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.
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.