Wednesday, January 19, 2011
In November of 2010 Shadow Mountain and Good Knight Games released Feast & Famine: Joseph in Egypt. Recently, Ryan Braman (artist for Feast & Famine) and Jason Conforto (designer of Feast & Famine) answered some of our questions about the game, it's development, illustration, and publication. The interview is included below.
Can you give us a little background info on the two of you?
Jason: Ryan and I grew up together in San Diego, CA. We started making short films with our friends when we were in junior high and we both ended up in creative fields later on in life: I studied film while Ryan went into illustration. We have always wanted to work professionally together on a creative project, and Feast & Famine was our first real opportunity to do that. With Feast & Famine, we ended up starting a game company called Good Knight Games (here).
Ryan: I went to school at BYU Idaho, and to BYU for a year, and then transferred to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to study Illustration. Prior to teaming up with Jason I had worked several years at Midway Home Entertainment in their Creative Services department. Our team mainly focused on print production for packaging, marketing, public relations, and trade shows. It was a great starting job.
Jason, how did you get into designing games?
Jason: I got into game design by changing the rules of the games that I played. I know a lot of people who think it is morally wrong to not follow the rules as they are written out in the rule book, but for me rules don’t matter as long as they are agreed upon and apply to everyone playing. So as I played games I would always be thinking, “How could this game be more fun?” And then I would change the rules. Eventually the rules required making additional game pieces. Sometimes I would improve the games, and other times I would just make them too complicated to play. I started making my own games based on other people’s games, which led to creating games with completely original game play.
How did the design for Feast & Famine come about?
Jason: Feast & Famine started out as a game where you had 12 months to collect a year’s supply of food, and then you had to try to survive on that food for another year. I was happy with the Feast side of that game but the Famine side just felt like undoing everything that you had done, and really who wants to play a game about powdered milk and canned goods anyway? The solution came from the Bible story of Joseph in Egypt. That theme gave Ryan the opportunity to draw upon Egyptian art, and his art is what attracts people to the game, and keeps them playing.
Can you give us a little insight into how you developed the game once you had the design in mind (throwing ideas back and forth, play-testing, how long did the entire process take, etc)?
Jason: This game was over a year in the making. I would come up with an idea and then spend hours making cheap game pieces to play the game. Then as I would play the game with my very patient wife I would discover things I needed to change. From there I would spend more time making the changes and we would play again. We did that for weeks on end. Once the game started to get good we started playing it with friends to test it out. It took a long time to find the right balance for this game. The most important balance is always strategy and luck, but with this game I had to balance education and entertainment, and since it was religious education I also wanted to make sure it was accurate without being preachy. I hoped to make a game that was easy enough for kids to play and challenging enough for adults to want to keep playing.
Ryan, how much were you involved in the development of Feast & Famine (did you participate much in the design of the gameplay)?
Ryan: I didn’t really have much involvement in the initial design of the Feast & Famine gameplay. Jason basically approached me with a finished paper prototype he had created using Excel and some playing cards he had placed different kinds of heart-shaped stickers on. We had a game night at his house so I could get a feel for the game and discuss the different items that would need to be designed. The nice thing about the paper prototype was that it still left a lot up to the imagination. Jason was pretty open to new ideas that would enhance the gameplay and the overall visual design of the game. Some of the game items evolved over time such as the design of the seven-sided gameboard. We went back and forth with different sketches and a few versions before we reached the final solution. So the core gameplay was already there–my job then, was to take it from the concept stage to the finished product.
Have you designed any other games?
Jason: I have designed dozens of games; board games, party games, card games . . . games about pirates, zombies, Mayan ruins, the mafia and more. Plus we are now starting to develop games for the iphone and other devices. We hope to publish a few games every year.
Why did you choose Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain as the publisher, or did you pitch the game to other companies, and how did that process go?
Jason: We actually designed this game specifically for Shadow Mountain. We had other publishers as back-ups just in case they decided to pass on the game, but our pitch went well with them and we never had to shop the game around to anyone else.
Ryan, had you done any game art before Feast & Famine
Ryan: I had. When I worked at Midway I spent most of my workdays creating game covers such as Mortal Kombat and Rampage Total Destruction, designing packaging, working on concept designs, and some 2d and 3d animation. I also worked on creating my own game designs, which were illustrated with concept screens that I had mocked up when work was slow. Midway accepted game submissions from its employees so I pitched some of these illustrated game design docs to the Review Board. One actually made it pretty far, but never made it into production. Feast & Famine is my first foray into the world of board gaming, but my background in the video game industry helped make the transition to board games pretty seamless.
