Game designer Dave Chalker, of Get Bit!, Heat and Thief’s Market, answers five questions about being a game designer and the game design process
Silver Spring, MD
Number of years designing
Best known for
Get Bit!, Heat, Thief’s Market
What was the moment you knew you were a game designer?
When the first copies of Get Bit! started to show up on review shows (including Scott Nicholson and Tom Vasel) I knew I wasn’t just making games for me anymore but was actually a game designer.
Where have your best ideas come from?
I’m not sure I know what my best ideas are! But playing lots of games, combining parts of them in new ways, and doing my own takes on certain styles always is fruitful for me. Also, making sure that any game where I’ve taken inspiration from other games feels like it’s own thing often requires some creative solutions.
Describe your design/development process?
I keep a lot of notes in a central online document that I can get to anywhere. It might be a theme idea, mechanic idea, or just a general style or feel of a game. Often I’ll go back and combine multiple pieces of ideas and see if anything clicks together that was invented independently.
Afterward, I always try to find the most efficient path to prototype. Sometimes this means cranking out a subset of cards (even when the game wants more), or it tells me when some rules that sounded like good ideas aren’t worth the time and effort to get to the prototype stage.
I bring prototypes to my game group, which has other game designers and folks who understand game design. We are mainly looking to see if there’s the spark of anything good that is worth developing. Sometimes that means playing an entire game, sometimes that means changing rules multiple times throughout a play, and sometimes it means stopping a game partway through that’s not working. In any case, I observe as much as possible. What I see in how players are engaging with the game and what is falling down is much more valuable to me than any individual piece of feedback. However, brainstorming with my playtesters can often hit upon solutions that I hadn’t thought of.
After that, it’s a lot of iterating. Everything from tweaking just a few minor things for the next play to completely rebuilding a game from the ground up.
We like to say in my group that of every 10 ideas, 1 is worth prototyping. Of every 10 prototypes, 1 is worth developing into a polished game. And of every 10 polished games, 1 will get published. (Though I certainly would love to bring that last average up!)
What are your favorite tools for making game prototypes?
Making cards is one of the biggest hurdles for me. I finally bought an old school, “guillotine-style” paper cutter. So now I will make cards in a spreadsheet, merge them into cards in inDesign, chop them down using the paper cutter, and slide those cards into sleeves. That’s the fastest way I have to put out lots of cards at once, and then swapping individual cards is easy.
If you could go back to the beginning and teach yourself one thing about game design what would it be?
When you’re first getting started, design with the intent to learn, not publish – learn about the process, do the research, and listen to others as much as you can. (And also, 90’s me, designing a CCG is not going to work out, I’m sorry.)