Episode Archive

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Why do we make games? Every designer has a different and very personal answer to that question. Soren Johnson, founder of Mohawk Games, sits down with noted designers to find out by examining their careers as a whole.

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December 21, 2015 In this episode, Bruce Geryk interviews veteran wargame designer Mark Herman, former CEO of Victory Games and best known for pioneering card-driven wargames with We The People. They discuss designing games for less than $100 per week, why he couldn't release a game because Saddam Hussein might play it, and how Magic the Gathering helped him create a new genre.

Games Discussed: Chess, Battle of the Bulge, October War, The Next War, MechWar 2, Gulf Strike, Desert Shield, We The People, For The People, Empire of the Sun, Churchill

November 13, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei Entertainment which is known for the Shank series, Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve, and Invisible, Inc. They discuss paying back the Canadian government, why Mark of the Ninja's AI needs to be dumb, why Don't Starve has no extrinsic rewards, and how free-to-play games are his white whale.

Games Discussed: The Legend of Zelda, Aerobiz, SD Gundam, Dawn of War, Eets, The Outfit, Sugar Rush, Shank 1 & 2, Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve, Invisible, Inc.

October 15, 2015 In this episode, Adam Saltsman interviews indie game developer Davey Wreden, who is best known for his work on The Stanley Parable and The Beginner's Guide. They discuss why he worked as a bartender while making The Stanley Parable, how they fit the "gnawing void" into the game, and why he is looking forward to getting old.

Games Discussed: The Stanley Parable, Dear Esther, English Country Tune

September 9, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews game designer Chris Avellone, who is best known for his work on Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and Wasteland 2. He is currently working at inXile Entertainment on Torment: Tides of Numenera. They discuss why he owes his career to publisher desperation, how Torment reflects that players only care about themselves, the mystery of how Black Isle lost the D&D license, and why game writing is overrated.

Games Discussed: The Bard's Tale series, Etrian Odyssey, Dungeons & Dragons, Fallout, Planescape: Torment, Ultima Underworld, the Icewind Dale series, Van Buren, KOTOR 2, Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity

August 5, 2015 In this episode, Adam Saltsman interviews indie game developer Nina Freeman, who is best known for her personal vignette games How Do You Do It?, Freshman Year, and the upcoming Cibele. She is currently working at Fullbright as a level designer on the upcoming game Tacoma. They discuss why all VR games are about sitting in chairs, how a background in poetry influences her work, and how to write about your own personal flaws in a game.

Games Discussed: How Do You Do It?, Cibele, Digital: A Love Story, Gone Home, Dys4ia, MMOs, Final Fantasy 10

June 26, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews veteran game designer Bruce Shelley, who is best known for his work on Railroad Tycoon, Civilization, and the Age of Empires series. He is currently working at Bonus XP on Servo, a new RTS. They discuss what the two Sids have in common, why they took disasters out of Railroad Tycoon, what game got shoved out the door to make way for Civilization, why Ensemble games always look so bright, and why he always does his research in the children's section of the library.

Games Discussed: Squad Leader, the MERP series, Titan, Civilization (Avalon Hill), 1830, Cosmic Encounter, Acquire, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Covert Action, Railroad Tycoon, Pirates!, Empire Deluxe, Civilization, Age of Empires series, Company of Heroes

June 8, 2015 In this episode, Adam Saltsman interviews independent game developer Daniel Benmergui, who is best known for experimental story games like Today I Die, I Wish I Were The Moon, and the IGF-winning Storyteller. He is currently working on the Indie Fund-backed puzzle game Ernesto. They discuss why games should not be designed backwards, how to recover from the burden of success, why players have difficulty committing a murder of jealousy in Storyteller, and whether Chris Hecker hates Ernesto.

