Little Rock Games
Q: Tell us about Little Rock Games
Little Rock Games is a partnership of five local game designers and friends (Olivia Dunlap, Robbie Hunt, Tanner Marshall, Brad Sims, and Joe Williams), who wanted to set up a business through which to publish their best game ideas. We’re people who love to create and want to have a bunch of people around us to support our ideas and push us to stretch our imaginations. We also share a belief that games are more than frivolous – that they can push the boundaries of what we call art and that, as art, they can have a social impact.
At least, that’s how it started. In the nine months since we formed the company, we’ve begun contract work as game designers for an exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Library. We’ve also consulted on game design for the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center and been asked to provide game design training by the EAST initiative. We’ve presented our games at Spa Con in Hot Springs and the Mini Maker Faire in North Little Rock. We’ve run a game jam on the UA Little Rock campus, sponsoring a site for Global Game Jam 2018, where five digital games were produced by 11 people in 48 hours. And, we’ve played a strong role in the Little Rock Game Designers group (which we also founded), a group open to anybody in central Arkansas who wants to make games. All this while moving Galactic Scoundrels from prototype to production-ready.
We’re mentioning all this because we want other hopeful designers to realize there are lots of ways to be a game designer in central Arkansas and actually get paid! We also want them to know that game design is a powerful part of the new media landscape. Designing games is not just pure entertainment anymore: it’s a powerful way to communicate and persuade, a way to get people to engage with your ideas, and a way to help people learn new concepts that can have a lasting impact
Q: Tell us about Galactic Scoundrels
Galactic Scoundrels is a storytelling card game with a space-western theme, inspired by Star Wars, Firefly, and a cargo bay full of other sci-fi films and TV shows. It invites players to play with the tropes of the genre, invoking and poking fun at them. Sometimes, players draw directly on famous sci-fi stories, but most of the time just the tropes are enough to inspire brand new tales.
Players gamble to win a job, and then one player attempts to complete that job using cards from her hand, her ship, crew, cargo, passengers, and any help she can get from other players. All the players play cards to tell the story of that job together. If the player completes the job, she earns some cash. The player with the most cash at the end is the winner, but most of the fun is in telling the story.
Each job/story takes 15-20 minutes, and the whole game takes about 90 (minutes, that is).
The game’s gambling and card management mechanics are inspired most strongly by Liar’s Poker and traditional Draw Poker. Players don’t have a lot of control over their cards, so they have to rely on their own wits, deduction, and bluffing to succeed.
The negotiating in the game is lawless (as it should be in space), so players can offer and agree to anything they want, as long as a game rule doesn’t explicitly forbid it. Negotiations do revolve around a principle called the prisoner’s dilemma: players are not required to honor their deals, so they have to decide when it’s advantageous to keep or break their word.
The storytelling is a light mechanical system which asks players to manage the resources of their ship and hand (which includes trait cards) when responding to cards played by others. There’s a simple symbol-matching system that helps the story proceed. We’re really proud of designing a storytelling system that helps players who aren’t comfortable storytellers to enjoy the game.
The game is a labor of love for us, since we all get such a kick out of the stories of sci-fi film and TV. This game lets us make up our own using the same devices, whenever we want.
Q: How long did it take to develop Galactic Scoundrels?
The short answer is 18 months. The initial card set was created and prototyped by Joe in January 2017.
The long answer is about six years, since Joe created his first storytelling game in 2012. From then until now, he’s created two other storytelling games, each time feeling that the game was not good enough to publish. Finally, with Galactic Scoundrels, he felt he’d found a formula that worked.
The really long answer is since 1977, which is the year some of us first saw Star Wars. That was about the time we started wishing we could tell stories as cool as that too. If you watch our Kickstarter video for Galactic Scoundrels, you’ll see an animated re-enactment of a battle between Joe’s Han Solo action figure and a caterpillar which took place around 1979.
Q: What advice do you have for Central Arkansas gamers who have ideas for new games, but don’t know how to make them real?
Everyone’s process is different, but what worked for us more than anything was getting connected. All of us had great ideas, but none of those ideas were moving forward because we were all working in isolation. Meeting regularly means having people around who will take our ideas seriously and from whom we can expect honest feedback. It also means a bit of accountability, for those of us who get stalled by anxiety.
The other great thing about connecting with other designers is getting to test our games a lot. Some game ideas are way better in theory than in practice, and it’s better to find that out quickly. And some ideas seem silly until you try them with people, and that’s when you discover that they’re pure gold.
The other thing that has really helped us is not taking ourselves too seriously. If you’re in a field where you’re trying to design experiences for people, and those experiences are meant to be fun, it’s a good idea to let as much of life’s silliness wash over you as possible.
Most of that can probably be summed up in the old game design adage, “Fail fast and follow the fun.”
Q: What are some tips for gamers who need collaborators for a project but don’t know where to look?
The Little Rock Game Designers group is going strong, meeting regularly at Mylo Coffee in Hillcrest every other Wednesday. If you don’t have people around you who are able to support your work, come join us!
If you can’t make it to Mylo, there are lots of supportive places online to bring your work. Board Game Geek has some great message boards.
Also, we’ve found Game Goblins to be an incredibly welcoming place for our work. We’ve run a couple of multi-game playtests there, and they’ve been great successes. Stephanie Straw helped us with planning and getting connected, and Jeremy Winchell has been a fantastic contact, helping with event scheduling and Facebook promotion. And Josh has even backed the Kickstarter, pledging for 24 copies of the game!
Q: What do you think makes Central Arkansas unique in the gaming community?
Central Arkansas is a vibrant, creative community, filled with supportive artists. Like most great things about Little Rock, this seems to be a well-kept secret.
We can’t believe the people we’ve met, just through the LR Game Designer’s group. Illustrators, graphic artists, musicians, writers, programmers – all interested in bringing their creativity to the table to make games.
Not only is there a rich pool of creative talent, but we’ve found that the creativity is matched by the supportive and loving attitude people bring to the table. I know this makes it sound a bit like a commune (or maybe a cult?), but this really is a place where everyone’s creative ideas are nurtured and taken seriously. It takes a lot of hope to bring a new idea into the world, so there needs to be a lot of positive energy around to support it.
Q: What can people do to support Galactic Scoundrels, Little Rock Games, and your future titles?
Galactic Scoundrels is live, right now, on Kickstarter. It’s doing well, but it still needs some love to get past the finish line. The game is for anyone who loves gambling, negotiating, and telling crazy space adventures with their friends. If you or someone you know fits this description, consider backing us.
If you’re interested in supporting Little Rock Games and the work we’re doing, consider signing up for our mailing list at littlerockgames.com and/or following us on Facebook. We’ll keep you updated on the events we’re hosting, the games we’re making, and the ways that you can get involved.
We’re especially excited about our first digital release, which is in development now: To The Rescue. It’s a dog shelter simulator, which helps people experience what it’s like to run a dog shelter. The part we’re most stoked about is that we’ll be donating a portion of the proceeds from the game to organizations around the US that support real dog shelters.