Once Upon a Time in Game Design

by | Jan 15, 2020 | Games Design

Photo of course materials at the Needy Cat Game Design Course

I thought I’d kick off this new game design blog area with a post about what got me started looking seriously at games design.

Follow your dreams; you can reach your goals, I’m living proof. Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!

So, as per the title quote from South Park, you can live your dreams. Or at least, if you don’t try and live them, you never will. I’ve always thought how cool it would be to work in a creative industry, but up until now have never really done anything about it. As a young-un, my brother and I used to make loads of games – usually having been inspired by something like a play-by-mail game from KJC games, or maybe a TV show, or maybe a film about battleships.

I realise now that the games we made at that age were, err, rubbish, but that didn’t stop us! 😀

Zoom forward to the (almost) present day, I accidently discovered a 3-day games design course in Nottingham, so I figured, what the hell, ‘what is there to lose?’ (apart from the £250 course fee) and signed up. I’m very glad I did. The course was run by Needy Cat Games; sign-up on the Needy Cat website https://www.needycatgames.com/ to find more information about their online course material and stay informed for any future real-live-in-person type courses, like the very one I went on that I describe below!


The Design Course

OK, so here’s quite a bit of detail about the course. It was run on 3 Saturdays over 3 months, so the level of commitment was not too onerous. I attended all 3 days, probably cos I’m a nerd.

Day 1

The focus of the first day was on how to get started and go from an idea to prototyping that idea in a matter of a few hours.  For someone like me who is just starting out and has never really got around to actually starting anything for real previously, this session was the most important out of all 3 sessions.

I took away two key things:

  1. Anyone can do it; you just have to DO it. I felt really inspired.
  2. Get started developing ideas in a real, physical form as soon as possible.

I think the important point here for me was it made me believe it was possible to design your own game. Previously, without this belief I’ve had zero motivation, just aspiration.


Photo of day 1 at the Needy Cat Game Design Course
Photo of day 1 at the Needy Cat Game Design Course


Day 2

I honestly don’t remember much about day 2 – I was coming down with a cold and was kinda like a zombie; I could feel my brain to struggle to process anything and hence my recall now is awful! Facts were being fired at me, but they’d ping off. I could almost hear them ricochet.

The focus of day 2 was on developing your ideas into a solid mechanical draft, and getting material mature enough for going to production.  It was packed with useful often common-sense advice.

The afternoon of the session was spent playtesting each other’s games. A number of the other delegates had brought their own prototypes that we quickly played and gave feedback on. One notable game in development was a rotating maze game by Paul at Red Rex Games. https://www.redrexgames.com/. I was much more alive in this second half of the session as it involved lots of people interaction, which is my thing: I’ve also been trained on how to give feedback, I design software and so quickly understand complex systems, and hence was able to offer some hopefully useful insight and comments.

As a side note, this session was also somewhat inspiring as it helped cement my own self-confidence as it helped me reinforce my own belief that I do genuinely have the right skills and creative nature to do it. I can live my dreams, Goddamnit!

Day 3

Day 3 was focused purely on theory.  Luckily my man-flu had been fixed by now so I was OK with the volume of information being presented.  This session focused on the logistical side of games design, including two guest speakers, both of whom were great and gave loads of useful information.

The first speaker was Chris Singleton who gave a presentation on ‘Routes to Market’. For me, the main takeaway here was that there is lots of thinking and preparatory work to do to understand how all of your logistical and financial options work.  It’s something I will look into further down the road as and when I get an idea developed to an extent that it’s worth for producing.

The second speaker was Chris Palmer who gave us the lowdown on how to run Kickstarter campaigns, having run many himself on behalf of Mantic Games.   This talk was quite inspirational and very useful since Kickstarting is one obvious option for getting funding.

Some Final Thoughts

The format of the session with a small number of delegates (10ish) allowed for questions to be taken both during and after the talks – this really worked and even really shy individuals would be happy to engage in such a friendly and inclusive environment.

As an aside, the course was a good reminder that Nottingham is a good place to be for games design as there’s a community here and plenty of industry experience that’s quite accessible.

In case it’s not obvious from my write-up, I recommend the Needy Cat course if you are interested in Games Design at all.

Thanks for reading!