I spent a half hour with Jason Rutherford, the designer of Legends of Kalidasia. Jason has recently made available digital files for people to 3d print miniatures for his game Legends of Kalidasia. In our interview we talked about his decision to do so and also the opportunities he sees in the tabletop gaming industry.
Tell me about Kalidasia, How does the game work and what makes in unique.
Legends of Kalidasia is a space combat miniatures game. Each player controls a squadron of about 4 to 6 war ships along with accompanying fighters. The warships are represented by small pewter or in some cases 3d printed miniatures. Movement and ranged attacks are represented in inches. There is a simple dice mechanic to resolve combat and there are stat cards to keep track of the ships damage – armor, engines, reactor, and things like that.
My goal with Legends of Kalidasia, what makes Legends of Kalidasia, is that I tried to make an abstract game. A lot of space combat games of the past try to go down these routes of controlling the physics of the starship, and my idea is more about tactics. You are the captain and the commander of the squadron. It’s not your job to figure out the momentum of your warship in space, that’s the helmsmen’s job. You tell your crew to go after or outflank a warship and they make it happen. You don’t care what your velocity you need to get to that spot.
Legends of Kalidasia also takes a lot of concepts that are common in other space combat games and reduced them down to their simple essence to make them important. Fire control and energy management are both concepts in Kalidasia, but they are much more simple then you would see in a lot of other more detail space combat games.
To top it all off, I have my own universe that the game is set in, and players help to control the story line that the game takes place in.
What was the design process like for Kalidasia (how long, what inspired you, etc.)?
My design process started out with sketching ideas. I ran test after test to see which rules I liked and which ones I didn’t. Through this process of trial and error, I came up with the initial set of rules. For the last couple of years, I’ve been taking this game around to conventions and letting even more people play it and try out different scenarios, and I kept going through the process of figuring out what I like and what I don’t. I made a few changes here and there, and I added the admirals rule pack a few years ago. For the most part it has been a lot of play testing. I had to find out what was working, what was too slow, what could speed the game up, and what kind of tactics I really wanted.
The game has been around for about four and a half years. This August will be the 5th anniversary of Legends of Kalidasia.
Have you designed other games?
Legends of Kalidasia is the first game I have ever commercially released. I’ve been making games my entire life. I probably have stat cards sitting around from games I made ten years ago. At the time of this interview, I am getting ready to release a new board game set in the same universe, called Kalidasia Fleet Commander. Where Legends of Kalidasia is a squadron level game with a couple warships, Fleet Commander is a battle for an entire planet. One player is controlling the entire defending fleet, the other player is controlling the entire Surakari invading fleet.
What is it about tabletop gaming that inspires you?
I am fascinated with telling stories. Most of the games I play are story driven. You can create these worlds and explore what these worlds are about. It’s a fantastic way to explore different philosophical and political ideas in a safe manner.
From a story telling perspective, there is an interesting difference between tabletop game and books or movies. Books and movies have a more narrative style. Obviously books and movies are great, but with a tabletop game you almost get this double perspective. You get the perspective of the army you are playing, and you also get a historical perspective about the universe. You can see the entire grand picture and the small details all at once. The fact that you can get both of these views together is really interesting.
What has been the most challenging part about designing Kalidasia and other games?
With Legends of Kalidasia from a game design perspective, I was never really sure how people were going to play the game. It’s easy to create a game by yourself or even with a small group of play testers, but you all play the same way with this kind of group-think mentality, but to release it too the world, who knows what these people are going to do.
There are also a lot of challenges in terms of marketing. As an independent game, it’s very difficult to get the word out there. I take my game to a lot of local conventions here in Detroit, so a lot of people around here know who I am, but not a whole lot beyond that.
Coming in with your own story and your own universe, you have no brand power, which makes things hard. Kalidasia isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek that instantly attracts people because of their big names. This starts you off at a huge deficit.
Also, trying to sell the game is difficult. I’m a computer programmer, I have a computer engineering degree, and so sales and marketing is very difficult for me in general. When you are trying to sell an interactive experience, it’s very easy to screw that up. I’ve been to conventions and I’ve run scenarios that are very difficult for a new player and they get very frustrated. As a tabletop game designer, when you are introducing the game to new players, you want to make sure what thy are doing is something they can grasp easily and their aren’t weird rules or some tactical concepts they aren’t going to get. The last thing you want is for the player’s playing your game to have a miserable time. That is a guaranteed no-sale.
