explosivelimes

Jeff Dehut, Illustration & Design

Ludum Dare!

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If you have been keeping up with my Kickstarter for Pocket Dungeon Quest I'm sure you know that things have been a little crazy! I am currently over 200% funded and going strong. People have been so amazing and it really is so encouraging.

I have been busy chatting back and forth with manufacturers trying to get everything ironed out for printing when the campaign is over. It's looking great.

This weekend, however, I will be taking a little bit of a break. 48 hours to be exact. Starting tonight I will attempt my first ever participation in the Ludum Dare!

For those who are not familiar, the Ludum Dare is a solo challenge to create a playable game in only two days. It's tight, stressful, fun and exhausting. Most of all, it gives us game devs an opportunity to stretch our creative muscles and go way outside of our comfort zones. Everyone loves pushing themselves to the limit to see what they can accomplish, yes?

I do.

I am very excited and can't wait to see what turns out. I will be attempting my hand at creating a fun, simple card game I think and will definitely post the results in the form of a downloadable Print & Play. Stayed tuned!

Have a wonderful weekend.

~ Jeff Dehut

Pocket Dungeon Quest

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Since January I have been working on my first tabletop game called Pocket Dungeon Quest. For the last month I have been preparing a Kickstart project to help me fund the printing and manufacturing costs. This morning I launched the project! It has been a long and very interesting journey, and this week that is what I would like to talk about.


TLDR version: I made a tabletop game all by myself. It’s awesome. You should buy it and tell all your friends about it. (:

Link: http://kck.st/1kmrf5g


My background in game design has come from building games for mobile devices. This is a unique platform and is still fairly new. My love for video games combined with my educational background in Graphic Design and Illustration has led me to where I am today. The last couple of years were spent within a small team at a mid-sized company creating mobile games. I was let go back in December and spent the next few months applying to every job I remotely had any skills for, I lost track of how many after filling out over 100 applications.

I took a different approach to my future career path from that point on. I did some contract work that paid the bills for a few months, while also working on a side project at the time creating my first board game. Tabletop gaming is a staple for my family during get togethers over the Holidays and I have always wanted to create my own but up until now I had never given it much effort. Pretty soon the contract work dried up and work on my game took priority.

The concept was simple, to borrow some of my favorite video game mechanics and see what they would look like as a traditional tabletop game. This was not an easy task. Many things that work within a video game just does not translate into the physical world. The trickiest things to work out was how to handle combat and meaningful randomized dungeons.

The most important thing to me in the design process was simplicity. There are many games that do an excellent job of creating a randomized dungeon crawling experience. The drawback to these games is that there are always many different components and large rulebooks. It typically takes nearly as long to learn the game as it does to play. With Pocket Dungeon Quest I tried very hard to make the learning process as painless as possible.

The mechanics of the game are kept simple for two main reasons. First, I wanted new players to be able to pick up the game and get playing within 10 minutes. Second, I want Pocket Dungeon Quest to be easily expandable. I have many ideas for ways to add to the game through mini dungeon packs. I don't want to have to rewrite the rulebook every time I release a new expansion. These mini dungeon packs will simply and easily add new items, spells, monsters and build upon the already existing gameplay.

What I really wanted to create was a coffee shop game. My purpose was not to create the next deep immersive tabletop gaming experience ever. The idea was to create a game that would allow you to enjoy specialty drinks and great conversation while casually working your way through a dungeon with your buddies.

The solution that I found that solved many of these issues was to create the game using one component, tiles. With video games tiles are graphical elements that are used to layout a level. Entire worlds are created using well made tile sets. To create a set of tiles that could be used to play a tabletop game based on video games therefore made sense.

These tiles are everything. They get shuffled to create the world in which Pocket Dungeon Quest takes place. They are also used as place holders, character and monster tokens. One component makes up the entire game.

Gameplay is very simple. Shuffle the tiles to create a randomized dungeon. Each player chooses a hero class with a unique ability that effects the style of play. Explore the dungeon while slaying monsters, grabbing loot and finding the lost relics before getting annihilated by the Boss! Easy right?

