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Interview: Kevin Kulp

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Kevin Kulp is your average game designer – full-time job and family man working in one half of the brain, designing games in the other half.  While having tinkered with designs for years, and taken courses on the subject in college, Kevin’s first published design, PigPen, is currently on Kickstarter.  You can also find him on Twitter @TheKevinKulp.  As he’s been up to his eyeballs in mud with his Kickstarter launch, we really appreciate Kevin taking the time to discuss his recent venture here at iSlaytheDragon.

Hogs lead a simple life.  In that vein, start off by describing PigPen in one sentence.
Pigpen is a fast paced, take-that game of obtaining pigs.

Interesting.  I’m from Illinois, where pork is king, so I know readers here, at least, will want more explanation.  So give us quick pitch.
PigPen is the best family game night of fun since sliced Uno.  You’ve got pigs, farmers, and jack hammers, “OH MY!”  What more could you ask for?

Is this your first game design?  What was your source of inspiration and motivation for creating PigPen?
No, but it is my first serious attempt to enter the commercial realm of game design.  For a long time I wanted to create a simple, family style game.  I was in college and had done a number of games while in the game design program there.  Most of these games were either complex board games, or text and video games.  It became apparent during my time in those classes that I was leaning towards the world of board games.  I knew if I wanted to make it I would have to diversify myself.  Not only would I have to design layered, complex designs, I would also need to make family and quick filler games if I was going to make a career out of it.  But for some reason I struggled to come up with a card game, all the while working on video games.  One day while walking around Philadelphia waiting for the monthly IGDA meeting to start, a weird idea hit me.  What if I made a game about pigs?  And it snowballed from there.  I spent an hour thinking up the concept and the next day I bought some note cards and played the first prototype that night with my daughter.  All in all, that took two hours of thought and work to create the first prototype.

Okay, I have to admit, when I think “Philadelphia,” pigs are not one of the first things that pop to mind. So how did that happen?!
Haha, yes that is true.  As a game designer I don’t think your mind stops working on games.  At that time, I really wanted to make a family card game and had a discussion with myself towards that end.  I was thinking about a game I had just played called “There’s a Moose in my House,” and I was thinking of how simple and silly the game was.  So I started with the basic idea that I wanted my game to also be based on an animal.  Growing up around farms and having an aunt who loved pigs, the idea just hit me – “how about a game with pigs as the animal and your goal is to take care of those pigs?”  The idea just picked up speed from there.  The pen idea quickly came next; and then the players attacking each other and impeding each other’s’ progress fell into place.

Which gaming types do you think PigPen will appeal to and/or do you have a particular target audience that you hope to reach?
Families and those that just want to have a quick filler without a lot of thinking.  And those who like messing with their friends in games.  I’m hoping Pigpen can become a game that families gather around and play after dinner.

How has the game evolved from that first prototype to the version now on Kickstarter?
In the original version of the game, the attacks were violent.  You used chainsaws and TNT to destroy the other pens and, along with that thinking, I had players making bacon of pigs.  Also, the very first version saw players having to build a set of nine cards (surrounding the entire pig) versus the six required now.  I realized rather quickly neither idea would work for what I was trying to accomplish.  First, the idea of death was stripped from the game altogether – now pigs just run away.  And the pen sizes were decreased to six cards.  Even so, I still ran into problems that required changes to get it to this point.  An extreme example was the EPIC two hour game that occurred back at Metatopia.  All participants in that game had fun, but I knew that for the family game I was making that could never happen again.  I can’t stress enough how much Jason Tagmire has helped to streamline the final product.

Prior to attending school for game design, did you have any background or major interest in board gaming?
Yes, I have my brother to thank for that one.  I grew up with video games, RPGs, and board games equally.  My brother, who is 5 years older than me, got all the cool stuff.  He was a huge D&D player, which led him to finding games by Tom Wham that were often sitting next to the D&D section.  He would pick up Mertwig’s Maze and The Great Kahn Game.  He also got a game in the D&D module The Orcs of Thar, called Orcwars, which we spent a few weeks playing.  He also got Axis and Allies and Fortress America for Christmas one year, which we played quite a bit of.  Of course I grew up playing Monopoly and Yahtzee, but games like Mertwig’s Maze and Orcwars really inspired me.  A while back, going through my stuff at my parents’ house, I found a folder of games I made when I was younger, including a Car Wars game I made when I was ten.

With your video game design training, do you have the skills and interest in porting a successful PigPen campaign to an iOS version or other platform at some point in time?
No, but it is something I always try to tinker with.  I am a big fan of Unity and GameMaker and like tinkering from time to time.  I have a friend who I was in game design with who started work on a demo web app, similar to the one they have with Monopoly Deal to teach the game.  Getting a version of Pigpen on mobile or Facebook is something I would love to see at some point.

This game design program sounds interesting. Which school is this? And can you give us an example of one hardcore truth in game design that you learned there which you were able to apply while creating PigPen?
I went to Montgomery County Community College.  I was there for a degree in IT, but I met Jason Wertz while taking his intro programming course.  That led to him getting me into the game design program that he headed up.  I can’t stress how grateful I was to have him as a teacher for game design.  He really helped me get grounded and jump started my networking by getting us involved in IGDA.

If I can impart one hardcore truth, it would be this: Learn to fail (with a good helping of perseverance.)  Game design is all about trial and error and you are definitely going to crawl very slowly in the beginning.  And sometimes later on, even when you have experience.  I grew up with games, ran a game review site at one point and even made my own board games when younger.  While that all helps, it’s just stepping stones.  I would also add for designers not to be discouraged, which is easy in any creative field.  And surrounding yourself with people who you can confide in, and get encouragement from, is very important to being a designer.

So, when not wallowing in the mud with your own projects, what board games do you enjoy playing in your free time?
I have a sort of Vegas theme going on with Lords of Vegas and Vegas Showdown.  I finally caught the Power Grid bug, and I also enjoy Yspahan and Troyes for their use of dice.  Finally, a new one that I just got my hands on is OddVille.

What can we look forward to from Kevin Kulp?  Any other game designs forthcoming that you’re willing and able to share a little about?
My next big project is Kingship, which I am preparing for Gen Con next month.  It is a euro bidding game, sort of a horse race, with players trying to guide their chosen Princes to become the next King of the land.  I have another family style card game in the works that I hope to launch with Island Officials.  And two other projects I hope to see out at some Unpubs this year: Bounty, a game about building the most prestigious Kingdom.  And Calypso, a territory control game for 2 players, where players fight to control the emotions of the people on the island of Calypso.

And, of course, the most important question: if you had to pick one game to play with a group of swine, which would you choose and why?
Power Grid, of course!  How else am I going to power my beach resort house on the island of Big Major Cay!

If you’d like to ham it up with this family friendly and filler perfect game, then head on over to the Kickstarter campaign now.  It runs through August 11, and a low $20 support commitment wrestles you up a copy of the game with free US shipping – and no cholesterol!

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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