Fireside Chat: An Interview with Justin De Witt of Fireside Games THE CONCLUSION

A column article by: Park Cooper

One day, Barb noticed in the local weekly community periodical that someone was going to be having a sort of open house for their new boardgame at a local comics shop. Now, I like boardgames-- sometimes I even feel compelled to make my own board or card games, just for fun. I was an only child with no brothers or sisters to play with around the house, so such things were a special novelty to me when I got to play them. So, we went to the shop, where I met with game creator Justin De Witt, who talked with me and showed me the basics of how to play the game, called Castle Panic! from the also-newly-formed Fireside Games. I liked the game (and still do), and bought a copy for myself, and exchanged cards with Justin, so that we could later do an interview. 

Here, then, is the start of said interview:


And now: the dramatic conclusion.

Park Cooper: Yes... but now give me advice like this is what I know I love and I have faith enough in it to develop it into something that should get out to people. What's the next step for new would-be game-makers?

Justin De Witt: Well, honestly I’d suggest taking a game that you think you might be serious about and taking a good look at it.

PC: Uh huh...

JDW: Ask yourself the hard questions. Why am I making this game? Is it something that will sell great or is it just fun to play with my friends on the weekend? Who would buy this game? What's the target audience? The game business is a weird one and a lot of people think they've invented the next Magic: The Gathering when all they've built is something that only they and their buddies will enjoy. If you take a serious look at what you've got and it still looks good then you should put it in front of people that aren't your friends and see what they think. Playtesting is a great way to get feedback on everything from "Is it fun" to "how much would you pay for this?" And no game is really playtested until you've given the game and a written copy of the rules to a roomful of strangers and then stood back and watched them play without saying a word.

PC: Mmmm. Good point...

JDW: Rules writing is practically an art in itself...

PC: Yes.

JDW: Then you have to make the hard decisions and fix things that are broken or throw things out and start over again. If, after all that you end up with something that still gets people excited you need to decide how it would actually get created.

PC: Yes, that's the other big hard part...

JDW: Selling a game to an existing company is probably the best way to get a game of yours out into the world. They've already got all the artists, writers, printers, distributors, shippers and contracts worked out. You won't get as much money, but you'll have infinitely less hassle.

PC: I do hate hassle.

JDW: And that's where you've got to be dead honest with yourself. Do I want to make games or do I want to run a company? Self-publishing will mean starting a company and that’s an almost ridiculous level of work. It takes every second of your day and night, a large amount of money and is stressful and exhausting. Yes, when it works it can be exciting and rewarding, but it takes over your life. If you're having a hard time finishing up a project or just can't seem to get all the ducks in a row, do you really want to try running a company?

PC: Check.

JDW: I don't mean to be melodramatic or even fatalistic, but it really does take a lot to make that leap. If you think it through and come to the realization that you don’t want to go any further, that's a perfectly good realization to have, in fact it's great! You've just saved yourself TONS of frustration!

PC: No no, it's okay.

JDW: I have a lot of people ask me how they can get their game made and I want to be realistic with them. See, the cool part is that even if you decide you don’t want to self-publish, there's nothing stopping you from still working on your game(s) and shopping them around to an existing publisher.

PC: Check.

JDW: You'll learn a ton from their feedback and they might buy your game and you become a published game designer. You're not out thousands of dollars and you can turn around and do it again.

PC: Okay... so now... more about you. You've mentioned anime, and I met you in a comics (and game, it's true) store... so... How Big A Geek Are You?

JDW: Uh, oh...

PC: Comics? Manga? Anime? Video Gaming? Table-top RPG? Battletech? Other? Warhammer? Heroclicks? What're we talking about here? Sci-fi/fantasy novels? Horror?

JDW: Ha! Well, I’d honestly have to say "most of the above". I was raised on sci-fi, discovered anime in a comic store a loooooong time ago and fell in love with it. I worked in the video game industry for a few years, so I’m guilty as charged there too. I've written my share of character sheets and scratched off lots of heat sinks, but RPG's have sort of lost their appeal to me more recently.

JDW: I never got into Warhammer (and my wallet is thankful) or really any major minis line. I’m not a fan of any kind of "collectible" game. That's partly because as a designer I feel it's a bit of a "trick" to get folks to spend more money to keep their game current. I’m much more of a fan of "complete" games which is why I've always been drawn to board games.

PC: Understood.

PC: What did you work on in the video game industry?

JDW: I worked for a company called Humongous Entertainment many years ago that did animated kids games. After that I worked for Human Code here in Austin and we did games for Disney, Microsoft, things like that. Of course while we may have been drawing "cute" characters during the day, as soon as quitting time came we were firing up Quake or Unreal and spraying the walls with blood.

PC: Any particular reason why, regarding RPGs fading for you?

JDW: The RPG thing is kind of strange. I think I just got tired of the traditional fantasy setup and the kind of gameplay we were having. I wanted something really different and even though I've tried Shadowrun and others there's something about a really good board game that is just much more appealing.

PC: Understood. Where did you go to school?

JDW: I graduated from Western Washington University in Washington State. I ended up getting a dual degree in Graphic Design and Illustration.

PC: And how did we come to Texas... the Human Code job?

JDW: Sort of. My wife was born here in Texas and she wanted to get back, specifically to Austin. I had wrapped up my work in Seattle and Austin sounded like a great change. We moved down and I got a job with a multimedia company that would eventually become part of Human Code.

PC: Hmmmm. I’m running out of questions, I think... uh... let's see... 

JDW: Haha, you've kept 'em coming pretty good!

PC: Will the next game take any less time to play? I could rope my wife into one even more easily if so...

JDW: Oooh, good question. I’m a huge fan of games that are involving, but don't take all night. Castle Panic usually wraps up in just under an hour and that's a really nice length for a lot of people. I’d like to shoot for a similar time length at least. But the new game will have a mechanic that allows players to end the game when they want to after a certain amount of stuff has happened.

PC: Oooh yeah. Hm, I think perfect for Barb would be maybe 20, 25 mins, 40 max. Or less... but that's kind of hard. What's your favorite game that isn't your own?

JDW: Hmmmm... 40 minutes max, closer to 20. That's quite a design challenge! There are a few games out there like that but they tend to be really light. Not that that's a bad thing of course, but not everybody wants something that quick.

PC: Ooh, I just meant what's your favorite game that isn't your own, but if you could actually recommend a great shorter length game for me and Barb that would be aces.

JDW: Hmm do I only get to pick one? I’m a big fan of Pandemic even though it can be really mean. It's got a really elegant system running underneath. I love the theme and feel of Arkham Horror, but it can get so complex and has a lot of bookkeeping to keep up with I can't quite call it a favorite.

PC: No you don't have to pick just one. Yeah simple is better...

JDW: Honestly, with my bad memory, your best bet for quick games would be to check out and see if you can search for games by time.

PC: Heh, okay.

JDW: I will say that Hasbro came out with a game called Monopoly Express a few years back that is way better than it should be. I know it has the word "Monopoly" in it, but the guys at Hasbro came up with a great little "press-your-luck" dice game that your wife might like. It has hardly anything to do with Monopoly, and plays in just minutes.

PC: Oh, I got us Lost Cities some time back... she liked it... but I won a lot. Also, would like something slightly less... numerical. Or not _just_ numerical.

PC: Any final summing up/hyping you wanna do?

JDW: I think we covered just about everything I can think of. Of course I’d encourage folks to visit to keep up on game news, reviews, demos and everything we’re up to. Other than that, telling everyone to buy the game and tell everyone they know about it!

PC: Okay!


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