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The Amateur Designers Point of View - Or the Flip Side of the Coin


As a novice/amateur module designer (Uluvin: Trouble in the Hills, and a follow-up currently in the testing stage), I read Vic Kappel's editorial with great interest. It was a very insightful and detailed read, with a lot of excellent suggestions for budding mod designers. However, in reading the editorial, it brought a few thoughts to mind. So to offer some suggestions to the player from the viewpoint of a designer, I offer the following, as sort of a reverse-rebuttal to Mr. Kappel's fine comments.

First and foremost; these modules are FREE! Someone spent their time making something for others to enjoy. Do not expect too much, and do not 'bite the hand that feeds you.' Just like some of the demands made on BioWare, some of the popular module criticisms are thrown around without much thought as to what would actually be involved to implement these 'suggestions/demands.'

I'm not sure if Mr. Kappel has made any complete modules, but the process is very labor intensive, and some things that may seem 'easy' to a player truly are major undertakings for some of us amateur designers. Please understand, I am not trying to start a flame war or be critical in any way of Mr. Kappel's editorial (it was very good), just to offer an alternative point of view, and in many cases, expand on a valid point. So, on to the list:

"1. Always give players more than one way to do something . . . Flexibility is KEY." : Using the word 'always' makes this a tough goal to achieve. The phrase 'easier said than done' comes to mind. Every instance where there are multiple options requires more writing and testing, and the whole process gets exponentially longer. Flexibility is a good thing to strive for, but it is a subjective definition. No module will ever be flexible enough for some people.

"2. Play test your module thoroughly before you go final." Agree 100%, always a must. I actually enjoy testing my mods by playing through them a variety of ways. If, as a designer, you don't enjoy playing your own mod, odds are no one else will.

"3. Run every single conversation text and journal entry through a spell checker." Again, easier said than done, and probably the least fun aspect of module designing. Furthermore, I like to infuse medieval-type dialogue into my text, and have many of my NPCs use grammar suitable for their station (i.e., intentionally poor grammar), so much of my dialogue is a mine field for a spell checker. Believe me, I cringe at typos as much as anyone, but it is truly a daunting task for a dialogue-laden module. A designer should try his best, I agree, but even commercial games have typos.

"4. (& 7 & 13.) Give it to your worst enemy (and total stranger) to playtest it . . . " This is a good suggestion if a designer knows someone who fits the bill and can turn around his review in a reasonable time.

"5. (& 8, 9, 19, &20..) When you do receive comments from someone, don't get mad . . . or offended." Agreed, if you are looking for only praise, you will never be satisfied.

"6. Every player has their own playing style . . . accommodate theirs as much as possible." True, but every designer also has their own style. Don't bother playing a mod if the description sounds like something unsuited to your taste. If the mod is described as a hack and slash for 1st level characters, why critique it by saying 'there was not enough role playing for my 15th level thief?'

"10. Use the journal! . . . announce the end of your module." Agreed 100%. A major portion of criticism comes from players being confused about what to do. Make it crystal clear.

"11. Keep the areas to the smallest size feasible. No one likes running 100 miles across a map just to run all the way back again after delivering a box of soap." Again agreed, however, this is another subjective issue. Too little overland travel can cause a claustrophobic feeling, and lose the effect of the scope and size the designer is trying to impart. It is a delicate balance. But please, running back and forth repeatedly over the same area is never (or rarely) good.

"15. Give players different ways of answering a conversation to suit their styles. Linear conversations just make people want to rapidly click Continue to get it over with, and they may miss something you wanted them to know." This is a very good point, and makes me want to go back and look at my dialogue trees again!

"16. Program for the lowest common denominator . . .alternately, make a low-end and high-end version of your module." It is a big request, especially for two versions of the same mod. I know some have done it, and kudos to them. However, if a designer wants a big audience base, it is a must to consider this issue.

"17. Bells and whistles are great, but if the module doesn't flow, it's all wasted." 'Nuff said!

Again, hats off to Vic Kappel, I (and many others) will take your suggestions to heart.

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