Played the sixth session of the Agora v2.8 rules this evening. We managed three scenes in three hours, which is better (we've been managing two scenes in three hours) but not where I want the game to be. For all of its complexity in play, I am trying to make it relatively quick -- I want scenes to range from 20-40 minutes, not an hour.
And so this is the place, right, in game design where you have a relatively functional set of mechanics, but it's not firing on all the cylinders. You playtest and playtest and playtest, making rules tweaks and adjustments, and you keep plugging away at the playtests, and eventually you start to lose sight of the target. The game generates play, sure, and you become very familiar with the type of play that the game is (presently) producing... but that's not it, and you're not really sure what "it" is supposed to feel like any more.
And then you wonder if there really is an "it" that you were aiming for when you wrote the original version of the rules three years ago, because at this point you can't remember what the impetus was, except that part of the rules started out as a little mental exercise, a joke really, and kind of grew from that, and maybe that's all the game really is: a joke grown out of proportion. Was there ever a game? Was there even an idea of what the game would look like?
And you look at your sales record, and you look at all the avalanche of games that are now being produced, and you wonder if the effort you're putting into this is worth any expected payoff — not just in terms of sales, but in play and players and fellow-gamers and sharing something that you think is cool. Because, if you can't remember what that thing was that you want to share, what are you even working towards, here?
And then you notice that it's two in the morning, and you should probably be in bed already, and you should take it on faith that you're not a moron and there is an experience that your game is pointing at, and you're probably missing the forest for the trees at this point. The playtesters keep coming back, right, so the game is entertaining enough — just with rough spots that need smoothing out. And after the playtest, you had some really thought-provoking discussion and you took good notes and really, you should come back to this in the morning with fresh eyes.
And you tell yourself that, but you don't get up and go to bed. You sit and you stare at your notes and the character sheets, and you keep wondering: what is this game supposed to do?