The digital creations that have impacted analog designs
We love board games. And we love video games. It could be that we’re surrounded by some pretty nerdy folks, but it seems most gamers we talk to enjoy both in abundance.
The two seem to go hand-in-hand on the industry side as well. If you watch Going Analog, then you’ve already met a ton of video game industry people who are avid board gamers. And when we talk to board game designers at conventions like Gen Con, we learn a lot of them simply love video games.
Over the past year, starting at Gen Con 2017, we interviewed several high-profile tabletop game designers to get their thoughts on our digital hobby. In part one of this two-part series, we ask them what three video games most influenced and impacted their creative design work.
Here's what they had to say, though please note: Some of these quotes are from about a year ago, in case why you're wondering why certain games (like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) are coming up now as recent plays.
Part two: The top 3 favorite video games for these famous board game designers
Known for: Kingdomino, Five Tribes, Shadows Over Camelot
1. "It's hard for me to say which video games have influenced me on my game designs, but one I really loved recently was the new Zelda [Breath of the Wild] on the Nintendo Switch. It probably influenced me, for sure."
2. "Another game I really liked...what was it called? It was released by Naughty Dog."
Going Analog: "Uncharted?"
Cathala: "No...that wasn't it...."
Going Analog: "The Last of Us?"
Cathala: "No, it was a platformer."
Going Analog: "Jak and Daxter?"
Cathala: "Yes! I played that a lot. It probably influenced me, but I can't say how. You receive influences from any sort of media: from video games, from movies, from what you read -- all these things activate your creativity. So for me, it's not easy to say what exactly influenced me, but that kind of game for sure.
3. "Tomb Raider for sure, the older ones. I haven't played the more recent ones. Mainly because the theme is really strong. In my games, I like to have nice mechanisms, but to tell a story...that is very important to me."
Known for: Codenames, Through the Ages, Mage Knight
1. "If you look at my board game designs, there are clearly some themes that I use that are similar to some video games. For example, my game Through the Ages -- I think it's no secret that I enjoy Sid Meier’s Civilization."
2. "I always enjoyed the theme in the Dungeon Keeper series. My game, Dungeon Lords, uses the same premise that you are the dungeon lord managing your dungeon, and there are some annoying heroes, trying to invade it and destroy it."
3. "I like all well-done video games. I won't name another, but generally, I [appreciate] the approach that video games take. If I do a more complex game, then I like to do some type of tutorial. For example, in my game Space Alert, there are several missions, but the first few are meant to teach you the game. In the expansion to Space Alert, there is a list of achievements. So I'm inspired by the good stuff that video games do generally."
Known for: Dead of Winter, Dinosaur Island, Atari's Centipede
1. "Playing a LOT of Minecraft from early alpha on has taught me a ton about emergent story. It's a shining example of how if you give players a framework, they will hang their own stories onto it."
2. "Final Fantasy VII taught me how valuable it was to get your players to become attached to your characters and really give them reason to care. It also showed me how powerful it can be to kill off a character that the players love."
3. "I really loved the depth and all of the hidden things in Maniac Mansion, and it made me realize that people want to explore a fully fleshed-out world and be given an experience."
Nicole Kline (Amato)
Known for: Lazer Ryderz, Resistor_, Atari's Centipede
1. "That old game Pipe Mania, where you have to maneuver the pipe pieces for the water to come out? That is what I thought about a lot for our first board game, Resistor_, which is about matching up colored lines."
2. "For Lazer Ryderz, I thought a lot about Snake. I thought a lot about Tron -- games where you’re blocking other people off."
3. "I really love the Professor Layton games where there’s a lot of narrative. I would love to make a game that involves a lot of narrative."
Known for: Blood Rage, Rising Sun, XCOM: The Board Game
Editor's note: Eric Lang answered these questions differently than the others, naming general video game concepts that influenced him rather than specific games. But we liked where this was going, so we didn't stop the interview to correct him.
1. "I played a lot of video games. A big takeaway I learned from them is the strength of tutorial and the importance of experiential learning. I try as much as possible in tabletop games to design essentially a tutorial in the game that lets the player forget that they’re learning how to play the game.
"A lot of my games are broken into acts. The first is a teaching act. Once you run through it, you’ve learned the entire game and know how to play."
2. "The second one is user interface or HUD specifically -- how the placement of information on every single object matters so much. Not so much in making the game easier but more in terms of not making the game randomly harder. So tracking eye movements, watching to see how much friction there is between the user and the game. I learned a lot of that from video games."
3. "The third one is to capitalize on the core differences between video games and tabletop. Video games are really, really good at full-on, 360-degree, passive immersion requiring no input from the player. They can transport perfect, symmetric information for all players viewing it. They can do this way, way better than a board game can, especially now with Twitch and streaming. It’s so easy for you to understand 100% of what’s going on in somebody else’s experience.
"Which means the social aspect of board gaming is of paramount importance. It has to matter that the character of the game changes based on who’s playing it at the table. It matters whether I’m playing against you and not against someone else. You can bring more of your personality to the table.
"There are games that play identically no matter who’s playing them -- they're very siloed experiences. They’re absolutely fine. They’re great puzzles. But I find very often that they translate to digital as better versions of themselves because they take away all the fiddly-ness and that sort of friction [from a physical game]. So I want to design things that you can’t bring to digital."
Known for: Above and Below, Near and Far, Eight-Minute Empire
1. "Top influence has to be Final Fantasy VI for the Super Nintendo. That game was really influential because I love the setting: a weird mix of fantasy and machine. I loved the story that unfolds as your characters build up their strength."
2. "The next one would be StarCraft. I played that one a lot as a kid, and I really got into the analytical side of it -- just seeing all the different units and how they interact with each other. I really got into the competitive play."
3. "The third game would have to be Zelda: A Link to the Past. I want to say Super Metroid as well because the two are kind of connected for me because they both have a somewhat similar organization. As you play, you unlock different tools as you explore, and the tools unlock more of the world. So in Zelda, as you complete a dungeon, you’ll pick up an item, and it opens a new area. I love how that exploration works."
1. "Magic: The Gathering. Sure, this is a tabletop game, but for the last 15 years I’ve only played online. It’s hard to describe the scope at which Magic has influenced my work, because it’s been the source of so many inspirations for me. So I’ll just summarize it by saying that whenever a new Magic set is released online, I usually play about five drafts to expose myself to a vast array of cards and strategies, paying attention to how each of them provides interesting choices and tension."
2. "Over the last few months I’ve been completely enamored with Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I know the normal thing to do would be to buy and play the game, but instead, I’ve watched a ton of YouTube video reviews and discussions about the open world. It’s proved to be a major influence on the cooperative open-world exploration tabletop game I’m working on, as I love the idea of encouraging players to explore by letting them use their eyes instead of a bunch of pins on a map. I also love the concept of letting players figure out different ways to interact with the world and solve problems on their own."
3. "When I was designing Charterstone, a village-building legacy game, I often turned to videos about village-building video games as a source of inspiration and information as to why people love those games. From the idea of upgrading buildings, populating the village, mitigating risks and hardships, advancing on tech trees, improving automation, and more, these games had a big impact on Charterstone’s design."
Brad Talton, Jr.
1. "Legend of Mana is one of my favorite games of all time. My first role-playing game, Mystic Imperium, was heavily influenced by Legend of Mana."
2. "BlazBlue is probably my favorite fighting game of all time and is heavily influential in the development of BattleCON."
3. "Castlevania, Dark Souls, Bloodborne...those Souls or Metroidvania genres. I’m currently working on bringing a Metroidvania to tabletop, so those have been influences."