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.
Interviewed on: 1/28/2017
Jay Sears is an active participant in many of the game design groups online. He's currently working on a game called Destruction that looks pretty cool. He's planning on building up a big community around the game and then releasing it on Kickstarter in a year or two. He's also working on a number of other games, too. Read on to learn more about Jay and the projects he's working on.
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?
My father sent me a prototype of a political game he designed called Scandal. I then researched game design over the next 2 years, then I started my own blog about the subject area (pixygamesuk). I created my first prototype Destruction about 12 months ago and several other game designs. I really enjoyed it and thought about getting it released, but at a pace where I can keep learning before the big day.
What game or games are you currently working on?
Destruction and Scandal (strategy remake). I have 7 in the process at the moment. Most people feel this is extreme, but the way my brain works is that I keep coming up with new game ideas and I don't want to loose them. That means I quickly take notes, then write the rules as early as possible. I never give up on my designs and I always look to finish them off.
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not yet. I say that with enthusiasm as I am determined to get Destruction released.
What is your day job?
I work as a manager in domiciliary care and really enjoy making a difference to people’s lives.
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
At home and with game groups.
Who do you normally game with?
Caerphilly Games Group
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
And what snacks would you eat?
Party food. This could be a special Amathus Surprise along with a selection of fruit, nuts, crips and chocolate.
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I'm not bothered either way. I love music but I am happy to sit down without it and concentrate on my thought processes. I love listening to all sorts of music that’s less commercial.
What’s your favorite FLGS?
I haven't actually visited one yet. I am eager to go down to Rules of Play in Cardiff.
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I like playing Baker Street as it gets you thinking and brings back a nostalgic feel for Cluedo. Least favourite is Risk, I just don’t like it. There are no games I would say are the worst ever, there's probably a handful on everyone’s list.
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I still enjoy the luck element of roll the dice and hope for the best. It's one of those mechanics found in most games. It can produce so many different outcomes and each game can be different with this.
Least favourite has to be the overuse of cards influencing decision making. If the balance is right they are great, but too many makes it heavy on this mechanical side taking focus away from other mechanics in the game. I’m not too fond with the use of tiles either and prefer a full board to visualise everything.
What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
I really don't have any to list. I am always eager to get any game I buy to the table. If my wife won't play it, I will find a way to get her involved.
What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Video Games
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board 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 always come up with the theme first. It gives you a focus point where, rather than being constrained to work around a mechanic, you have much more flexibility in creating various different mechanics to suit the theme. I never think about mechanics too much, more about how I can get the game to play and fit into the theme and roles. The mechanics should come naturally and flow with the theme, but it’s important to set your objectives at the start so the focus point doesn't stray away from your theme or story.
The process I generally go through belongs to how our human brains work. When we are active our brains work harder and that's when most of the ideas come flooding through, particularly if you are doing something relaxing as opposed to a stressful activity. Usually when I am in the shower or doing house work I start to think about game ideas that just pop up and the process I go through is:
1. Quickly finish my shower or stop the house housework - jot down the ideas on paper (which are usually how the game will play and it's mechanics). When I was in hospital with my wife who was giving birth I took in a notepad, sat down and came up with 4 board game ideas. It was usually the theme I came up with first.
2. Then I go back to what I was doing. I will then end up thinking about those ideas in more detail as I am relaxed and not needing to get lots of ideas out onto paper 2nd time round. I then go back to my paper and add more detail.
3. I then leave it for a few days. Go back to what I jotted down and think about what added mechanics I could include and see if it all makes sense. I can easily play test games in my mind and 9/10 I get it spot on when I work out the mathematics of game play on paper later on. I'm rubbish at maths, but for some reason I can easily process a game in my head and work out every little mechanic.
4. If I have enough mechanic ideas and how the game will play I will start writing the rules.
5. I then leave it for a few weeks. Go back with fresh eyes and new ideas. Review the rules and then begin on a design.
If I have no idea about the mechanics or game play I will start doing some basic designs to get me thinking. But that way of doing it rarely comes along.
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have never entered one due to how rubbish I am at graphic work. My artist skills aren't exactly required in my day job.
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I have to say Jeff Brown is an excellent graphic designer and illustrator. I am also impressed with Royce Banuelos who is working on the graphic design for my Destruction board game. When it comes to game mechanics and game play I wouldn't say I am impressed with just one game designer, I am impressed with a few and how their game mechanics work. I’m not one for looking up too much at others, I’m more one for getting my head down and trying my hardest to improve and design games as best I can. There are some great designers and it’s good to take inspiration from their work, but equally important to concentrate on what you’re doing.
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
The way our brains work is, the more active you are the more thinking processes you do. With this in mind (no pun intended) when I'm doing something such as running, showering or driving I come up with ideas to improve my games or a new concept. Likewise when I'm with my daughter and she is watching kids programs I can draw inspiration from there. For example, the other day there was a programme and children were repairing a spaceship to get back home, so I thought to myself I would love to design a game based on that theme.
How do you go about playtesting your games?
I will playtest them in my mind. I know that sounds weird and people will be thinking you can't properly playtest a game in your mind. Actually, I can very easily. I will play out every move, every mechanical game play and work out the mathematics of winning and losing with all possible outcomes.
