Well, it’s been a long time. Things have been quite busy lately. I have had this interview in the queue for a while. But life gets in the way. I have three more posts in the queue all from Jamey Stegmaier that I have had since April that I’m prepping for you. I thought I had posted them but hadn’t. It’s probably the best interview ever. In the meantime here is one with the creators of a super cool prototyping tool, Paperize.
Tom: Hi guys, tell us about yourselves.
Loren: I’m a serial entrepreneur and startup engineer who has bounced between startups, consulting gigs, and day jobs for about the past 15 years. A few years ago I had my “quarter-life crisis” and realized that chasing money wasn’t fulfilling in itself, and that I needed to actually follow the ideas I was passionate about. Oil & Rope is my attempt to slow down and care about something.
Clint: I’m a graphic and experience designer who’s been a “maker” all my life. I’m passionate about supporting myself doing work that I love and helping others do the same. In addition to games I enjoy chilling with my lady and our “weasels”, drinking craft beer and playing disc golf.
Tom: What’s your gamer cred?
Loren: You know that gamer friend who owns every. single. game. and somehow always wants to play, despite their spouse and children and day job? Yeah. That’s not me. I’m just a long-time video gamer (more strategic than twitch) who has always wished for more tabletop options.
Then, some time in the last 10 years, I actually looked into it and discovered this ongoing tabletop renaissance. My knowledge-worker background has me laser focused on the design of these games, and building processes around that.
Clint: I still remember the exact moment I saw my first Magic card when I was 12. I was instantly hooked. It’s still one of my favorite games even though I don’t play it near as much as I used to. Loren and I had been acquaintances since college but I found myself moving into his neighborhood a few years ago and we had both just caught the board gaming bug. It didn’t take long before we were nailing a projector to his ceiling to project our dynamically generated animated Mage Knight board. We were in deep.
Loren: Cred? You’ll find that in our Game Design Workshops we put on, as well as in the playtest credits for Dead of Winter, Vault Wars, and (soon), Scythe.
Tom: All right. Paperize. What is it and where did the idea come from?
Loren: Paperize started life a couple of years ago as an internal, supporting tool for our first game, Flip the Script. We had a dozen collaborators working on cards for this game because it was born out of our Game Design Workshop process and it needed lots of content at the outset.
Google Sheets was a no-brainer for such collaboration, and once we had a spreadsheet full of content we needed a way to turn that into a PDF, fast and repeatedly. A weekend sprint churned out 50ish lines of code that did this for us, and we’ve been updating and maintaining it ever since. At some point, we slapped a web interface on it, and the rest is history!
Tom: I’ve started using Paperize for prototyping on Duck Blind. It is fantastic. I was using InDesign with data merge. That works great, if you can get everything done within the trial period or can afford Creative Cloud. But I can’t. So when Eugene (of Most Glorious Comrade fame. ) told us (GDoNC) about Paperize I was excited. It does basically the same thing and more. Is easier to use. And is specifically for prototyping cards. Awesome! It’s in beta right now. What are the plans for it?
Loren: That’s awesome, Tom! We love seeing all the prototypes being put into Paperize during the early adopter period. It’s so obvious already that people “get it”, so we’re encouraged to keep working on features and usability.
We are passionate about seeing more, better games on shelves and tabletops everywhere. This passion drives everything we do, from our games to our workshops and tools. We envision Paperize on that spectrum: a tool focused on achieving quality game designs through iteration that happens early, often, and with as much feedback as possible.
Right now, we are seeing people get hung up just trying to get started. So many new voices could enter our industry if there were fewer barriers to entry. So we’re looking at existing tools, taking the good and culling the bad, and bundling it up in a usable package that is drastically more approachable to people.
Some examples of ways that existing tools are failing new designers:
- platform dependence (PC? Mac? How about web!)
- usability (“just learn Photoshop/Illustrator” is no place to start!)
- programming experience required (broad tools, narrow audience)
- not focused on tabletop games, or rapid prototyping
So what do those tools do right? What is the irreducible feature set that helps game designers move fast, get a design to the table, iterate until it needs testing, then share far and wide?
Tom: You’ve been incredibly responsive to your beta testers, building out suggestions and answering questions. Even troubleshooting files for people that is fantastic. What are the next upgrades?
