Tuesday, November 29, 2016

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 27: Haitao Mao

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.

Name:Haitao Mao
Location:San Francisco
Day Job:This is my full time job! I used to be a software engineer but I got bored of that.
Designing:One to two years.
Webpage:sizigistudios.com, cakeduel.com
Facebook:Sizigi studios
Find my games at:cakeduel.com, BGG, Amazon
Today's Interview is with:

Haitao Mao
Interviewed on: 8/24/2016

Haitao is a designer from San Francisco that works as part of the Sizigi Studios team creating games and more. Their first Kickstarter campaign ended successfully for Cake Duel, a fast, two player card game. They have more games in the works, too, so be sure to follow along with Haitao and the rest of his team at Sizigi Studios. Read on to learn more about Haitao.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
One to two years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
We were working on digital games, but we found ourselves playing a lot of light tabletop games during breaks. We already had a fully prototyped games we found really fun, so we thought why not?

What game or games are you currently working on?
Cake Duel - it's a light card game with strategic bluffing and card counting.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not yet, though Cake Duel was successfully Kickstarted in September!

What is your day job?
This is my full time job! I used to be a software engineer but I got bored of that.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Someone's house

Who do you normally game with?
Friends, most of which I met back in school.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Most of the time I'm playing light microgames that don't require much of a time commitment, so if I invited people over, we would be playing something heavier. I've always wanted to spend a day blazing through some legacy style game. I regularly enjoy playing ticket to ride, biblios, and pictionary as "classics". Recently, also a lot of Cake Duel.

And what snacks would you eat?
Get dinner, bring some boba back and play games. Sounds like a fun night! Also, glutinous rice balls.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I generally don't, maybe light jazz would be nice though.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Don't really have a favorite since I mostly buy online.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Currently enjoying shadowrun: crossfire a lot. I can enjoy even the worst games with the right people. Worst game might be Meow, though maybe I wasn't drunk enough to play it properly.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
There's a lot you can do with set collection, and it adds a lot of fun to most games that have it. Least favorite might be counting VPs, I just feel it's such an unclean design and makes things more opaque than they need to be.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Twilight Struggle. It's the best game ever, but nobody wants to play it with me :(

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
I usually have mechanics I'm excited about before. It's harder to come up with mechanics to fit a theme than the other way around.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Just started entering them!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I loved Jeff Vogel's exile/avernum series growing up. That was a big part of my childhood, and it was inspiring to know that he made the game basically by himself.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I think about game design all the time: while playing games, while eating, while sleeping, while driving, while talking to people, you get the point. Every once in a while I think something I think about is a great idea, so I'll write some stuff down on notecards and try to flesh it out. Most of the time that kills the idea, but occasionally it survives into something playable!

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Build the MVP repeatedly until I can convince myself that it's fun. Then build it out enough to be able to convince the team that it's fun. Then build out a presentable version, and play it a lot with friends, feeling out what would be better if changed and then changing it. I mostly trust my instincts built up from playing a lot of other games and having analyzed what makes them fun and replayable.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I prefer a small team of 3-5 people. It's lonely working alone, but too many people makes it hard to have consensus and stay happy. I suck at making visuals so definitely need help from the team there. I prefer to stay in the abstract while working as part of the team. Thinking, designing, playtesting, programming, that kind of stuff.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Making games last. My mission is always to make the game fun enough that it will still be fun after the player has figured out how the game works. After they have seen all the content in the game multiple times and know what the dominant strategies are, they still want to play the game.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Warcraft. Lot of interesting character development and story arcs to build off of, it could make anything work.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
How to market them. Hell, I still don't know.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Play games that are "relevant" to what you want to make, and think about how to make them better. One way to do this is to keep playing it until it's no longer that fun, and think about what made it no longer fun. If you can easily mod the game, just do so and play some more. If you do this long enough, your intuition will be corrected every time you see a new game come out that has the thing you thought of to make it better (often times it doesn't actually make it better, so you can learn from that).

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that will soon be published are: Cake Duel
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Spells (computer game written in java, put online but never really "published"), and various other games of similar nature
Games that I'm playtesting are: Spirit Chef (iPhone game, internal playtesting)

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
not a fan of Facebook

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars. Vanilla Coke. wat.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Rock climbing.

What is something you learned in the last week?
In San Francisco they will randomly tow your car if you have over 1000$ of parking ticket fines.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Melodic hip hop mixes with female vocals. Long epics with a lot of world building, or philosophical food-for-thought. Action psychological thriller or romcom depending on mood.

What was the last book you read?
Godel Escher Bach, on the plane to GenCon.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Played the violin back in grade school.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?

Who is your idol?
Don't really have one.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Not use it. Too risky.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Introvert. INTP. 5w4, 9w1.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Some martial arts master who can slow time and float but leads a relatively normal life.

Have any pets?
Used to have a pet lobster, occasionally I would shake its claw.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
The Civopedia has everything we need.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
The Sizigi team for making me fill this out. SIR WOLFY?? Thought it was a..

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

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