Building The Interview – A Conversation with Jason Slingerland and Rob Couch of Building The Game


This interview has been months in the making. The interview actually took place in August and early September. But it has been delayed because I have had some major computer issues. Luckily I have found a work around and am now able to give you a really fun interview with some great guys – Jason Slingerland and Rob Couch of the Building The Game Podcast. I’m really happy they had time to talk to me about BTG, their games, and a bunch of other stuff. Here’s the interview.

Building The Game is probably my favorite gaming podcast. You guys have such fun on the air and throw out some really good ideas. It’s great to ‘watch’ a game evolve and it feels like I’m part of that game development. Thank you for that.

Tom: First off introduce yourselves for the uninitiated.

Jason: I’m Jason Slingerland, I have been designing games now for about 3 years. I kickstarted my first Game Water Balloon Washout in 2013 and I have another game, Gunslingin’ Ramblers coming out in 2015 from VanRyder Games.

Rob:  I’m Rob Couch, and I’ve been trying to design games for about that same amount of time.  I’ve got two games on The GameCrafter right now, The Rumplebum Academy for Bug-Based Baking and Epic Monster Tea Party.  And pretty soon I’ll have a third game up there called Finish It! The Outrageous Storytelling Party Game.  I haven’t sold anything to anyone yet, and people tend to give me way too much credit for my opinions.  But I love’em for it anyway.

Tom: That’s a BIG yet. Someone is going to pick you up within the next 8 months. How do you know each other?

Jason: Rob and I met through work, bonded while living as hobos at Gencon and spend entirely too much time together recording a podcast.

Rob:  8 months?  Do you know something I don’t?  Yeah, Jason and I have been friends for long enough that I can’t really remember much of my social life that doesn’t in some way involve him.  It’s awful, and he’s the worst.  Also, it’s great that I get to respond to these questions after he does, so he can’t comment.  Ha!

Tom: Eight months is just a prediction. And Jason can still respond, by the way. How did the Building The Game podcast come about?

Jason: Rob suggested the idea of documenting our journey of becoming game designers.

Rob:  Yeah, I’d been toying with the idea of starting a podcast for about a year, but didn’t really have a subject that made sense, and nothing that I had any knowledge to talk about.  Then when Jason and I started talking about game design, it hit my that this might be a fun conversation to start recording.

Tom: So it’s all Rob’s fault. :> It’s billed as ‘a documentary podcast’. Explain that.

Jason: The idea was and still is that people can learn something from our successes and failures (mostly failures).  We looked for something like our show when we started designing and couldn’t find anything like it.

Tom: Ok, let’s break an average podcast down. First there’s ‘Whatcha Been Playin?’. That’s pretty self-explanatory. Next is ‘The Feature of the Week’. Explain what that is.

Jason: Feature of the week is basically whatever we want to talk about.  Whether it’s a mechanic or some follow-up on a game design we did in the past or just us lamenting about issues with designs.  We try hard to cover things that other people can benefit from hearing a discussion on.

Rob: Sometimes it just turns into a wandering conversation that goes way off topic and covers a lot of different things.  For whatever reason I think people seem to enjoy those rambling episodes the most.  But at the most basic level we try to make that part of the show the most constructive part.  We’re always trying to seek a better understanding of games and game design in the hopes of doing it better next time.

Tom: One of the best parts of the podcast is ‘Practicing The Pitch’. Talk about that.

Jason: Practicing the Pitch started out as an exercise for our design minds… It was meant to be something that both allowed us to pitch crazy ideas that we would never pursue but also to pitch ideas that we planned to see through publication or at least to pitching to publishers.  It’s something that has worked very well documenting how our games have grown and changed.

Rob:  Creativity is a muscle, and you need to exercise that muscle.  It’s that simple.

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BATTLE BOX! in progress

Tom: I really enjoy The Pitch. It’s actually inspired some neat game ideas of my own. The Battle Box specifically. I’m building one.

Jason: That’s awesome!

Rob:  Make me one too!!!

Tom: Will do! You’ve been doing this  podcast for almost three years now. How does that feel?

Jason: It feels like a good accomplishment.  The fact that after all this time people still listen to what we have to say.  That makes me feel like we are doing something right or something so wrong that people come for the train wreck.

Rob:  There are two things that I really like about the fact that we’ve been doing this for so long.  First, it’s still fun.  I’m so glad that it’s still fun.  I never expected it to still be so much fun every week to put together.  Second, it’s an incredible document, created in real-time, of just how hard it is to break into this business.  Jason finally just sold his first game after two and a half years and innumerable games created.  I still haven’t sold anything.  There is nothing easy about this.  And I hope that other designers interested in getting into this will see that and understand that it’s not easy, and that they won’t get discouraged.  Oh, and a third thing.  I love that we’ve met so many awesome people and made so many great friends.  Maybe that’s what feels the best.

Tom:  It is encouraging to me. I find the show very inspirational and it gets my creative juices flowing. Ok, games. Talk about Water Balloon Washout.

Jason: Water Balloon Washout is a fun and fast paced game for 2-4 players where you control a group of kids in a water balloon fight.  I designed it with the idea that kids could play it as well as adults and that they would get different takeaways from the gameplay.

