Tuesday, October 23, 2018

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 143: Nathan Ottenson

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. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Nathan Ottenson
Location:Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Day Job:I provide internal system support for a telecom
Designing:Two to five years.
BGG:Galactic Payload
Facebook:Galactic Payload
Twitter:@GalacticPayload or @NotThatNATO
YouTube:Galactic Payload
Find my games at:Soon Galactic Payload on Kickstarter and Current Affairs on The Game Crafter
Today's Interview is with:

Nathan Ottenson
Interviewed on: 6/18/2018

Nathan Ottenson is a Canadian designer that's working on bringing his first published game to Kickstarter. In the past he's had games available on The Game Crafter as well. Read on to learn more about Nathan and the projects he has in the works.

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?
When I was growing up, I always dreamed of making video games. When I was in my twenties I started to teach myself how to code and began to make small games. I finished a few, but they lacked the polish to ever let them out in public. Around this time I began to absorb all the information I could from other game designers, I'd read books and blogs and listen to podcasts trying to gather as much insight into why designers make the choices they do. I had a group of friends who got together around once a month to play board games. We were playing a very popular board game and was frustrated with some of the limitations of the mechanics. The idea for my first board game hit me like a ton of bricks and I started prototyping the week after.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Galactic Payload, At Sea, Current Affairs

Have you designed any games that have been published?
not yet

What is your day job?
I provide internal system support for a telecom

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 at the weekly local community meet-up

Who do you normally game with?
My spouse, my family, my friends and many members from the local gaming community

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
It changes all the time, but lately I've had a craving to play some Scythe again

And what snacks would you eat?
Chips and beer

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Folk roots

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Comic Readers

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Favorite: Great Western Trail. Least Fav: Settlers of Catan. Worst: ZOMBIES!!!

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favorite: Engine building Least Favorite: Deck Building

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
N/A My group of gamers are usually willing to play anything

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, 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?
Both. The first game I made came together very quickly but I'd say that it was theme first and mechanics followed. The next game I made had a totally different theme at first. I prototyped it all and then realized most of it wasn't much fun, but there was one mechanic in particular that people seemed to enjoy. So I took that mechanic, tweaked it and expanded on it to make a totally different game. The theme became obvious after the mechanic was fleshed out.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered one of my games for the first time this year. I have not won.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I have a great deal of respect for several designers but I can't pick just one as a favorite

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
They really come from everywhere. Sometimes I'll be reading a book or watching a movie and a theme will grab me, sometimes I'm play a video game and start thinking about how those mechanics could be applied to a board game. Sometimes I'm playing another board game and think about how I could make a better game with the same theme.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
For the first game I made, it was a fairly traditional process. I made a prototype on my PC, printed it off, glued it to cardboard and cue cards and started playing it with some close friends and family members. After a handful of play-throughs I then got a more professional looking version printed from a print to order website and found my friends to play with. After around 20 or so play tests, I started posting on the local gaming community forums to find playtesters who weren't people I already knew. I quickly discovered I needed to make several additional changes and the game was far from ready. Final step was making connections with other designers who are willing to play test. Now I'm sending copies across the country for some blind play testing. Since then, I began making prototypes on my PC on a video game engine tool called GameMaker Studios. I design all aspects of the board game and begin to play test it myself. Its a 4 player game, I'll be all 4 players. I usually play through (tweaking as I go) a good 30-50 times and once I feel good about it, I order a physical prototype from a print to order shop and begin playing with my friends and family.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I prefer to work alone for the mechanics and flow of the game. Any time I can get an artist to work with me, I'll take it in a heartbeat. Created the actual physical artwork will always be my biggest hurdle.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
At the beginning of the process it is getting people to try your games but that gets easier as people get to know you and have tried your previous games. My biggest challenge becomes second guessing decisions I've made when i'm getting close to what I consider the final product.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably Star Trek. Love the series, and the genre flavor

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Don't jump the gun on printing out updated prototypes. Play test the prototype you have over and over and over again because every new print is gonna cost you money and if it’s not perfect you're gonna end up printing another one and another one. It can get very expensive, very quickly. Also, having a great game isn't good enough. You have to be willing to spend as much time marketing your game as you did designing your game.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an idea you had in your head, produced and played by other people but it’s a long hard road to make something that majority of your play testers are going to enjoy. Sometimes you'll have a bad play test and get discouraged over the entire project. Don't scrap it yet. Make the changes needed, you wouldn't have gotten it this far if there were some good ideas there so try it again and again and again until you smooth out the bugs.

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: Current Affairs. Self-publishing December 2018
I'm planning to crowdfund: Galactic Payload. Launching Kickstarter campaign October 2018
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Galactic Payload and Current Affairs would both fall into this category. There are "Done" but they aren't on the shelf yet and there are still blind playtests happening so it's possible that there will be further changes.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: "At Sea". Initial prototype complete but only play tested 3 times
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: "Midnight express" - post apocalyptic train game. "The Clink" - coop prison break game.

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

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 Trek. Coke. VHS

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Computer science stuff. Video games. Reading. Watching some of my favorite TV series

What is something you learned in the last week?
Listened to a podcast about the wide ranging effects of self-driving cars and how they will influence every aspect of society today.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music: Folk roots. Books: Sci-fiction and non-fiction. Movies: Any well made movie. The movies nominated for best picture. Those are the type of movies I like. Doesn't matter what the theme, genre or actors are.

What was the last book you read?
"How to Create a mind" by: Ray Kurzweil

Do you play any musical instruments?
Drums and Guitar

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I was in a band that played across the country for a few years.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I rather not disclose this :)

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Can't think of one

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Assuming it can go forward I'd like to see the future. Can't wreck the timeline that way :)

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Superman. He can do everything

Have any pets?
a white Labrador named Colonel

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?
Survive: The ElderScrolls Series and Pandemic (all of them). There are a ton of things I'd be happy if they were wiped from existence except someone else probably loves 'em so I can't make that call.

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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