Here lies the Behind the Indies interview dedicated to Someone Has Died.
We ask that you celebrate of its existence. it has touched so many hearts and hearths as it passes on from the private documents of website administers, and indie developers to the public forum of the world wide web. Do not mourn its passing, for in its passing it has left in its wake a sense of belonging, community, good fun and greed!
We hope that it will live on in your thoughts well after it is played. preorder “Someone Has Died” and visit other Behind the Indies interviews in its honor.
Please follow along in the handed out text of reflections from the lovely team poking fun at death with us tonight. Enjoy. if anyone has any words for the dearly departed, you may leave them at the end : )
You in the back row. The robot with feelings, who was the departed’s AA sponsor, who also suffered from vertigo… would you step forward please and share your story?
Someone Has Died is billed as a funny game about serious business. Let’s start with the obituary. Tell us about who died.
Well, that’s up to the players! In each game, the estate keeper gets to set the scene by telling everyone who died, how the died, and what they left behind in their will. Usually they draw a card from the Identity deck, so it can be anyone from an antiques collector to the grim reaper themselves.
How does their death become the subject of this amusing game?
The whole premise of the game is that you’re at the dead person’s will arbitration. One person is the estate keeper and everyone else plays characters who are coming out of the woodwork trying to take their stuff. It’s never going to be the dearly beloved wife of the deceased present in the room. It’s always their estranged prep school roommate or some weirdo who saw their obituary in the paper.
Tell us about the three types of cards in game play.
The main three types of cards that come into play are Identity, Relationship, and Backstory cards. The identity serves as your primary characteristic – a profession, species, etc. Relationship defines how you knew the deceased, and backstories are various items in your possession, things you shared with the deceased, life events, or character quirks — really they can be incorporated in any way the player chooses. There’s also a fourth kind of card, the Objection cards. These are doled out by the estate keeper as rewards if players impress them with their wit, logic, etc. A player who receives an objection card can then play it on an opponent to modify their story.
Can you give us some examples of wacky characters that we may encounter while playing?
Well, here we have the Editor in Chief of the Miami Herald. They knew the deceased because they were in a barbershop quartet together. The deceased had once gifted them with a stunning pearl necklace and if she doesn’t get the fortune, the estate keeper will be haunted for 700 years.
And here we have a psychoanalyst, who read the deceased’s obituary in the newspaper and decided to swing by the will arbitration. They’re very, very non-confrontational though, so they’ve brought their stuffed raccoon to do the arguing for them.
Are you able to disclose any ideas that were just too far out to include?
No, because honestly there weren’t too many of those. Usually, we omitted ordinary ideas in favor of those that are stranger. Because this is a game about death and estate law, we wanted the cards to be as ridiculous as possible to set an absurd tone for the game. We’ve also found that the more unique the card is, the easier it is for players to work it into their stories. That seems counter-intuitive, but it’s that sort of detail that encourages improvisation. A card that says “rabbits” doesn’t give you much to work with. But “two rabbits that you thought were both boys but definitely weren’t” sparks a story.
Can you tell us about your process for prototyping the game?
The game started as a college class assignment drawn out on index cards. When I graduated I started bringing those to friends and playtest events around the city. Over time, as I saw that people were really enjoying it, I started making them look more presentable, first as pieces of paper tucked into sleeves with playing cards and then as increasingly professional prototypes. Deciding on the actual cards was a long process of trial and error, trying new ideas and seeing how people responded to them.
What challenges did you face during this process and how did you overcome them?
Well back then, it was just me and I had no idea what I was doing. I barely understood that tabletop was a thing, let alone that there was a wonderful, flourishing community of local designers and eager playtesters in New York. I could bring the game to friends, but if I wanted to make this game real, I would have to put myself out there to unbiased strangers and different kinds of people to make sure it worked outside of my nerdy college friends. Putting myself out there enough to be able to approach a group of strangers, ask them to play a game I made, and then sit and take their feedback felt like an insane thing to do.
How did you settle on the artwork depicted on the game cards?
The original look started with Ellie, who is a co-creator and concept artist on the game. Despite the morbid theme, we knew we weren’t making a serious game, so being silly through the art style and flavor text acted as a counter balance. The little blobby figures we ended up with are just so funny and charming. As we started making the cards a little more professional, I started bringing her sketches into photoshop and doing the coloring and linework digitally.
