See here for Part I in this series.
Then one morning, the doorbell rang and writer/producer Fredérique Veith strolled in with her cameraman and another who did the sound & lighting. They had just a few pieces of equipment to carry, and set up quickly. All were very friendly, and before long, we were shooting in my living room.
It was fun to be able to hit the main points of the design process, recording each one in front of the camera, interjecting brief interviews on subjects such as the inspiration behind a game idea and the different elements that make up a good game. They filmed me paging through one of my son’s books on medieval castles, for example, as I pondered the design of Würfelburg. I also showed them a reconstructed “first prototype” that I made with my sons, using their wooden blocks and a standard square game box (the game was always meant to use both sides of the game box, the way many Zoch games do).
Many of the shots were quite repetitive, as they wanted multiple camera angles for each scene. At one point, for example, I was instructed to enter the room, move my hand along the games stacked in the bookshelf, pull one out to take a closer look, slip it back into place, pull out another one, slip it back, repeat again and again and again. Another time, they filmed me opening one of the drawers of wooden bits I keep for prototypes, searching through with my hands, then closing it again. Then I opened another, and another, until I came to the dice drawer, where I reached in to grab the correct colors of dice I needed. I supposed that there would be quite a few close-ups of my hands in the finished production.
They filmed me creating the graphics for the prototype on my laptop, but carefully avoided getting a shot of the obvious lighted brand symbol on the back of my computer. The camera then captured the action of graphics being printed out onto sticky-back paper and being laminated. Finally, it zoomed in on my scissors, as I cut out the glossy graphics and carefully peeled off the backs, sticking them to the dice and the cardboard. I could only imagine what kind of theme music they would use when this was all spliced together.
Towards the end, I brought out the finished prototype to demonstrate my first play-tests with it. Again, it was repetitive, as I flicked one die after the other. “Flick another one to exactly the same place,” I was often told. “If the game were that easy, I wouldn’t have designed it!” I wanted to say.
One angle Fredérique wanted to pursue was my background in architecture, and I dusted off my portfolio to show some of my work in that area. My design process with games is actually very similar to what it was with architecture. Back then, I would design through building models—sometimes using all sorts of materials, even wire and plaster. As a game designer, I prefer to design through prototyping, “building” many different versions until I finally feel comfortable taking it to my group for play-testing. Some designers prefer to have the game all worked out in their head, but I think better while I’m working with my hands and working on visual elements.
A few hours after the crew arrived, they were packed and out the door again. We met later that evening in the Spielwiese to film the most critical part of the design process: the play-testing session. Designer Bernd Eisenstein along with regular play-testers Rolf and Alfred were there. Jerome, a new designer to our group, who recently moved to Berlin from Canada, also joined us. Most of them were already familiar with my game, and we flicked dice under the bright lights as the camera moved about, capturing every angle imaginable. After filming a few minutes of the start, we moved the victory point markers ahead to jump to the end of the game. Then my play-testers were asked to give their impressions. Fredérique was excited to have Jerome there, as he came from Quebec and could answer in French, as X:enius is produced in two languages. Accordingly, I made an official request for a deep French voice for my overdub.
As I took a break to chat with Michael, they had the guys play some other games like Chess in front of the camera. That was probably the first time I’d ever seen that game come out in the Spielwiese!
The next and final step in the “Game-umentory” was on the following week, when the two moderators of the show came to the Spielwiese to interview owner Michael Schmitt, have a go with my prototype, and ask some more questions.
To be continued…