Northern Texas

October 18, 2010

Michael joined us for the next three days of our trip. (I donated my cooler to make room.)

A road trip with MB would have been good regardless, but this trip was extra special because it focused on my game.

Those of you who have known me for some length of time know that I’ve been working on my game for some length of time.

“My game” is an RPG (a role-playing game). Although there are lots of ways to define an RPG, they are basically games which evolved from Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

One of the phenomenons of the Internet has been the advent of online RPG’s, where hundreds or thousands of players can fight monsters in the same, persistent virtual world. In the early days of pogo, before our switch to web-based games, one of my jobs was to manage AD&D Dark Sun Online, one of the first such games.

When pogo did switch to web-based games, I had a front-row seat for the advent of the other Internet gaming phenomenon: Casual Games. Casual Games are games you can easily play in your web browser. Pogo was the key player in getting Casual Games off the ground, mostly because we understood the importance of making the games as easily accessible as possible.

Thus, although my direct role in the emergence of RPG’s and Casual Games on the Internet was extremely small, I was in a good position to observe them both at an early stage.

Perhaps that is why, after leaving pogo in the early 2000’s, I decided to create a game which merged the two genres.

An idea which, in most people’s opinion, made no sense. It made no sense because 30 years of RPG development had made them so complex that RPG’s were widely considered to be the farthest thing possible from Casual Games.

So what did I do?

I went back 30 years.

Before there were RPG’s, there were Miniature Wargames, where miniature figurines and dice were used to conduct historically-based, tactical battles. Players would move the figures (soldiers, tanks, etc.) over a grid of squares or hexagons, on a big table.

One such game, which used a medieval setting, was called Chain Mail. It was by Gary Gygax.

Gary Gygax would go on to create Dungeons & Dragons, eventually becoming known as the “father of role-playing games.” The first step in that process was when he created a fantasy version of his Chain Mail miniatures game. Instead of the combatants all being “real” people, like knights and archers, he also included monsters and spell casters.

From that starting point, he went on to create Dungeons & Dragons, where he built a framework for creating ongoing stories about the the heroes in those tactical battles. Volumes of rules emerged, as well as the concept of a Dungeon Master to guide the story for the players.

But even the very first version of D&D was too complicated for a “pogo-like” game. So the starting point of my game was not D&D, but it’s precursor: the fantasy miniatures game.

Those types of games still exist. I bought some and took them up to South Lake Tahoe.

Why South Lake Tahoe?

Because that’s where Michael was living at the time. He was often the Dungeon Master for when we played D&D as kids, and he has good gaming instincts. And it was a great excuse to hang out with him.

So for a few marvelous weeks, we played these games, while coming up with a simple set of rules which provided for fun tactical combat in a fantasy setting -in a manner that could be made easily accessible to people on the Web.

I then created a “pen & paper” prototype (using miniatures and dice), so we could play the game without having to program it. I spent the next many years testing and modifying that prototype until I was happy with it.

Although gameplay was my focus, I also wanted the game to look good. But art is expensive. Modern computer RPG’s will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on art.

Fortunately, an inexpensive solution was staring me right in the face …

The miniatures.

There is an entire industry for creating pewter figures which players purchase, paint,and use for their table-top rpg’s or wargames. There are thousands of miniatures to choose from. So I decided to simply take digital images of these painted figures and use those images as the monster and character art for my game. The company that makes the best fantasy miniatures is called Reaper Miniatures, and I was fortunate enough to obtain a license from them.

About a year ago, with the game design mostly done and the source for art in place, we began coding a web version of the game. By “we”, I mean Bill, a close friend and fellow pogo co-founder.

Last week, while in Houston,  I decided that the game was sufficiently presentable to show to the guys at Reaper Miniatures.

And where are they located?

Denton, Texas. Just north of Dallas.

On my way home.

So the first stop for Michael and me was the Reaper Miniatures Headquarters.

We met with ReaperEd (the boss), ReaperBryan (operations lead), and ReaperKevin (art lead).

Did we like them?

Yes!

Did they like the game?

Yes!

Do they want to help?

Yes!

It was all very exciting. And for the next two days, Michael and I discussed the game with renewed enthusiasm.

The main topic was what to call the game instead of “the game.”

The working title all these years had been “Dungeon Dash.”  But that sounds like a kid’s game. So we took the name ideas I had been collecting, then brainstormed many more while driving, then picked the top 30. I then created Google ads using each name and tested to see which names people were most likely to click on.

We considered the resulting “click-through rates”, as well as the other factors which would make for a good name.

Meanwhile, we drove from Denton to Wichita Falls to Amarillo. In Wichita Falls we had a really good steak, and in Amarillo we went to a cool game store, an even cooler cafe/lounge, and a place called Cowboy Gelato, where I had my first, and wonderful, experience with corn fritters.

By the time Michael flew home from Amarillo on Sunday morning, we had not only eaten well, but we had chosen our preferred name.

We were quite happy with it.

There were no conflicting trademarks, and the .com domain name for it would be expiring in just three days.

If I could get the domain, we would have a name … for the game.

Finally.

MB, driver

Typical Texas Town

Game store. Friend. Dog. Wheels. Adolescent heaven.

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