Loren: I’m glad you feel that way! I always feel like we haven’t done enough, and our work is never done, so it is nice to be appreciated at this early stage. We have to be careful because it is so fun and rewarding just to do “free labor” on other people’s games all day, but then we’d never ship anything!
Right now, we’ve just finished getting invites out to everyone who signed up for early access. This process has naturally generated a lot of maintenance work as we’re learning just where the bugs are. And it’s important to note that bugs don’t have to just be technical in nature: user experience is key as well! So we’ve been very reactive in the past month.
Some things we’re working on now are server upgrades for performance and stability, layout changes and instruction text to make it easier to understand, and R&D on some top secret stuff we want to launch this Fall that people really, really want.
Tom: I’m guessing you’re going to commercialize Paperize at some point. What’s the plan for that? Will it be less expensive than InDesign?
Loren: Ah, the million dollar question! Of course the answer is “we don’t know” or “it depends”, but we can talk about some of the possibilities here.
The first thing I ask people is “What is your time worth?” Next, we try to ballpark the time that Paperize could potentially save game designers. Is it 5 or 10 hours a week? A month? Or maybe 10 hour per iteration? If that’s true, and you’re going to work on games in a serious fashion, can you really afford not to do this?
That said, there is probably always some free feature set we’ll make available for people to use. Your print jobs get bumped by paying customers, you can’t access all of the art we make available for pro accounts, your cards have a watermark on them, etc, but you can get started designing nonetheless.
Things get more interesting as the higher-level features roll out. Playtester management, forums and wikis, store pages, versioning, Kickstarter support, TheGameCrafter.com support, etc. We don’t even know what these things necessarily mean as they are still just dreams, but there are probably reasonable ways to charge for these services that can lessen the monetary burden on the core Paperize product.
A lot of this is going to be driven by what makes sense to our users, too. Many have expressed understanding that our time has value, too! And servers. Servers cost money.
Tom: If I’m a designer, what can you do for me?
Clint: That’s a great question because it’s one we try to answer every day. Our goal isn’t “to make a tool that turns spreadsheets into cards”, it’s “make you a better game designer.”
That means creating tools specifically geared towards game designers. We got our start doing a game design workshop which we’ve continued to improve over the last year and a half. It’s focused collaborative brainstorming and paper prototyping, and people walk away with a prototype after just an hour. We’ve already had hundreds of professional and wannabe designers take the workshop, and the feedback has been fantastic!
Tom: How important has BGG been for you?
Clint: Honestly it hasn’t been. It’s a great resource for current game information but Reddit has been invaluable for us both in r/boardgames and r/tabletopgamedesign. I’m also a fan of BGDF.com but I just lurk there mostly.
Tom: Let’s switch gears and talk about Oil & Rope Games. First, where did that name come from?
Clint: A few years back we were in a Pathfinder campaign, it was the first time many of us had done any kind of roleplaying. Being rules lawyers we often got into lengthy discussions when we came to scenarios that we needed resources for. You’d hear comments like “Surely we picked up some rope after that last raid” or we’d ask the DM “How much lamp oil do we have?” This became an ongoing joke, especially after a battle where we used those items to defeat a mini-boss.
It just so happened that O&R started focusing more on tools than our own game designs, so that really cemented that it was a perfect name for us. We sometimes joke that we’re “selling picks and shovels to gold miners.”
Tom: I’m guessing you have games in the works. Talk about them.
Clint: Our first game is called “Flip The Script”, it’s a storytelling party game in the grimy world of Hollywood, CA. Each round, one player is the writer trying to sell a script and the rest are producers trying to interject their own ideas. The fun comes from pandering to the producers to get paid as well as from the player aid which makes anyone into an amazing screenwriter.
Our second game is tentatively called “Crossing The Sahara.” Watership Down is my favorite book and it borrows from that source material, but it’s about fennec foxes in the Sahara. Mechanically it plays like a mix of Star Realms and Mage Knight, but after reading Keith Burgun’s excellent “Clockwork Game Design” I’m considering changing the core mechanics. That book really spoke to me.
Tom: Anything else you would like to talk about?
Clint: Please check out http://paperize.io and tell us what you think! You can tweet at us @oilandrope or email us directly at email@example.com, and read our game design blog on http://oilandrope.com .
Tom: Thank you both for being my guests on Go Forth And Game.
Readers, please visit Paperize and Oil & Rope Games. Paperize is a fantastic prototyping tool and the guys are always open for discussion.
Stay tuned. There are big things in store.