I’ve locked down the first playable draft of microscope. There are bits I know are missing and want to investigate later on, but this should serve as a starting point.
Getting a playable draft was largely a process of elimination — I’d written lots and lots of stuff about how microscope could/would work, but instead of trying to edit all that material into a working draft, the trick was to throw it all away and write brand new text based on what I had decided. I literally took all my files, put them in a archive folder, and then started writing the rules from memory on a blank page.
There is a thing that happens during every project, where you start excited, chug away, but at some point hit a zone where you can’t remember what the hell was interesting about this idea in the first place. I have a variety of tricks for dealing with it, like writing the key “hey cool!” ideas as bullet points and then going back and contemplating them whenever I forget why I thought this was a good idea in the first place. If you write your “hey cool!” points very well and really capture the idea they can get you out of trouble over and over again.
At times the “why was this interesting?” has been worse with microscope than my other projects (like InSpace or all the different adventure releases) for one simple reason: it’s intrinsically boring. I don’t mean the idea is boring, it’s just that pure rules are boring.
Pure rules lack all the things that are interesting in actual games, like the setting or the characters or the reason two guys are burning to duel to the death on a cliff overlooking a storm-tossed sea. Rules are just a trellis that the game grows up and around, ivy-like. Is the trellis itself interesting to look at? Of course not. In play the rules will make all that exciting stuff possible, but just sitting on the page they’re an abstract promise of future meaning. Which, as I said, can be pretty boring. Admit it: your eye jumps to the examples when you’re reading rule books.
And this makes me wonder: is this why so many game designers shovel in entire worlds with their rules? I had assumed it was because they thought gamers would be bored just reading the rules, but now I wonder if they were actually bored writing the rules. They needed a concrete game setting to stay interested.