So this is a bit of a different set of posts for this blog. I’ve been an aspiring game developer since I was 14, but seriously began creating and working to get something published just a few years ago.
Currently, I’m working on a project called 10,000 Goblins, a dice-building dungeon crawler that focuses on trying to create a simpler kind of dungeon crawl. No tiles, no minis, just cards, dice, strategy, and imagination.
I’m now in my 15th month of development and preparing for PAX South starting tomorrow. This is only my second PAX, but it holds a dear place in my heart as it was the first place I tested this game and realized I might have something worth publishing on my hands. Since then I’ve taken it to SXSW Gaming, Chupacabracon, Board Game Bash, SXSW Gaming, and Gen Con. I’ve had one publisher take a copy home and decide to pass on it, but I’m eager to get it in other hands with the lessons I’ve learned since. I thought it might be worth making a post about how I go about preparing my game for events like this.
Rapid Prototyping with Google Sheets, NanDeck, and GIMP 2
Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time in the iterative design phase. Several tools have helped me rapidly roll out new game pieces over a very short amount of time so that I could test, gain feedback, and quickly move on to solutions.
Using Google Sheets, I’m able to create my card data quickly and update it to meet whatever rule changes we’ve decided on. I’m also able to quickly send out updated spreadsheet files to others that can help me spot typos or let me know if something doesn’t make sense. A knowledge of HTML has gone a long way as I’ve been able to leverage that knowledge in how I build my card data for other processes that will harvest it.
For image editing, I use GIMP 2 as a way to mock up images or quickly draw new assets. Being free made it my go to first choice, but honestly at this point I find it easier to work with than Photoshop. I’ve also leveraged the icons at game-icons.net to help my prototypes shine a bit better, though at this point I’ve also got an artist that I’ve leveraged for some of my prototype card art for this game. I wouldn’t recommend going that route until you’re very confident you’ll keep the art assets as it does cost money (yes, always pay your artists, they need to eat too!).
NanDeck is a deck creation tool that has become essential to me for rapidly rolling out those spreadsheets into cards. As a programmer, I find it’s a very simple way for me to create good quality prototype components without having to manage a lot of templates through something like GIMP. The direct connection between NanDeck and Google Sheets means I can update my spreadsheets, rerun my deck’s profile in NanDeck, and have a new deck ready to review and print in an incredibly rapid fashion. Typically, I export these files to 9 card PDF files and print at my local UPS store. For under $20, I can have a new prototype completely printed on card stock, or I can send just my needed reprints for substantially less. That said, I’m certain that my next prototype will be ready for a much shinier model, so I’m looking at getting it made through The Gamecrafter as I’ve had another prototype printed there before and it was beautifully done.
Tabletop Simulator Playtests
Recently I began leveraging the power of Tabletop Simulator. Combined with NanDeck’s ability to create larger card sheets, I can push files to dropbox and create new decks or components in minutes. While you can’t get the feel of rolling the dice or playing with the components, you can certainly figure out if mechanics will work or not. This saved me a ton of time as I found a new boss mechanic to be unbeatable before I actually printed any of the components involved (it’s now beatable, just challenging, for the record). I’ve also been able to share the game with friends who live across the country but were eager to try it out, which has just been an awesome experience. Lastly, it’s the fastest way to create more dice, simply copying and pasting. I can tell you that actually buying blank dice and stickering them takes significantly longer!
At this point, I get things printed, cut out, and sleeved. For this event, I’m reprinting or printing for the first time about 120 cards as well as a new mat to track the final goal’s progress. Once printed, it will likely take me an hour or so to cut them using an old style swing arm paper cutter and then another to get them all properly sleeved. I’m also reusing the game box from another game’s expansion to hold my own, and have created a custom papercraft insert to hold the components.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
This is definitely not something that is easy to do by yourself. You’re going to need bathroom breaks, food, and to remember to breathe. That’s what I’ve got my design partner for. I always go to these with him and occasionally bring along other friends interested in giving it a shot. I can’t count the number of times that he’s brought food to me when I hadn’t even had time to consider food, or noticed a detail that a playtester is caught on that I hadn’t realized was an issue. Having a good friend is a key to success.
Remember to Have Fun
Maybe I’m writing this bit more for myself, but remember to have fun. You’re making games after all, you’ve got to go into it ready to have a good time. My rule has always been to make games I enjoy playing, and I have a blast playing 10,000 Goblins every single time, even when things go wrong. Strive for that and everything else doesn’t even matter.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. If you’re going to PAX South, feel free to stop by the Unpub ProtoZone between 3-7 and check my game out!
I’m planning on posting more articles about my personal game design journey and useful resources I’ve found along the way. Let me know what you’re interested in and I’ll do my best to provide content relevant to everyone’s interests!