Spotlight on Success interview - NCR
Dave Holland of Indieboardgamedev.com invited me to participate in an interview for NCR. Check it out and please show some love to his Facebook page while you're at it! Thanks! Go HERE to read the interview on his blog. For those of us who are lazy (myself included), I'll just copy and paste the whole thing right here:
- N3on City Rumble is an impressive throw-back to a lot of 90's beat-em-up games. Just looking at it screams "Every Arcade Smash of the 90's!" Did you go into the development process knowing this was the right theme or did that come later?
From the very start, I wanted to create a fighting card game that nodded to the silver age of arcade gaming. The characters and setting came to mind first, followed by a question: Can I make this a tag team match between 10 fighters, each with their own unique move lists? Nintendo beat me to the punch on the videogame market with their latest installment of Super Smash Bros for the Wii U, where you can have 8 players on one giant map duking it out. It’s messy fun! But for a card game to emulate this, I knew that N30N City RUMBLE would be at constant war with accessibility vs complexity. It was gonna be a challenge to balance these two opposing forces.
And it was. It was a nightmare! (laughs) I’ll talk more on the struggle later, but yeah, I endeavored to make the “Super Smash Bros of tabletop gaming,” featuring parody cameos of some of our favorite and lesser-known mascots from videogames and cartoons from the 80s and 90s. It wasn’t an attempt to cash in, mind you. I envisioned this Captain N and the Game Masters kind of crossover universe, N30N City, where all these guys co-exist in a perpetual state of gang warfare! NCR is Wreck-it-Ralph meets Kung Fury!
- N3on City Rumble has dice, cards, a play mat, etc. What kinds of decisions did you have to go through to ensure the components were both appropriate for the game, but within the budget?
Ah, the playmat… fellow noobian game designers should learn from my mistake here: no playmat is better than a shitty playmat. It doesn’t matter if Pixel Tactics or Card Fight! Vanguard got away with it – you won’t. You’re not big time and the backer demographic has different tastes/expectations than the gents who shop retail or at FLGS. If you want include paper components in your game, you better have a low price.
Rudy and I intended for the playmat to be a “learning tool” and that one extra dose of player immersion with its sweet arcade schema. Plus, it fit neatly in our 5 x 8 in game box, a measurement that was deliberate so we could ship the units using USPS’s small priority mailer. But it was a mistake in the end. Players were unsatisfied with the quality of the playmat, and critics condemned its glossy surface because it made filming the review that much more difficult. Lastly, the game box itself, while being shipping friendly, also upset gamers because the cards do not fit inside when sleeved.
Lesson to be learned? You can’t please every critic, and you certainly can’t please every gamer (laughs), but what you can do is learn from other game designers/publishers to avoid as many errors as possible. Anyway, apart from the playmat, I’m pleased with the quality of the card stock and materials used in the manufacturing of our game.
-Speaking of components, everything looks impressive. Who did you use for production and what was that like? Did you consider other vendors? How did you choose and what was/were the deciding factor(s)?
I’m a huge spammer when it comes to getting quotes. I sent out for quotes to literally every manufacturer on James Mathe’s list from his Minion Games website. I’ve posted the link to this and also his list of reviewers at the end of the interview. At first, Rudy and I were running with Ad Magic, however, due to their high MOQ and our low backer count from the Kickstarter, we were forced to wave goodbye and look elsewhere. I would happily work with Ad Magic again should we yield more than 1000 backers for the next game.
In the end, we joined forces with 521 Promo, who has undoubtedly the best customer service I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. Kelly, the founder of 521 Promo, was my correspondent, and over a span of 8 months we racked up over a hundred emails. NCR was the first analog game that Rudy and I had ever worked on, and Kelly was there as a guardian angel to help walk us through all the hurdles of getting our components printer-ready. I’m convinced that Kelly is the Bionic Woman – how does she make the time to work with so many designers on a personal level like that?
-What does starting a game (or at least, this game) look like to you? When did you begin testing the mechanics on other people? How much playtesting did you do?
NCR started as the character sketches above, but the actual mechanics for the game – and every game I sit down to work on – begins as a Game Design Document (GDD). I was an English major in my college days, with an emphasis on creative writing and screenwriting. I was taught the elevator pitch and different exercises in rhetoric courses to break down an idea into a nut shell. I now believe that if you can’t describe your game idea in one or two sentences, then you probably need to break out the carving knife and start cutting away at the fat.
To accomplish this, I start a GDD by filling in a bunch of blanks, such as:
- What is the genre? Is it a card game, a role-playing game, a miniatures warfare game, etc.
