Game Design

Epoch: The Awakening – A Walk Through Game Design with Marc Neidlinger

Hello everyone!

Welcome to our fourth installment of A Walk Through Game Design. Today we are lucky enough to have the incredibly talented Marc Neidlinger of Epoch: The Awakening. Ever just get a good vibe about someone? Although I have never met Marc in person I am consistently impressed by how engaged he is with his community, how open he was to feedback during his campaign and his genuine desire to produce quality games. His feedback on design below is top-notch.

How did you work to foster increased interaction in your game design and how important was interaction in your game development?

The very nature of board gaming is to create interaction. For me, there’s no other purpose than to gather people around a table, enjoy each other’s company, watch and respond to body language, and laugh until you cry as you destroy them with your intellect. Or at least pull shenanigans. In the design of Epoch: The Awakening, play testing was crucial, as it is in every game. But we chose to invite the entire community to create story with us during the Kickstarter campaign, including the naming of cards and finding clues within the campaign page. It was incredible.

How did you consider replay value in the design process? What ways did you work to increase replay value?

Replayability is at the forefront of game design for me. Very few people will invest in a game that has only one life cycle. Epoch is engineered for replayability in multiple ways to ensure that each game feels different and new. In fact, it is my honest belief that Epoch will have some of the most replay value on the market, due to the amount of consideration we gave it. Every game, the region tiles and map is different, the end-game conditions are different, the variable player powers are different, the cards players will interact with will be different, and more. I feel that this is a key consideration for any game design, as it will bring the game back to the table time and again, earning shelf space for the discerning gamers. Only the Chosen Ones will earn a place on such a shelf. It’s like Valhalla.

What was the most substantial change that happened during playtesting?

You say change, singular. Bwahaha. I think we went through literally hundreds of changes over the course of 2 years. I could not begin to isolate one without a chain-reaction because every change you make to a game mechanic affects all other game mechanics. It’s a delicate, somewhat hostile balance that must be maintained.

How did you find the artists and graphic designers for your game?

I did 95% of the graphic design for the game myself. And, I used a few peers to assist with the iconography. The illustrators can be found on places like ArtStation and DeviantArt, but it takes a long time to track down the right people to fit a particular project. There are many considerations here, including the rights to use the intellectual property, compensation, and most importantly the process and creative briefs. If you’re not dialed into a solid process here, you can spend enormous amounts of money on something that’s not quite right. I recommend dialing the game in and using artists to add the finishing touches once the story and details are tightened up. Art and design play a huge role in attracting a market to a game, but it’s the story that will compel them to take action. Think of the most amazing movies you’ve seen with world-class special effects and zero story. They leave you flat. You don’t want that. Use the art and design to enhance the story and bring it to life for the players. Create intrigue. Engage on an emotional level. I could go on, but I need another sip of this latte.

What are the major dynamics that make your game unique? How did you brainstorm or come up with the original concepts behind those?

Epoch is a study in the concept of heroism. The driving force behind Epoch is the immersion into a relatable story, where players begin the game as a wretched, guilt-ridden scumbag and send the game trying to restore their lost honor. But the main mechanic that I think is uniquely valuable is the way players use Heroic Attributes as resources based on the color wheel. In Epoch, one can study at a library to gain Knowledge (blue), and meditate at a Spire to gain Inspiration (yellow). Both of those can be used independently. However, you can combine your Knowledge and Inspiration to create Wisdom (green) and then use Wisdom to attain heroic traits, which are powerful passive abilities. The other colors work in a similar fashion. The thing that was appealing to me about this is to use these attributes (also Vision, Courage, and Strength) as resources instead of something typical like attack power or defense. I’m pretty happy with the proprietary nature of this mechanic and the empowerment it gives players.

How did you think about barrier of entry when you designed your game?

What can I say? I gathered my courage and took a shot. But it wasn’t a shot in the dark. It was a reasonably well-aimed shot. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours (1800+) carefully planning and developing something that I knew might not take off in the market. My goal was not to sell. It wasn’t a business decision. The game came out of me with as much sparkly magic as I could muster. All of this was passion, which is the fire from which great things are born. If you include others in the decision making process and learn from industry icons like Jamey Stegmaier (and many others) you’re doing yourself a huge favor. The barriers are many. The market is saturated with mediocrity and people using to market with dollar signs in their eyes. I don’t feel bad when those folks fail, because failure is part of the success process and my hope is that they go back and dream something up that’s worth making. The passion we poured into the project attracted our community, which is still extremely active and has inspired me to keep working on the new game.

What is one piece of advice you would give to new game designers trying to get into this space?

My advice to new game designers is to take the time and make something only you can make. Don’t focus on selling until you have something to sell…just drown your game in passion and play testing. Get hundreds of people to play it, and then listen to their feedback. Specifically, listen to the problems they isolate, but not necessarily their solutions. That’s your job. Do your homework. Be generous. Build a community around what you’re doing long before you hope to hit the market. After all, you can’t crowdfund without a crowd. And when you do, your reputation depends on the experience that follows. #grateful

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