Designer Diary: Dinosaur World, or Life, Uh, Finds a Way (part 3)

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Enjoy this designer diary written by David McGregor, co-designer of Dinosaur World and Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write - live on Kickstarter now!!

Part 1 linked here! Part 2 linked here!

Life Breaks Free

As Brian, Marissa, and I continued to fine-tune and playtest, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, and upended our plans for an Origins and Gen Con roll out and playtesting frenzy. Our little game was the farthest thing from our minds as we were concerned for the safety of our friends and family. After the first major wave of infections had subsided, we were able to continue to work together, but development and playtesting slowed. With the help of Brian, Stevo Torres, and the Pandasaurus team, we were able to put our prototype assets in Tabletop Simulator and shift playtesting to an entirely digital space. Playtesting in the digital space lacks much of the genuine interaction and feedback you can get face to face. So much of the experience of this hobby is tactical and based on friendly banter and conversation, that these early tests felt cold and distant. The upside is that there is very little to focus on but the mechanics and experience. A good digital playtesting experience might be fun, but a bad digital playtesting experience really sits with you. Some of our most genuine feedback has come from these digital plays.

Pandasaurus hired Andy Van Zandt to handle the remaining development. Andy was able to fine-tune balance and make excellent suggestions about turn structure and streamlining. All of the buildings or elements of the flow of play that we knew needed polish were suddenly getting the attention they needed. 

Kwanchai Moriya is once again on board, with Stevo Torres handling graphic design and Joe Shawcross and Andrew Thompson contributing additional illustrations. It seemed like that within days we were getting art proofs and concepts. These elements are continuing to pour in and leave the design team speechless. 

An Aim Not Devoid of Merit

When Pandasaurus shared the official announcement and covers for both of these games, it was the first time I felt a resounding sense of dread. I have never fancied myself a creative, and the act of putting your work out there is terrifying. From day one, I never considered this a product. Brian, Marissa, and I were just having fun. From Rawr 'n Write, to the expansion, to the campaign, to Dinosaur World, each breakthrough and setback was a fun challenge to overcome. Not once did any of it feel like work. Sure, we had arguments, a bad playtest with close friends, and moments when simple solutions felt impossible, but after every play the game just felt better. We were having fun.

Toward the end of the design process, we asked ourselves if this was different enough. We know the theme is rife with options for more direct interaction and sabotage. We know some gamers would want nothing more than to march raptors into your opponents Welcome Center, but those moments never really emerged. The puzzle of linking your tiles and driving your little truck around just continued to be fun, and the design space grew around that. We always went back to my “baby talk” design philosophy, and asked the question, “Well, does that feel good?” After each change, both major and minor, we felt the answer was a resounding “Yes!” From the get go, we let the design lead us. No idea was too wacky; even when we had whittled Dinosaur Island to just the dice, it felt like the right step. Every decision was in the interest of fun, and we felt, as John Hammond would say, that that was, “An aim not devoid of merit.”

We hope you check out the Kickstarter and enjoy playing the game as much as we did putting it together.

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Part 1 linked here! Part 2 linked here!

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