Being self employed and not independently wealthy I am looking to raise the funds that I need to bring my new game into production. Kickstarter seems like the best way for me to accomplish this. My reach is limited, but I am passionate about this project and very hopeful about its success. If you would also like to see Pocket Dungeon Quest succeed, please check out the link above and spread the word. I have created some pretty clever (if I do say so myself) promotional images to share across my social networks. Feel free to use these for yourself and post them on any networks that you are comfortable with.

Thank you so much for your support.

~ Jeff Dehut


Click through the gallery below to see all social blast promo images!

Game Design: Part Four - Refining

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"What're ya buyin'?

"What're ya buyin'?

Welcome back to the fourth and the last part of my Game Design process. In all honesty this will probably be a short post because I am knee deep in this very aspect of game design with my new board game Pocket Dungeon Quest. There are other aspects of the business side of things once the game is created, but my knowledge is limited in those areas and I am sure there are others more qualified to tackle such topics.

 

Rewrites Happen.

What we have discussed so far is where the inspiration comes from, defining the core loop and testing your game. This last topic in a nutshell is all about the refinement process. I am not really talking about fixing bugs, which is a natural part of the electronic game creation process. What I am talking about is the kinks in the gameplay that are found while play testing. I have tried to keep track of how many times I have rewritten the rules for Pocket Dungeon Quest. I think I am only up to 6 which seems pretty good for a simplified dungeon crawling rogue-like board game.

In the same way that bugs in the code are simply part of the process, rewrites happen. We have grand schemes for the rules of our games and on paper they usually look really great. They almost never work out exactly the way we had planned on paper though, and that’s ok. Figuring out how to make our concepts work in the physical world is a rewarding challenge.

My process for this step has been to print, cut and play through every revision of the rules to ensure everything works. Getting the game to just work isn’t enough, it has to be fun. We talked about this already, right? Games are meant to be fun. I take notes as I am playing my games. I ask myself questions like, which parts of the game am I enjoying the most? What actions am I performing most often? How can I make those actions more fun? Are there any aspects of the game that I am not enjoying, and why? Getting answers to these and doing something about it just makes for a better play experience.

 

Don't Undervalue Quality

Once I think I have worked out all of the kinks I can on my own I really need to get an outsiders opinion on the game. The more often I can get this to happen the better. Sometimes we just get so involved in the process we get a skewed perspective on whether or not our game is really fun.

High production values are a no-brainer. If you need artwork for you game pay someone real money to get it done for you. Designers are everywhere, seriously, and most of us are always looking to tackle new and exciting projects. We’re not going to do it for free though, and you shouldn’t expect us to. If you are not financially able to produce high quality artwork look into acquiring the funding. The design of your game is such a huge part of how many people are going to click that link, or pick up that box and should never be overlooked or undervalued.

 

Make It Fun

This pretty much sums up my refinement process. If you have any questions feel free to ask below or drop me a personal line. I love games, and I love making them. I hope this series have been valuable to you, it sure has been valuable for me to write it all down.

Like I said, once your game is ready to go into production there are other things that need to be considered but I don’t have the expertise just yet to write about those subjects. Here are a few more tips though that you may find useful. If you’re making a board or card game, don’t design something that can’t be printed or cut or created in the physical world. If you’re making a video game, take some risks and do something original. This is the age of experimentation, gamers are always looking for something new to play. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

I will see you guys next week, and I will keep you posted with news about Pocket Dungeon Quest. I would love for you all to play, I think you will enjoy it.

 

~ Jeff Dehut

Game Design: Part Three - Testing

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Welcome back to part three of my game design process. So far we’ve talked about where game ideas come from and creating the basic gameplay loop, this week we’ll talk about what I would consider to be the most important part of the process, testing your game. While this week’s post will most likely be a short one the concept can’t be stressed enough: testing your game is crucial to its success. I just want to take a few moments to talk about why testing is useful, some ideas on how it should be done and then what to do with the information gathered through testing.

 

Why Test Your Game?

As a developer it is so easy to become engrossed in the work and to fall in love with the creation process, however it is just as important to occasionally take a step back and look at the work as a whole. The act of testing and getting input should happen early and often. Receiving feedback from participants who are not attached to the work is just as important as staying up alone until midnight getting ‘that one gameplay element’ just right. I have a fairly unique approach to consumer feedback which I will expound upon just a little later.

