One of the best resources the Tabletop Deathmatch finalists had was access to a wide range of talented professional artists, designers, and illustrators to help bring their games to life. We spoke with one of these artists, freelance designer and front-end developer Drew Ryan, about his experience working on the competition.
" I take a lot of my influence from outside of the visual art world," said Ryan. "I'm a musician, so I try to take some inspiration from that as far as improvisation and composition go."
But while the free-form artistry of playing the drums, bass, and synthesizer has a lot to offer creatively, eventually it's time to get down to business when tackling a new project.
"I try to approach everything as if I'm solving a problem. I just try to sit and listen to what [the client] is trying to achieve, and then I just try to process it and come up with the easiest solution that I can think of," said Ryan. "If it's not something that's necessarily a problem to solve I try to make it look the best that I can. I know that's kind of generic, but if there's a concept to run with too I'll try to think of something conceptual to do."
Ryan found his latest client, Tabletop Deathmatch, thanks to his old co-worker Emily Haasch, now a designer at Cards Against Humanity. After bouncing around between several different finalists like Skiptrace and Charm City Blues, Ryan ultimately wound up doing layout on Aguirre. Working alongside creator Bryce Journey and illustrator Mac Schubert meant that collaboration was key. So Ryan compared his functional approach to the one he uses as a front-end developer.
"This was just like a website but laid out on paper. So it was all these movable parts and pieces that had to be tied together somehow cohesively and visually," said Ryan. "There are icon systems, there are things that are illustrated rather than explained verbally throughout some of the guide book. So it's just a matter of trying to communicate something as efficiently as I can. I'm not a very eloquent speaker, so I'm glad that design lets me communicate non-verbally through gestures and pictures."
Initially, Ryan was concerned that with so many hands touching the game, the disparate pieces wouldn't mesh, especially given the game's peculiar 1500s South American historical setting.
" I was kind of nervous at first because I feel like Mac and I both have a particular style that's not rooted so much in that historical context," said Ryan.
However, Journey's openness to new ideas and improvements allowed all three creative voices to come in strongly.
"It's always really nice to work with someone who has their ducks in a row," said Ryan. "Although [Journey] sent his own prototype over he was also refining the game himself, but he was open to my suggestions on how to refine the game too. It was very flexible, it was great." Meanwhile, Schubert's illustrations proved great to work with as well. "They just looked so good. He used a vibrant color palette, so I really just tried to pull from what he was doing."
Together, they created something Ryan felt no one would expect from a genre this like.
"Bryce was open to doing something that looked new and honored and bright and other adjectives that don't really describe a period piece game," said Ryan. "It was kind of conflicting in that way, but it turned out kind of cool."
And to think, Ryan almost didn't want to work on Aguirre since it seemed off-putting to him, a non-gamer.
"I was reading through the games and trying to decide which one I wanted to work on when I was given some of the options. This wouldn't have been one that I'd pick out just because it was a period piece and that kind of scared me away. When I saw it initially it just didn't seem like a game that I would want to play, not that I'd really want to play any game to be honest," said Ryan. But eventually he came around after seeing Schubert's violent, cartoony illustrations. "I took this as a challenge, actually looking at the game and trying to comprehend what the game was about. It was a lot to get my head around, but it was fun trying to process it."And beyond being fun, Ryan felt his non-gamer status benefitted the game. "Since I'm not a gamer I had to understand this game in layman's terms and recite it back to Bryce in the form of good looking layout. So hopefully that helped with the ease of play."
But even if he doesn't care too much about tabletop games as a whole, after working with Tabletop Deathmatch, Ryan is definitely open to more gaming projects. And he hopes people that do care about games eventually get a chance to play Aguirre.
"Since I've invested so much in the game I'm excited about it," said Ryan. "I want people to see it, and I hope that it wins."