This week Canberra Spotlight takes another break from local cosplayers to focus on Corey Le Mesurier, a local Canberran who has developed his very own board game Vivarium, currently on the final hours of its Kickstarter campaign!
GAMMA.CON: G’day Corey, can you introduce yourself for us?
Corey: Hello! I’m a local Canberran with many passions and interests including pop culture and gaming. There’s nothing too special to introduce really, I put my pants on one leg at a time, as is customary, I believe.
G: I don’t think it’s a custom, just damn difficult to perform the 2 leg hole attack successfully! Now you developed your own board game called Vivarium, can you tell us a little about it?
C: Vivarium is a 2-5 player board game where each player assumes the role of a species and has to guide that species to survival in a new environment. There are 8 playable species in the game, each with their own unique abilities and weaknesses. It has a lot of replay value and every single game tells a unique story about some beautiful animals doing what they have to do to stay alive.
G: Can you tell us about the name Vivarium and where that came from?
C: Vivarium is Latin for ‘place of life’ and generally refers to a place where the natural environment is simulated so that animals and plants can be housed there for observation. Most people are familiar with terrariums which are commonly used to just house plant life.
G: Where did the inspiration for the game concept come from?
C: When considering the theme of the game I decided to simply combine my passion for nature with my passion for board gaming. Through this I wanted to be able to send a message in a medium that often focuses purely on entertainment. I figured that if I’m going to create something and put it out into the world then it should be do something else besides entertain, it should send a message so that it could educate and inspire while being entertaining.
G: Can you tell us a bit more about the message the game send to players?
C: Vivarium can serve as a doomsday message to players that if humanity continues to destroy the environment then the only way we’ll be able to preserve species and their ecosystems will be through some miraculous scientific feat or through simulated experiences, which is unlikely and a lot less appealing than simply preserving them now and being able to observe them in their natural habitat.
A smaller part of that message is that we reap what we sow. Humans are a playable species in Vivarium as destroying the environment naturally has horrible consequences for humans as well, so they’ve been forced to seal themselves within the vivarium or perish outside of it. Ironically, within the vivarium, without technology, humans find it the most difficult.
G: When people think of board games their mind often goes to things like Mouse Trap or Trivia Pursuit. Is that the sort of board game we’re talking?
C: Nah, Mouse Trap was made in the 1960s, so as with any industry there’s been a lot of growth and innovation. Games these days are less trivial (pun intended) and often seek to minimize luck or strategically use luck to invoke strategy. Vivarium’s very light on luck and is a strategy game with plenty of depth.
G: Have you always been big into board games?
C: I’ve always been keen on mental challenges and physical challenges, and board gaming has been a great outlet for that. I’ve played games of all sorts, including board games, for as long as I can remember.
G: What was the spark that got you wanting to make your own board game?
C: I wanted to challenge myself even further. Before Vivarium’s inception I had been working in the board game industry for about 4 years and had played/seen a lot of games in that time. This gave me a good idea of the kind of games my friends and I enjoy and I wanted to challenge myself to create something that they would want to play.
G: What were you doing in the board game industry?
C: I worked as an events manager at The Games Capital for five years. Selling games, attending conventions, running tournaments, talking to amazing community members and spending my wages on new games.
G: What is the process for making a game? How do you test rules, make sure game mechanics work?
C: Initially it was just a lot of taking notes and researching. The game’s mechanics are designed to reflect natural phenomenon so a lot of time went into researching the species in the game. Testing rules began with creating proxy components and testing individual mechanics, refining them and then seeing how they all work together. However, there’s only so far you can take it by yourself before you need a second opinion. In my case, I exposed Vivarium to feedback and testing quickly and I’m really glad I did. The play testers of Vivarium have been crucial in making it what it is today and for keeping me in check.
G: After you create rule sets, design the play area etc. What happens next? Where do you go from having a stack of notes and some test boards?
C: I initially had a prototype made by a local print shop (Prinstant) and this was using concept art for the game. They did a great job of creating a functional prototype to continue testing.
From there I contacted manufacturers overseas and received 2 waves of production quality prototypes to continue improving upon. The stack of notes and test boards was an early part of the process, but a constant one, it takes a lot of development to move from that to production quality prototypes and even from there, it’s a big step to a retail ready product.
G: Where has being a board game developer taken you?
C: So far it’s been a great learning experience and has exposed me to lots of fantastic people.
G: have you been able to go around to different conventions or game stores?
C: Out of personal preference I would do that anyway, but many all the stores in Canberra and beyond have been very supportive and enthusiastic about the project. GAMMA.CON was kind enough to offer me a table last year at the convention where I got a lot of great exposure and a weekend of testing and feedback. I’ve also advertised the game at Cancon twice.
All in all, there’s been lots of great outlets for support in Canberra, there’s a lot going on in this quiet little town.
G: Who have you met or who do you want to meet with your game?
C: I got to spend some time with a beautiful cheetah called Jura who I had previously worked with while volunteering at the zoo. But I got to go in and film a piece with him and it was humbling to be so close to such a beautiful creature. I suppose one thing that I cherish is my personally written and signed rejection letter from Sir David Attenborough. I sent some mail outlining what an inspiration he has been throughout my life and mentioned that I was looking for a narrator for my Kickstarter promotional video, he gracefully yet hurriedly declined his services but to even solicit a response from him was a great reward.
G: What are some of the coolest parts about developing a board game?
C: Connecting with people who share the same interests and passions as you. Having people you’ve never met get excited about your idea is a great form of validation and encouragement.
G: Do you ever introduce yourself as a board game developer?
C: Nah, maybe once I’ve successfully produced a few titles I would consider doing so.
G: Most people would think that with video games and such there wouldn’t be much market for board games anymore. Are board games still popular?
C: On that contrary, board games are huge. I worked in the video games industry before board games so I’ve been quite involved with both markets. I think people are finally beginning to turn away from their screens and look for a more social form of entertainment. Board games have always been popular, just overshadowed. There’s over 80,000 board games now and so many people are getting together and having a great, social time.
G: You did a Kickstarter for the game, how is that going?
C: It’s going great, it’s funded, it’s real, and we’re knocking down some stretch goals. It’s wrapping up very soon and has been a great way to validate the game and bring it into production.
G: Is there a large community for indie board game developers?
C: I think there’s plenty of people interested, and plenty of support, but at the moment it’s quite small. At least in Canberra, and to a certain extent, Australia.
G: What advice would you give for anyone wanting to try making their own game?
C: Never throw out an idea, always put it somewhere just in case you need to come back to it one day.
Well Corey, thanks for talking to us and hopefully our own copy of Vivarium will be in our hands soon!