Tuesday, April 7, 2020

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 219: Calli Wright

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:Calli Wright
Location:Westminster, CA
Day Job:I am the Education Engagement Manager at MIND Research Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world's biggest challenges. I love my job! I get to help support the relationships my colleagues build with our 5,000 teachers and 1.25 million students across the country who are using our ST Math program, and invite more educators to join our community. My team and I work on projects with our website, swag, engagement campaigns, 125+ events a year, social media, brand awareness, educational materials and our annual student game design challenge, the K-12 Game-a-thon. I love that my job combines all of my passions: communications, education, and games.
Designing:One to two years.
Webpage:www.unfilteredgames.com, www.mindresearch.org/speakers/calli-wright
YouTube:Unfiltered Gamer
Find my games at:mathmindsgames.com
Today's Interview is with:

Calli Wright
Interviewed on: 11/27/2019

This week's interview is with Calli Wright. You may already know Calli as part of the Unfiltered Gamer team. There she reviews games and participates in weekly live streams. But Callie is also an accomplished game designer. She works with a team that designs educational games and also has some other designs that she's working on independently, including Moonshell, which should be hitting Kickstarter soon. Read on to learn more about Calli and the many projects she's involved in!

Some Basics
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?
Like many others, I have loved games for a long time. My brother introduced me to video games fairly young (Pokemon on gameboy!) and I continued playing computer games for a long time. I met my husband on World of Warcraft, and when we got burned out on raiding and playing so much in the digital space, we turned to tabletop games for a change of pace and more social interaction. When he broke his back and had to quit his job in the film industry, he started a YouTube channel reviewing board games (Unfiltered Gamer) and I started doing some freelance rulebook editing (I have a Masters in English language and literature).

A couple of years ago, my colleague at work (MIND Research Institute) asked me to join a small team working to scale one of our Math Fair exhibits, a fully interactive space with ancient strategy games from Africa and cultural components, into a family math night box for families and schools. He imagined a fully hands-on interactive exhibit comprised in a box, which wouldn't require facilitation from experts, and wouldn't require a traditional rulebook. This eventually became our first storybook board game set. I guess I can't refuse a challenge!

All of these things coalesced together to lead me in the game design direction. When you're thinking about rule design and how to teach people games in a new way, you really have to dig into the mechanics of the games, and draw upon players' schemas (what they already know) to build upon their knowledge and "get it" as quickly and easily as possible. I love solving problems like this, and the opportunity to help more families start playing board games together was compelling - helping students learn the skills to succeed in our unknown future was a big reason why I joined the organization.

It's an easy jump from there, working on so many different games in so many different capacities (rulebook editor, storybook writer, playtester, reviewer, and even interviewing game designers), to have new ideas come to life and want to test them right away. I had some ideas earlier in life, but after being a part of the game design process in so many ways for so many games, now I knew more about how to test and iterate on those designs right away. Of course I am still learning, which is great!

What game or games are you currently working on?
My first solo design is Moonshell, a mermaid game! Moonshell is a strategy puzzle game for 1-4 players. In Moonshell, you play as a mermaid to shift the tides in your direction, collect valuable seashells, and create a stunning collection. It's going to be on Kickstarter very soon.

I also have several more games I am working on with my colleagues from my nonprofit, MIND Research Institute. We have a sudoku-like puzzle game (addition with missing addends up to 20), and a series of working memory games (based on more games from ancient Africa), which will be published in Fall 2020.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Yes, I am part of a cross-departmental team at my work and we design storybook board games. MathMINDs Games: South of the Sahara is a set of 3 games combining history, mathematics and ancient gameplay. It was published in 2018 with grant funding, and has won an Academic's Choice award. Thanks to our donors, we've given away 4,000 copies of the games (some in Spanish) to families in low socio-economic situations. Many of these families have never played a game together! It's so rewarding to be able to introduce more families to the hobby, and the educational and social emotional benefits of playing games.

What is your day job?
I am the Education Engagement Manager at MIND Research Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world's biggest challenges. I love my job! I get to help support the relationships my colleagues build with our 5,000 teachers and 1.25 million students across the country who are using our ST Math program, and invite more educators to join our community. My team and I work on projects with our website, swag, engagement campaigns, 125+ events a year, social media, brand awareness, educational materials and our annual student game design challenge, the K-12 Game-a-thon. I love that my job combines all of my passions: communications, education, and games.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
I love playing games at schools during Family Math/STEM Nights, because I get to introduce new families to the joy of playing games together! And they get to experience math in a new, non-threatening way.

Other conventions and events are fun too, because there is an atmosphere of excitement; we are all getting to share in this experience we all love and enjoy together and I can demo or play games I might not get to normally (there's too many games to own them all!).

Who do you normally game with?
My husband and our friends. Then I also have a group at work that plays games at lunch breaks.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
We have so many games that we usually let guests choose! If they are newer to games, or just for a warm-up, we break out some easy to play and learn games first, like The Mind, Jack's Friends, Sparkle*Kitty and Cabo. Then, depending on the group, we might get into a more social or deduction game (Sheriff of Nottingham, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, The Resistance) or a more involved or immersive game (Everdell, Rise of Tribes, Sagrada), or just keep going with the lighter games (Spyfall, The Chameleon). For educators, I love to break out games from HABA and Genius Games and introduce them to those! It's rare that we break out the heavier games, but when we get other content creators over we get to get into the games like Tapestry, Rising Sun, and Vindication.