Testing is extremely useful for many reasons; testing helps you get a feel for how all of your concepts work together as a whole, testing also allows you to pinpoint which concepts work on paper but may not work in practice, testing helps you determine which portions of your game are strong and fun as well as figuring out which elements are weak and need help. It is through testing with non biased participants that we create an opportunity to generate valuable feedback on our ideas. Armed with this newly found knowledge we can then make better informed decisions on how to proceed with the game design.

 

How to Test Your Game

There are many ways to go about testing that are equally valid. I have personally experienced just a few and since my board game Pocket Dungeon Quest is reaching the final stages of design I have some new ideas on how I will be approaching testing for that. For the mobile games I worked on it was useful to set up a small location where we could sit down a bunch of strangers and give them a playable version of our game, afterwards we gave them a questionnaire and tallied up their results. What was helpful about this approach was because of the way we advertised the game testing we had many walk-ins who had never heard of our game. Getting an outside opinion is like gold at this stage.

There were some things about the way we handled this process that was not very helpful, as one of the lead designers of this game it was not helpful that I was not able to observe people playing my game. I didn’t want to talk with them afterwards, I wanted to see where they got stuck, which parts of my game they kept going back to. I wanted to stand in the same room quietly and see how easy or difficult it was for strangers to pick up on the rules I had laid down and whether they ‘got it’ all on their own, or how much explanation they needed. Unfortunately someone else was in charge of setting up this particular testing session so I had very little control.

With the board game I am currently designing my testing process has been different. First I took an early version and played through a game with friends and family. My family loves board games and I was able to see this early version in action and work through some of the rules that looked good on paper and find the flaws. After this initial test I revised many rules, talked through some of my new ideas with other game designers who I trusted and created an even more refined version.

I took the new version that sprang from this feedback and played through a game with strangers. I didn’t know any of these people, they had a lot of questions and there were still a few things that didn’t quite work that way I thought they would. Sometimes these players tried to do things that I simply hadn’t thought through completely. Many rules were created on the spot, some rules were solid while other just had to be tweaked slightly.

After this play through session I have since revised the rules yet again, created new components, removed confusing pieces and refined much more of the rules. I plan to make a near final version of the game and travel to a few game design meet ups and test it even further before completing the rules.

 

Consumer Suggestions

Now that you have your feedback, what do you do with it? My opinion is, take it with a grain of salt. I have personally seen many great game designs ruined by feedback because it was simply assumed that anything the consumer said must be correct. I can tell you with all certainty that this is not the case.

The feedback that you received from an outsider should be seen as a suggestion. The game designer should always have the final say. As the game’s designer you know best which suggestions work within the realm of the vision you have for your game. The consumer may not always know what they want when it comes to a brand new concept, and may ruin any chance of your idea standing apart from everything else out there. There are times when the consumer is right. If something about our game doesn’t make sense, or if many people seem to struggle with the same areas of design it’s probably best to rethink those points. The caution here from my experience is, take the consumer’s feedback willingly but always maintain control of your design.

 

Conclusion

That pretty much sums up my take on gameplay testing and what to do with the information you gather from it. I hope you found this helpful! I would love to know about your experiences and wether you have found them to be similar to mine or altogether different. I would love to know about other approaches to this subject. I have heard of hiring other companies to do the gameplay testing for you, but in my opinion there isn’t anything better than running these tests yourself, hands on.

I’ll see you all next week were I will talk about the next part of the game design process, fleshing out the concept. Until then, game on!

 

~ Jeff Dehut

Game Design: Part Two - The Core Loop

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Welcome back! In this portion of my process I will be describing how I go about designing the core loop, that is, the main body of the game. I should mention that compared to many people I am still fairly new to the business and by no means am attempting to convey that my process is the perfect solution to defining a core loop. My process is just that, my approach at creating a gameplay loop that is fun and engaging designed for mobile devices. With that in mind let’s begin!

 

What is a core loop?

My initiation into a game design career path was a bit odd and very fast. I began as an animator working in Adobe Flash which the company I worked for then converted into something usable by our game engine. I created characters and props, environments and enemies all with many states of animation. From there I was tasked with setting up the enemies, characters and props to interact with events and triggers, and from there I began level designing. Sprinkled throughout this time I was giving gameplay tips to my direct supervisor, who was the game designer.

After the launch of our first game we began work on our second title and after a month or two of going nowhere the project was nearly dropped. We had a small lull in production and myself and one of the programmers took it upon ourselves to play with this newly created game engine. We added segments and weapons, tweaked the game mechanics and flow and eventually we released a new test build. Fortunately our bosses really enjoyed the work that we did and work on our game continued. That was my first taste of game design from the ground up.

The original designer was not much of a gamer which is why, although the concept of the game was original and extremely creative, it just wasn’t that much fun to play. So, how did we take a dud and turn it into a fun game? Here is my process:

 

Name the Components

There are a few questions that need to be answered at this first stage of core loop design. It is important to name each of the components that will play a part in your game whether large or small. Which of these things does the player interact with? Does the player interact with these things directly, or through an avatar of some kind? Is it static or does it move? Is there a story, who tells it? Are there props? Where does the game take place? When in time does the story take place? It helps me to create a list of everything that I would like to see in my game. It may turn out that I eventually discard half of my list, but that’s ok.

 

Define the Mechanics

Once the components of the game are clearly defined it’s time to determine how they all interact with one another. Which parts does the player control, and which parts are taken care of through behind the curtain magic? What actions are the players taking every time they open the app? This is the crux of the loop. We want the player’s actions to have an effect on the artificial world we have created and for them to feel rewarded for doing so. Action, effect, reward. This is how I define a loop. The player taps these buttons, the characters and props on screen perform these actions and the player feels great about what they have accomplished. Sounds easy, right? Believe me, it is much harder than it sounds.

Create a goal to be achieved and some way of measuring that goal so that player can clearly see that they are making progress. Every time they perform an action it should in some way get them closer to achieving their goal. Many games make this goal so unreachable, but only just beyond the player’s grip that it is difficult to realize. Games that cannot be ‘beaten’ are excellent examples of this. Much of the mobile industry plays to this trick. I prefer creating a goal that is clearly achievable but that is probably best left for another post.

 

Trim the Fat

Boil the player’s actions down to their bare minimum, just a few actions that start the loop over again. Can you clearly write the core loop down? If it is more that just a few simple actions then it is too complicated, remove pieces until you have only the bare bones left. Some games need layers, but those come later. Now is the time to strip those layers away and define the absolute core mechanics that will make or break your game. Write your core gameplay down in 5 words or less around a circle.

Once you have everything peeled away and the core loop defined in words it is time to create a basic prototype. Now is not the time for pretty graphics, use ugly placeholders. Please. So much time can easily be wasted during this step if you focus on making final in-game artwork. Don’t do that yet because chances are very high that the artwork will have to change. Placeholders allow you all of the freedom to make mistakes and changes without needing pixel perfect graphics. Create a functional model then ask yourself the final question,

 

Is It Fun?

Play your game a whole awful lot, are you having fun? This is a tough step in the process because for me the pure act of creating a game from nothing is the most enjoyable thing there is. I have to strip my feelings of that process away and focus on the actual gameplay and try to imagine myself not knowing anything about it’s inception. If I truly am enjoying myself then I need to ask a friend who knows nothing about my game to play it. Do they have fun? If so, then I need to dress things up a bit and present my prototype to a few more strangers and if everyone really is enjoying themselves then I have a winner and should continue down this path.

Rarely though, does this happen the first go around. Typically the first, second, third or more drafts are not so fun. The concept may be there, but the mechanics may be off, or the balance. We usually have to go back and change something many times over before the core loop hits that sweet spot. Once it’s there though you’ll know it, and everyone who plays your game will to. This is the most important step in the process, getting this right is paramount.

It is important to note that this process must be completed outside of being aware of your monetization model. Trying to shove monetization into this part of the game design process has ruined many games to date and many developers are seeing the effects, whether they realize what is causing them is another issue. Create your core loop first, make it fun and then begin the process of determining the best way to monetize it.

This obviously is not an all encompassing ‘how to’ on creating a core loop, it is simply a basic run down of how I go about my process. I hope that it was insightful and helpful for you in your game designs. Next time around I will talk about fleshing out the game and what all that entails. Until then, game on.

