Why I Made Heartcatcher: Learning to Love (the Game)

Before I started prototyping Heartcatcher about a year and a half ago, I'd never given serious thought to designing a game (much less a card game).

Which is ironic, because I've been a game-design dabbler my whole life. As a child, I tweaked the formulas for traditional playground staples to provide years of entertainment for my siblings. During long car trips, I regaled my family with impromptu "choose-your-own-adventure" tales that, with a bit of polish, could easily have become interactive fiction or text-based adventures if I'd had access to the tools and platforms available today. I experimented digitally in college CS classes, and enjoyed a stint as community manager for Playcrafting (NYC's largest organization of indie developers).

Any time I'd come close to moving forward with an idea in the past, it had been too easy to think up a million reasons it wouldn't work, and too hard to tell myself "let's just see what happens with it anyway."

This time, I was on a mission. I could say my mind was musing the simplification of the attack/health mechanics of creature cards in Hearthstone, or that I'd always wanted to play a game where bluffing was the goal, not an entertaining afterthought. But I really just did it to impress a guy.

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When your relationship revolves in large part around gaming together, you can find yourself at a loss come gift-giving time. After successfully celebrating a number of occasions with in-game vanity items and giftcards for made-up currencies, there comes a point when digital dollars will no longer do for one who seeks to outdo herself in the romance department.

My boyfriend's courtship ritual had included impressing me with an incredibly detailed and beautifully themed card/tabletop game he was designing with a talented team. I figured he couldn't help but find the act of me "making a Valentine's Day game" (aka hand-writing a jumble of mechanics on a piece of paper and gluing construction-paper hearts to small rectangles of cardstock) for him charming, even if that game was utterly unplayable.

Then something unexpected happened. We played the game, and instead of patting me on the head and saying, "that's nice, dear," he gave me a thoughtful look. "I think you're onto something."

We pride ourselves in being open and honest with each other, so I knew he wasn't just buttering me up. "It will need a ton of playtesting and reworking, but I bet you could turn it into something people would really want to play."

I tried to protest that it was a silly little thing, that I was "not a game designer," but he would have none of it. "If you don't develop it, I will," he told me, leaving no room for argument.

And he was right. Months of work and a dozen playtests later, it has become something that people really want to play. I did myself a disservice when I said I wasn't a game designer, negating the 25+ years I'd spent tweaking, inventing, learning about and building onto systems with the sole purpose of generating interactive entertainment for myself and others. In my quest to maintain an attitude of humility, I almost ended up denying people a fun new experience.

In conclusion: When someone asks you if you're a game designer, you say YES! And thanks Phil for cutting through my self-effacing BS :)