Game designer couple Sarah and Will Reed, of Project Dreamscape and Oaxaca, answer five questions about being game designers and the game design process.
Sarah Reed and Bennett William Reed IV (Will Reed)
Number of years designing
Best known for
Project Dreamscape, Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture
What was the moment you knew you were a game designer?
When I developed a headache from trying to make my first prototype. Haha! But really, when I started seriously putting effort into making a prototype and using my free time to playtest instead of playing published games, that’s when I knew I was a game designer. Now I didn’t feel like a “real” game designer until I held Project Dreamscape in my hands.
For me, it all felt real when I held Project Dreamscape as a finished game in my hands.
Where have your best ideas come from?
Experiences. I pull a lot of ideas from what I experience in other tabletop games as well as life in general.
So far, my best ideas come from challenging myself to design better versions of things I don’t quite think are right. For instance, I’m not a fan of set collection. So Project Dreamscape was born. Also, I’ve never been completely happy with dice mitigation games, this led to Oaxaca.
Describe your design/development process?
My husband Will and I design as a team, but we do each have our own typical roles, though we do deviate from them and wear each other’s hats every now and then. But typically, Will designs in his head and then writes up a document of notes with a game idea. He fleshes out a lot of the mechanics of the game as well as basic idea of the theme. I then take his rough notes and develop them into rules and the first prototype. Then we come back together for our first playtests. We work together to figure out problems and decide which way to go. Once we feel confident in what we’ve got, we go to our local game design meetings as well as often post a PnP online to get playtesting feedback. From there, it’s iterate, iterate, iterate.
The initial design spends a good deal of time being worked on in my head. I don’t put any notes down until most of the game concepts are structured in such a way that a rough prototype can be made quickly. From there it is a collaboration between my wife and I to figure out what we should do with my rough framework.
What are your favorite tools for making game prototypes?
I use Photoshop and the templates from The Game Crafter to make all of the printed components. I’ll first print them out at home, but once the components are stabilized, we print them for higher quality components. I also pull a lot of icons from Game-Icons.net and some basic clip art from clker.com. Otherwise, we’ve accumulate a lot of bits and random components over the years that we can fill out the prototypes without usually buying anything. Every now and then, Will has built some components out of LEGO, like the player token airships for our next game, Reaching Haven’s Vault.
I am not an artist and I know art plays a huge role in how a game is perceived. So one of my favorite resource/tools is going to game-icons.net and picking through their library. I may never use the icons as a final design, but they almost always appear in my prototypes.
If you could go back to the beginning and teach yourself one thing about game design what would it be?
Start small. Our first few games were complex and unwieldy and it was so hard to figure out the balance of them, which we never actually managed. It was a completely different world when we shelved those initial game prototypes and started working on Project Dreamscape. From that experience, we have learned so much. Making a tight, small concept teaches a lot of the building blocks needed for larger games.
That the player experiences is king. In the end, no matter how clever I think a mechanic is, I’m simply crafting an experience. This makes it much easier to critically analyze my own work to see what really is necessary and what needs to go.