On the verge of the release of Viewpoint Reflections, I pondered, “Why did I create this game?” I mean, I could have joined the MasterChef craze and taken up cooking classes. Or perhaps I could have undergone training for a series of triathlons. Maybe I could have bought a runabout to aid me in honing my fishing skills. I like to cook, swim, run, cycle and fish so all of these are relatively viable challenges that I could have taken up. However, when it all comes down to it for me, these activities don't provide the remarkable experiences you have when you are trying to nurture a game from its concept to its release. To paraphrase a well-known saying, “It's not the destination but the journey that makes creating games worthwhile”. I still think the destination is crucially important but the journey just contains so much damned fun!
I like to break down the process of designing and releasing games into five main steps:
- Brainstorm Ideas
- Design and Internal Play-Testing
- Development and External Play-Testing
- Sampling and Production
- Distribution and Launch Activities
These steps are generally performed in order but all activities can be conducted in unison to varying degrees. The conduct of each step provides many opportunities for partaking in a variety of enjoyable experiences and encounters and the process of creating Viewpoint Reflections was no different.
Brainstorming ideas for the design of an expansion set, such as Viewpoint Reflections, is like a double-edged sword... you have the advantage of not having to design the game from the ground up but you also need to constantly keep the flavour and gameplay of the original in mind so you don't come up with ideas that make absolutely no sense when combined with the original game.
Fortunately, we had plenty of constructive feedback from those who played the original Viewpoint so the task of brainstorming was shared between fans of Viewpoint and ourselves. This meant that we could collated a large and diverse range of ideas and themes for Viewpoint Reflections. Two of the most iconic cards in Viewpoint Reflections came from fan feedback - Counterspy (which can be used to cancel STEAL actions) and Refocus (which is used to reshuffle the Discard Pile into the Draw Pile).
Because we wanted to increase the flavour of Viewpoint in the new set, plenty of brainstorming went into the theme of each card and the set as a whole, and the design of some cards was based on their theme instead of gameplay mechanics. For example, we brainstormed the idea of two new characters - Dirk and Pedro, the Lazy Eyes - for which a card would need to be designed. Then we thought, what would Lazy Eyes do in Viewpoint... impair your vision... so we made the Lazy Eyes card make you place two cards (as they are Lazy Eyes) from your Hand on top of the Draw Deck.
There is a plethora of other ideas that we brainstormed that didn't make it into Viewpoint Reflections, including those which will definitely be included in future sets (the Zombeyes) and those that were so far out that, if introduced, the game could lose its family-friendly G-rating.
In short, brainstorming game ideas is one of the most enjoyable free-thinking activities you can do. You can let your collective subconsciousness come up with the wildest and most wonderful ideas without having to justify anything.
Design and Internal Play-Testing
Soon after the release of Viewpoint and the initial collation of ideas from the brainstorming activity, I began the design of a series of expansion sets for the game - Viewpoint Reflections, Viewpoint Eye vs Eye and Viewpoint Blackout. To assist in this process, I created four lists of cards, including lists of cards that seemed suitable for inclusion in each of the expansion sets and one list of cards that didn't quite fit any of the sets but might be suitable later with a few tweaks.
Once I got to 70 cards in the Viewpoint Reflections list, I produced a rough prototype for testing within the company and solo play-testing. I quickly discovered through testing what cards really weren't suited for the theme of the set and which would require some amendments to their mechanics. Cards like Reflective Glare (which acted like the Reverse card from UNO), whilst fitting perfectly with the theme, had a mechanic that didn't quite do what an iconic Viewpoint card should do. Other cards like Colour Blind (which would have allowed players to swap negative value card with positive value card) simply didn't stack up during internal play-testing to be a card suited to Viewpoint Reflections. Cards like Focus Attention, which was kept from the original list, had to be tweaked so that their View-points were adequately balanced with their actions.
The act of refining a game design is very challenging yet rather rewarding as it really pushes you to learn how to balance essential themes with enjoyable mechanics. Without this step, cards such as WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which would have allowed players to return all of their cards from their Field of View to their Hand, might have seen every Viewpoint game go for 8 hours long.