Rob, I want to know about Innkeepers.

Rob:  Yeah, Innkeepers.  It’s a game set in a gold rush boom town in the old west.  Players are trying to build these crazy saloons and structures in the center of town to attract the wealthiest patrons and have the biggest business.  The core mechanic is based around stacking tiles and cubes to build an actual structure on the table.  It looks a little bit like Pagoda from AEG, but plays very differently.  I’m madly in love with it.

 Tom: I followed you guys on Twitter while you were at GenCon. How was it for you?

Jason: Gencon was a whole lot of fun as always.  We loved seeing everything and everyone.  We as always also made some good connections with new people and publishers.

Rob:  Gencon is a crazy thing and is wildly different every year, and better every time.wbw-render

Tom: What game bowled you over?

Jason: Hands down.  Camel Up.  Best game I have played in a very long time.

Rob:  Yeah, Camel Up is spectacular.  Game of the con, I think.  Roll For It is great too.

Tom: How did your pitches/meetings go?

Jason: My meetings went well.  I didn’t sell anything officially but I am happy with the feedback I received.

Rob:  I had a pretty rough time with a few publishers this year, actually.  It’s a bummer.  But that can happen.  I just had to find the constructive feedback in there and work it out.  That’s what you do.

Tom: How about the playtesting?

Jason: I got a lot less playtesting in than normal and ended up playing a lot more published stuff which was a nice change for once.

Rob:  Oh man, I tested Innkeepers so much.  It was ridiculous and amazing and so rewarding, and a little bit exhausting.  I have a lot of work to do, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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Monsters from Epic Monster Tea Party

Jason, talk about Gunslinging Ramblers.

Jason: Ramblers has become a game I am so very proud of… I can’t wait to see it in print with VanRyder Games.  For people who haven’t heard about it, the game revolves around a poker match at a wild west saloon where cowboys are playing poker but also drinking shots and having gunfights.  It’s been a game that has had a long road and benefited from a lot of playtesters with awesome feedback.  The Kickstarter should be next year sometime.

Talk about the BTG Co-op.

Rob: The BTG Co-op was intended to be a sort of aggregator of design advice and resources, and ideally a way to help connect designers with publishers.  But as happens, life got busy and we just didn’t have the time we needed to turn it into that.  Right now we’re using it to host episodes of Something From Nothing, our biweekly live Google Hangout show that we do with Chevee Dodd and TC Petty.  That’s every other Sunday night at 8:00 pm EST.  It’s a blast.

Ok, let’s do something different for Go Forth. Kind of a Game Chef thing. I’m going to give you a few themes/subjects. I want you to meld several of them into a game or games.
Your subjects are….

 

kittens

Mars

pots and pans

Lee Marvin

sock hops

Keystone cops

a duck

 

Jason: It’s the 1950’s and while all of their older siblings are dancing at the sock hops, 2-4 young kids are determined to send the stray kittens in their neighborhood into space.  So using pots and pans and other random things, they build a pretty sweet spaceship and send those kittens all the way to Mars.

All the while, there’s a duck quacking to go along and also some Keystone Cops trying to stop you.  Interesting note:  Instead of the standard music you would hear with those cops, they instead run around to Lee Marvin.

So how is this a game?

Well, it’s a card game where you are collecting items and then assembling those items onto a shared board.  Sometimes you flip cards over to reveal additional kittens that you have to fit into your makeshift spaceship.  Other times it’s the cops.

Finally, it might be a duck, which the cops are terrified off and run away.  But the kittens are also afraid, so this creates a balancing act of not letting the duck get in the same place as your kittens.

The game ends when you launch those kitties to Mars.  Off the top of my head.  That’s what I got.

 

Rob:  The game is called The Dirty Dozen: Mission to Mars, and is a pseudo-sequel to the The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission, which was a direct to TV movie sequel to Dirty Dozen (as I’m sure everyone already knew).  It’s a VHS game starring the ghost of Lee Marvin, who has been mysteriously bound to the body of kitten, put into a space suit, and launched in a rocket ship to Mars.  The players are soldiers in the all-new Dozen, who themselves have had their consciousness bound to the bodies of ducks.  Because, of course, small animals are the only creatures that can survive the intense pressures and stresses of high-speed space travel.

The VHS tape opens with Lee Marvin’s voice coming out of a fluffy kitten explaining about how the evil Keystone Puppy Gang has set up a base on Mars, and it’s their job to go in there and root’em out.  Every puppy in the video is voiced by James Coburn, and in a crazy twist the leader of the puppy gang is actually Telly Savalas’s ghost in the body of a dachshund puppy struggling to climb out of an 8-quart cook pot, reprising his role of A.J. Maggott from the original Dirty Dozen.

There’s some roll and move stuff in there too, but it’s not really about that.  Ok?  Don’t worry.

Tom: Oh those are some sweet games. I expect prototypes by the end of the month.

Thanks guys. This was a LOT of fun. If you need a guest host some time…

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The usual suspects – Rob and Jason

I want to thank both Rob and Jason for their patience with this interview and for the podcast. It has been a big influence on some game designs of mine. So a big THANKS guys.