Friday, May 3, 2013

WhimWars - An interview with Chris McGinty

by Nathan Stout and Chris McGinty (of AccordingToWhim.com)

Hello all! Nathan here. Today I want to ask Chris McGinty some questions about his involvement in the development of WhimWars, the paper and pencil intergalatic space battle game.

NATHAN: Sir McGinty, could you please turn down the Duran Duran you have blaring and answer a few questions about your part in the creation of WhimWars?

CHRIS: *singing* “Having so much fun. Greetings from the big bang generation.” What are you saying? I can’t hear you over the music?

NATHAN: When Nathan first told you about his plan to make an 'old school' paper and pencil type game what did you think?

CHRIS: I was interested in working on it. I like to work. I prefer to do creative work. The more creative work we do, the less compelled I feel to work normal jobs. If our creative work ever starts paying us, I’ll have no need to work a normal job. My philosophy is that I’d rather be a little broke and doing creative work than to be rolling in the dough and not doing creative work, but you have to find a balance.

Having said all of that, I’ve been trying to move our creative work in a “product based” direction for a while. One thing I’ve suggested is designing a game. Nathan and I spend a lot of our fun time playing games, and he designed a couple of Role-Playing Games with his friend Wade years ago. It seemed to me that if we enjoy games, and we’re both interested in creating games, that we should do some work.

“WhimWars” isn’t the first game that we’ve worked on, but the other game was presenting problems that I wasn’t sure how to fix. Having a new idea to work with gave me a little hope, because it might not present the same problems as before. Luckily, I had a little time open soon after; otherwise, I would have certainly arranged some time off to work on the game.

NATHAN: Did you play games similar to this when you were a kid?

CHRIS: The only thing I remember playing of the paper and pencil type was a variation of “Mastermind” that used numbers instead of coloured pegs. I think that I generally prefer game pieces to writing down information, but I do have a spirit of DIY about me, so I certainly don’t mind pencil and paper.

There were two things that I think drove Nathan’s desire to make this a paper and pencil game. The first was a sense of nostalgia from playing games of this nature. The second was to keep our own overhead down to present a quality product cheaply. Surely, I would love to make a good looking game with pieces and gadgets, but my business sense says to work up to that. Nathan’s approach to keeping the overhead down works with that philosophy.

NATHAN: What was the MOST important aspect of creating a game like this? That is to say; what did you want to make sure was a part of the game (mechanics or theme wise)?

CHRIS: Probably the same things that are important to any game, the balancing of resources, strategy, and chance within the game. For this particular game, we had to couple that with what we wished the product to be. After our initial play-test session, I wrote the rules to reflect the last way that we play-tested the game. This was as a means of getting the rules down, but I also turned my attention to revising the rules to reduce the number of pieces in the game, as that was Nathan’s primary goal with the game.

NATHAN: Which mechanic or aspect to the game did you and Nathan butt heads about, something he wanted or didn't want and something you did (or didn't)?

CHRIS: I don’t think we butted heads at all. There were two things that had to be done for the game. The first was that we had to keep it as simple as possible. The second was that it needed to present situations for the player play out. In each case, whatever rules we tested had to achieve both of those things. I think Nathan was the advocate for simplicity, while I was the advocate for adding elements to the game play. In playing opposite roles, we created a push and pull that settled the game into both simplicity and game play. As I said before, when I finally sat down to write out the rule set that we were basically happy with, I no longer needed to wear the hat of game play as much, so I put on the hat of simplifying the game.

For instance, I added a rule that said that you could never have more than 6 Tactics Points. This did two things. As far as game play, it limited the length a game could play out to a small effect. As far as simplicity, we had been using multiple six-sided dice to keep track of Tactics Points. Since one of the goals of the game was that the players have everything they need within the box the potential for endless Tactics Points meant we had no way to know how many six-sided dice to include in the box. Limiting the number of Tactics Points to 6 meant that we only needed 3 six-sided dice in the box (two to track Tactics Points and one for the Tactics Rolls).

A lot of the ideas that we had for game play were easy enough to file away in our heads for development of the advanced game, so I was never upset with cutting any ideas. If they didn’t make the game fun, they got cut. If they made the game fun, but would work better in the advanced version, they got cut. I do feel that the basic game is still a little chance heavy, but keeping it simple was the goal.

NATHAN: How did the testing of the game go? Who did you play test with? How long did you play test?

CHRIS: The game testing went pretty easy. It was me and Nathan and our good friend Dr. Pepper. Yes, the soda. We started out pretty simple: place the ships, roll dice to try to hit them. We built on the game from there. We soon found a game that served our purposes.

The second step of the process was writing the rules out, which worked as an impartial editor. Either I could explain it easily, or I couldn’t. The third step of the process was Nathan writing a simplified version of the rules that could fit on a strip of paper to be put in the box.

The fourth step was testing the comprehension of the rules. I took the game to my dad, and asked him to read the rules and explain to me how to play the game. I caught a couple of problems during this phase, and we made adjustments accordingly.

NATHAN: Did you have major changes due to the play testing?

CHRIS: Like I said, we started out with a grid, placed ships, and dice to roll to hit the ships. Everything was a change from that point on, and I think all the minor changes created a major change from the beginning of the process to the end of the process.

We started with a six by six grid, and we found that ships were destroyed too easily. We moved to a ten by ten grid and found that it created a little confusion as to which die roll was which. We settled on a twelve by ten grid.

The original intent of the game was total annihilation of your opponent’s ships. The problem is that the game needed resources of some sort. Nathan didn’t want to use “money” in the classic sense, because it would require pieces to track the money. We turned to number of turns as our resource. Limiting the potential number of turns each player might have created a need to have games that ended without total annihilation.

This doesn’t even mention many of the rules mechanics that we tried out that didn’t work. The game state in the middle of the process was just as different from the beginning of the process as it was from the end of the process.

NATHAN: What would you like to see happen at this point (to the game)?

CHRIS: We need to get to work on the advanced version or versions of the game. Beyond that we need to start on the next project. My feeling on creative projects is to start one, get it finished, and start the next one. I’m not always good at following that process, but I feel it is the right way. Having one game that plays well is great. Surely, with an enjoyable advanced version, we could do well if word of the game got out. What happens next though?

People won’t buy the same game over and over, so we need to present them with the next thing they want to buy. I mentioned the other game we worked on before. We ran into problems with how it played. We might run into similar problems with our game designs in the future. Getting started is the best way to find what is worth pursuing.

Nathan had a deadline in mind for Whim Wars, which was the May 2012 Dallas Comicon where we were on the seller’s floor. Luckily, Whim Wars was an easy design. If we had had the same problems with it as the last game, we might not have made the deadline. So looking to the future sooner than later is the next step.

NATHAN: Thank you for your insight. You can turn the music back up (unless it's their album Thank You).

CHRIS: *singing* “She’s watching the detectives, oh, he’s so cute.” You’re welcome! I’m having trouble hearing you over the music though!

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