- Theme, Setting, Aesthetic? Where does the game take place? What year is it? More importantly, how will you present the mechanics and story of the game through art? Many game designers ask this after the fact, and I think they are missing out on some potentially amazing collaboration between themselves and the artists. College students ought to know that the secret to writing a good essay is to barf out all of your ideas in a Red Bull frenzy, and then after you have laid everything out, get to polishing it up for presentation. Once you have a skeleton (mechanics), then you can give it flesh (aesthetics) and bring that Frankenstein to life. This is what I was taught in nearly every writing course.
This design philosophy is well and good, but Rudy and I prefer to be in the same alchemy lab, working side by side on mechanics and aesthetics. We like to ping pong ideas back and forth and we don’t mind stepping into each other’s corners of the room. It takes a lot of trust and ego-checking to sustain this sort of teamwork on a project. He and I are both digital artists who’ve worked with an assortment of clients, including indie videogame studios. You’d think that artists have a lot of say in the way a game’s mechanics are visually represented. (Laughs). Sadly, we just create “content” for you gamers. There’s no real art involved – it’s simply work.
But the Top 10 videogames on everyone’s list are masterpieces because of the collaboration between artists, designers, coders, and the music composer! The classic SNES RPG videogame, Chrono Trigger, had the “Dream team” working on it: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama. These are some heavy personalities, all hanging out in the same room, sharing a singular vision. CT is the perfect example of harmony between art and game design. Rudy and I want to capture the spirit of that in Booyah Games. Game design is an art, so there is no reason to divorce mechanics from the art department. Sorry for the rant, but I’m very passionate about this!
- Plays like? It’s always refreshing to hear “my project is unlike anything you’ve ever heard of,” but in reality, your idea has roots in your personal tastes as a human being. Share with playtesters and proofreaders what inspired you to create your novel game. Your peers will feel more comfortable knowing that the game is comparable to something they have already played, rather than feeling like they are entering a Lawnmower Man experiment. Plus, it will help you to stay consistent in your GDD and not copy too much, nor deviate from the game’s sources.
- Age group? This helps you to set boundaries for yourself while writing the GDD and for the art team as they create components (assets) for the game. When Rudy took the reins for NCR’s theme, I changed the game rating from Teen to Mature to allow him to have an open canvas to express his unique reimagining of the game. He had this pulp fiction in mind: tons of muscles, sweat, and BOOOOOOWBS (laughs). I didn’t want to hold him back, worrying about “lost sales” due to offending someone over his artistic expression. If I was in it purely for money, I’d be teaching English in Tokyo, Japan. Do you know how many times I’ve heard the phrase “don’t quit your day job” attributed to the table top game industry? Or how many times have I heard the industry called a hobby? Well, if that’s the case, then Rudy and I are gonna do whatever we like and let backers on Kickstarter decide whether our products are cool or not.
There are plenty more blanks to fill out, and I could spend pages going over each bullet point. But to save you time (and space in this interview), I recommend reading the book “Game Design” by Lewis Pulsipher.
-How long did N3on City take to make from concept to sending final files to the vendor? Did you ever feel like giving up? Did you ever have to start from scratch all over again?
I started NCR on 12/31/13 and I shipped out the last copy of the game on 10/06/15. It’s impossible to calculate the total amount of man-hours put into NCR. I started working on the game literally one month and three days after my mom passed away from pancreatic cancer. I promised her the night before she died that I would stop being a loser and take life more seriously. Until then, I was a nobody, a part-time worker with a college education that drifted through life creating art for other people’s dreams.
I’ve personally, by myself, made a fully-functional NCR twice over. The latter was the version that appeared on Kickstarter on July 15, 2014. You can view the entire progression of the game on my deviantART account. Then I went and remade the game a third and fourth time with Rudy between August 15, 2014 – May 06, 2015. The reward was bitter sweet, but NCR was my first foray into board game design – I didn’t expect a parade and red carpet.
I was more than emotionally invested in NCR. My soul was committed. To me, there was no failing the Kickstarter. There would be no relaunch, no reset button. When my mom died, I inherited $2000 from her estate. I invested all of it into Booyah Games, LLC. I could’ve easily pissed away this small fortune, but instead, I used $500 to pay for the cover art by GENZOMAN, $400 for the original animated project video, $130 for the Stretch Goal gif, and the rest on ads and legal fees to jump-start the company. I’m all in.