Games Discussed: Storyteller, Today I Die, I Wish I Were The Moon, Ernesto, Return of the Obra Dinn, Gone Home, Overland, Hundreds, FTL

May 4, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews Brad Muir, who is a designer/programmer at Double Fine. He was a programmer on Psychonauts, the lead designer of Brutal Legend, and the project leader on Iron Brigade. Brad is currently leading the development of Massive Chalice, a tactical strategy game now available on Steam Early Access. They discuss trying to make peace with narrative-based games, why consoles (and not tablets) are the future of MOBAs, what it's like pitching ideas to publishers, and why Brad worked at Raven for 89 days.

Games Discussed: Spec Ops: The Line, The Walking Dead, Crusader Kings 2, Hunt the Wumpus, The Legend of Zelda, Brutal Legend, Alter Echo, Psychonauts, XCOM, Massive Chalice, Trenched/Iron Brigade

April 20, 2015 In this episode, Adam Saltsman interviews Chelsea Howe, who is a Creative Director at EA Mobile. She is best known for her work at TinyCo, where she led the design of Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, and for her community efforts organizing the Queerness and Games Conference, the Global Game Jam in San Francisco, student workshops, and more. They discuss how DAU's and LTV's compare to Quarterback Ratings, why F2P games end up as conservative as AAA games, why mobile devs have to pay people to play their games, and if a game is worthwhile if the player isn't learning something.

Games Discussed: Choice Chamber, Renga, Twitch Plays Pokemon, Candy Crush Saga, Dragon Age series, Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff

March 9, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews Daniel Cook, who is the Chief Creative Officer at Spry Fox. He is best known for his design work on games such as Triple Town, Realm of the Mad God, and Steambirds as well as for his writing on game design at lostgarden.com. They discuss the joy of making tile sets, why Lost Garden was originally an anonymous blog, whether Triple Town should be free-to-play, and why we wish we had been neighbors.

Games Discussed: The Faery Tale Adventure, Tyrian, The Circle, 1 vs. 100, Steambirds, Triple Town, Realm of the Mad God, Road Not Taken

February 10, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews Henrik Fahraeus, who is a Game Director at Paradox Interactive, where he has worked on the Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron series. Also sitting in on the interview is Jon Shafer, lead designer of Civilization 5 and currently at work on his independent strategy game At the Gates. They discuss whether the Civ and EU games live in alternate dimension, whether provinces are better than hexes, and why it's bad to have too many sons.

Games Discussed: Lords of Midnight, Seven Cities of Gold, Europa Universalis series, Hearts of Iron series, Crusader Kings series, Civilization series

January 12, 2015 In this episode, Soren interviews Frank Lantz, currently Director of the NYU Game Center. Frantz was also the co-founder of Area/Code where he led the design of Drop7. We discuss how to make sure your game gets written up in Boing Boing, why most people who like ARGs have never played one, and how to take advantage of your friend's trip to the hospital in Parking Wars.

Games Discussed: The Manhole, Dungeon Master, Mortal Kombat, Wipeout, Gearheads, Diner Dash, PacManhattan, Shark Runners, Parking Wars, Drop7

December 11, 2014 Soren is not done with Rob yet! In the second half of the interview, they discuss the MMO that shocked everyone (including Blizzard), how to hire game designers, why they didn't make DOTA2, removing the auction house from Diablo 3, and what might come next from Rob.

Games Discussed: Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, MOBAs, Diablo 3, Hearthstone

October 30, 2014 Welcome to Designer Notes, a podcast about why we make games, hosted by Soren Johnson of Mohawk Games. In our first episode, Soren sits down with Rob Pardo, formerly the Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard Entertainment, to discuss his game design career, or at least as much as could fit into this first of two parts! Rob is best known for his design work on StarCraft 1 & 2, Warcraft 3, and World of Warcraft.

Games Discussed: Dungeons & Dragons, the Ultima series, StarCraft, StarCraft: Brood War, Diablo 1 & 2, Warcraft 3

Designer Notes

Soren Johnson of Mohawk Games interviews noted designers about why they make games.