Interview With Brent Keith

em breve em português

«Brent Keith»

How did you come up with the idea to create “Infinite City”?
Where do you get the ideas for your games?
I will use one answer as an example for the other answer. For me, a new game idea usually starts with a question. In the case of Infinite City, the question was, "I really love Charles Urbach's art, especially his architecture. What sort of game would let that art really shine?" That question lead to an idea, which lead to a prototype, which lead to Infinite City.

Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
They can start with either one. That being said, I tend to shoot for a good blend of mechanics and theme, so either one will lead to the other fairly quickly.

What kind of mechanics do you prefer to focus on the development process of your games?
I don't have any real preference, beyond any which will make the overall package better, fit the established theme of the game in question, and not get in the way of playing the game.

When did you realize that create games were your dream?
A few years ago, after I had spent a number of years programming databases, mouse drivers, and newspaper software. I have always had an interest in playtesting games, and would frequently add house rules to games. When the opportunity came up to change careers, I was all over it.

Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
This depends entirely on the game. A useful analogy is garlic in cooking. Just as there are some dishes which taste good with a lot of garlic, so too there are some really fun games using a lot of luck. (Plenty of card games and dice games come to mind.) Likewise, other dishes use very little garlic, or even no garlic - just like some great games have little to no luck. (Chess, anybody?) The only luck there is who goes first, and some tournament formats eliminate even that.) Luck works best when it is properly scaled to the rest of the game design.

As to my personal taste as a player, I usually tend towards games which treat luck like a resource to be managed. In such games, the players who are best able to manipulate the odds to favor them do best. Backgammon, for example, uses dice to determine how far pieces move - but the winner is usually the person who best chooses from the available moves to block the opponent as much as possible while keeping his own options open. Poker (in its myriad forms) has an obvious luck factor in who receives good hands vs. bad hands, but the person walking away with the most chips at the end of the night is the player who best chooses when to bet, when to call, and when to fold - and thus minimizes the negative effects of the luck. Settlers of Catan is another blatant example, where luck determines which hexes will produce resources but skill determines which players take advantage of that luck most often.

How many games do you work on at one time? Are you working on several designs simultaneously, or do you work solely on one project?
At any given time, I am usually primarily focusing on one game, with one or two others simmering in the background getting sporadic attention until I am able to shift my primary focus. This is true whether I was the initial designer or I am polishing and developing someone else's design.

Can you tell us anything about the project you are currently working on? Can you tell me any details about the game itself?
This is a rather unusual time for me, in that right at the moment all the major projects I had been working on are either at the printer or in the final graphics cleanup before being sent to the printer. Thus, I am in the midst of putting together many different prototypes, for many different styles of games. Some of these will probably go nowhere, others may see print early next year - all depending on their reception in the next couple of weeks. In terms of theme, the current crop of ideas range from undersea diving to Venetian political murder mysteries to managing estates while trying to gain honor in the eyes of the Empress - and more.

How often do you play test a board game before publication?
I personally play the game at least a couple of dozen times, and I also get a lot of feedback from other people playing it.

What game that you've designed took the longest and had the most changes?
I will name one which I developed rather than created the most basic initial design - Tomb. John Zinser came in with the initial concept and a lot of the basic design, and I filled in a lot of holes to make it a complete playable game. From there, it went through a lot of playtest both within and outside the office, and some pretty radical changes took place during that time. Even since its release there has been some refinement, as you can see by downloading the Cryptmaster rule book from the AEG website.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
I like to work on a wide variety of projects, ranging from small little dice games to epic mega-games like Legend of the Five Rings "Race for the Throne", which drew thousands of players into one massive two year game. One of my biggest strengths is marrying flavor and mechanics into a single design, the result of many years of designing card sets for Warlord and Legend of the Five Rings. No matter what I am currently working on, whether it is ancient deities vying for mortal worshippers or far future corporations controlling a budding city, I strive to bring a strong dose of flavor into the very mechanics of the game.

Your family and friends participate in your adventure to create a new game?
Absolutely. My wife is a great sounding board for random ideas, and she frequently joins with my friends to try out my latest prototypes. My son has not yet started to get involved, but once he is old enough not to simply try eating the dice his fate is sealed...

The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
The two parts I like best are the initial creation, where ideas are being brainstormed and there is all sorts of possibility, and publishing, where I see the labors of many months coming to life in a manner where many people can enjoy it. The refinement process is very satisfying, to be sure, but the moment of initial creation and the moment when others can join in the fun are the two most exciting parts of the process for me.

You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
My every day life. I may not be able to play board games or card games every day, but rarely does a day go by when I do not indulge in some form of game play.

How often do you play your own games after they've been published?
In general, my games get included in the general mix of potential games to be played at a particular gathering - and from there it simply depends on the mood of those present.

Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
On the one hand, I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing others playing my games, and even watching them master the game to the point that they are beating me. On the other hand, I also love trying out new games, and I have many old favorites I love playing again.

Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
Can you tell me your favorite game?
As a terminally indecisive person when it comes to picking favorites, I will list five, and give reasons for each. These are in no particular order.

• Advanced Civilization (Avalon Hill). This took a good game (Civilization) and revised it into a great one, involving resource manipulation, trading, planning, territory control, one of the earliest forms of an advancement tree, and random disasters which can be planned for. Sadly, the time it takes to play a game with the optimum number of players means I rarely get the opportunity to play.

• Citadels (Fantasy Flight). This game has a very simple concept, and executes it well. This was the first game I encountered with the mechanic of secretly choosing special abilities each round, with one player's choice limiting the choices available to other players. There are just enough special abilities which directly target other abilities to add a strong element of reading the other players, and trying to guess the choices they made.