Ryan, the art looks beautiful on Feast & Famine and I agree that it is a definite draw to the game. How long did it take for you to finish? How involved was Jason in that process?
Ryan: I started work on the art for Feast & Famine early 2009, and worked on it off and on for a year. At the time I was also working a job as a surveyor and doing some illustration and design consulting on the side. Jason was heavily involved in the development of the artwork for the game. We started off designing the food tiles, passing art and emails back and forth. Once the artwork for the tiles was finished I printed off a whole sheet of tiles and mounted them on matte board and cut them out. I remember pouring them all out on Jason’s dining room table and us both just staring at how cool they looked in a pile. After seeing them finished we were super excited to move on to the game boards, etc.
Jason, can you tell us a little about pitching the game to Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain?
Jason: The smartest thing we did in pitching this game was finishing the art first. I’m not sure we would have been able to pitch the game to Shadow Mountain had we not had our art finished. That being said, creating the art upfront also added a very real element of risk once you consider all of our printing, time, and other costs.
As soon as we were done playing the game during the pitch we were informed that they wanted to publish the game. The following week Shadow Mountain had an additional internal approval process that we were not a part of, but we got past that as well. Our initial pitch was in February of 2010, and we were told that we were barely in time from Christmas of that year. Feast & Famine released in stores on Nov 5, 2010.
Many game designers who have hopes of getting their games published read our blog. Can you go a little more into detail on the pitch to Shadow Mountain for us (did you call/email them, send them a game summary or rules first, sounds like you went to their offices and played the game, how did that go, etc)?
Jason: Our experience was not typical since I have had a long working relationship with many of the key players at Shadow Mountain and have worked on a bunch of non-game related projects (mostly film) with them. So it was by no means a cold pitch. Shadow Mountain typically does not publish board games so I did have to call in a few favors to make this happen.
Ryan, Jason said that you had all the art done before pitching it to Shadow Mountain, sounds like a lot of work to put in before even knowing that the game would be published. Did the two of you have any plans to run the production yourselves if it was not picked up by another publisher or did you have other companies in mind that would have been approached had Shadow Mountain decided to pass?
Ryan: Yeah, the way you see the game in Deseret Book is pretty much identical to the prototype, except for the velvet-lined drawstring bag my wife sewed, and the small faux alligator skin suitcase we used to carry all of the pieces in. It was a lot of work for sure. Jason and I had talked loosely about presenting the game to other publishers in the area. We also threw around the idea of self-publishing if no one was interested. It was decided early on that it would be an easier sell to potential publishers if we produced a working prototype that looked like a finished, production quality game. Doing that really helped our cause.
Was it difficult to bring this project to fruition working together? What kinds of things did you learn working as a team? Will you be collaborating on more in the future?
Ryan: It was difficult for us both trying to get this project off the ground–not from working together because I think we work together great, but because we had been pouring all of this time and money into a project with an unforeseen end. There was a very real risk involved. On paper neither one of us had any business taking on the risk of trying to create a board game. What got us through those times of uncertainty was we both had a vision of what Feast & Famine could be, and that it could be a lot bigger than just one guy’s game idea or just an artist’s work. Working with Jason has been great; he has a lot of great game ideas and is a real go-getter. He doesn’t let anything stand in the way of his goals. We will definitely be collaborating on more Good Knight Games projects in the future.
Jason: As far as working with Ryan goes, that was great. I had very specific ideas for what I wanted with the art and no talent to make it happen. Ryan on the other hand has more talent than he knows what to do with, and he was very excited to work with me on the project. I would like to say that Ryan captured my vision for the game and that is what we have today, but the truth is he went so far beyond what I was expecting that it made my original ideas seem simplistic and lame. We have a good working relationship because we have very complimentary skill sets. We are currently working on several other projects and we plan on working on many more after that.
Should we be looking forward to more from Good Knight Games, if so, what kinds of things can we expect?
Jason: In December of 2010 we released the first half of Feast & Famine as an iPad app, the full version will be available later this year. In February of 2011 we will be releasing RETROPlay’s game Reverse Charades as an app for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. We plan on producing a few projects every year.
Thanks for taking time to talk with us and sharing your experiences.
The game can be purchased on Deseret Book (here).