~ Jeff Dehut

Game Design: Part One - Inspiration

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I have always found the creative process for games and movies very fascinating. I really enjoy the inspiring insight into the minds of the brilliant creatives behind movies such as The Lord of the Rings, or Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. (I’m a huge Jim Henson fan)

Since I am currently in the middle of quite a few game design projects I thought that now would be an opportune time to attempt to document my particular process. In the past I have found it so very difficult to keep track of my process because it seems to vary based on so many unforeseeable factors like, the client, the job, the workplace or what have you. This time around though I am working for myself, so the vast majority of these things are very consistent.

I have been designing mobile and board game concepts now for a couple of years with a few decent successes. Of course there are the inevitable failures and I will also ducoment those and how I handled them. This will be a multi-part article that hopefully you will find insightful and perhaps even useful in your creative endeavors!

 

References

I always begin my creative process by finding a quiet place where I can soak up some nature and sketch without interruption. This will vary depending on the person. I need visual stimuli with minimal noise. I may pull out some headphones and play something soft while I attempt to conceptualize my latest ideas. Headphones are usually used only if the music or noise around me is bothersome.

I start by cramming my head full of references. I look for things that I am interested in, nature, animals, people and things. I am constantly searching for new ideas and learning more about the world around me online through Wiki articles or YouTube videos. I absolutely love nature documentaries. It may sound completely unrelated to games, but this is the source of concepting great ideas. I fill my head will everything I can, then when it comes time to output a new idea to paper I have references to draw from. I don’t just want to spit out replicas of the games I have been playing, I want to put a new twist on these old ideas.

The part of the process is ongoing and happens every day. I usually need to set aside some time to do this otherwise I get busy with everything else.

 

Put it on Paper

The ideas begin on paper, lately I have moved this to my iPad since it is so portable and I can easily create a .pdf to immediately send to a client, but the concept is the same. If I can’t see it, it isn’t a good idea. The sketches are always rough and if anyone else were to look at them it probably wouldn’t make much sense. I may scribble a sentence or two to help remind me what I was thinking at the time so that when I come back to these idea at a later date I can pick it right back up. I don’t purposefully keep things cryptic in my sketchbook, it’s more of a shorthand that I use to maintain speed.

At this point the game design is just a concept. What that means is the mechanics have not been figured out in any detail at all. I may start a concept with the sketch of the hero, or a sketch of the setting, or a sketch of some rough story elements. It is very important at this stage to not get bogged down with the details, those come later. What I am trying to visualize is a fun game. I may sketch half a dozen extremely rough concepts until one grabs my attention or until I continue to come back to the same idea time and time again.

 

Next Steps

Once I have a rough concept on paper but before I can officially move on to the second step of fleshing it out I need to do some more visualizing. So, the next thing I do is try to picture in my head the screen that the player will be staring at the majority of the time they are playing this game. This will include some minimal game mechanics. At this stage I need to visualize some of the actions the player will perform. I have found this to be a good test because if this screen doesn’t look like a fun experience then I may need to rethink my concept, or continue playing with the idea until it does look like something I would spend a considerable amount of time playing. My ultimate test is, if I won’t play the game then it’s not worth pursuing.

 

Don’t Live Here

If I could offer a word of advice during this stage it would be, don’t get stuck in this phase of development. This part of the process should be quick. It is the gateway into creating an awesome game. If you can’t walk through the gate then it’s probably best to play it safe and stay in your yard. There are risks involved in creating games, the least of which is the unknown factor of how well your idea will be received by the public. You can create polls and surveys to get an idea of what people are looking for right now, but the truth is your game is going to take time to develop.

You can’t live in this stage of development. There are risks, be brave and take them. You will fail some of the time, but your successes will make up for those failures.

 

Next Up

This part of my creative process usually goes pretty quick. I don’t typically have trouble drawing out a variety of concepts. The most difficult part is best saved for next week, creating the core loop. Before I get there though I want to be sure that my sketch communicates clearly the basic idea and I want to be sure that the basic idea that is communicated is fun. If I can’t do those two things during this stage then it’s time to scrap everything and start all over.

~ Jeff Dehut