Development and External Play-Testing
After a few months of internal play-testing and refining the design of Viewpoint Reflections, I sleeved up a more formal prototype (now including sublime sketches from our lead artist Anthony Condos) and took it to some of our favourite game clubs and stores for independent play-testing - UNSW Gameplayers Society, UOW Guild Gaming Society, Mega Games and Good Games.
To ensure I collected as much feedback as possible during the in-club/in-store play-testing, I developed a form on which play-testers could provide feedback and suggestions for improving the game. I received some quirky feedback like “needs more naked women”. However, I received so much quality input from the first few sessions that I went back to the design stage and conducted further in-house testing. What came out of this was a robust base prototype, which was used in subsequent months to conduct additional external play-testing and refinement.
During the refinement of the card mechanics and rules of the set, we also continued developing the theme of the set. This was done by introducing more characters and story-lines, such as Eye Guy's mission to stop Evil Eye Guy from conquering the View-niverse. Anthony created more great artwork, which you can find in Viewpoint Reflections, future expansion sets and upcoming Viewpoint cartoons.
This stage is so much fun... you get to meet and play games with some many kind and wise people. You also get to share your creation with those people and have them be a part of it. There aren't too many pastimes where you can do that.
Sampling and Production
Once we were happy with the theme, cards and overall gameplay experience that the set provided, we started preparing the artwork for manufacturing the game and searching for a manufacturer that could meet our quality criteria.
Since this set was based on the original Viewpoint game, it was easy to use the core graphics to produce the images for the new cards. By this stage, Anthony had already produced most of the images to be added to the cards. Therefore, only small adjustments were required to get the artwork ready for manufacturing.
Whilst preparing the artwork wasn't too time-consuming, the process of searching for potential manufacturers and eliminating those that didn't meet the required grade took much longer than we had expected; even based on our previous experiences. Halfway during the design of the new set, we chose to terminate our arrangement with the manufacturer of the original Viewpoint release based on a number of unsavoury follow-on dealings we had with them. From this experience we chose to increase the rigour in our policy for assigning manufacturing contracts. We widened the pool of manufacturers from whom we sort quotes and ensured that the onus would be on them to perform. We assessed each quote carefully and produced a short-list of two candidates. We then got both candidates to produce a few samples for assessment. Whilst the samples from both candidates were fairly good, we felt that only one of the candidates had really understood what we needed in the final product. And from that process we assigned the best candidate the manufacturing contract for Viewpoint Reflections.
Producing the graphics for a card game and negotiating a manufacturing agreement have two things in common... they're both arts in themselves... and they are both great skills to learn.
Distribution and Launch Activities
So when the journey of creating and releasing Viewpoint Reflections is almost over, we need to perform the two of the most important tasks - getting the game to the people and promoting the game to the people. This is where I call in Anthony to help out as our Sales Manager Extraordinaire. Anthony has forged many strong relationships with distributors and resellers and is one half of the combination for getting Viewpoint Reflections into stores. The other half is providing an enjoyable gaming experience so that people like you and I will want to participate.
To provide the best gaming experience available, 93 Made Games and our partners will continue to conduct a diverse range of Viewpoint Reflections activities that are open to anyone to join in. These include:
- The Viewpoint Reflections Pre-Release Party at Mega Games in Penrith, NSW, Australia from 8pm onwards on Friday, 25 November 2011
- The Viewpoint Reflections Launch Party at Mega Games in Penrith, NSW, Australia from 7:30pm onwards on Friday, 9 December 2011
- 2011/2012 Viewpoint Tournament Series where you can earn Player of the Year points and other rewards
- More prizes and Accolades including exclusive prize cards (Eyelets, Eye on the Prize and Lookalikes), playmats and trophies
- More and more in-club/in-store demonstrations with Viewpoint, Viewpoint Reflections and other games from 93 Made Games
- A fresh new look for the 93 Made Games website, focussing more on Viewpoint
- Viewpoint feature cartoons following on from the story established in Viewpoint Hustle animation
- Play-testing for the next Viewpoint sets
- In-store/In-club Tournament Leagues
- Viewpoint National, State and Invitational Championships
- The World Championships of Viewpoint!
There is so much fun ready to be had by all so we look forward to seeing you again very soon and can't wait for the massive Viewpoint Reflections Launch Party at Mega Games!