Tuesday, July 11, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 77: Katie Khau and Jessica Chu

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:Katie Khau and Jessica Chu of cow&duck studios
Location:Chicago area, Illinois
Day Job:Katie: industrial designer - Jess: an insurance assistant for a lawyers professional liability insurance company
Designing:Two to five years.
YouTube:Heifer Heist
Other:Indie Game Alliance!
Find my games at:bellwethergames.com
Today's Interview is with:

Katie Khau and Jessica Chu of cow&duck studios
Interviewed on: 6/12/2017

Katie and Jess hail from my alma mater, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. There they are members of the game design community. I wish that existed when I was there! During their time there they created Heifer Heist, which won several awards. Since then they've continued making games and have a bunch of fun, and funny games designed. Read on to learn more about this design team and their other projects!

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?
We took a game design class in college taught by a video game studio director who suggested we check out a local board game design competition, CUDO Plays. We took Heifer Heist to the competition and life has never been the same since! After the class, the game design bug caught us and we're constantly thinking of new designs.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Heifer Heist, Windup War, Pitch Fight, Total Party Wipeout

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Windup War - The Cutest Combat Card Game! Published by Bellwether Games!

What is your day job?
Katie: industrial designer - Jess: an insurance assistant for a lawyers professional liability insurance company

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Around a big ol' table with lots of room for lots of friends (and food)!

Who do you normally game with?
Our friends in the Champaign-Urbana area, who help us run the board game competition, CUDO Plays!

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Social deduction games are the best with friends for the obvious reason, but the usual crew also really enjoys testing each other with psyche-outs.

And what snacks would you eat?
We tend to get take out or do a potluck, stuff that isn't finger food.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
We don't normally have music playing, although when we do, it's specific music for the game. For example, we use the One Night Ultimate Werewolf app and it has music by default.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Titan Games in Urbana, Illinois! The owners are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly and always make time to talk with everyone!

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Katie's current favorite: Koryo - Jess's current favorite: A Fake Artist Goes To New York - least favorite that we still enjoy: The Banishing. It's so punishing but we keep trying! Worst game ever played: Arabian Nights.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favorite: social deduction! Least: roll and move.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
The Dune board game!

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Depends on the gaming group

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?
We take a holistic approach to our designs. We tend to design with both mechanics and theme at once. The mechanics will be influenced by the theme, and vice versa. For instance, in Windup War, we began with the idea of a tiny toy war with windup soldiers, which then influenced the mechanic of programming, or "winding up", actions!

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Yes! We have entered Heifer Heist into CUDO Plays, a board game design competition in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, which won the Visual Design and Marketability Awards; Windup War came out of the DFW Nerd Night Game Design Competition; and Total Party Wipeout came out of the Collapse Cards 10 Day Game Design Challenge!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Designer: Seiji Kanai! Artist: Kwanchai Moriya!

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Sometimes we make a really good pun and we design a game around that. That's it. That's all we do.

One time, Jess kept saying "transportato" as a portmanteau of "transport" and "potato" and insisted it be a game about transporting potatoes. And now we're designing Transportato: the game! What a time to be alive.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
As often as possible, with all kinds of players, especially those outside of our gaming group!

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
We pretty much design with anyone who wants to jam! Also, we have each other! Having another person to bounce ideas off of really helps.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Finding time to really work on designs, since we both have full-time jobs that leave us with not much free time on workdays.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Animal Crossing or Don't Starve! We played a lot of both of these video games and we think there's a lot of potential for companion board games!

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Don't be afraid to reach out! Nearly everyone in the industry is super nice and helpful, and advice is free and flowing.

Also, once you start designing, you're in it for life! Everything we do, we look at through the lens of game design.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Playtest early and playtest often!

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Windup War
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Heifer Heist; Pitch Fight
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Total Party Wipeout
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Transportato, Throw Me A Bone

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Card and Board Game Designers Guild!

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?
Both; neither for Katie and Coke for Jess; and who even uses these anymore?

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Video games! Currently Jess is very into Stardew Valley.

What is something you learned in the last week?
If you playtest long enough, people will start suggesting you put in mechanics that you had just taken out to test...

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Katie: For music, alternative rock or video game music; Jess: I generally don't have a preference for any, but people start looking at me weird when I add remixed YouTube let's play memes to the party playlist

What was the last book you read?
Katie: Welcome To Night Vale (the novel) by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink; Jess: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Do you play any musical instruments?
Katie: Piano; Jess: Piano, guitar, ukulele

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Katie collects miniatures! Jess has put about 500 hours collectively into the Binding of Isaac games and used to stream horror video game playthroughs. Good times.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
We stayed at an arcade until 2am, when they shut off the power. Does that count?

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
We accidentally joined a board game design competition, and now every day we're working on games!

Who is your idol?
Jess: The Game Grumps, Arin and Danny. They're really amazing creators and I aspire to be as motivated as they are.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Katie: Go back 10 minutes and eat that cookie again.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Por que no los dos?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Jess: Probably one with flight and water control powers. Like a flying Sailor Mercury!

Have any pets?
A turtle named Reptar and a fish named Patrick! They are good brothers who try and eat each other.

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?
Katie: Skull will hold up. Don't really want anything to be under the asteroid though...; Jess: If I had to sacrifice anything to be crushed by an asteroid, I'd probably pick my middle/high school creative writing. Not good stuff!

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):
Shout out to Dennis of Bellwether Games! He's been an amazing publisher to work with and we wouldn't be where we are if we hadn't met him!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Thanks for reading!

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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