5 Questions with… Daniel Solis

This interview was written by Andrew Smith and originally appeared at TheStockade.net on April 17th, 2011. The Stockade was a website dedicated to encouraging Australian game designers to get up and create their games, much like NaGa DeMon! The Stockade has been “finished” for a very long time now, and its web hosting expires very soon, so I thought I would share some of the still-relevent articles here.

We’re quite fortunate to have as an interviewee, Daniel Solis. Daniel is the author of games such as Happy Birthday, Robot!, Split Decision, Sagefight! and the recent Kickstarter sensation Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. He also hosts the Thousand Year Game Design Challenge, if you’re up for a tough design goal. In between working, designing games and riding the wave of success that is Do, he’s found time to be part of Five Questions With… Daniel Solis.

Which part of producing a game do you have the most confidence with? What gives you that confidence?
Because I am a graphic designer and art director by day, I feel most confident in being able to present a game visually. I can hire the right artist to reflect a game’s mood, supplement the text with informative and evocative layout, and create promotional and marketing materials for the game’s branding.

What do you consider when designing the connections between the rules of your game and the story it produces?
I like there to be a synergy between the physical components of play and the themes that the game intends to evoke. These can be small things, like how the first player in Pandemic is supposed to be the last person who was sick or how Agon asks you to roll dice in your left or right hand if you’re attacking or defending, as if you’re holding a sword and shield. Then there are more overt ways to create those connections, like the use of a Jenga tower as the central mechanic in Dread.

In the case of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, I wanted to create a metaphor for karma in a very classical sense. Not that you have “good” or “bad” karma, but simply that every decision affects those around you. So Do uses black and white stones in a bag. On your turn, you draw three and decide to keep some and throw the rest back into the bag for the other players. The stones you keep affect your pilgrim’s fate at the end of the game. Meanwhile, you’ve also changed the odds for the other players to draw stones they wanted.

What’s been the most useful play test feedback you’ve received?
A while back, a friend of mine named Mark Sherry created an AI program that could emulate different strategies of play in Do. He ran thousands of simulations with different mixtures of player strategies to find the right number of stones to use in play, the average length of a game, the average number of turns for players in a certain group-size, all sorts of stuff. That was really valuable just to get the basic mechanics sorted out. I learned then that cooperative games require really tight refinements of algorithms, which is something I need a more mathy person to figure out. Thankfully, many smart and generous people like Mark Sherry are willing to help artsy-types crunch the numbers.

Tell us about the tools and software you use for writing, art and layout.
I write in Word or Google Docs, depending on if I’m collaborating with an editor in real time. Once the text is settled, I bring it into InDesign to format and style it. You can see that process in this video.

For any illustrated art support, I use photoshop to adjust colors, contrasts, etc. For vector elements, I use an old program called Macromedia Freehand. Most folks use Adobe Illustrator, but I learned on Freehand and I kinda stuck with it even though it’s not supported any longer.

Who would you like to work with on a game?
Many times I come across an artist who I’d love to use in a game. Or rather, an artist for whom I’d make a game just to have an excuse to use their art. Let’s see, the wishlist includes Kelly Hamilton, Claire Hummel, Steph Laberis, Tom Bancroft and Jen Wang.

Daniel maintains a fascinating blog, in which he talks often and in detail about his game design projects. It’s well worth your time subscribing to that feed. He also has a Cafepress storefront.

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