In the beginning there was Superman, the human ideal, the Übermensch. Strong. Fast. Absolutely unassailable. A hero among men. And yet, he was just too good to be true. He couldn’t be wounded, never tired, and, well, he could fly. Who or what could defeat him? Nothing.

Until someone invented kryptonite, shards of his home planet that tapped his energy and turned him to butter. Or was the idea there all along? A necessary complement. A literary foil. Something that we could all relate to.
Now, think of the last time you enjoyed a small dish of apple sauce. Unadorned. No sugar or spice or anything nice, just a spoon. How did it make you feel?

Well, you might say, that all depends on the apples. And if you’re from New York or Washington State or a few other places where the apples are absolutely delicious, enough to make your mouth water, you may not need anything more. Just sweet, delicious apples. Yummy. Would you like some more?

Now, what if we combine the heroic nature of the man of steel with grandma’s applesauce. Would it be better? How? Do we want bigger, better, faster applesauce that can stop a locomotive? Outpace a speeding bullet? Leap tall buildings with a single bound? No, that’s just being silly. What then is our point?

Just this: Nothing stops us from inventing the perfect applesauce hero. Sweet, delicious – and nearly unassailable. We say nearly because of the foil we added. Two cups diced apples, a half cup water, and Superman seeds (which impart über characteristics and, at the same time, emit the green rays of kryptonite). Wow! We might just be onto something here. Because every part of this experiment has it’s parallel in the context of game development.

Superman is the stock game mechanic that you find yourself using time after time – because it always works. It has never let you down. And kryptonite represents that don’t-forget-this rule that you have right there, right on top, in your bag of tricks. There it is, the Kr element that always always always affords great game balance.
And the applesauce? How does that fit in?

You dice the apples and cook them down by first identifying, then applying, the theme elements that will make your game appealing – sweet and delicious. And to think, grandma’s recipe pointed the way.

So, just remember to stir things up a bit (to differentiate your latest game from all your others), and to simmer the end product long enough to make your mouth, and the mouths of your playtesters, water like there’s no tomorrow. When you need a linen napkin, you’ll know you’ve got it just right. Or very nearly so.

Ready? Come on, let’s head for the kitchen. Where did I lay my cookbook?