Mike Petty - Designer of Black-N-White Games
As our regular customers know by now, Mike Petty usually does our designer interviews at Fair Play. When he had the chance to feature his
own games in our Independent Designers Program special, I figured
I better do the interview this time.
Terry Carr: How old were you when you designed your first
Mike Petty: I think it was sixth or seventh grade. I know it
was the early eighties.
TC: What game was it?
MP: I don't remember what I called it, but it was a dungeon
crawl. I had read a short article about Dungeons &
Dragons. I had no idea what a role playing game was, but I
was intrigued by the fantasy themes and the idea of getting
treasure. I made a board game on the back of a cardboard box. It
was very simple, rolling a die and moving around the board
gathering weapons. It was also very luck based, but I liked it
and remember playing it a number of times with my brother.
TC: What do you like most about designing games?
MP: Finding out someone enjoyed my game. Whether it's a
successful playtest session or an email from someone who
downloaded one of my freebie games, I am always grateful someone
had fun with a game I created.
TC: Test players are an important part of game design. How
many people do you usually have test a game
MP: It depends on the game and how much depth I'm going for.
Most of the time my games are tested by me and my wife in their
early stages. If I need a more players right from the start, I'll
try it with friends or my students at school. I have a clear
picture of what I'm looking for in a game regardless of whether
or not the initial tests are fun for everyone. If, after the
initial testing and modifications, the game is still going
strong, I'll play it with any willing group of gamers and get
opinions. As you know, you and your wife have helped me a lot
with several of my game designs. Both of my Black & White
games were influenced by those early testing sessions with the
two of you and my wife.
TC: Do you try to get people from around the country to
playtest as well?
MP: I used to actively pursue this. I've found there are more
people interested in getting a free copy of a game than there are
people who will actually play it and give feedback! Of course,
failed attempts may have had a lot to do with my poor game
designs at the time too. At any rate, I have some friends around
the country that I share my ideas with. Sometimes they'll just
read the rules, other times they'll actually play the game.
Either way I get valuable feedback from them.
There have been some cases where I get email from people
around the world who have played my free games I posted at an
older game site. Freebie games never received all the playtesting
they should have, so I always considered them playtesters as well.
I guess it couldn't hurt to add that if anyone is interested
in testing some of my nearly finished games, I won't turn away
serious requests to help in that area.
TC: What game that you designed do you feel is your best?
MP: I believe a game should be judged in light of the
designer's original goals. So, my best game is a card game called
Dino Pics that I made for my daughter. She just turned three at
the time. This was a card game where you supposedly go back in
time and wait for dinosaurs to come to a watering hole. You snap
pictures of as many as you can, but if you wait too long T-Rex
comes and they all run away. She loves this game and asks me to
play almost everyday. Her enjoyment has far exceeded my original
expectations. In fact, I asked her a few weeks ago if she'll
always play with me, even when she's in high school. She said she
will, but I have my doubts.
TC: What game do most people say is your best?
MP: A negotiation game I made called King for a Day.
Except for one case I remember, every person who has ever played
it liked it. Production costs on this game would be beyond what I
could pay myself, so I'm always looking for a publisher. With
each rejection, I make a few changes and send it on again to
someone else. I've learned a lot with the game and it always
gives me satisfaction when I teach it to new players and they
want to play again.
TC: What was one game that you recall being your biggest
MP: There have been many. I think the biggest one I remember,
in terms of how much I worked on it and how badly it went over,
was a little trading game I called Haggle Finagle. You
may remember it, since you played it that first and last time. We
finished one turn and it totally died. No one asked me to try the
next turn. There was no hope.
I was in love with the title, though, and I kept working on
games that would fit it. In fact, I think I've finally found a
perfect fit and it may be a Black & White game by the middle
of this year.
TC: What do you do to a game that doesn't work at all the
first or second time?
MP: As I said, I have my own expectations in mind for a game
regardless of how the first few playings go. If players
completely hate the game, but I can see a mechanic was working
the way I wanted, I'll do whatever I can to salvage that mechanic
somewhere else. Almost every idea I come up with gets written
down in a Word document that I can refer to later. If anything
had promise - theme or mechanic - I keep it until I find
someplace where it works better.
TC: Approximately how many games have your started?
MP: If writing down a very short, rough game idea is "started",
then I'd say several hundred. If you count only playable
prototypes, probably more like fifty to a hundred.
TC: How many have you finished?
MP: It's hard for me to say any game of mine is finished. I
always can see tweaking things and trying to make it play
differently in some way. Even my two Black & White games
don't seem finished to me. I try to think of new games to play
with the Yaddy-Yadda cards or variants and new cards for
What's It To Ya?. As long as I keep playing them, I'm
sure new things will turn up at the site offering more ways to
TC: What game manufacturer do you want to produce your
MP: Whichever one will take one!
I hope that doesn't sound too desperate, but really I mean
more to it than that. Working with publishers through Fair Play
and as a designer, I've come to respect them very much. They have
to be very good at what they do to be successful. If one of them
finally decides to make King for a Day, for example, I know it
will be because they believe in the game and they believe they
can give it the best production to make it successful. What more
could I'd hope for from any publisher?
TC: Most people who know you know that you run a game club
after school at the High School. What are some of your own
designs that they have enjoyed?
MP: What's It To Ya? has gone over very well there.
It's a great game for getting to know each other and to express
yourself. Teens, like almost everyone I suppose, really love to
do both of those things.
Other titles won't mean much to our customers, since the games
haven't been published, but I'll mention a few notable ones.
We've had countless hours of fun with a comedy RPG system I wrote.
They've also enjoyed playing a bidding game called Fairy
Bucks and a dice-fest-of-a-card-game affectionately referred
to as Blaster Robots.
TC: Finally, all game designers have dreams about making a
great game that will make millions of dollars, but you know that
doesn't happen too often. What are your realistic goals for
MP: The short answer is that I want to see something good and
significant come of my game designs. More specifically, let me
put it this way. Nowadays I work on games mostly because I get
lots of ideas for new ones. I love playing games with people as
much as possible and I love learning new rules and mechanics. I
find this naturally leads to my own, more or less, original ideas.
It's time consuming to design a game-even just a playable
prototype -but if I really have a decent idea, I hate to let it
go to waste. I like to try it out. And so after putting in the
time, I like to pursue whatever course will get the best games
"out there" to as many people as possible and hopefully
accomplish something I consider good and significant.
To see an example of what I mean, take my Black & White
Games. Both games I've done so far have proven to be very fun in
their own way for the groups that have played them. They were
also well-suited for an inexpensive production that wouldn't
break my bank account. I decided to make my own versions and sell
them for a very low price. The money I make from my Black &
White Games is always given away to someone who needs it. You can
read more about this at my website, but this is what I meant by
accomplishing something good and significant. People who buy the
games will enjoy them, but I hope something more lasting will
also come of the work I put into them.