Development Hell, Part 1

2007 Oct 11

A bunch of people on IRC made me write this game, but it basically wrote itself. Here’s the first part.

A Game About Making Games

Development Hell is inspired by the card game Mao, John Tynes’ account of the heyday of Wizards of the Coast, and too much time spent reading the White Wolf Developers Blog.


Tired of waiting for long-delayed supplements for your favorite game? Annoyed by the direction a new line developer is taking the game in? Rest easy! Now YOU can take on the role of a writer for your favorite game company and share in the fun of supplementing a game line into mediocrity, gonzo insanity, or oblivion! Enjoy the cathartic release of destroying things yourself and spend less time complaining while other people do it!

Development Hell offers you the opportunity to:

  • Include dozens of new character classes!
  • Invent ornate optional subsystems!
  • Split the game line into multiple incompatible lines!
  • Struggle to appeal to a different demographic!
  • Convert your game line to another, more popular game system!
  • Turn antagonist-only groups into viable character types!
  • Hire fans or other people you want to sleep with!
  • “Fix” previously “broken” mechanics!
  • Make the new edition backwards compatible!
  • Re-launch the game in a new era!
  • And so much more!

Game Line Creation

Start a game with a relatively simple or simplified set of rules: Basic Roleplaying, the D&D Basic Set, any of the White Wolf Quickstart booklets, GURPS Basic, Fudge, etc.

Name your game line. This needs to be something specific, not something general like Gameline: The Supplementing. Call it Spirit Knights of the Arctic Wastes or something. Talk a bit about what the corebook of the game line is like. What are the major character types? What are the major factions? What are the major antagonists? What parts of the game world are established from the beginning? If the basic rules you are starting with already establish these details, by all means, go with them.

Writer Creation

Each player, in addition to their role as a character or GM in the game, will also play a writer for the game line. At any given time, one of the writers will also be the Line Developer, but this is chosen after writer creation Writers have two permanent traits, Creed and Flaw, and one fluctuating trait, Mood. Each player should determine these for their writer in discussion with the other players.

A writer’s Creed represents their dominant motivating ideology. Perhaps they are anarcho-socialist, libertarian, fascist, feminist, neo-conservative, po-mo beatnik, nihilist, or polyamorous. Their Creed need not be political in nature, but it can be. It simply represents how they see the world and the subculture that they identify with.

A writer’s Flaw is a common indulgence or complaint that gets in the way of them being really productive or effective in their job, partially because they focus on it all the time. Perhaps they are hypocritical, alcoholic, conceited, messianic, disgruntled, slutty, overweight, mentally unbalanced, or, on a more sober note, dealing with long-term medical problems. I suggest avoiding the latter because it’s not funny, unless you’re a horrible callous individual with no soul.

A writer’s Mood varies, based on whatever’s happened in their life on a given week, including whether people are posting rumors or criticism about them on internet forums. This is, I would suggest, the downside of being a cult rockstar. An initial Mood should be chosen for each writer and a new Mood can be chosen between the release of each new supplement for the game line (explained below), whenever a player feels like their writer has moved on.

Once each writer has been created and given a name, one should be collectively chosen to be the initial Line Developer. This can either start out being the same person who is the GM (because the Line Developer, at least, is likely to change over the course of play) or these can be different players from the beginning.

Character Creation

This happen exactly the same as it normally does in whatever game system you’re using. Feel free to use pre-generated character, if you like, since, with all these supplements coming out, their abilities aren’t likely to do the same things or continue to be relevant for very long.

Creating a Release Schedule

The Line Developer, with the advice of the other writers, should determine how often a new supplement will be released for the game line. Now, in Development Hell, this should be measured in terms of “months” but the group needs to decide what constitutes a “month” of play. I suggest that each scene or significant conflict constitute a “month” as far as the game is concerned. So the characters and GM will play through several scenes before the Line Developer and writers release a new supplement.

In the beginning, it might make sense for the Line Developer to set a varying release schedule. After all, with getting the books printed in China and some writers turning in material late, nothing ever comes out exactly when you intend. Also, in game terms, it gives you a chance to experiment with different amounts of “months” between releases (first one month, then three months, then two months, then six months) to see what fits your group’s preferences best. Supplements can also be moved up or delayed based on external conditions or on the Line Developer’s whim, so you can definitely tweak things as you go.

For each supplement on the release schedule, the Line Developer picks one of the writers to be Lead Writer on the project and gives them a general sense of what the supplement is supposed to cover. The Lead Writer and other writers working on the supplement (which may or may not include the Line Developer) are then free to horribly misinterpret or ignore these instructions as much as they please. In choosing Lead Writers, the Line Developer should probably try to spread the love around, but they can pick favorites if they want to be an evil tyrant and earn the ire of certain writers, who may eventually seek to topple them.

The release schedule for supplements, including the assignment of the Lead Writer role and a basic description of what the supplement is supposed to be about, should probably be determined 6-12 months in advance. The Line Developer should feel free to call a halt to play in between scenes or conflicts (or, if they’re really feeling like a prima donna, in the midst of a conflict) to declare alterations or additions to the release schedule.

Soon To Come…

  • Releasing Supplements
  • Developer Stunts
  • Releasing Errata
  • Releasing a New Edition
  • Ending the Game Line

2 Responses to “Development Hell, Part 1”

  1. dissolvegirl Says:

    This is dense for something that’s writing itself, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re inspired!

    There’s so much awesome in just the writing of the gameline that the ACTUAL GAME, with characters in the system you’re ruining and whatnot, seems almost superfluous. But I guess you kind off need that so you can truly gauge the horror you’re visiting on the fanbase.

    This makes me smile more than a basket full of kittens.

  2. Leigh Walton Says:

    Reading through Tynes’ piece, this is my favorite part: “[Disney’s proposed ‘Magic’] show was about a hip teenage boy transported to a fantasy world. He was the son of some good wizards who, in his infancy, hid him in our world to save him from the bad wizards. Now he was back in his home world, a fledgling wizard wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers as he cracked wise, ate pizza and cast spells while going on adventures with a dimwitted barbarian sidekick…”

    Oh how the world would have been different…

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