Flex Your Game Design Muscle

An excellent way to flex your game design muscle is to take on a mini design challenge, like a game jam, the One Page Dungeon Contest, the 1KM1KT 24 Hour RPG Contest (if it ever gets going again), or the 200 Word RPG Challenge (due May 28!). Even if you’re not into table-top RPGs, you can learn a lot from mini challenges like these. It’s often said that limitations encourage innovation, and that’s exactly the point of these challenges.

Claustrophobia Cover
Claustrophobia was born out of the 24 Hour RPG Challenge.

A bunch of our products built on work I did for various challenges. Claustrophobia was born out of the 24 Hour RPG Challenge and Lunatic Labyrinth built on the shifting dungeon I created for the One Page Dungeon Contest. Those mechanics also influenced David N. Ross’s design for Forests of Secrets, making the adventure infinitely replayable. You can find the Secret Forest map here.

Lunatic Labyrinth Updated
Our cover designs have come far, from this…
Forest Of Secrets
…to this!

But enough product placement. How about some real tips?

How to Hack Contests

There are some (legal) things you can do to improve your chances of winning a contest. These steps will also help you be a better designer, and are based off lessons I’ve learned through various contests and as a freelance writer for other RPG publishers.

  1. Read the Brief. Then read it again. When you’re done, read that bad boy one more time. Make sure you’re presenting something the judges want to see.
  2. Be Innovative. Create something new and interesting that makes the judges go “hey look, this is cool.” A sense of wonder can be hard to achieve, but look to explore new ground.
  3. Be Grounded. While innovation is important, don’t make something too weird or wacky that people won’t get it. Find ways to ground your design in current conventions that people can easily “read.”
  4. Make Fun. Look at your games collection. There probably isn’t anything boring there, but there are bound to be games that stand out as more fun than the rest. Deciding if a game is fun or not is subjective, but a good place to start is by asking “What’s fun for me.” Build that.

Go out, flex your game design muscle, and have fun. Good luck out there.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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Write – Design – Program is a series of game design, writing, and programming articles that includes interviews, insights, and tips. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it.

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