When I then create a prototype I will play test it properly, I always end up with the same results as I did when I was doing the playtesting in my mind. I use a feedback sheet that I complete after each playtest. This gives me so much feedback during each stage of the playtesting.
Once I am satisfied with the game I contact local gaming groups to see about them playtesting it, and ask they complete the feedback sheet. It’s really important to observe others playing your game, because what you learn from that about your game is probably the most important aspect of playtesting. I wrote a blog about playtesting and that's the process I follow.
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like working alone as this is something I enjoy and feel comfortable with, but it’s so important to get feedback from others. I like to share my game rules so I can get some valuable feedback on how well they are written and what I can do to improve them. Lots of people run scared thinking someone will steal their ideas, and my moto is it’s great to share knowledge that’s how we develop and learn. It’s important to understand you wrote those rules not them, you have the evidence that you designed that game first. I regularly use facebook groups to get feedback on my game ideas, and ask for their suggestions to improve it. 10 minds are better than 1. I'm currently working with a graphic designer for Destruction as my art work goes as far as stick people. It’s really fascinating seeing how they interpret your game.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Setting a deadline. I keep coming up with ideas for new games and never get round to finishing them. It’s important to be brutal and say, right this is the deadline date and stick to it. Otherwise all you keep doing is tweaking this, tweaking that and changing this, which could be never ending.
The other thing I noticed which I struggled with was getting the balance right between having enough mechanics versus not over complicating it versus making it easy enough to play for everyone. Usually when you start bringing in more mechanics it begins to make the game cloudy, and by that I mean confusing. It is also really important to ensure all the mechanics interlink with one another so that the game flows, and that can be tricky. Take Xcon as an example, it can appear overly complex because of the various mechanics in the game play and multiple things to do in one turn, but all of them interlink well together. For some the game can appear cloudy, particularly for novice gamers.
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Well, I’ve already thought about this and designed one based on Person of Interest. This involves using an app but it’s been really difficult getting the balance between a board game and app game.
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
That it can be addictive! I’ve never heard anyone say this term. One thing I wish someone would go into more depth with is how the different types of mechanics interlink with one another, and which combinations simply don’t work.
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Never give up. You will always find someone else with a similar idea to yours, but don't let that put you off. Come up with different game mechanic ideas and see how yours can be different. Do what works best for you, and come up with a way of making the design of games easy on yourself, because we all have a hobby and lifestyle balance. Use BGG to get as much feedback on your board game ideas and never be scared of someone stealing it, because reality tells us that is slim. Everything has been done in today's world, it's about re-inventing the wheel. Enjoy what you’re doing and do what you’re comfortable with.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
I'm planning to crowdfund: Destruction (https://www.facebook.com/groups/115019448946575/) - a game for 3 or 4 players who each take on a specific role. Either be the destroyer to inflict carnage upon the world, or be part of a team to save the world from destruction.
Games that I'm playtesting are: Destruction
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Scandal - a game about political corruption, where players aim to become the prime minister. It has lots of strategic game play and fresh mechanic ideas for a political game.
Apples & Mud (this was a game for my daughter) and has been playtested in house. It is a fun educational game to teach counting skills with elements of strategy.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Species Attack (strategic war) Scottish Clans (strategic war), Identify It (children's), Portal Cube (mystery puzzle), Person of Interest (strategic crime), Resort Tycoon (building and trading), Phantasy (card game), Disadvantaged (strategy career builder), Unicorn (children's card game), way too many to list.
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Yes. Probably all of them. How geeky can you get lol
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, Pepsi, VHS
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Music Production, Watching Films, Traveling. I used to produce my own music and had some success but I really enjoy watching movies and spending time with my family. I really enjoy helping people out that's why I do blog and newsletter (www.pixygamesuk.co.uk).
What is something you learned in the last week?
Where you live is what you make of it.
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Happy Hardcore. Dont read but I would choose Irvine Welsh books. I’ve seen thousands of movies but one of my favourites is Good Will Hunting.
What was the last book you read?
Egg by Irvine Welsh
Do you play any musical instruments?
Yes. This is controversial but does music technology (synthesizers) count? I'd say it does as it gives out sound.
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I was homeless for over 4 years but what is important in life, is not how many times you fall but how many times you rise. And no, it was not drug or alcohol related (just to take away assumptions). Consider that I’m now a manager, home owner and have two children.
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Come on! Im sensible. (I sold all my music studio equipment and my car, left the UK to live in Australia and New Zealand for a year with a girl I barely knew.)
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Going back to Edinburgh to study meant I ended up in Australia and New Zealand straight after.
Who is your idol?
Hmmm. Seriously, what I went through in life and what my wife went through as a child (cancer) are my idols.
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Stay where I am, because you make life what you want out of it.
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Does BA from the A-Team count?
Have any pets?
Nope. Children are enough.
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?
Well, you've given me an idea to develop a 2nd version for destruction, so thanks. I'd hope my children survive but if I were to choose a game Baker Street is one you can play 30 times and each time is a new time. Let’s hope risk is wiped out because we need stability not risk in life!
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):
I have to say a huge thanks to Ricky and Royce for being such great people and helping me out. A favour I will truly return.
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
It’s important to acknowledge those who contribute a lot to assisting those asking for advice on their game designs. Thank you.
I’m starving now!
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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