Andrew Kropff

Marketing + Digital Design

Category: Games

Experimenting with D&D and Flat Design

In my limited free time, between projects and wedding planning, I’ve been putting together some artwork for a Dungeons & Dragons custom setting I’m building. The setting is inspired by sci-fi themes, so I looked to one of my favorite UIs for inspiration: Destiny.

Destiny’s UI was designed by David Cadland and it is my favorite UI in a game. The flat design is clean, minimal, and perfectly organized for use with the analog sticks of console controllers. When setting out to design my own content I decided I wanted to communicate my campaign setting’s sci-fi themes with similar flat design elements. The result is a fairly successful mockup.

Creature-Codex-Template-Flat-01

Although overall a successful exercise, the format and styling was ultimately too sci-fi, so I opted to change the color and background to give it a more traditional fantasy feel.
Creature-Codex-Template-Flat-03-copy

I’m still not thrilled about the colors, and will probably end up making further modifications once the content is finalized. In the meantime, this has been a very fun project working in a style I haven’t had much experience with until now.

Selah.

High Concept, Low Fidelity

Managing an indie game project is a daunting task. We all know how it starts off; a grand brilliant idea for a game comes to mind and the first instinct is to either jump into development or start designing all the cool features that the game will have.

But I think this is the wrong approach for most people. Granted, there will always be the Brendon Chong of indie dev discipline. But for the rest of us mere mortals, we need strategies and processes to help keep us focused and motivated from start to finish. Goodness knows it’s a long journey.

Our initial excitement for a new game can cause us to bite off more than we can chew. I experienced this myself in my senior year at CSUMB. Luckily I had a smart adviser that convinced me to take a different approach. His philosophy was simple, “high concept, low fidelity.”

The idea was to come up with a core concept that was so focused intellectually that it required minimal technical fumbling to achieve the desired experience. This wasn’t out of laziness to avoid doing work, but out of necessity as most projects were single student operations and time, as our most important resource, needed to be allocated towards production rather than research and learning.

It is far more valuable to design a game from the ground up on a strong conceptual foundation rather than a bullet list of technical features.

Since I graduated three years ago I have tried to stick to this philosophy and I think it is one that every small team or independent developer could utilize. With very limited resources we are forced to carefully select what aspects of a game will get the most development. It is far more valuable to design a game from the ground up on a strong conceptual foundation rather than a bullet list of technical features.

This conceptualization can take many forms and is most often found in the story lines of contemporary video games. Often these stories have all the necessary components for a good drama like betrayal, war, jealousy, or passion. But only a handful of the hundreds of games I have played engaged me cerebral enough to truly have me invested in the characters or plot like a good book can.

I think this is probably attributed to mechanics and game play. These are the areas sucking up the majority of resources during development. After all, games should be fun… or should they be? That is another discussion altogether…

In my senior project the abstraction I handled was based on ancient Greek philosophy. I have always been fascinated with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave because despite it’s age it is amazingly applicable to society no matter what place or time in history.

The Cave Logo

The Cave Logo

That allegory became my focus. While plotting out how the game would play out it became apparent that the setting of a literal translation of Plato”s cave couldn’t get my creative juices flowing. It was then that my professor advised me to use the allegory as the foundation of the game, but use a different theme to cover it. That is when I decided to cover the ancient Greek allegory in a theme of American consumerism and obsession with material goods.

From there it was easy to design. It became a very simple process of breaking down Plato’s themes, dressing it in a consumerism metaphor, and inventing game play mechanics for those elements.

What came out was something I was really excited about and to this day I still think is a strong concept that I want to revisit with my new skills and knowledge. The most exciting part, though, is that it was a design process not based on features to support the concept. Instead, it was a very powerful and historically proven concept whose features were built around it.

The whole project has given me the belief that any classical or artistic theme can be molded into something playable. And it is up to indie developers to push the boundaries of what can be explained and explored in video games.

What do you think? Are video games capable of communicating such abstract ideas as the works of Plato, Shakespeare, and Camus? Is it too young of an art form to entertain such concepts? Leave a comment.

Quality is King

It’s been a long time since my last update. I’ve been very busy with work, planning a wedding, and keeping up with my gaming quota.

On the topic of gaming, one of my biggest projects and time-suckers has been Nerd Sourced. It’s a site about creating content for tabletop games with the occasional indie game development thrown into the mix.  I’ve been experimenting a lot with SEO and social media engagement with Nerd Sourced. So far, it has been successful beyond what I’d expect for such a niche market. Since beginning in late August we average about about 600 views a day.

By far the biggest lesson learned from working on this site is quality. Everyone knows the age-old expression that “content is king.” But the quality of content goes beyond keywords and hot-button topics written in a blog post or page. Everything about making content for Nerd Sourced is time consuming, from optimizing the blog titles and meta descriptions, to creating eye catching featured images, to pushing out content where prospective viewers are hanging out online without coming off as self-publicizing.

It isn’t just about good content, it’s about quality work from start to finish. That hard work will pay off, though, when you get to see the increasing web traffic to your site. It definitely gets me every time.

Selah.

A New Challenger Approaches

I don’t do enough 3D modeling. I emphasized it during college but since I graduated it has fell to the way side. I’ve dabbled in it for some projects but for the most part it has fallen to the wayside. Today I decided to change that.

I decided to start using Blender, an open source 3D modeling program and invented a 30-day challenge and began throwing it all over the internet. I call it the #BlenderADay challenge in which I, and hopefully many others, create one 3D model a day for 30 days.

This is strictly to motivate me to get into good habits and to encourage me to commit to side projects. And maybe I’ll make a monthly challenge out of it with a reliable community. That would be fantastic.

Selah.