Guest Speaker Caroline Dougherty

One the major make-it-or-break-it attributes of any game is its art direction and design. Regardless of how unique the mechanics are, how deep the strategy can be, who designed or published it, or even how much it costs, no one wants to play an ugly game. And many people, myself included, will admit to playing subpar games due to fact that they have amazing art, graphic design, and components.

Caroline Dougherty, of thousandwrecks.net, took my last subpar game and made it something special. Lassos & Longhorns benefits greatly from the artistic design she afforded it. Due to her work, when I first saw the completed rule book, I realized that, with the help of the right people, I could actually create something that resembled a real game. So of course when it came time to work on the next game, Until Dawn, I gave her a call.

The work she’s done on Until Dawn is so incredible that I don’t even need there to be a game behind it to enjoy it. I asked if she’d be willing to share her experiences working on this project, and she obliged.

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I’m pretty new to the whole board game scene. My family’s stash is limited to a hardbitten Scrabble set and an ancient Monopoly that disappeared a decade ago in someone’s fit of hate. Not to mention the actual construction of games, which was completely foreign to me this time last year before Jack and I started getting into the meat of Lassos & Longhorns. When Jack approached me for another project and asked me what I was really interested in as a theme, I didn’t have to think twice before answering: zombies.

In starting Until Dawn, I had the barest ideas of what it was about [zombies] and what I needed to draw [zombies]. I’m pretty fascinated with zombies in general and their symbolism and what their narratives reflect of our culture [endlessly entertaining: Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human, ed. Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro], so the prospect of working on this was exciting on an intensely nerdy level. I settled down with all the zombies Netflix could supply and sketched until I felt like I was in the right headspace, and then I jumped in with both feet and started noodling around with the three distinct zombies of the Until Dawn world.

The excellent thing about zombies is that they’re filthy. I didn’t have to worry about overworking anything or prettying anyone up. It all ended up fast and loose, and I could tweak texture and contrast after scanning to up the intensity. I’m all about visible brush strokes, and this was a perfect opportunity to let that shine. It could all just be dirty, and that means I could play. I ended up surfing Facebook a lot to base zombies off people I know to keep them all from looking like the same person. Just like anyone else, zombies come in all sizes.

I’m primarily a digital artist, so I took the draft sketches in and started laying values on top with my tablet, trying to get a cohesive look going with some heavy blacks and a solid base color scheme. I skipped around and worked on the title art, got tired of trying to write the display text the same way every time and finally made a fast and dirty font, and then went to work on the card layout, which was 90% final by the time I started any of the other major components of the game.

It’s important to note that at this point in development, I had very, very little idea what Until Dawn was actually about or what the gameplay entailed, other than the basic principles. If this all sounds backwards, that’s because it is. Oddly, despite the fact that I am a pretty fastidious, type-A organizer, this lack of structure didn’t bother me in the least. I think I can owe that in large part to the fact that I knew Jack had something really solid behind all this and that I didn’t have to worry about it. I’d also like to think that the creation process really benefits from having two people work in from two opposite directions and meet in the middle. It let me take a few freewheeling stabs in the dark, uninfluenced by any preconceptions about what was going on, and that intuitive process was a blast.

After a quick debrief, I set about working up the board and tokens, which all came together pretty smoothly, even though my experience with creating floorplans is limited to a copy of The Sims I had when I was 14. Since I had my visual foundation laid back when I did the cards, I could duplicate the same treatments on the board’s background and layout. The components felt like a natural extension of the game, at that point, and I was able to draw them out without any trouble. [Zombie Rebecca’s token actually came from an original warm-up sketch filenamed “sassyzombie.jpg.”]

Which left the rulebook. I was afraid the book would be the real time-suck. I come from long hours spent in front of high school computers, tweaking and nudging newspaper layouts into submission. I know what it means to tear my hair out over uneven gutters and wonky word wrap and realizing my copy type is one point size off with two hours to go until deadline. Call it an old nightmare. I prepared myself to a long day of linking text boxes and quietly cursing at InDesign, made a fresh cup of tea, and settled in for the long haul.

…Only to have it come together like a dream. What are the odds? Four months, 127 files and 1.57 GB of external hard drive space later, Until Dawn is done. I’m still reveling in its bleak, grungy glory. It looks like Silent Hill had a baby with The Walking Dead, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m so glad that I got to work on this, and I hope it shows. Now I just have to figure out how to play it.

Caroline

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Until Dawn is currently entered into the BGG 2012 Solitaire Print-and-Play Contest, and will be available here soon.