Do you have a favorite playtesting experience you can tell us about?
There were so many times when people would sit down to playtest the game and they’d be very quiet and shy and look very nervous. And then the game would start and those same people would break out accents and start acting out these crazy stories. It’s always great when people take us by surprise like that.
What kind of feedback did you receive? How did you apply it to make SHD better?
In the beginning, we got a lot of feedback about players wanting to interact with each other more. We definitely wanted the experience to feel organic, but at the same time needed to maintain some kind of structure so that it could move along and flow as an actual game. Back then we had time limits and stricter rules about how and when characters can interject. After getting that feedback, we eliminated those rules and instead focused on giving players as much agency as possible when using objection cards. We did our best to write objections that go well with other cards that might come up throughout the game; players are especially motivated to jump in when the objections naturally contradict with their opponent’s story. Another way we addressed this feedback was to create backstory cards that introduce elements relating to the players on either side of you, which helped a lot.
Can you tell us about the team developing Someone Has Died? What parts has each person played in the game development process
The team is essentially me & Liz Roche, who I officially brought in December 2016 to help me wrap my head around all the unexpected work that came with the project. Over time, not only has she contributed to the design of the game, but she’s become the primary liaison with the community we’ve built on Kickstarter. She writes our newsletter updates and manages our social media presence. She also helps me take the game to events, works with our pledge manager, and is my main sounding board to bounce any and all ideas off of. At first I was a one-man operation; taking the game to playtests and tweaking the design accordingly. Now that I have Liz, we can share some of that. My role has become more logistical over time, I deal with our finances, overall strategy, and our production/exhibition schedule. In addition, I do the majority of our graphic design both for the game and our marketing assets.
Do you plan on making more games together?
Absolutely. If for no other reason than to continue hanging out with all the amazing designers we’ve met along the way.
Do you all have day jobs or are you fully pursuing game design careers?
Hahahahahahahaha. Yes, we have day jobs.
What did you learn from your classes that prepared you for creating Someone Has Died?
Well, I studied film primarily and Liz studied English and gender studies, so our classes didn’t entirely prepare us for what we’ve gotten into. That being said, a lot of what I studied was about how directors use their craft to illicit a reaction from their audiences. Games are really similar to film in that way, but have an added layer of active interaction from the player (whereas movies are relatively passive). I think that gave me an edge in that I was primed to think about how the way a card is presented affects the way a player perceives and wants to interact with it.
What dev to dev advice do you have for other indie game developers?
I would tell upcoming indie developers that if they want to do it right, it’s going to be a lot more work than they ever expected. When you’re developing alone or even in a small team, not only are you designing the game but you also have to be your own PR person, office coordinator, accountant, and about 1000 other jobs you never knew existed. It’s likely you got into games because you’re an introverted nerd who loves playing games and the process of bringing your project to others is going to run contrary to every fiber of your being. But if you want it bad enough, you’ll do it.
You made triple the amount of your Kickstarter goal. What do you attribute that success to?
There are a lot of different variables that go into a successful Kickstarter campaign. The most important one is to put in the work- not only to make a product that you’re really passionate about, but also to put it out there and get people excited about it so that when the time comes to crowdfund, you have a base of people ready and eager to support you. We playtested, built a mailing list, and went to conventions for a year and a half before launching on Kickstarter. We also put the time into making a nice video, designing an eye-catching campaign page, assembling pull-quotes, and all that little marketing stuff that often goes overlooked. Also, along the way, we had the pleasure of meeting some really wonderful people who took to the game and helped us get the word out — that’s as much hustle as it is luck.
How did you use those funds to progress your game?
The Kickstarter funds are giving us the money we need to do a first print run of the game and – since we hit some stretch goals – a limited run of a NSFW “Dirty Deck.” Because of how we exceeded our goal, we’re doing a much larger and high quality run than what we initially estimated. It’s really exciting because it means we can get Someone Has Died into more people’s hands.
When and where will Someone Has Died be available for purchase?
Someone Has Died is currently available for pre-order. We hope to have physical copies to sell at conventions and put in friendly local game stores around August.
Did we miss any Behind the Scenes details you would like to add?
For the first time ever our (totally not cheesy, in a tent full on incense with a crystal ball) clairvoyant will put you in touch with the deceased in the following ways:
I beleive I’m detecting a message. It’s from world war 2. Nope it’s from WWW.