Post-Mortem: Black Sword RPG Part I, “Getting There”

After twenty years of growing up with computer games and three years of playing various persistent browser-based games, you start to find yourself asking questions. Like, “why can’t we do this?”, and “why does it always have to be like that?” – but when you find yourself saying “I could do better” then you are in trouble. You will never be fully satisfied with any game you play. And you will always have ideas that you think could make whatever you’re playing better. There really is only one way to solve this problem: make your own game.

I’m Joshua, a.k.a. Turin, the designer and project manager of Black Sword RPG. I have been kindly invited to share an article on my experience of designing of my own PBBG and what I’ve learned from it now that I can look back. As I wrote this, I remembered so many things that this will be released in two parts. In this first part I will focus more on the experience of making of the game, and in the second part I will focus more on looking back at the product.

I had my basic game doc finished in November of ‘06. I’m not a coder, so I needed to find a partner that was willing to code what I designed – in return, I would handle the management of the game. I found a coder in February ‘07 who started building the base structure and most of the communications. However, he had to drop the project due to personal reasons. Luckily a coder who had said he was interested after the previous coder had started was still interested and took over. He started construction again in April. After several months, the game was ready to be released in mid July.

One thing that I found helped me greatly is that I did not approach the game from a coder’s perspective but from a player’s perspective instead. When I actually applied that perspective to how I designed the game, it improved the finished product. By imagining playing the feature I was designing helped me figure out what I did and didn’t like about certain features. Whether it was too complicated or too simple and boring, asking questions from the viewpoint of a player helped guide me.

I had lots of new ideas and ways to improve old ideas, but I am very glad I came up with an original feature to focus the game around. Without at least one such idea a game cannot stand out, it looks like any other game. I’ve seen far too many carbon copy PBBGs to allow that to happen to my own! I designed a new feature that I hope has made my game unique, despite its current minimalist appearance. The new idea I had was that of the Black Sword and the King. When a player gains the Black Sword, they become King over the land. They gain the power to make decisions that influence every player in the game. They get a really powerful sword too – but if they are defeated, it is taken from them, or if they are in power too long, the Sword eventually breaks. It really isn’t a new idea. I just brought King of the Hill to a fantasy rpg. But without this powerful center for the game, I wouldn’t have anything to focus the story and other features around. Please, come up with something new or something old that you have vastly changed and improved to focus your game around. There are hundreds of games where you train, level up, and kill monsters. Your question always needs to be “what makes my game different?”

We built Black Sword in the following order: Communication, Stats & Battles, Shops, various pages and special features (the Black Sword) and finally Clans. Splitting up production like this worked very well and helped us have a very structured plan. I’d suggest doing a similar structure if you are ever building a game from scratch. I learned a lot about how a game works behind the scenes. I learned, and am still learning, what can and cannot be done with PHP. Sometimes this is disappointing, but more often than not I found out about a function that suddenly opened new doors for designing. A javascript countdown allowed me to create real-time skill cooldowns that I ignorantly had thought would have to be done with cronjob ticks! I also learned to think about entire features that run behind the game. Recently, we created a system to handle inactive players. Players don’t interact with it, and it’s not a “part of the game” – yet it has become vital to the game as a whole. I didn’t realize such a thing was needed until several months after release. I would not have thought of such a thing when designing the game originally.

Wish there was more?

I'm considering writing an ebook - click here.


Turin is the designer/project manager of Black Sword RPG, a game that brings “king of the hill” to a fantasy world where you can play your character the way you want to, not how the game tells you to.

Monday, May 26th, 2008 design, postmortem
  • Judging from how well the game has been developed, it is obvious you're a great project manager. Definitely some kudos coming your way and thanks for the look behind the scenes.

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Building Browsergames is a blog about browsergames(also known as PBBG's). It's geared towards the beginner to intermediate developer who has an interest in building their own browsergame.


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