Tell us about yourself – who are you? What do you do?
My name’s Anthony Conta, and I’m the Founder of Urban Island Games, LLC. Urban Island Games is a digital/tabletop game design studio located in New York City that focuses on interactive games – we like games where everyone’s engaged, not just in the world of the games we create, but also in its mechanics, its aesthetic, and its overall experience.
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What tabletop games (including digital) are you playing most right now?
Digitally, I’m playing Binding of Issac, and Smash Brothers just came out (my favorite game series of all time), so I’m kinda preoccupied between those right now.
What are your all-time favorite tabletop games?
One fact that we probably don’t know about you:
I proposed to my now fiancee with the first game that we made together – Funemployed. I applied to be her “Husband”, and thankfully, I got the job!
(Major geek cred there – way to go! –A)
What are you naturally good at that helps you in your work?
Putting myself in other peoples’ shoes; it lets me think about the next step ahead in game theory. I’m patient while working on a project, which allows me to give games/projects the time they need for development. I’m also decent at talking to people about what I love, so my passion for gaming shows through in my work and in my discussion of that work.
What are you not naturally good at, that you’ve learned to do well anyway?
I’m a little impulsive sometimes when reacting to news, so I can respond a bit too quickly to something without giving it the full amount of thought it needs. I can go really, really fast, which isn’t always the best. I just need to apply the patience I have for design to responding to emails/news.
Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product?
I analyze other games that I love, ask myself why they rock, then ask what I dislike. I then wonder why those things are there (is it intentional) and if eliminating/changing them can make the game better. Sometimes, it can, and sometimes, it can’t.
We reach our final product with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (and lots) of iteration –the best game design comes from iteration. And even after the tons of playtesting we do, we still test – it’s actually something we should probably curtail sooner in the process (but the testing is SO beneficial!).
What design-related media do you consume on a regular basis?
I play games – every type of game I can find. I find that they’re really good inspiration (and I get to call it “research”!).
What are some tool/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without?
Paper, my computer, an iPad, a pen, cards, dice.
What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest?
Do it. Do it some more. Then, when you think your game is good, keep doing it for another year. I like to start the process as soon as I think of a mechanic. The sooner you’re testing, the sooner you can move on to testing more.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?
When to stop playtesting (not sure how to solve that one); how to find an artist that can work faster than one piece of art a month (a huge problem we had for an unannounced game that we didn’t solve), how to fix some of our mechanics (we generally scrap them, but some tweaks have worked, which we solved through iteration).
How do you handle family/work balance?
I work with my fiancee, and it’s something we’re learning to balance as we grow old together.
Do you have a second job? If so, what do you do? If not, when/how did you quit your day job?
Yes; I’m a tutor. I tutor early education chess (3-7 year olds, playing chess – slightly mind blowing) and I tutor academic subjects/standardized tests.
How many hours/week do you generally devote to game design? How many to other business-related activities?
Game design? Not as many as I’d like these days. Between starting a family, my tutoring gigs, and managing Urban Island Games, it’s not as much game design as I used to. I’d say we’re looking at 20+ hours a week on design/management.
What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received?
The concept of reframing one’s perspectives – a changing of lenses, if you will. For example, look at a game you love, and look at an element of it you hate. Why is that element there? Why did the designers put it there? I guarantee that it was (probably) intentional; ask yourself why.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?
Playtest. But that should be apparent from reading this article. The real piece of advice I’d give is that you should really consider different perspectives. It’ll improve your design, let you think about other people’s reactions/actions to your product (in and outside of the game), and you may find more balance in life. Think outside of yourself and reframe your perspective, if only for a few minutes.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
More designers (not just game designers).