Thursday, June 3, 2010

Looking Back at Old Work

One of my housemates has a semi regular complaint that she makes. She's a semi-professional artist (meaning she makes money for bills and her pets off her art, but has a real job. least how I mean it) and has been making a name for herself in the various furred communities for her work. The complaint she makes happens when she stumbles across some of her old work online, something she did months if not years ago, something that is totally not up to her standards anymore. She's improved beyond that point, and can't believe someone would be happy with 'that level' of work from her for what they paid. Honestly, the tirades amuse me a bit, but mostly as  if nothing else it shows she has integrity in her work. She's even, on a couple of occasions, told people she'd clean up the picture for them to make it look better.

Now, how does that relate to game design? Well, only tangentially to be honest, but it is the idea of it that got me thinking and brought up the small anecdote - combined with the fact that some rules I made for Roll and Keep a couple years ago are now being used by a different house mate for a game they are running. The main point though is that you can learn a lot by looking back at your early work. So often when it comes to artistic endeavors we only look forward, constantly improving and seeing only the flaws when we look at the stuff that we made previously, but there is also a lot of good there too.

I think this is easier to see with design, because design ultimately is the idea. It's not like other art forms where the art is the expression of the idea, with design the art is the crafting of the idea and giving it form. Stretching it out into something more, something tangible. Now, I'm not saying there is no expression in design, just that it is a slightly different beast.

Looking back over those rules I made so long ago, I see things I disagree with now. Things I wonder what I may have been thinking when I did them, errors and mistakes. Things that should be tweaked for balance. But I also see some things that make me go "huh, that was pretty clever", themes and ideas that I still see in what I do today (now granted, it's not like I am super crazy prolific designer and I've yet to release anything beyond privately), ideas that keep cropping up in my own work. References to other works. There are a few ideas in that old set of rules that have merit, that could be moved or expanded. There are others that weren't expressed right, but the core idea is still sound.

The same is true for games and running them. How many people have ran campaigns where there was a theme, an NPC, an idea, or just a sequence of event that you wish you'd ran better? Have you ever gone back and looked at your old campaign notes, found the things you didn't execute well and try to fix them up?

The fact is, the past, especially our personal past, is a great source for material for future works. Grab that NPC that the PCs just bypassed from a previous game and slip them back in, try to improve upon them and make them work. Take that plot hook that just never panned out. Reread your old stuff for ideas on how to go into the future. It is all there, and it is all valid to look to for inspiration. So why are we just letting it sit there and collect dust?

For those interested, you can find my housemates art here and here, though I don't think she updates Deviant art very often.

There probably won't be an update tomorrow, a friend of mine is getting married saturday, and think we're doing a ton of run-around prep stuff for it Friday.

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