hooks, randomly select one and provide it to players instead of them having to select something from the included story hook appendix. So, I made it. Then, I contacted James Wallis to get permission to publish it [I did get permission. Look for it later this year. --ed]. A few weeks into the project, however, Mr. Wallis offhandedly mentioned the Bundle of Holding website. My wallet has never been the same since.

I was one of those 'aspiring gamer-collectors', where one acquires games in order to read them and never actually plays them (I used to play regularly, but stopped after University as friends moved away). As a result, I amassed a large collection of cool indie RPGs, The collection started getting too big, and I didn't even have a regular gaming group, so I got more choosy. I started looking at reviews, then I found the wonderful world of Actual Play podcasts. What better way to evaluate a game then to listen to a group playing it. But my particular strange tastes didn't have too many podcasts that played them. At the time, the only podcast I could find that had a play session of Monsterhearts was the One Shot Podcast. After listening to it for months, it rekindled my love for role playing games (and even got me out to some improv classes) . Then the creators of the One Shot Podcast Network, James D'Amato and Kat Kuhl, started talking about a game they were going to launch on Kickstarter called Noisy Person Cards. It struck me that I could leverage what I built for Munchausen and make something that worked for NPC. A few hours later, I had it, and the way things go, the app became a stretch goal on the Kickstarter campaign [the goal didn't get met, but I still have the prototype kicking around].

Sometime after the NPC campaign, I decided that I wanted to actually play the games in my collection and to that end to try to get through my backlog, I spun up the InDices Podcast, recorded a few episodes and started a regular-ish Monster of the Week campaign. It went a bit on hiatus over the summer, due to vacations and other work issues, but I hope to get it going once again soon. But I digress...

Because of that earlier interaction, with NPC, James D'Amato and I got to talking idly about wanting a peer group in which analog game developers could just bounce ideas off of one another and help get past the barriers that have tripped them up as (usually) solo game devs. 10 minutes later, I had acquired gmparty.com, and had a prototype teaser site up within the week and a youtube channel waiting for content. A bit more scheduling work and I had lined up a couple of groups for the first two episodes to be recorded in early September, as soon as I got back from a family vacation. The show worked out beautifully, And that brings us to today, where I'm considering where GMParty will go, what will happen with my game prototypes, my companion apps, and all the relationships I'm building in this new aspect of my world.

I am EXTREMELY thankful for the luck that has brought me to this point, and especially for the people that have been there since the beginning and along the way (though it is very much the beginning still).