As part of the build-up to the launch of Game Chef 2012, we’re checking in with a number of recent Game Chef “alumni” to see what their post-contest experience has been like and how their games have continued to develop. Today we spotlight Ross Cowman and his Game Chef 2011 entry, Serpent’s Tooth.
Tell us about your game.
Serpent’s Tooth explores the metaphor of the king and his kingdom through a variety of settings. It is unique in that it maps GM authority onto the shifting balance of power in the story.
What state was your game in at the end of Game Chef, and where is it now?
At the end of Game Chef I had a decent “alpha” draft that had been playtested a couple of times. It was playable and fun, but had some confusing mechanics and really needed me to be there to make it work. Since then its been through several rounds of playtesting and development and been released as a public “beta.” The beta is a more focused design with illustrations by Ryan Converse.
What have you learned over the course of the game’s development?
Game design is a lot of work. I went from being exhausted and bored with my own design to excited about its possibilities and energized by the feedback I’ve been getting from playtesters. Additionally, I think it is important to provide a way for other people to make your game their own. I noticed that with Fiasco‘s playsets, a concept I use in Serpent’s Tooth. A couple of people came up to me at the con to tell me about kings they wanted to make. It felt really good to have made a tool that people want to use to tell their own stories.
What are your ultimate goals for the game and how close are you to meeting those?
The game is in beta testing until April 7th. After that I will write up the final draft and run a super low-bar Kickstarter (like $500), starting May 1st. I plan to order my print run May 15th and make it available in three formats — PDF, print, and a limited edition boxed set with counters and Tarot-sized cards — by June 10th.
What advice would you give to other Game Chef alumns who are thinking about developing their game further?
I think the biggest challenge of a designer is to make things that don’t need them anymore. A game needs to get to a place where people can pick it up and make it work. Also, record your playtests. And when you listen to those recordings, pay attention to what mechanics are confusing to the players, and what questions coming up in play. Then take those parts of your game and throw them in the trash.
What would you tell folks thinking about participating in Game Chef for the first or second time?
Make physical and social space in your life for game design. Clean your room or desk, get a nice pad of drawing paper and some pens, tell your partner you’re not going to talk about normal things for awhile, tell your gaming group they are going to be playing your broke-ass game, or better yet, invite them over to hang out and design together.
More information about Serpent’s Tooth is available online here.