SeaFall Preview: JR's Journey
What was it like to work on SeaFall?
In our SeaFall designer notes, Rob, or this week, JR, offers an early glimpse into the world of SeaFall - without spoilers, of course! SeaFall: A Legacy Game is available for pre-order at the PlaidHatGames.com store. Pre-orders of SeaFall from PlaidHatGames.com receive a full set of over 100 upgraded metal coins. US orders over $100 are eligible for free shipping.
Last summer Rob asked me to help him "get SeaFall to the finish line," and hired me to be his developer. I’d previously heard of SeaFall, probably just like you did, from the buzz surrounding the game and some friends of mine who were playtesters for Plaid Hat Games.
Though I’d published a few small games and done a bit of dev work for friends, SeaFall was immediately the most ambitious, largest project I’d ever worked on. Just the initial prototype kit and rules that Rob sent over were impressive. It’s a big game, and a beautiful one, and I started where I think any evaluation of a prototype should start - I played the game.
JR, a longtime friend of Plaid Hat Games, helped get SeaFall to the finish line. Here, JR (bottom left) takes a selfie with Plaid Hat Games staff and volunteers.
I grabbed Cody and Aubrey (great friends of mine who both were interested in SeaFall and had a few weeks free last August) and played through 18 sessions of the game in about 3 weeks. I filled my notebook with questions, commentary, suggestions, and clarifications, and each morning Rob and I met for a few hours to talk through what had been done the day before. It was a crash course in how games are made from one of the greatest game designers in the world, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some mornings I was just fighting to keep up and avoid saying anything stupid.
As we played through that first campaign, a lot of things became clear: The game was incredibly ambitious, told an exhilarating story, and was big. B-I-G big. By the time I played it, Rob had already been through a few rounds of streamlining with the Plaid Hat Games playtesters (who did a tremendous job providing feedback and critique the whole time I was on the project) and he’d significantly scaled down the scope of the game.
Even so, it was apparent that a big game left a lot of room for ambiguity that needed to be reigned in and defined. So, I set out on my second big task for Rob - creating a “punch list” of all the questions, issues, unresolved design things, and anything else we came up with as we talked. This list was as big as the game it came from - we ended up addressing hundreds of things over the next three months, all with a simple goal: to make SeaFall as accessible, streamlined, and worry-free as possible for the thousands of people who will play it.
Outside this, much of time was spent on the two books that come with SeaFall: the rulebook and the Captain’s Booke. When Rob and I started he had his own rules document, replete with shorthand, commentary, and artifacts from previous versions of the game. It was great for testing, but of course a final needed to be written. I wrote the first version of the final rulebook with Rob’s assistance, and we relied on brilliant editorial work from playtesters, consultants, and translation staff in getting it as right as we could.
On top of this, the Captain’s Booke and its nearly 500 entries had to be edited, checked for clarity and consistency, and constantly updated to stay current with ongoing changes to the story of SeaFall and the rules, outcomes, and encounters that the Booke describes
This was the most challenging of all the parts of SeaFall for me, and the thing that absolutely had to be done right. If you’ve ever played Tales of the Arabian Nights or Above and Below, you’ve seen a story book with entries that are more-or-less unrelated to each other, or that exist in 2-3 entry “story chains.” In SeaFall, not only do story chains like this comprise most of the book, there are also some spoilers for upcoming parts of the game, keys and triggers to things later needed, and a bunch of other things that would be spoilers if I mentioned them.
This meant the Booke needed to be 100% accurate and that we absolutely couldn’t afford the kind of "fatal" mistake that could cause a player to spoil themselves too early in the game, or worse, to miss a crucial trigger or story entry needed to progress the campaign. I put a lot of work into getting this right, just like everybody else on the project, Rob most of all, and I’m really happy with the result.
There were a few times during the fall that I thought we were "done" with SeaFall, but true to his nature, Rob never accepted "good enough" as the endpoint for this game. On one of our trips together, Rob told me that often, "the last thing you add to a game is the best," and I think this rings true of SeaFall. You’ll have to play the full campaign to judge for yourself, and I hope you do!
Much like an umpire at a baseball game, I think it’s true that my work is best done if nobody notices my contributions at all. If SeaFall binds you in its spell, tells you a story you fall in love with, and provides a few dozen hours of fun for you and your friends and family, without ever seeming too complicated or too hard to understand, then I’ll be ecstatic.
I hope you enjoy playing SeaFall as much as I enjoyed being a part of making it. Huge thanks to my wife, Amy, my playtesters, Cody and Aubrey, the Plaid Hat playtesters, the staff at Plaid Hat and Z-Man Games, and of course to Rob for inviting me to join him in this crazy endeavor, and to his family for putting up with so many visits and hours working in their kitchen!
If you’re interested in more of what I learned while developing SeaFall, please read my article with The League of Gamemakers.
And so concludes our SeaFall previews! SeaFall: A Legacy Game is available for pre-order at the PlaidHatGames.com store. Pre-orders of SeaFall from PlaidHatGames.com receive a full set of over 100 upgraded metal coins. US orders over $100 are eligible for free shipping.
Previous Designer Notes:
- #1: Setting Sail
- #2: Your Province
- #3: The Weather Turned
- #4: The Merchants Guild
- #5: The Builders Guild
- #6: Endeavors
- #7: Exploration and the Captain's Booke
- #8: Emnity
- #9: Advisors
- #10: Legacy