Monday, February 20, 2012

Designer's Diary - first blush!

WOE to the LIVING!

Woe to the Living is Touch Paper Press’ third game, and will likely be the first that we get published under our own brand. But, how did we get there? Why Woe and not the first two games we designed? Also, what went INTO Woe to the Living to give it the personality we wanted?

Why a 54 card deck game, that included all of the poker suits in addition to the normal game?

Trevor and I were sitting down and looking at our other game designs not long ago. We had a conundrum on our hands that we didn’t have the experience to handle as fledgling game producers. Both the games we had under our belt were high production value games, which meant passing on slightly higher costs to buyers and dealing with delays in final production associated with waiting for art. More components equaled higher costs to us, but also, potentially higher profits..

That wasn’t really our point though. We weren’t trying to come up with a get rich quick scheme, we wanted to get the Touch Paper Press name out there and associated with quality and fun! We love games and would love to make their creation, distribution and promotion our livelihoods.

Trevor decided that we needed to come up with a game that had a few very specific requirements:

1) A game that could be played on a 54 card deck
2) Simple enough that the rules would fit onto the two poker cards
3) Advanced enough that gamers could get finer nuances out of it
4) Art that Trevor could work with himself, reducing reliance on outside work
5) Cards that would appeal to a wider range of people than just hard core gamers (like we both are) – in this case, “Poker” cards, including suits, face cards etc..

It was a pretty significant list, but we set deadlines, put our noses to the grindstone and got started.

In the beginning…

Woe to the Living started out as “Ashes to Ashes” and involved a ‘circle of life’ theme where people started off as living people, were killed, brought back as Undead and then killed once and for all. It’s an idea that Trevor has had kicking around for years, and the first attempt to fit a game into the parameters outlined above ended with Ashes to Ashes.

So we built up a prototype, sat down and played about four or five games. At the end, Trevor looked at me with his calmly intense gaze and asked the age old question.. “Any good?”

The answer was no. The mechanics, though clever and fitting all of the criteria we listed above missed one important element. An element that is so basic, it’s just assumed. So we went back to our list and added it:

6) Fun

To be fair, AtA wasn’t boring, and it wasn’t too simple, there just wasn’t enough interaction for me. In fact, the mechanics were VERY clever, but not so involved that we would be hard pressed to explain or teach it. We each played our turns and before I knew it the game was done and we never really interacted. Despite being mechanically sound, we agreed it missed the mark. Back to the drawing board.

After the playtest we discussed ways to make it interactive. It was mentioned that we could make it like a hot-potato type game, where you did not want to be stuck with something that someone else had some control of sticking you with – but only if they knew your motives. We didn’t want there to be one RIGHT way to play.

Trevor loves a challenge, so he took the ideas and did his white-paper mojo. Drawing the cards, tons of notes and most importantly, the numbers. Three days later he came to me with the new prototype and a spring in his step!

We sat down to play, and immediately were interacting. I was trying to figure out his goal and thwart it, while he was messing with me. It made me laugh, it made me angry it made me excited to see my next card.


Why the Pulpy images?

Primarily, we both love them. There are lots of other reasons, but they all wend their way back to this one.

I grew up with Flash Gordon, with Buck Rogers and with the comic greats! We grew up together, and drifted apart. Art took on a more solid, defined look. Details became more important than the feel. Quality of paper improved, and the tactile joy of opening those old pulp mags was lost. Newer comics seemed more sterile and less vibrant. Surely it was all in my head, but I couldn’t shake it.

Over the past few years the term ‘Pulp’ has become more prominent. It was slightly redefined to mean more of what they DID in those old mags, rather than the mags themselves, but there it was! Dungeons and Dragons did it with Eberron. The new Steampunk trend called heavily on the old Pulp influences and popular fiction did it too.

Then it happened; I had an opportunity to create something of my own and build into it elements that were important to me. Elements that were so much greater than the whole of their parts. Better yet Trevor loved it too. He showed me Super Showdown and the place he found the treasure trove of comics that fueled the idea and the design.

It was more than that though.. these were images that not only paid homage to an influential time in our history, but they were images that were available immediately. Something we could sink our teeth into, modify, play around with and use! We didn’t want to alter them too much, that felt deceptive to the point of using them. Instead we used a 'highlight' technique where we filtered the central figure, added color and intensity and muted the sides of the images.


It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it - we are very happy with the finished product!

Meanwhile, while Trevor was working out the art, we were on the phone daily talking about the mechanics. Artistically, the game was exactly what we wanted it to be, however, we were left with the challenge of a multi player, interactive, rules light game that would include enough depth that experienced players would be able to get just a little bit more out of it.

Our first version playtest - added the hot potato element without changing the core original mechanics:

Trevor: Any good?
Me: Hmm, better! But it's just..
Trevor: Yeah, it kind of felt 'just' to me too. Ok, I have another idea....

Version 2.0 playtest - scrapped original mechanics, first blush at the hot potato:

Trevor: Any good?
Me: Actually, it's soooo much better!
Trevor: Better, but it's still missing something. Ok, I have another idea....

Version 3.0 playtest - hot potato + hand management with a mind to build tension as the game progressed and the uncertainty of other hands built:

Trevor: Any good?
Me: Bring it in for a high-five, buddy, this is great!
Trevor: Yes! Now why did it take us so long?
Me: *sigh*

It felt good to us, but needed to be tested. So Trevor tested with his wife, I tested with mine, we tested with our brothers, our gaming buddies, our board game design groups until we were happy with it.

After that, we did the kickstarter together (a first for me) and really had a good time putting it together.

And here we are, present day and time. Hope you enjoy Woe to the Living!

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