I first met Matthew at the 2nd annual CT-FIG where he and his team were showing off That's Wizard, a 2-player game of spell-slinging duels. I've been following the progress of the game ever since, intrigued by it's dynamics, flexibility, and (of course) theme. This week Matthew sat down to answer a few of my questions now that the game is nearing completion.
Let's start off with with you telling everyone who you are and what it is you do.
My name is Matthew Sorrentino. I have quite a few different things that I "do". I have worked as a software developer for the last 10 years, which occupies my days. At night I am either at graduate school, where I am pursuing a masters in Human Factors, or at my dance studio, where I currently am ranked as the second place couple in the United States for Ballroom Dance and have represented the U.S. at the world championships for the last three years. In between all that I dedicate every minute of free time to developing, designing, and playtesting my indie game "That's Wizard"!
That's a crazy amount of things to do! How do you manage it all?
Good question! Sometimes it's a give and taken when certain deadlines come up.
Before a game convention for example I might have to put dance practice on hold. Or put game development on hold to write an academic paper. It hasn't been easy, but in truth I think that taking breaks from things sometimes gives you a new perspective when you come back to it.
In the creative process especially, sometimes you just need to step away from it all and give your mind some time to rest. You can't force it. A good example were the card backs for my game. I had gone through a dozen iterations and not been satisfied with any of them. It wasn't until I was forced to take a break because of a two week dance camp that I was able to come back to it and nail the design.
I can understand that.
So how did you get into game design?
I'd say it’s been a long and unofficial road to being a game designer.
Growing up, I had an older brother, only one PC computer for us both. As a result, my main source of entertainment was either watching him play computer games, or to read the manuals that came with the games. Though of course I loved my turn at actually playing, I took great enjoyment in reading about how the games worked. When I got old enough to be playing around with MS-DOS, I would relish finding some readable file format in the game's directories where I could see all of game's secrets. I do believe that my room as a child was filled with game manuals, printouts, and scribbled notes about magic items and monsters.
When I got older, this fascination of game systems turned me to become a Game Master for my friends. I would run year-long campaigns of D&D, Star Wars, and many homebrew systems. Somewhere down the line after college, when our lives didn't give us as much free time to do pen and paper gaming, we turned to board games. I think the first board game that got me hooked was Red Dragon Inn. After that I quickly started my own collection of board games which has since grown to enormous proportions.
The idea for my first board game actually came when my dance partner was taking a vacation to visit her family. I suddenly found myself with a lot more free time than I usually had, and an idea just came to me. Within a few days I had a draft on some notecards and was playtesting it with my brother.
In the last two years since, I've been introduced to the larger world of indie game development. Groups like the Game Maker's Guild and others opened my eyes to the huge amount of resources and talent that is out there. I feel like being a game designer has been the culmination of all of my hobbies since childhood, and it feels great to be creating something for others to enjoy and puzzling over the complexities of game-balance or game artwork.
So tell me a bit about the development history of That's Wizard. How long have you been working on it? What was the inspiration?
I’ve been working on That’s Wizard for over two years now. The very first version of it in June 2016, had only ten magic spells and the two special action cards, Focus and Counterspell. Now there are seven whole schools of magic, a deck building system, and thousands of possible combinations!
The core mechanic of That’s Wizard was inspired from a game for mobile phones; Steve Jackson’s Sorcery. In Sorcery, when you are fighting an enemy, you start with a certain amount of physical energy. It’s simultaneous action, and each round you decide how much physical energy to spend on your sword swing. If you put in a lot of energy, you can do a lot of damage, but the trick is your opponent could choose to defend. If they defend, they only lose 1 point of health from your attack, no matter how much energy you used. So, if you put in a huge amount of physical energy, and they defended, they take almost no damage, and you have lost all of your energy for doing stuff in the next round!
It’s a really fun mechanic, and That’s Wizard builds on top of that; you aren’t just swinging a sword each round, you are choosing a unique spell and the more energy you put into the spell the bigger its effects. The Counterspell card works a lot like defend does in Sorcery, but the amount of health you lose for defending goes up if you use it consecutively so that you are discouraged from playing Counterspell over and over again. It adds a psychological factor to the game, where you are trying to guess when you need to play Counterspell and stop your opponent versus playing a spell of your own and going on the offensive.
The spells themselves in That’s Wizard are inspired from a lot of my favorites such as Hearthstone, Battle at Mt. Skullzfyre, Dungeons & Dragons, Harry Potter, and Ultima Online. Each has been an important or fun part of my life and thus has given some part of itself to my game even if it was just through a theme or flavor text.
That's Wizard recently won an award, correct?
Yes, That’s Wizard was presented at the 2018 Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, and won the Best Presentation and Best in Show awards!
Congrats! What are your plans for the game? Are you shopping publishers, or do you plan to go to Kickstarter?
Presently the plan is to go to Kickstarter. Part of the enjoyment I have felt in designing That’s Wizard has been the learning process. I have been able to apply a lot of my own abilities to the development of the game, with contributing artwork, graphic design, rules, and game lore. I have even been able to use my academic knowledge of human factors to help increase the accessibility and ease-of-learning to the game. That being said, I have a lot left to learn about businesses, marketing, production, distribution, etc. One thing I have always relished in life is learning new things, so it is my intent to see this through to its conclusion by doing it all myself.
When do you plan to launch?
The current target is Q4 of 2018. I'm currently sorting through quotes, logistics, and also getting advice about how to run a successful campaign. There is a lot to learn!
What comes after That's Wizard?
There are a lot of exciting stretch goals I am planning to include in the campaign, including the possibility of developing the game for a phones and computers. Being a software developer it is something I would be able to undertake myself and perhaps expand the game in a way which is not currently possible with printed components.
At some point however, no doubt inspiration will strike again, and we will see what comes of that. I have enjoyed the time I've spent developing That's Wizard and it is surely something I would enjoy doing again.
What's it like to prep for a Kickstarter campaign? What kind of things do you find yourself having to worry about that you didn't even realize were even remotely part of the process?
It is overwhelming certainly, there is so much to learn. There are a wealth of useful articles out there and many mentors willing to share advice, but there is always something more to learn. Most recently I have been learning about international shipping, VAT taxes, or ways to transport my packages from their production facility to a local ship port for overseas shipping. Almost every day I am discovering something else I didn’t know I needed to consider! The process has certainly given me a lot of compassion for all of those people who have done Kickstarter campaigns. As a buyer it seems like such a simple process, to give a small amount of money to a really awesome project, but seeing it from the other side puts it in a whole new light.
Well good luck with the campaign, and thanks for taking the time to chat! Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up?
Thank you so much for this opportunity! I hope that you and your audience will be able to see That’s Wizard for themselves at the Boston Festival of Indie Games on September 29th. Those who sit down and play a demo game at BFIG will get to take home an exclusive promotional spell card, usable with the final product once it launches! In the meantime for those who are interested, you can visit www.thatswizard.com where you can sign up for a mailing list and find our links to our social media to follow along with our progress.
About the Nor'easter Series
Nor'easters is a series of articles spotlighting a different tabletop game designer, publisher, or content creator from the Northeastern United States each week. The series was inspired by all the amazing people in the industry I've met over the years in my home region of the US.
Make sure to come back every week and see who is spotlighted next! To see a complete listing of the series' articles, click here.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.
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