The End of Flash: As I Lay Dying!

With Adobe ending support for Flash in just a couple of days (!), I’m finishing up my series on the Flash games I’ve developed today with As I Lay Dying! The previous two articles can be found here and here.

As I Lay Dying! was a radical departure from my previous games, and that wasn’t an accident. After spending more than a year working on Xaat Disi, I was burning out on it and looking for another project to work on. As I Lay Dying! filled that role nicely. It’s a puzzle platformer with a morbid sense of humor and ended up being a lot of fun to develop.

Play As I Lay Dying! (keyboard and traditional mouse strongly recommended).

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The End of Flash: Xaat Disi

With the imminent end of support for Flash by Adobe, I’ve decided to revisit my old Flash games before they disappear.

After my last article about Arachnophilia, some friends kindly suggested that the games might not be lost after all, as stand alone Flash players will still be available and some websites, such as Armor Games, might even be converting their games so they are still playable in a browser. Despite this, I’m going to continue with this three part series because I think the games will be less accessible in the future, even if they are technically still available, and it’s been a rewarding experience for me to revisit some of these old projects that I poured so much of myself into. So, on to Xaat Disi!

Before I even finished Arachnophilia, I was already imagining the next game I’d make. I was still so excited after releasing Arachnophilia that I pretty much started my next game right away, building on the underlying framework I’d just developed. But the vision of the new project was too grand and ultimately I never finished it, despite putting in many, many hours of work. Here’s the story of the game that got away.

Play Xaat Disi.

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The End of Flash: Arachnophilia

Most of you probably know me as a board game designer. But I actually got my start making small Flash games. Back then I basically did it all: design, programming, and even art, for better or worse.

With Adobe ending support of Flash at the end of this year, I decided it was time to take a moment to look back on this stage of my life and the games I created during it. I hope some of you will play or replay those games one more time before they’re lost from this world, likely forever.

Play Arachnophilia (mouse or touch screen strongly recommended).

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Second Chances

For those of us who got our starts in digital games in the age of the internet, there’s something strangely final about printing a board game. With digital games, if you make a mistake or there’s a little bug you missed, you update the code and assets, submit a patch, and pretend like nothing ever happened. But if you make a typo in a tabletop game, you’re living with it. Every time you explain the game, you’re going to have to point it out. You’ll get random messages asking about it all the time. You’re not weaseling your way out of this one.

The big typo of Corporate America.

The big typo of Corporate America.

And that’s how most games stay. Perhaps fondly remembered, but always imperfect. Even for games that get a reprint, it’s often not possible to correct errors, because it’s less expensive to simply reprint than it is to change files. The finality can be relieving, but it can also be frustrating.

But some games are lucky enough to not only get reprints, but second editions. I’m excited to be in the middle of revising Corporate America for just such an update.

Updating a game for a second edition is a great opportunity, but it’s also a daunting task. Where do you start the changes? How much is appropriate to change? Today I’ll discuss my approach to the challenge as I’ve been working with a great community of fans to help


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Designing Under Constraints

People start designing games for many reasons, but a big one is freedom. You see all sorts of games, but notice a striking omission, and think you could make it yourself!

owl_bear_frontThroughout the tabletop hobby there’s a view that a new game is a totally blank slate and that game design is a liberating creative outlet. But this is far from the truth. In reality designers must deal with countless constraints when creating games, both externally imposed and self imposed, sometimes subconsciously.

That might sound like a bad thing. After all, freedom is usually seen as a positive, while we avoid restrictions whenever possible. But constraints can actually be very helpful. They can give you guidance, they solve many problems you probably didn’t even realize were problems in the first place, and they can lead to creative new ideas by forcing you to approach a problem from a new perspective.

Today I’m going to discuss constraints in game design. I’ll start by looking at the many types of constraints all designers have to deal with, then discuss how constraints can be helpful, going over the ways constraints helped shape a design I recently worked on: the Owl Bear for Birds of a Feather.

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Board Game Design Basics: Playtesting! Part III

Almost three years ago I wrote a two part article on playtesting. (Read Part I and Part II.) Today I turn the series into a trilogy.