And what snacks would you eat?
We tend to do a BBQ (in-between games!) on game nights.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not usually - it has to be very ambient because I am hard of hearing and when there's a lot going on I can get frustrated.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
In orange county, we have Brookhurst Hobbies and Kingslayer Comics. Our favorite in Los Angeles is the Dragon and the Meeple, because we can get a bite to eat there too!

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Sagrada is still one of my favorites!

I will play almost any game, that's just part of being on a team of reviewers.

Some of the worst games I've played are games that just aren't ready yet to be published, they haven't been playtested enough for certain situations, or we can't figure out the rules. I recommend creators do blind playtesting sessions to help determine if their game (and rulebook) is ready for reviewers before their Kickstarter.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love set collection. I don't like some storytelling or other communication mechanics because I hate being put on the spot; as a hard of hearing individual I can sometimes miss important components of any game involving listening and multiple people talking at once.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Tiny Towns - I love the puzzle and building aspect. Fortunately there's a solo version!

It's sometimes difficult for us to play most games more than a few times, because there's always new games we need to get to for reviews.

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
CAH isn't my choice of games nowadays, but I immensely respect them for creating such a successful brand!

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 have an idea for the mechanics, then the theme, then the mechanics shift to fit the theme better. When I evaluate or work on other games, I love it when the mechanics and the theme work together and make sense. It makes a game so much easier to explain and learn because you're drawing upon people's understanding of how things work in that theme.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
No, I can't seem to get it together to submit to competitions on time!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I am so lucky to be able to meet and interview a lot of game designers! I really respect Az Drummond from Mythic Games for his world-building, Daryl Andrews for Sagrada (definitely an inspiration for my current game), David Cicurel for integrating tech in Chronicles of Crime, John D. Clair for clever combo-building and strategy, Elizabeth Hargrave for incorporating science and math in her games, and so many more!

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I commute about 30-60 minutes to and from work (southern California!), so I play all kinds of creative exercises/games in my head. Sometimes I try to use license plates to come up with game titles or just the longest phrases possible. Sometimes I think about how I would combine the mechanics from very different games. I often get sucked into a trend or hobby and then that research leads me to think about how I could make a game with that theme. I am currently researching how to buy a house...but I don't know if that one will inspire any ideas, haha.

For the educational games at work we take inspiration from ancient strategy games and modernize them, and do research on where the game originated to share a story around the time and place and culture. A real life model within the story teaches the readers how the mechanics of the game work.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
At home, at work and at local events - wherever I can, basically! I am also lucky to have an awesome developer doing a ton of playtesting halfway across the country with his own game group and events.

For our educational games at MIND, we often host or join family engagement nights with schools, many that are funded by our donors, so we'll get a lot of great feedback from those since they are always a blind playtest (too many families to facilitate a whole lot).

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I love the collaboration of working together. It gives me motivation and pushes me to incorporate ideas and try different directions that I wouldn't have thought about on my own.

At MIND, we are a small team (a lead designer/product director, an artist, another storybook writer and me), with limited resources, so any time we are able to get together we really push hard on "what did we learn from the last playtest session/event, and how can we improve that right away for the next test?"

At Unfiltered Games, we are just starting out and figuring out how to work together best. I love working with Clinton Morris as a developer at Unfiltered Games, he keeps the projects moving forward and pushes my designs farther than I would have thought possible.

All of the games have come so far from their initial versions, and it really becomes a team effort to get to that point!

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Motivation to stick to one project!

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Sailor Moon, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Pokemon (but not a TCG obviously)

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Test as soon as possible (sooner!) and as often as possible - before you get attached to how it's supposed to work in your head!

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
I think what has really helped me is playing hundreds of games, and games I wouldn't have chosen to play on my own!

My other piece of advice is to get involved in the game creation process in other ways, working on rulebooks, graphic design or art, running (not just participating) in playtests, etc. You get an inside look into the process, and also learn how you like to collaborate with others.

Finally, I'd love to mention thinking about funding in a different way. Think about partnering with organizations or companies for whom your game would be a great asset or fit their mission. I think there's a whole untapped method of grant funding for new game designs.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: MathMINDs Games: South of the Sahara
Games that will soon be published are: MathMINDs Games: Turtle Sums (and more MathMINDs Games titles to be announced)
I'm planning to crowdfund: Moonshell: A Mermaid Game

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. Neither! I know VHS...

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Yoga, crafts, watercolors, reading, tutoring, editing, writing

What is something you learned in the last week?
If it's something that will take less than 2 minutes to do, just do it right away and get it out of the way, or it will take up so much more mental energy to keep reminding yourself to do it.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Fantasy is my genre of choice!

What was the last book you read?
The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War book 2)

Do you play any musical instruments?

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Went from long very dark brown hair to platinum blonde. Then bright pink for a while. Then chopped it all off! As my boss once said, "This person is not afraid of change."

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Buy stock, get rich and start a philanthropic foundation to change the world (hopefully for the better!)

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Introvert. I need time at the end of each night to recharge.

Have any pets?
Yes! Dante is a min pin/chihuahua mix and you can sometimes find him in my review videos or our Facebook live streams on Wednesday nights.

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?
I'm in California, so looks like I won't make it. But hopefully games with a technological element survive because I think there is a lot of potential in merging technology with tabletop games in thoughtful ways that you can't do solely in one format or the other.

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):
My husband, Michael Wright, he is an amazing supporter of my work and my sounding board for almost everything.

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

Let me know at cwright@mindresearch.org if you're a game designer interested in volunteering (virtually) as a judge for the K-12 Game-a-thon, a student game design challenge.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment