Behind Closed Doors, Part Two
More Conversation with the Designers of Mansions of Madness
Last week, we began our chat with Nikki Valens, Kara Centell-Dunk, and Grace Holdinghaus about their experiences working on Mansions of Madness Second Edition and the additional content released over the last six months. Each with a different perspective on the game, they had different stories to tell about their respective roles and how we got the wonderful and horrifying game we know and love. Today, we continue that interview by talking about their favorite elements of the game as well as what they feel have been the most unique parts of the development process and what they continue to enjoy about the experience!
The Mansion's Many Mysteries
FFG: Getting a bit deeper into the design experience, which elements and mechanics in the game are you particularly interested in? How have you enjoyed exploring new ways to use mechanics?
GH: I have super enjoyed exploring the huge design space the app gives us in using the components, because we no longer need to rely on what text we can fit onto a standard-sized card, or even a page in the rulebook. When I was writing Gates of Silverwood Manor, we even found a new way to use map tiles, moving them around the board inside the app. That sort of mechanic feels so intuitive from a thematic standpoint, but can be a nightmare to implement physically.
KCD: That's where a lot of my scenario ideas start. Dearly Departed, for instance, started as a hybrid between my love of zombies and my desire to create a scenario that really made use of the barricades. One of my favorite things about the game is the vast amount of potential it has built right into it. Sometimes I think I need about six arms and three computers to get everything down that I want.
FFG: And speaking of specific scenarios, do you each have a favorite?
GH: I will never get tired of playing Shattered Bonds, since that scenario is so elegantly crafted. I don’t think I’ve gotten even close to seeing every interaction possible yet, and it all still feels organic. But it’s hard to pick a favorite when the scenarios all feel so different to me. If I had a rainy Sunday to fill, and a nice hot cup of chowder, I would go to town on Escape from Innsmouth.
KCD: I have a favorite as a player and a favorite as a developer. As a player, I am with Grace; Shattered Bonds is absolutely my favorite to play. It’s the right amount of story, the right amount of stress, and the right amount of complexity. As a developer, my favorite is What Lies Within. I am incredibly proud of how that scenario turned out and I think if anyone else but me had made it, it would have been my favorite.
NV: Each of the scenarios brings something unique to the table. I think my best memories playing the game, though, would be with Rising Tide. I really enjoyed the mystery portion of the scenario and picking apart the details to discover who is to blame. What surprised me the most about the scenario is the smallest details that change with the culprits. The first two times we played it, I thought I knew who was responsible, but the other players convinced me that person was just a red herring. (He wasn’t.)
FFG: How about investigators? Are there particular abilities of theirs that you tend to gravitate toward when you play the game?
NV: Rather than their abilities, I’m drawn to their backstories and character. I enjoy roleplaying games in general, so getting into character and acting as the investigator I’m playing adds an extra level of enjoyment to the game. It changes day to day, but Wendy Adams is usually my top pick for no particular reason.
GH: It depends on my mood when I play. Sometimes I just want to destroy some baddies, and I pick Michael McGlen. Other times it sounds more fun to get myself a dangerous new spell and go wild with Dexter Drake or play support with Kate Winthrop. There are just so many considerations, like how many investigators will be played in this scenario, if the scenario is focused more on combat or more on investigation, if I feel like going insane that day or would prefer to play it safe...it can all make a difference in who I choose to play.
KCD: I have the same favorite investigators no matter which Arkham game I’m playing! Jenny Barnes is my #1 always and forever. That love affair began with Arkham Horror years ago. It helps that, like Nikki said, I really enjoy getting into her character and story. I also love Dexter Drake and Agatha Crane, and I'll occasionally play “Ashcan” Pete just so I can have a dog.
FFG: Before we go, can you each tell a story about your experience working on the game?
NV: With so many developers and writers having taken part in the creation of Second Edition, there are many portions of the game that some of us haven’t seen. In multiple games, a mythos event has come up that I hadn’t experienced and didn’t remember adding to the digital component. Each of the scenarios also contains a number of secrets that many players (even the developers) won’t notice during their first, second, or even third time playing a scenario.
GH: I think the most Mansions-y Mansions situation I have experienced is feeling like I am going mad with wanting to write seven different scenarios at once. It’s just not possible, but when you have such an open field to play in, all these different interesting mechanics to tinker with, it’s difficult to rein in and really focus on one thing at a time. I’m definitely guilty of trying to pack so much into a scenario that half of it just doesn’t work at first. That’s why our playtesters are such heroes, and why I love working together with Kara who has more experience than I do in game development.
KCD: My favorite part of the process is probably the most imperceptible in the finished project. It’s the process of trying to predict what investigators will want to do when encountered with a person, item, or situation and how to make what they want to do into an interesting story moment. It is a great place to seed on little moments or references for players. Our testers totally spoil us with their feedback on these things, too. I love it when testers are talking with a person in the scenario and they say things like “I wish I could do this” and we can make that happen. It’s even better when we’ve figured it out beforehand. It’s led to some of the best moments for players and some of the best conversations in the office. Nothing starts out a good team bonding moment more than “Okay, so you hear some disembodied giggling coming from under the tablecloth…”
Thanks Nikki, Kara, and Grace for your time and your stories! We can't wait to see what comes next for Mansions of Madness Second Edition!
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