Tuesday, October 12, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 303: Theresa Duringer

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:Theresa Duringer
Location:Bay Area, California
Day Job:Designer and CEO of Temple Gates Games
Designing:Five to ten years.
Facebook:Temple Gates Games
YouTube:Temple Gates Games
Find my games at:Steam, iOS, Android
Today's Interview is with:

Theresa Duringer
Interviewed on: 10/3/2021

Today's interview is with a board game designer of a slightly different sort. Theresa Duringer designs mobile app versions of popular games, like Race for the Galaxy, Shards of Infinity, and now Dominion! Read on to learn more about Theresa and how designing board game apps is both different and the same as designing physical board games!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Five to ten years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
As a kid in the 90s I was making boardgames for friends with dot matrix cardstock and playing with shareware game level editors.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Dominion https://store.steampowered.com/app/1131620/Dominion/

Have you designed any games that have been published?
As a digital tabletop designer, I design the features that can bring a boardgame to life on a computer or phone. I've designed the apps for Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, Roll for the Galaxy, Ascension and Shards of Infinity.

What is your day job?
Designer and CEO of Temple Gates Games

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Small conventions. People know each other, but many haven't gamed together for exactly one year, so everyone's stocked up on boardgame recommendations and stories to tell over games and there is that giddy reunion energy.

Who do you normally game with?
These days all of my relationships feel glued together with boardgames in some way or another.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Terraforming Mars, Scythe

And what snacks would you eat?
Edible Games from Jenn Sandercock's cookbook

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Laura Shigihara's live music. https://www.twitch.tv/supershigi She's the genius behind Plants Vs. Zombies music.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Mox Boarding House in Ballard

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite: Res Arcana. Least favorite that I still enjoy: Boggle (so stressful, but still I keep torturing myself). Worst game ever played: Egyptian war with someone wearing rings.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love anything engine building. That feeling of working towards something always puts me in a good mood, whether or not I win. I don't love purely deterministic games, maybe for the same reason; it's possible to not make any progress against a goal, which feels futile.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Scrabble. No one will acknowledge the box or make eye contact with me if I'm holding the box. What's wrong with Scrabble?

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

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?
Digital boardgame design is a bit of a different beast. It's all about taking this abstract thing, a boardgame (circles and cubes), and re-abstractifying it for a phone by making it 2D, partitioning information to display on a small screen, and deciding what QOL features can bring the game to life for digital players. A lot of systems design comes in when making digital rules, which can deviate from the original tabletop rules. I work with designers to author these to make sure the game feels true to their original design while reducing synchronization bottlenecks. For example with Dominion, there will be settings where you can pre-set up Y interrupt response should an opponent take X action. A player can set up their Moat to always block attacks. That way if the opponent plays an attack, your pre-planned reaction will play out and they can continue their turn without having to wait for you to return to your phone.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Roll for the Galaxy app was voted GOTY from Pixelated Cardboard. Before boardgames, Cannon Brawl won the Activision Independent Games Contest grand prize. Bazaar won silver in the Oculus developer showcase.

Do you have a current favorite game designer?
Emma Larkins of Abandon All Artichokes is very transparent about her game design process; it's been helpful to follow along with her work.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
It's a bit cliché, but I like to make the games I want to be playing. I wanted to play Dominion and Race for the Galaxy on my phone, but they didn't exist.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
We post a Google Forms signup sheet to TempleGatesGames.com/beta. Players are invited to betas first come first served. We collect feedback on Discord. https://discord.gg/RBddmRGJWA

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Small teams are where the magic happens for me. Everyone owns their domain, which reduces meetings and design-by-committee syndrome.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Designers are constantly facing rejection, whether from publishers, playtesters, friends who aren't interested in playtesting, reviewers, and ultimately the boardgame market. Mashing through all that rejection takes a certain stamina and sometimes it’s tempting to just curl up with a regular job with a salary and a kindly boss who tells you what on earth you're supposed to do next.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
For years it was Dominion. Thanks universe! Up next? I would love to work one day with Marie Cardouat, the artist behind Dixit.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
The boardgame industry is like a game of Scythe: It doesn't matter how good your engine is if you don't have the popularity to multiply your success.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
See a designer you want to collaborate with? You can connect on LinkedIn and maybe start working with them - that's how I started working on Race for the Galaxy. Blown away by an amazing artist halfway across the world? Contact them over ArtStation and begin collaborating. Not qualified? No one is actually qualified until they've done it. It used to be that major publishers held all the cards, but now there are lots of tools to circumvent gatekeeping, whether that's Fiverr for creative freelancers, Kickstarter for funding, or Mailchimp to stay connected to your beta test group.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Race for the Galaxy (iOS/Android/Steam), Roll for the Galaxy(iOS/Android/Steam), Shards of Infinity(iOS/Android/Steam), Ascension (VR)
Games that will soon be published are: Dominion (iOS/Android/Steam)

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 for the philosophy hypothetical per episode.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Baking https://www.instagram.com/tduringer/

What is something you learned in the last week?
I learned how to make bread - yeah yeah, another cliché! But Challah French toast is metaphysical.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
It used to be anything post-apocalyptical.

What was the last book you read?
Ready Player Two

Do you play any musical instruments?

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I sold enough anime online in high school to buy a Miata.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
One time I decided to quit my job at Maxis and start a game company!

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Senior year of college (finals week) I was biking along and got hit by a car. With a broken hand, I couldn't take my exams, and because of some fun bureaucracy, it would be a year until I could retake one of the tests I'd need to graduate. In the meantime I got a temp job at a local game company. It turned into a full-time thing, and it's been fifteen years in the game industry since!

Who is your idol or hero?
My mom! She was making games at EA when I was a kid.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Patent it. Then patent everything! Muahaha. Just kidding, the patent system is broken - maybe fix that so that megacorporations can't buy up patents in bulk just to protect themselves while smaller companies, let alone individual creatives, who patents were meant to serve, can't possibly keep up. See superhero question for more thoughts on runaway power systems breaching the integrity of our society.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Depends on if I've been around too few or too many people that day.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
Sailor Moon, champion of justice. >br/>
As a designer, it's easy to create systems that snowball. It takes a deft hand to balance things out. Fortunately, we can use comeback mechanics, synchronizing checkpoints, and resource systems to prevent runaway wins. The world around us is no different. Just like having a small edge in an engine builder, systems of power beget more power. Without intervention, a little vibration - a little innocuous delta in your system - will amplify into a mighty force that if unchecked can be impossible to overtake. To keep players motivated to return to the game, the designer has to put in the work to make the game feel fair. We need the same in our society, so Sailor Moon, champion of justice seems relevant.

Have any pets?

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?
All I know is I hope licorice doesn't make it. Blegh.

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

Folks who want to get boardgame app news or opportunities to be selected for our free betas may wish to sign up to our newsletter TempleGatesGames.com/newsletter

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

Did you like this interview?  Please show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

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