#29: Special Guest Brent Critchfield (Studio Woe)

I know I’m excited about all of my special guests but this time we’ll be hearing from someone I’ve actually met in person!  I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Gamex (by Strategicon) this past weekend.  During a lull in my schedule, I had to go over and see what the deal was with this “Gruff” game.  It turned out to be pretty fantastic!  Not only was the game a unique take on my kind of fun, but I really fell in love with the theme and Mr. Critchfield’s storytelling (I mean, come on!  Weaponized goats!  Fat, mean, weird goats!).  Anyway, this guy impressed the snot out of me with his skills as a designer and his approach to this business.  So, without any further ado, here’s Mr. Critchfield!
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Once upon a time, I was working at a company called Vigil Games in Austin Texas (The guys that made the Darksiders Franchise and the ill-fated Warhammer 40,000 Dark Millenium Online). Their publisher, THQ, was in their death-throes, and I lost my job as the studio dissolved.
I had been excited about creating a card-game for ages and when my wife got a really great job offer in California I saw an opportunity to deep dive on this idea. I had been creating a Steam-Punk Americana shoot-out game where you would take Cyborg John Henry and have him fight Carnegie Melon in a Mech-suit. On the long drive from Austin to LA I remembered a project that Virginia had been working on where she had filled sketchbooks full of the weirdest, meanest, and fattest goats of infinite shapes and sizes. Whenever I saw those goats I wanted to see how they would animate, how they would fight, how they would evolve. It dawned on me that I should merge those crazy goats with the crazy card engine that I had built. It took another 9 months before that idea resembled anything like Gruff, and another 2 years of testing before it was ready to be shown to the public but now it is all together and I am really having fun with the results.
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From the earliest stages, I knew I wanted to make a game that was both visually and mechanically “Over-the-top”. Something that would quickly escalate from a slap-fight to a world-shattering conflict. To do that I created an exponential resource generation system, and open ended cards that would easily combo into one another. I love those moments when you are playing a game and all the elements that you set in motion finally come together in some devastating effect. Gruff is designed in a way to make that happen as often as possible.
I knew I wanted to embrace the inconsistency that you get from a deck of cards, but I also knew that I wanted players to have important choices that were independent of randomness. By using self-evolving stats and board positional gameplay, players should always feel like they have important choices right up until the end of the game. Players should never feel like the game was over just because they started the game with a bad hand.
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Primarily, I knew that the success of the game hinged on expressing the personality of the individual goats. To do that I created specific card pools for every goat, and gave them unique abilities that encouraged people to play with them in a specific way. After each match I will ask players who their favorite gruff is. People don’t always name the same gruff, but they are always very enthusiastic about their choice​. When I started seeing that type of reaction I knew the game was close to done.
 Getting to Kickstarter was a really complex path. The thing that really saved my project was meeting up with a local “Support Group” of other Kickstarter hopefuls and veterans. The advice I got from them made me realize that I had planned on releasing the game much too quickly. The scariest part of getting ready for Kickstarter was all the complications that arose once I had actually committed to a date. I had a printing catastrophe that almost scrapped the entire launch. I gave myself 2 months to prepare demo copies for review, and it was not nearly enough time. The next time I Kickstart I am going to give myself 4 months from the date of preview content completion and the moment I actually push the button.
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The one big newbie mistake that I made was launching on a Friday. We were lucky to have a really great first day, but all of that inertia evaporated the moment the weekend hit. Next time I will definitely run a mid-week campaign.
8633557_origOne thing that went really well was the creation of an “Online Launch Party”. Basically a Facebook event that I advertised a month in advance in order to prepare people to support the game on day one. I really can’t overstate how important day 1 support is. Campaigns like this are all about momentum. If you do not start strong it is almost impossible to build up momentum mid-campaign.
It has been a struggle and I have made a lot of mistakes (poor launch timing, not knowing when to slow down my messaging, getting the wrong people to review my game) But it has absolutely been a great experience. I feel like the experience I gained during this process has made me a better developer. I have come away with a much greater appreciation for all the hard work that goes into the games that I love.
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Such a great story!  Thanks for taking the time out of your super-busy week to share with us, Mr. Critchfield.  Everyone, please do yourselves a favor and check out his highly successful Kickstarter campaign for Gruff.  Great price, easy shipping, fantastic product for 2 players or a 4 player draft – it’s a no brainer.  For me, this was an auto-back and I will even be demoing it with him at Gateway in September.  I can’t say enough about this guy and his game.  Thanks for reading!  Be sure and look for Mr. Critchfield on Twitter, Facebook, and on the web and thank him for sharing 😀

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