One thing I would say to people trying to promote their games is that when you are promoting the game, you need to create a scenario that seems challenging to the player, but is heavily stacked in their favor. The first time a player plays your game, you want them to win. It seems weird, but people are obviously happier when they win, and if you can disguise the fact that you are letting them win, all the better.
The scenario I play at the vendor tables is a short one, it’s based off an old story I wrote. It works out that the player has about a 90% chance of winning the game, but the way it plays out seems difficult and challenging.
What has been successful about Legends of Kalidasia?
I think my approach to an abstract game has been successful. It is broad in an audience, not in the one I expected. My game is pretty popular with people in the high school age range. We are talking 15 – 20. I wasn’t really expecting that. I made a game I though would appeal to an older audience, but it turns out it doesn’t. The fact that it is a simple and easy to play game makes it successful. The more detailed and a game gets, the narrower the audience becomes.
As far as successful marketing; surprisingly, the 3d printing video I did and some of the other 3d modeling stuff has been successful, and have brought some people in.
I understand you have a background in 3d modeling and animation. Tell me how that has shaped your game designs.
My 3d modeling experience comes from 3d animation. I have an interest in video production and I’ve done some short films and work for different churches. That is were I picked up some of my 3d animation skills. I also love science fiction, so the two cam together as visual effects and video production. That’s where I started years ago.
I never heard of 3d printing until the really early days when I was sketching out some of the ship concepts for Legends of Kalidasia. I stumbled upon the website Shapeways, and that was one of the first times I saw 3d printing that was accessible to consumers. Naturally, because I have not talent sculpting miniatures, I decided to go the 3d printing route. I took some of digital 3d models and modified them for 3d printing and went ahead and started my miniatures production process. I would use the 3d prints to make the pewter and resin molds.
You are making a few of your 3d files available online for printing. What inspired that decision, and what are your plans moving forward?
Some point in the future, I’ll say 5 to 10 years from now, when 3d printing becomes more accessible we are going to run into the whole copywriter issue. The same fight that has been going on with Hollywood and record labels, in terms of piracy and sharing music, it’s inevitably going to happen with 3d miniatures. Looking back on the history of what is going on in that field, I took a queue from a lot of independent artist who share their music through creative commons hoping that eventually comes back as fame and money. I figured I should give it a try. We are early in the days of being able to 3d print miniatures, and it’s really not a threat to my business. Hey, it might be some good marketing.
Where can people find the files to 3d print miniatures for Legends of Kalidasia?
You can find the entire range of miniatures available on my website. I’ve only got models up there that I’ve printed before, and they all print and paint up well. There are also a couple files available on Thingiverse as well.
What are you looking forward to most about your game and the game industry?
The thing I am looking forward to the most for Legends of Kalidasia is to grow the game and to continue to tell the story. I’ve got core elements of the story planned out to tell from now until the end of Legends of Kalidasia storyline. I don’t know how long it will take me to produce all that, but I’ve got the core filled out.
What I’m looking forward to in the game industry is not just the 3d printing, but the print on demand for your paper and cardstock components. As that stuff becomes cheaper, it is going to make it much more accessible for independent producers. You can make a game today, assuming you have the skills, for a very small amount of money. You could make a professional quality board game for $30 – $40. In the future we are going to see a huge influx of new independent games and crazy ideas. We are going to see more and more people incorporating technology into games. Some people already have with varying results, but we’ll see it more.
What words of advice would you give to an aspiring game designer or 3d artists?
It’s a lot of work and a lot of time. You will spend a lot of energy that doesn’t seem to get you very far. You are looking at conversion rates of maybe 1% – 2%, if that, of all the gamers you talk. It’s a lot of work, but if you keep at it and keep trying, you are going to slow grow things. I wouldn’t expect things to take off really fast, if it does that’s awesome, but just expect a log process of doing some of the same things over and over again in order to grow your business.
I also think it is worth noting that if people are expecting to use 3d printing to 3d print miniatures and get around purchasing models from a company, it’s not quit there yet in terms of economics. My 3d prototypes from Shapeways would cost a lot more then if you bought the miniature from me, and it doesn’t have the nice plastic flight stand it sits on. So, economics wise we aren’t quit there if people are hoping to destroy the game industry, but give it a few years who knows what will happen.
If you have more question for Jason, reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org