Why? Well, one of my patrons asked about playtesting. But when it comes to playtesting, there’s a lot to talk about. As a game designer, playtesting is how you spend most of your time. After three years, I have a few more insights on the art and science that is playtesting.

The Ideal

Playtesting is a tool for gathering data, like a telescope. Image from Universe Today.

Playtesting is a tool for gathering data, like a telescope. Image from Universe Today.

Ideally, a game designer uses playtesting as a tool to explore game space, much like an astronomer uses a telescope to explore outer space. A game designer approaches a playtest like an experiment, coming in with something to focus on and a hypothesis; keeping an objective, open mind about results; and taking careful notes with as much quantitative data as possible. Playtests allow a designer to explore what a game can be and illuminate areas that are weak or need work. Ideally, playtesting will provide a designer with the empirical evidence necessary to say with confidence that the game is as good as it can be, or a direction on how to improve it.

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Robot Invasion

Birds of a Feather is one of the few games that make use of a supplemental app. Image from Board Game Geek.

Birds of a Feather is one of the few games that make use of a supplemental app. Image from Board Game Geek.

It will be a surprise to absolutely no one that technology is slowly creeping into the world of tabletop games, just as it has in every other facet of life. What might actually be surprising is how slowly the creep is. Especially considering the wild success of mobile games and the ubiquity of smart phones, you might expect more tabletop games supplemented with apps. Why are tabletop games lagging behind so many other areas where technology is embraced without looking back?

Today I’m going to discuss how digital technology fits into tabletop games. I’ll look at what’s currently holding it back and where I expect it will go once the flood gates finally do open.

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Component Considerations

How do publishers decide which components to use for a game? These days, the possibilities are almost limitless, with many factories having a huge range of in-house products and the ability to outsource for unusual components when necessary. With such an enormous blank slate, how do you even start deciding which components will work for your game?

This beautiful shot of Lanterns, arranged by Andrew Brooks, shows how important components are to many gamers.

Components are very important to many gamers. This beautiful shot of Lanterns was arranged by Andrew Brooks.

This side of publishing has been a slow learning process for me. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a rules and play experience guy. I don’t really care about components. But getting more involved in the industry, I’ve learned that components really matter to a lot of people. Plus, they have have a significant impact on play experience.

Today I’ll discuss some of the considerations that go into making decisions about components. This article goes out to all the new publishers out there.

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Kickstarter Videos

To those of us who follow Kickstarter, it’s no surprise that having a good game does not guarantee funding. Bad games get funded all the time, and more significantly, good games often do not reach their goals. There are many reasons this can happen, but it often boils down to potential players not being able to experience the game before deciding whether to pledge or not. For this reason, looking good has more of an impact on funding than being good.

How do you make your game look good? You make your Kickstarter page look professional and attractive, plaster the page with beautiful art from your game, and make sure reviewers take a look to reassure everyone that yes, this game exists and is playable.

Scythe featured amazing art prominently displayed in its video, helping it to reach more than 17,500 backers.

Scythe featured amazing art prominently displayed in its video, helping it to reach more than 17,500 backers.

But for many Kickstarter backers, a page starts and ends with its video. It offers a potential backer a fast way to learn about the project and creator with minimal hassle. For this reason, your Kickstarter video is possibly the most important part of your page, and it’s worth working hard to make it as good as possible.

After running three Kickstarters I’ve learned a lot about videos, and today I’m going to offer some advice on what to include in your video and what to avoid. I hope this helps you dodge some of the mistakes I’ve made.

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Graphic Design in Tabletop Games

The responsibility of the graphic designer is highlighted in this card from Shadow Throne.

The responsibility of the graphic designer is highlighted in this card from Shadow Throne.

Today I’m going to discuss an often misunderstood topic, graphic design. I’ll get into more details below, but very quickly:

Graphic design is the conveying of information visually.

Given that tabletop games are almost completely visual, it shouldn’t be surprising that graphic design is essential to a successful game. But graphic design is a subtle art, and there’s a lot to discuss about it.

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