• Clan War (Alderac Entertainment Group). This was the first serious miniatures game I ever tried, and I gave it a shot due to its direct connection to Legend of the Five Rings - a game which I was already a long time player of at the time, and still love to this day. The ability to directly create an army and send it marching against other armies, complete with extremely flavorful special abilities, realistic rules for formations, morale, units breaking, and the like, and heavy tactical play with just enough random element to add some zest had me hooked. This was the game which first started me playtesting for AEG, eventually leading to me being hired.

• Cosmic Encounter (Eon, Mayfair, and others). This game exemplifies the very concept of flavor shaping mechanics, with more than a hundred different races having their own special abilities each based on their specific back story and individual natures. Richard Garfield has named this as one of the inspirations for Magic: the Gathering, due to the sheer number of possible ways each different race breaks the basic rules in its own special way.

• Warlord (Alderac Entertainment Group, Phoenix Interactive GmbH). When Warlord was first introduced, I was immediately hooked. As a card game which simulates tactical skirmish games, and has a strong element of flavor built directly into the mechanics, it hit all of the right buttons for me. This was the game which leads directly to my being hired by AEG, to become (at that time) the new lead designer for the game.

I could easily name and detail plenty of others, such as Settlers of Catan, Entdecker, Spades, Go, Ticket to Ride, Diplomacy, and many more, but I'm trying to behave and keep it relatively short. It gets worse if you go beyond the scope of board / card games, and allow RPG's, computer games, and other variations on the list.

And your favorite type of game?
To paraphrase Duke Ellington speaking of music: "There are two kinds of games. Good games and the other kind."

Do you prefer play the games or create them?
For me, those two aspects are too intertwined to choose one or the other. Creating good games is impossible without playing them, and playing games leads to ideas for more games.

You will present “Infinite City” in Essen?
I personally doubt that I will be able to be there, but Alderac Entertainment Group will indeed be presenting Infinite City at Essen.

Do you think sales are a determining factor of whether a game is good or not?
Sales are often a good indicator that a game is good, but it is not a determining factor. Over the years, there have been many games which I would consider sub-par which have sold very well due to other factors such as affiliated licenses or simple good marketing. Likewise, bad marketing, bad theme, bad timing, or bad decisions made in the pre-press process can kill an otherwise good game.

Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
Not really. My tastes are too broad to focus on any one.

Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
Absolutely. At the most basic level, games like Candy Land or Sorry are good for teaching colors, counting, reading, and similar skills. Many games are explicitly designed to help teach a particular skill or skills, and many more succeed in doing so without actively trying.

Taking the next step, any game with a system of rules helps teach the very concepts of systems, rules, and the like. This is not a trivial thing. Being able to recognize and understand rules, consequences, causes and effects, and similar concepts is extremely critical to functioning as an adult in any society - and grasping those concepts at an early age gives an advantage to those children as they grow up and face new situations.

Extending this concept even further, playing games teaches strategic thinking. As a child learns to play Chess, the concept of thinking two moves ahead, then three, then four, then many more slowly sink in. This establishes patterns of thinking helpful in all aspects of life. If a kid is playing an RPG such as Dungeons and Dragons with a long term series of choices, it reinforces the notion of planning ahead to reach a goal - whether the goal is beating a lich, choosing feats to attack four times per round, or even simply finally catching the DM off guard. Looking at more complex games, other useful skills are taught and reinforced, frequently in subtle manners. Most of the long running popular CCG's teach resource management in multiple manners. With any CCG, you have to choose what cards to include in your deck, and with most, you then have to choose how to allocate resources during play. An extreme example in the wargame world is Advanced Squad Leader, where you face many decisions on many levels ranging from which direction to send a single squad to how much fuel to allocate for your tank platoon. Any business or political leader faces these kinds of strategic choices on a daily basis, and games offer an excellent education on how to think in a strategic and tactical manner.

Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
I am a full time game designer and developer, working for Alderac Entertainment Group. My primary duties involve creating games, creating expansions for games, and refining other people's designs so they are ready to see press. My secondary duties are ever evolving, and have included editing, writing marketing text, a little graphic design, event planning, lots of pre-press production work, packing boxes of product for domestic and international shipping, and all sorts of random things which may crop up from one week to the next - and which help keep the job interesting.

What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
I will be extremely glad when the economic crisis is over for a variety of reasons, including some personal. However, now is a good time to be in the game business. Sure, the gaming industry, like all others, has suffered a hit. However, that hit is not as strong overall as many other industries have suffered. The worse things get, the more people want some form of entertainment. Games, including board and card games, are good options in such times. For the price of taking my family to a matinee movie for two hours, I could instead buy a new game which will provide entertainment for many two hour sessions. If you figure in the price of popcorn, drinks, and maybe even dinner, with that new total I could buy a much higher priced game, or a couple of games, and feel like I have made a much better investment with my entertainment budget. A lot of people are making the same calculation, so the game industry overall keeps going.

What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
I know some bits about Portuguese history, especially some of the medieval times (particularly some of the history of the Moorish expansion, as well as the Templar activities around Tomar) and a little about the colonial period, but my knowledge beyond that is fairly limited.

I have not had an opportunity to visit Portugal before, but it is on my list of places to see someday - particularly Tomar.

Thank you very much!
Thank you for your interest!

Infinite CityEnglish Rules
AEG Site
Brent Keith BGG

2 comentários:

Anónimo disse...

Thank you!

Anónimo disse...

Very good interview!