Tuesday, March 28, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 61: Malcolm Armstrong

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 or in the index.

Name:Malcolm Armstrong
Day Job:Software Tester
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:Malcolm Armstrong
Today's Interview is with:

Malcolm Armstrong
Interviewed on: 1/29/2017

Coming soon to Kickstarter is likely to be the first game by Malcolm Armstrong, Arcane Blaster Casters. It's a project he's been working on for a few years with his partner and they feel it's about ready to see the light of day. So keep your eyes open for ABC and if you'd like to learn more about Malcolm and his other projects, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I played about with in game editors for various computer games when I was young out of curiosity, the curiosity stuck as I moved on to helping design and build online worlds in Neverwinter Nights. I met a friend at university that got me into board games and the addiction struck immediately. My love of game design and my love of board games were a natural pairing.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Arcane Blaster Casters

Have you designed any games that have been published?

What is your day job?
Software Tester

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
At home or a friend's home.

Who do you normally game with?
The artist I'm working on Arcane Blaster Casters with, my partner and 2-3 of our friends depending on how many show up.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Cosmic Encounter is usually on the table, Jamaica is another popular one. Other than those, we have a fairly large rotation of games.

And what snacks would you eat?
There's usually biscuits, chocolates etc available. We also take a break at the end of a longer game to make some proper food.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
We don't usually have music playing when we play games, tried the sound tracks for Escape from the Curse of the Temple and Mysterium once but they were quite distracting. I'm trying to incorporate background music in tabletop RPGs that I run to increase the atmosphere though.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
There's only one in the city that I live in, I must admit I rarely visit it.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Favourite is a toss up between Cosmic Encounter and Jamaica. I love the simplicity of Cosmic's base rules that allows for such a huge swathe of alien powers that practically cheat, yet it all feels fair at the end of the day(if you ignore a few outlying powers), and Jamaica is such an all round nice game to look at and play.
My least favourite would probably be Cry Havoc just now, that's purely because I've only had the chance to play it once and we haven't figured out the nuances of it: In the one game we played, I won by a landslide as the Troglodytes, because the other players didn't realise they had to be aggressive to deal with my expansion. It felt incredibly one sided.
Worst game I've ever played is Berserk: War of the Realms. Picked it up on the cheap, gave it a fair few plays with different factions and it just feels like a complete mess of a game. There's no balance between the factions you get that we could see and the gameplay itself just felt like a big let down.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I'm a big fan of deck building, especially if there's interesting twists that are thrown at you that force you to adapt your deck mid-game.
I have two pet hates in game mechanics: Nope cards and Roll to Move. I've never played a game where I felt like a Nope card added anything, it's always resulted in total disappointment and frustration when one player begins an action to further their goals even a little bit, and they get stopped by another player playing a single card that cancels all their actions. Roll to Move always just boils down to a luck of the dice roll unless there's some form of player mitigation involved.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Caverna or Descent 2nd Ed. I love them both, but they're both huge time sinks and the latter one isn't very popular with my group.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
It's fun when everyone is drunk.

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 prefer playing about with mechanics first to see what is fun and how different, well established mechanics will mesh together with each other or what twists I could add to a mechanic to make it feel fresh. Pretty quickly after a prototype has proven fun I'll figure out a decent theme for it.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
We entered ABC into the Cardboard Edison competition last year, sadly it only made runner up. It was still a great experience, and the feedback we got was solid.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Though I recognize plenty of designers' names in the field, I can't say there's any one favourite - I like everyone's work.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Usually when travelling, especially on long train journeys or sitting for hours in an airport - when all you have is a pen and notepad and a few hours to waste, it's the perfect recipe for some creative outlet.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Initially with the gaming buddies. We have several (many) friendly sessions with them to wrinkle out all the obviously bad design decisions and fine tune the game. Once we're confident the idea is good and well refined, there's a few larger gaming groups and playtesting groups are the city we stay in. They've proven to be greatly helpful, giving us many things to think about that we or our group wouldn't have even considered.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I work in a pair. I'm the designer, the other guy is the artist. The positions aren't completely set though - he often brings up ideas and more often than not they're integrated into the game.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
We're a two man team making our very first game. We've spent a couple years making it, testing it and iterating it. That was all easy. We're getting to the stage now where we need to talk to printers, get a kickstarter together, go out and garner publicity. Neither of us are businessmen or marketers, it's proving to be a huge hurdle.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably The Culture series by Iain M. Banks. It's this grandiose scale sci fi setting about a futurist race called The Culture, every day people live decadent lives, while the important duties are carried out by wholly sentient AIs. All of the books cover a side portion of the race called Special Circumstances, which is built to deal with interacting with primitive races etc. It's a series that I've been absolutely enchanted by the first time I read the books.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It's not that hard or scary to do, it's exciting. Find an idea you like, grab a friend that can draw (or learn yourself) and before you know it the pair of you will be attending events and talking to people about why your game is the best ever!

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Don't keep secrets. Yes you might worry about someone stealing your idea and running away with it, but if you don't share your ideas and collaborate with different minds, your games might never reach the glory they might otherwise attain.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
I'm planning to crowdfund: Arcane Blaster Casters - An arena combat game of wild wizardry, where players craft magic using base elements from their hands to create a nearly unlimited variety of crazy and reckless spells.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: We have about a dozen more ideas on the drawing board. Some of the have very basic paper prototypes, others still very much in the ideas phase. The range from very basic filler card games, to a clan based game where nothing in reality is as it seems.

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?
I love cooking and baking. I play an unhealthy amount of video games. I've also recently picked up drawing and painting once more.

What is something you learned in the last week?
As I'm drawing more, I'm looking up tutorials on basic form for drawing people and animals.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music - Indie Rock. I love Sci Fi books, though Fantasy isn't too far behind. The old parody comedy films are by far my favourites: Hot Shots, Naked Gun, Airplane etc

What was the last book you read?
Currently re-reading Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks

Do you play any musical instruments?
Sadly not.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Uh, I'm not sure there's much that is surprising about me. I guess drinking Irn Bru (A Scottish fizzy drink) makes me sneeze.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I can't really think of anything for this, I think I'm a fairly boring person outside of gaming.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
I honestly can't think of anything for this either.

Who is your idol?
I don't really idolize anyone.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I'd go back to various periods in time and try to show up in as many renaissance paintings and black & white photos as possible to properly mess with conspiracy theorists.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Definitely an introvert, as much as I try not to be.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Ignoring all those super powerful ones you see in comics that can destroy universes by blinking their eyes, probably Multiple Man from X-Men. Being able to make hundreds of copies of myself at once? Sounds great!

Have any pets?
Sadly not.

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?
Obviously I'd hope for a strong board gaming tradition to carry on with the next era. There's so many things about our current generation that I'd love to be wiped out completely. I'll go for a wide sweeping impossible dream - I'd like to think future generations could band together under a single nation, rather than fractured countries that constantly war between each other.

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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