Thursday, February 3, 2011

GAME DESIGN TV - Part I: the Concept

Lately, it seems, we’ve had as many journalists as playtesters visiting our game designers’ sessions at Berlin’s gaming café, the Spielwiese. And some of our games are even turning up on television on the other side of the ocean, most notably CBS Sunday Morning’s recent program, “Board Games Through the Ages.” Today, the German cultural station ARTE aired their own take on the international gaming culture and the place of games in society throughout history. Made for the daily program X:enius (available in German and French), it is entitled "Warum wir spielen, und was wir dadurch lernen (Why we play and what we learn from it)."

Late last year, a documentary filmmaker contacted me about participating in the project. She was particularly interested in the process of game design, and she was intrigued by the number of freelance designers on whom publishers rely for their products. Herself a freelance producer, she wanted to make a program that also showed the design process for one of my yet-unpublished games.

I’ve always been very interested in both journalism and film. Just as she was interested in learning more about the game design process, I was excited to learn more about the filmmaking process. I must admit, however, that I was also humbled, as I don’t design games for a living, and there are many German designers who are much more established and successful than I am. “I think your background in architecture also makes the story interesting, as well as the fact that you discovered German games here as a foreigner,” the producer assured me.

I’ve done interviews in the past, as the Spielwiese gets plenty of press for it’s unique business plan as a gaming cafe and rental shop. In fact, I’d even done an interview once for a Japanese TV program which was filming a feature on German boardgames. The show was meant to help people in that country learn German, and I apologized after the interview for the many Japanese who would now be speaking the language with an American accent.

But this would be different–a program which detailed the process I go through to get a game idea out of my head, onto paper, then onto the screen, and finally, back onto paper (and cardboard) as a prototype, ready to play-test in my Monday-night group. What would I say? What would I wear–artsy black, geeky t-shirt, or gamy Hawaiian print? And, most importantly, which unpublished prototype would I feature?

I finally decided on Würfelburg (Dice Castle), a game I’d been working on for some time and had just “finished.” It’s a 3-dimensional dexterity game, and I decided that would probably look the best on TV and would provide a bit more action that simply drawing cards and moving pieces on a board. The producer agreed.

Since the prototype was already finished, however, I had to do some preparation for the shoot. This meant a kind of “reverse game design,” as I had to erase some of my computer graphics so that I could redraw them in front of the camera, then print them out, etc. And I gathered all of my materials together in one corner of the living room to make it easier to film: computer, printer, laminating machine, and drawers of wooden gaming bits, dice and plastic chips.

The next morning, the doorbell rang and film crew strolled in with their gear... be continued.

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