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The Road to Processing pt 1

I have a hard time letting go. I’m 100% sure this is a serious character flaw, but I run my life like an RPG character, always trying to min-max and flipping flaws to virtues. For a game designer, reaching back into your catalog of unsuccessful or unfinished efforts can be productive. Space from a project can give you perspective. Also, evolution in yourself, your social support system or game mechanics creates new possibilities from old ideas.

Processing: a Game of Serving Humanity started as “Seppy’s Slaughterhouse”. In 2009, Corporate America had made me a little angsty. As a bit of dark therapy, I envisioned a world where HR was a profit center HBR, Human and Bovine Resources. I could think of nothing more ridiculous and delicious than juxtaposing “Willy Wonka” with “The Jungle.” So I made a game where players dropped traps with names like Cattle-pults and Moo-tation Rays onto a moving conveyor belt, trying to shuffle humans and cows into various shoots. I devoured the Augustus Gloop of my ire and enjoyed being Veruca Salty.

With intermittent bursts of insane laughter, I constructed my prototype over the next few weeks. I made laminated wood tiles using various contraptions and an 8.5”x22” board. I made a critical error though; I fell in love with my creation before I could make it work. Though the “trap mechanic” was fun, it was super laborious to reset and put into motion every turn. If ever I get to create a game app, this is the game I will design; having a machine do all the turn maintenance fixes a lot of the issues. After a month of frustration, I put it aside and moved on to dreaming up End of the Line.

I revisited “Slaughterhouse” again in 2013 but made no real progress. In 2015, Fight in a Box began regular playtesting, so I took a serious look at what was wrong; the mechanics were too many and too futzy. I removed my beloved handmade wooden tiles and focused the game on player interaction, massively simplifying the conveyor belt and contraptions. Playtesting went poorly, but the project moved forward for the first time in six years. I let go; I was no longer fixated on game aspects I wanted to work, but didn’t. This shift in my thinking was a critical change, even though I put the project back on the shelf.

Thanks to the support of Atlas Games, Fight in a Box went to GenCon for the first time in 2017. Now I sorta knew (but I didn’t fully appreciate) that when the vending hall closes your work day is only half over. There’s a whole host of meetings and events that you should probably attend to help your tiny game company grow. GenCon was our first face-to-face meeting with David, our Project Manager from Panda Game Manufacturing.

Fight in a Box was releasing the new version of Squirrel or Die, and we were discussing how many copies to print (while consuming Thai food and beer). As the discourse drifted to other topics, David asked what other projects we were working on. I was excited to report that IMR was ready, but I lamented that Conquest Princess had issues; I would carry on because I do not know when to quit. To further demonstrate my shame, I shared, “I have this slaughterhouse game, and I still want to make it work.” He asked for more details.

I assumed David was just polite, but after I described how each player in the “Slaughterhouse” had a secret agenda, he said “I want to play this game. You should finish it.” I was self-defacing and dismissive—another major personal flaw—but since we were going to see each other again at Pax Unplugged, I said I might have a version for him to play by then. (That would show him, for taking an interest.) Now, with a deadline and a purpose, I turned my attention to removing all the broken bits from my concept.

Continued in "The Road to Processing pt 2"

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