Game Developers Conference 2011: In The Trenches

15 Games In 15 Years

Stone Librande is a creative director at EA/Maxis, but his fascinating talk was only peripherally about his time with game companies. Rather, Librande talked about designing and creating board and card games as a hobby. Every year, he’d make a new game for his two sons as a Christmas gift, starting back in 1995 when his first son was just three, and continuing through 2010.

Some of these games could easily become mainstream board or card games, but Librande had no desire to turn them into marketable products (except one, as we’ll see shortly.) This was every bit game development for its own sake, to entertain Librande’s two sons. Yet, as the years progressed, these games became increasingly sophisticated.

Although these were very personal creations, Librande took design lessons away from each of them; some of them may be familiar to gamers today. From a game called “Maze,” which he designed when his sons were seven and four:

“Characters are excellent expansion opportunities.”

From “Junkyard Bots” a year later:

“Give the player something to fiddle with when it is not his or her turn.”

At one point, Librande decided he wanted to play Diablo II with his sons, but his wife objected. So he decided to make a card-driven board game version he called Monster Hunter.

Prototype and final art for the Monster Hunter cards, though the final art was lifted from the D&D 3.0 source books.

There were so many cards and potential interactions that he built a spreadsheet to keep track of game balancing. Eventually, he showed it to people he knew at Blizzard, who promptly invited him to come work for the company.

In 2006, he decided to convert the cell stage of Spore into a board game, called Nanobots. He also designed it to work effectively with three players--game balance in a three player board game can be tricky. Eventually, he used the board game he built to pitch a video game, which eventually showed up on Xbox Live Arcade as Microbot.


Librande’s experience shows how some game designers integrate both game design and playing games into all aspects of their lives, even as they become more professionally accomplished and older. And what’s cool is how he used every day materials and leftovers from older board and card games to realize fresh ideas, which in turn informed his work.

  • madjimms
    "Today, games are both highly integrated into the culture, yet apart from it. We clearly see conflicts between the growing gaming culture and those who consider gaming a waste of time, or in the case of some news networks, even dangerous."

    I know what "news" network hes talking about. *cough* fox *cough*
  • radiumburn
    Still don't understand how fox can be considered a news network when it seems that its main goal is to push out false information and fear
  • davewolfgang
    Wow you two - this is SUPPOSE to be about gaming. Leave your bias about cable channels because you don't agree with them or don't like one of their show hosts, for a political website, not Tom's.

  • I don't think biofeedback can help , I mean every person is different you can't measure a game like that, could be the greatest game for some people and the worst game ever for others ...
  • dennisburke
    FOX is playing the biggest game of all "Battle For Your Brain". Spending hours watching FOX is more dangerous to society than spending time playing games.

    Playing a stratagy game is no different than playing chess, other than being treated to a great visual watching a sunset art?

    I like playing fps games...maybe because it reminds me of playing 'Hide and Seek' or 'Cowboys and Indians' as a kid...the thrill of a chase, etc.

    Art will always be in the eye of the beholder and it cannot be defined.
  • So MSNBC and CNN aren't slanted one bit? Get out of your caves.
  • yose3
    we born playing games and we die playing games!
  • Khimera2000
    this is all cool, but to be honest whats really going to happen is once the new consols are released, everything spoken at these confrences about quality, new technolagy, and intergration will be lost (unless its intergrated into the consols).

    As it looks from my side these companies will be tooooo buisy trying to program for technolagy that they all but ignored since the release of currant generation consols.

    the games comming out will be full of leaks, bugs, and problems, then when they get ported to PC it will be made worse.

    There is nothing impresive happening in the game industry. they can talk all they want, but like De Vinci, if all you do is talk and draw pictures thats all they will ever be talk and fluff.

    once they use whats out there then ill start listening, till then I would be terrified to try anything these companies would pump out just by the chance of bugs destroying the experiance.
  • sudeshc
    In my opinion games are art it all starts with good concept/story and takes it to another level games are do inspired by culture but more or less global culture. we can or can not say they are waste of time or are dangerous as all of us know "too much of anything is not good" and there are always exceptions.