Interview with game designer Byron Atkinson-Jones

Interview with game designer Byron Atkinson-Jones

Let's start with a quick intro from you for those who might not know you.

My main job is working for PlayStation as a Principal Engineer in their Global Developer Technology Group. Essentially the role is one of Developer Relations - helping studios to make games for the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4. It's an extremely technical role so I'm in nerd heaven at the moment. It's a great place to work and even better team to work with, I love it.

Before that I ran my own games studio for 12 years making games you've probably never heard of. I've also worked for a few so-called AAA games studios like EA, Sega. All told I've worked on something like 30+ video games over the last 25 years.

What was the first board game you remember playing?

This is a tough one. I'd probably have to say Monopoly but we also used to play Risk a lot. There are vague memories of Snakes & Ladders but there are questions as to if that qualifies as a board game.

Was there a specific game that hooked you on board games or opened your eyes wider to other games?

Talisman. I was introduced to it in the early 90's and it blew me away. This wasn't Monopoly or Risk. It was as close to D&D you could get in a board game and it was great. I wanted to know more!

Are there particular games you like to play the most, any themes or mechanics you enjoy the most?

I'm open to playing most types of games. I'm especially drawn to games that can be played solo - not because I want to play them that way but because I think it's a technical challenge to design a game that can be played in solo mode. I love to see how they achieved this and still made it fun.

How did you first get into designing/creating your own board games?

It came about when I was contacted to help run a course called “Get started in games” for Next Get Skills Academy and the Princes Trust. Initially I was there to teach the students how to make a game in Unity. However, it became painfully aware that the funding wasn't there for the required computers to run Unity and watching me do it all would have been boring. So I proposed we teach the course differently, turn our weakness into a strength. I managed to pivot the course from Unity to paper prototyping of games - getting the students to make board games. This proved a huge success. At the end of the first week of trying this each of the students had made a board game. We then ran with that format for a number of years and even though I've sadly moved on from teaching it, I believe they are still keeping to that format.

Where do you start your ideation process when working on a new game?

It usually starts with wanting to play a game that I don't have or aren't able to buy. The pandemic also helped a lot. Turns out my wife isn't big on games that have complex setup and even more complex rules. That came to light when Gloomhaven arrived in our house just before the Pandemic started and there was no way I could get her to play it while we were in Lockdown. So I had to come up with game designs that were simple to setup and simple to play. No complex rules. Rock Hunters was the first of those.

Tell us a little bit about your new game Rock Hunters?

Rock Hunters was designed to be a quick to setup, quick to play competitive game for my wife and I to play. I think I hit that mark because she loves it and actively wants to play it - something that never happened on any of the 30+ videos games I've worked on.

Part of me was hankering to play some WarHammer so I designed it to work on any surface, no specific board needed to play it. The win condition had to be simple too.

What I came up with was a game where you had to mine asteroids for precious minerals, in this case Gold, Ruby and Sapphires. At the start of the game you pick a random contract that dictates who much of each of these you need in order to win. You then have your little mining pod to wander around the asteroid field mining for these targets. It's like a race to see who can get them all first. Of course, there are dangers - your opponent can attack you and steal your hard earned cargo. You can accidentally blow up asteroids and you can collide with them.

Each session lasts about 30 minutes and every time we've played it so far we end up in stitches laughing at what happens. I didn't design it to be funny but that's what usually ends up happening and I love it for that.

You are producing each copy of Rock Hunters to order, what made you decide to go down this route?

I have a great job that I love at PlayStation and the kindly granted me the permission to make and publish this game but I'm doing that because others wanted to play it. I made it for my wife and myself to play, not to turn into a mass market production game. If a publisher were to approach me and ask to do that, I wouldn't say no but in it's current state and production it's where I'm happy with it. It's also a bit of buzz knowing that people have bought a copy and that copy they are playing is literally something I made with my own two hands.

I also have to say it gave me a really good excuse to finally buy a laser cutter ;)

Are the component primarily laser cut pieces or are you using other techniques too?

The laser cutter is used to make the box, the foam inserts and the resource cards. I use a resin 3D printer to make the pods. I love the output of the resin 3D printer but absolutely hate the process. Liquid resin is pure evil. I had to put an industrial filter extraction system in the room it's in, just to take the smell away. Toxic stuff!

The asteroid masters were also made on the 3D resin printer but I then made silicone moulds and use less toxic clear resin to cast those.

The contract cards and the manual are all printed on a home printer - an Epson ET-8500. I laminate and cut up the cards.

The resource blocks were bought from you I believe, they actually dictated a lot of the other design - especially the resource cards. That reminds me, I need to order some more soon. Those and the dice are the only components I order from a third party supplier.

Where do you find your inspiration for game ideas mostly comes from?

Mainly from wanting to play a specific type of game and finding I can't order that game. I spend a lot on board games so I do a lot of research.

Are there any projects you're working on currently, any upcoming launches or kickstarters on the horizon?

Yes! I've come up with a tabletop battle game for two players that's designed to be incredibly easy to setup and play, the kind of game you can take to the pub and have fun with without worrying about carting something massive around or having to digest 400 pages of rules and stats. The prototype is going well so far and we're having lots of fun with it. Now it's a matter of working out the production workflow, as it's hand made again and then it will be put up onto Kickstarter.



If you are a game designer, artist or work in the games industry, perhaps you could be in one of our future interviews, drop us an email.