I realize that I’m the “ghetto” game designer; that I don’t have a family, a good job, two cars, a house, and a white picket fence. That’s OK, because for me, I’m here to create a lasting impression of myself. Same with Rudy. I’ve worked at a college library for six years now, but I still come home feeling unfulfilled. There, I have no outlet for creativity, no voice of my own, no investment whatsoever. I just clock in my hours, collect a paycheck, and then rinse and repeat. Like I said earlier, if I was in it for money, I’d be a teacher – and I’m 100% certain Rudy would continue to produce art for Konami and other AAA-list videogame studios. Yet, Booyah Games means more than money to us.
It’s our legacy.
Did I ever feel like giving up? Not until a couple weeks ago, when NCR was issued a 3/10 rating by Board to Death TV. Honestly, I fancied suicidal thoughts for a couple nights after watching their review. I was very spiteful, but I also felt like I let down Rudy and my mom. I gave NCR everything I had to give, and the end result is a chaotic game filled with diamonds in the ruff. It’s not the perfect first game by any means, but I didn’t – and still don’t – believe it’s a 3/10. Too much heart and soul was put into this game. There’s just no way it scores a God Hand rating.
And yet, I’m remarkably satisfied with that IGN-style rating for our beat-em-up dream game. It kinda fits the bill for our niche title, don’t you think? God Hand and Double Dragon NEON are two of the most recent brawler games that I can think of, and both have lousy ratings. (Laughs). But this won’t be the case for Pocket N30N City RUMBLE. We learned from our mistakes and will be back with a vengeance in January 2016!
-What was the most frustrating thing about making this game? What was the most rewarding?
Shipping was SNAFU. Get this: I initially printed the shipping labels from the USPS website, only to be told they were the wrong ones (say no to Express!), so my local post office gave me 190 customs forms to fill out all over again...
Guess what? Turns out the postmaster gave me the wrong ones! I had to go back and manually rewrite all of them for a third effin time! I woke up at 3:00 am on Thursday, August 14, 2015, and rewrote the labels till 8:30 and then spent six hours at the post office, waiting for them to get their shit together. The saddest part about this tale is that I could have printed the labels online and had USPS pick up the games from my doorstep… at a discounted rate. The more you know.
Needless to say, I will be using a fulfillment center from now on.
The most rewarding experience, for me, has been reading the comments of praise by our backers. This is our game. They dedicated as much time as Rudy and I did while getting the game ready for print. They were patient, offered suggestions, and were there to keep my eyes open during the entire roller coaster ride. I don’t consider NCR a solo venture by Booyah Games, though it sounds swanky to say that. It’s a group project, spear-headed by Rudy and myself, but without our crew, the ship never would have left port. The backers didn’t just give us funds to get NCR created – they gave us their unconditional support. And for that, they have our utmost respect and devotion. We will continue to produce games that we hope will live up to their satisfaction and the expectations they have mustered from the NCR Kickstarter experience.
-Was this your first game you've released on your own? If you had one piece of advice to give someone else that might be trying to start in game development, what would it be?
Yes, NCR was our first title and my first leap into board game design.
If I could offer one piece of advice it would be to stop taking so much advice. Stop hovering around board game Facebook and Google+ groups. Don’t subscribe to every piece of advice your online designer friends give you. Many of the board game designers I have encountered online have been very stuck-up and unfriendly. They give the board game industry a bad first impression to up-and-coming game designers. I have witnessed them berate a Senior high school student with a great idea for a board game due to his inexperience (i.e. age). I’ve seen them spit on the avatar of a passionate designer with an adult-themed card game. I’ve also taken advice from many game designers who have no published games under their belt and zero real-life experience on Kickstarter. Some of which, cost Rudy and I money out of pocket for our Kickstarter.
Make your game. Too many inventors have given up on their ideas just before they discovered the light bulb. Remember, those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. I recall a fat kid that used to laugh and snort at skaters when they biffed it while practicing at the skate park close to my high school. He couldn’t kick flip for the flub of him, and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t own a board. For the love of all that is holy, don’t be the snorting fat kid. Be the happy fat kid who creates badass games! If you have the next big idea, you should go for it. Seriously. No matter how old you are - whether you are 15 or 85 – or how much experience you have (or don’t have), you should be on Kickstarter pitching your creation to the world! What do you have to lose? No, what do you have to gain?
You already have one backer. Just hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. I’m known as “Davy Wagnarok” across all social media platforms.
List of Card/Board Game Manufacturers: http://www.jamesmathe.com/hitchhikers-guide-to-game-manufacturers/
List of Table Top Game Reviewers: http://www.jamesmathe.com/o-reviewer-reviewer-wherefore-art-thou/
Lewis Pulsipher’s Author Page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-Pulsipher/e/B008LLFRV2