Text by Simon Vincent

We meet a client to discuss a project or product, say, a publication, an annual report or a newsletter. Something they have in mind or something they are already producing and need help with.

Then, they share with us their goal for the project and what they hope we can contribute to it. In turn, we share our thoughts and suggest new ways of realising whatever plans and ideas they have for the project.

What I’ve outlined above is how, typically, an editorial or/and design project would take off at Tuber. When we began working on Fly-A-Way, though, we were in new territory.

Fly-A-Way would be our own project and we would have to set our own parameters for realising it. This new reality posed its challenges, of course, but it also excited us and, as we found, there were overlaps, along with divergences, between our usual work and game development.

Maybe you, who are reading this, also work in some creative field like us and are curious about what it would mean to expand into game development. Maybe you simply love games and are curious about what working on it on an organisational level is like.

Whatever the case, we hope that what we share here would be useful in thinking about the resources and talents you need and might already be able to tap in your organisation for game development.

Project management and production

Working with clients from different industries, we were used to managing different editorial and design projects, while ensuring we met the deadlines for each. These deadlines, because of their formalisation through contracts and long-term relationships, could be seen as “hard” deadlines.

When Fly-A-Way was just an idea, we had no expectations but our own. The scope of work and manpower required were yet to be fleshed out. The deadlines were “soft”. It was crucial at this early stage to add structure to our board game project and ensure that it would not be sidelined.

Hence, we started a weekly games day in our office to play and dissect games, before discussing ideas for our own project. Besides formalising Fly-A-Way as a project in our schedules, this also ensured that everyone, whatever their prior exposure to games, would become familiar with game mechanics, art and storytelling.

As we worked on our own game’s mechanic, art and story, ensuring that they came together cohesively as one product, Fly-A-Way loomed larger and larger over our work schedules. Soon enough, our project manager Lynette developed an Airtable workspace, like with all our important projects, to track our progress in each area of development.

Deadlines for Fly-A-Way, essentially, became hard and Lynette ensured that we gave the requisite attention to Fly-A-Way, even when we were handling client projects. This was especially important when we began planning for the Kickstarter campaign for Fly-A-Way and working with an overseas manufacturer during the pandemic.

We had to adjust our working styles, knowing that we would not be able to attend press checks in person, and factor in the timelines provided by people outside Singapore. We could not rely on our usual contacts from the publishing industry here and had to learn to relinquish a bit of control.

It helped, though, that we were familiar with the processes of printing and production since they applied equally to the publishing industry and to the board game industry. When we had to develop prototypes for Fly-A-Way, we knew just how to account for the costs of these processes.

Creative direction and illustration

If a project for a client involves design in any way, we would typically get a sense of the tone (serious, light-hearted, etc.) and style (modern, edgy, etc) the client has cultivated or is going for.

We more or less proceeded the same way with the development of Fly-A-Way. We knew we wanted to strike a fun and humorous tone (think Squawk! and Bird-tastrophe! cards), while going for a style that would evoke the wonder of nature without flattening it with overly literal representations of birds and their habitats.

Our creative director Oon Hong, who is in charge of the overall art direction and graphic design of the game, got all of our illustrators to audition bird sketches before deciding on the final style. Key’s Fairy Pitta was chosen as it had just the right balance between detail and colour, evoking the beauty of birds without sacrificing accuracy of representation.

Getting different interpretations of a project by our illustrators before deciding on the ideal one was par for the course in Tuber, especially with big projects. The only difference we found when working on Fly-A-Way, as opposed to other projects, was the level of synchronicity needed by our illustrators for the chosen style.

Getting the details of feathers and beaks as accurately as possible was already a challenge. Ensuring that they were rendered in a similar style was an added challenge. This meant that Iris, our other main illustrator, had to spend a long time conversing and working with Key to get a hang of the brush strokes he used.

Writing for games

The basic editorial processes of writing, editing and proofreading do not change whether you are working on a book or a board game, a brochure or game cards. You do your best to convey as clearly and as engagingly as possible whatever needs to be conveyed.

What we had to invest time in, though, was familiarising ourselves with the nomenclature and conventions of board games to ensure that we write in a way that fits the medium best.

For instance, as games are goal-oriented, we learnt that it was best practice to state clearly and put up front the objectives of Fly-A-Way (completing migratory routes and saving birds) in the rule book.

It helped, though, that other mediums of writing we were familiar with had an affinity with board game writing. For instance, I found that brochure writing, like rulebook writing, requires to-the-point and unambiguous language.

I have also written scripts for video content for clients and this came in handy when I was writing the narration and figuring out the pace for the trailer and Kickstarter video for Fly-A-Way.

Imagining new component designs

I am the writer and editor for Fly-A-Way, but I should note that with the rulebook and video examples cited above, my colleagues played a big part in how they turned out.

Lynette wrote the first draft of the rule book, when I was busy with other editorial projects. She laid out the core rules of the game then. Later, when I expanded on what she wrote and found that certain instructions were better conveyed through pictures, I could rely on Oon Hong to not only work on my image suggestions but improve them and come up with better ones.

For the script, Iris was the one who came up with the Fairy Pitta’s journey along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway as the narrative arc for our trailer video. She came up with a storyboard, too, ahead of any text for visual direction and narration.

With all of the different aspects of Fly-A-Way’s development, all of us chipped in, stepping outside our specific roles and specialisations. Perhaps the most important thing we’ve found then, venturing into board game development, especially as a small team, is letting everyone have a say in Fly-A-Way, from inception to production.

We could only be productive and, importantly, have fun creating something new like a board game because we had each other’s confidence.

If you’d like to know more about how we designed Fly-A-Way, from its route-building mechanic to its card effects, see here.