From Concept to Kickstarter: A Teachers path

I’ve been teaching at VFS for just over a year now, as one of the two Game Theory Analog instructors. I’m also a board game designer (sorry – analog game designer!) and have a partner named Sen-Foong Lim, and we have two games currently published: Train of Thought and Belfort (along with an expansion to Belfort called, appropriately enough – Belfort: The Expansion Expansion). Right this moment though, we have two new games that have launched on Kickstarter and I thought I’d give you all a little history on how each of these games came to be!


The two games are Tortuga – a dice rolling pirate game, which can be found HERE

and This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us, which can be found HERE

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Think Design : Alternative Blindness


Okay, pop quiz. You just inherited $50,000. Do you:

a)    Invest the money and spend it later.

b)    Spend most of it now on stuff you’ve wanted for a while.

Congratulations to anyone who invented their own option c) and chose that instead.

When we are presented with either/or choices, we often fail to think outside the box and look for other alternatives. This is called Alternative Blindness, and it can make us miss some great ideas in favor of ones that are just so-so.

You may have heard of a little challenge called the candle test: You’re at a table in the corner of a small room. On the table, there’s an ordinary candle, a book of matches, and a box of thumbtacks. Your challenge is to light the candle so that it can burn down without dripping wax onto the table.

Figured it out? Here’s the answer:

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The Graduation Ceremony of Class GD31

Class GD31 saw the end of 2013 with a bang by celebrating their Graduation from the Game Design program.  The night was a mixture of looking back at an amazing year of work accomplished, friendships forged and exciting opportunities to look forward to.

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Games, Stories, and Game Stories

This post is an excerpt from the Foreword to “Side Stories: Short Fiction by Game Developers”.


What’s the story of Tetris?

Success disappears, and failure piles up.


Game developers are unique creatures, just as games are a unique art form.

And games definitely are an art form.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Game developers tend to be voracious consumers of media, especially entertainment media.  Most game developers I know are also rabid readers, cinephiles, comic book nuts, music lovers, and news junkies.  They are cultural sponges, soaking up everything that modern media has to offer, and letting it all simmer in a dynamic mix of references, influences, information, trivia, memes, styles, and themes.

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How Neptune’s Pride 2: Triton ruined my life

Last spring the Game Design staff decided to check out a RTS space strategy game called Neptune’s Pride, there was alliances formed, secret alliances, fake alliances. Friendship and camaraderie quickly became deceit and trickery, and piece by piece each galactic empire was picked off and eliminated. It came down to 2 girls on one side of the map, 2 girls on the other side of the map, and me smack dab in the middle. The game ended when everyone woke up and discovered that I had launched a massive attack in the middle of the night to grab the required # of planets to win.

Fast forward 1.5 years later, and Iron Helmet Games has just released the Beta version of their newest game Triton: Neptune’s Pride II. Once again the Game Design Staff decided to start up another game and check out the latest version. Some participants from last year chose not to get involved this time due to the obsessive nature and combativeness of the game, but eventually we got 8 of us together and kicked off another galactic battle.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 6

Finally, it’s time to add some finishing touches to the scene.  It’s been about 8 months since I began this scene (yes, I started the original white box way back in January 2013, finished around September).  So you can imagine how good it feels to wrap this project up after such a long time.

Today we are going to add a few elements to provide even more depth to our composition.  The first is fog, and no we are not using fog in a Silent Hill kind of way where we are trying to get back framerate, we are using fog here to simulate atmosphere that would naturally occur outdoors (have a look at the mountains, the further they are the more they are in haze.)

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 5

When it comes to building an environment, lighting is one of those aspects that can make or break a scene.  You can have the best looking assets, but poor lighting can destroy all the time and effort you put into your props.  On the other hand, a scene composed of mediocre  assets can look great with proper lighting.  This is because lighting will create the overall impression of your scene to the viewers’ eye at a quick glance.  Because of this you want to push your lighting to define the shapes and silhouettes as much as possible, using light and dark to give the illusion of depth.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 4

Now that most of the immediate play space is decorated, we can finally have a step back and look at the background elements.  Keep in mind that the player will never reach that area so we are going to stay fairly loose and try several layouts.  The background’s main purpose in this case is to immerse the player to make them feel as if they are part of something larger.  As a level designer you always want the player to look in the distance to reveal other parts of the world and make them want to go there.

Vistas and backgrounds should have strong silhouettes and be readable from afar.   If you squint at the backdrop you should still be able to make out the shapes.  Each of the following images has a depth pass accompanying it.  This is to show that you want to build your background in layers to give a good sense of depth and parallax.

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Think Design : The Overconfidence Effect

I’m going to make a prediction. If I’m right, you have to read the rest of this post. Deal? Okay, here goes…

If you work in the games industry, you have been on a game project where at least one of these things happened:

  1. You had to cut features.
  2. The game went over schedule.
  3. The game went over budget.

I knew you’d still be reading. Almost every project in our industry suffers from one or more of these outcomes because of something called the Overconfidence Effect.

Here’s a challenge for you: The Sydney Opera House began construction in 1959. The original estimate stated that it would be completed in 1963 for a total cost of about $7 million. When do you think it was actually completed, and how much do you think it actually cost? Try to be accurate. I’ll give you the answer later.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 3

We previously ended off our scene by refining our blockout with custom meshes, and did a quick pass on integrating medium details into the level.  At this point the overall layout should be set and now it’s time for the nitty gritty.  I only get to doing finer details once all gameplay spaces and layouts are finished, that we can keep our focus on the task at hand.

After having played The Last of Us I was inspired to have an overgrowth through the level.  After all, this level takes place in the mountain tops and having some vegetation would give the sense that the area has been around for quite some time, nature slowly re-claiming its place.  Not only that, I had to find a way to break up the ground surface, since this is the player’s immediate view I did want to invest time into making it interesting.

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