Dev Log 2: Stars Fall Up (redesign 2.0 finalization)

This is the second Dev Log for Stars Fall Up. One good piece of criticism I got about the last Dev Log was that it was more about my personal philosophy on game design, rather than focusing on my process or the mechanics. It’s true, and the latter is where I want to be focusing with these Logs.

However, I’m also letting myself write about what’s buzzing about in my mind most, so a balance may have to be struck. This Dev Log is more about “game writing” than “game mechanics”, and I’m fine with that.

Now the draft layout is completed, the zine appears to take up 18 pages. Under 20 was my goal, as we’re already pushing the stricter limitations of a zine’s image. Thanks to the editing efforts of a couple other BLP Contributors I’ve cut the original draft of 11 pages on MS Word down to 7.5, which feels like a significant victory. But damn cutting down is hard.

Writers call it “killing your darlings”, a phase that’s stuck due to its emotional veracity. I tried to inject some humorous aesthetic into the writing , but ultimately cut most of it because it didn’t serve any mechanical purpose; it didn’t tell the reader anything important. And when you’re cutting down individual pages by word count, empty phrases become obvious targets.

This process made me think about how vital the narrative aesthetic was to the overall game. You don’t want a TRPG text to read like an operational manual for a dishwasher. Clear and concise seems to be the obvious goal, though I felt that SFU’s writing needed a bit more stylistic punch to it. It’s not “white fantasy” like DnD, easy to recognize and digest, so newcomers need something evocative to orient themselves. And SFU’s intended audience includes people who aren’t familiar with TRPGs, which increases the need for engaging writing.

Another piece of feedback I’m incorporating is the addition of diagrams. There are a couple that will provide a visual to help explain the core mechanics of the game, and a couple more that summarize certain procedures. The educational concept of differentiated learning styles comes into play here; some people comprehend information much more easily through pictures than text, or text than audio. Sometimes the best way to cover your bases is to combine approaches.

The concept of scaffolding also comes into play here, as summarizing information in a different format (plain text summarized by a diagram, for instance) can greatly improve reader comprehension. Diagrams are also easier to quickly refer to during a game, rather than hunting through text. An editing suggestion that I ended up rejecting was to sequester all examples and diagrams to one section of the book. It would make them even simpler to reference, and I would definitely do that for a longer text, but this zine is meant to be read from cover to cover in one go. To that end I feel it’s better to include examples and diagrams where they’re most immediately relevant for greatest comprehension.

I’ve got plenty more to say, but I may save it for another Dev Log. Right now I’m starting on the creation of the actual zine, so off to the art store for some appropriately-sized and weighted paper.

— Nagi