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When Graph Paper Ruled as a Game Designer

Somehow we’ve reached a point where the computer seems to have been here forever, at least from my point of view. These days, when an idea for a game or story comes around, I get in the saddle in front of my “system” and punch in some graphics and words that can be altered or manipulated on the fly.

However, back in the 70s, when an idea for a game would emerge, I’d go to the stool in front of my drafting table. I’d latch on a T-square, some right triangles, straight edges, a set of mechanical pencils, and a clean rubber eraser at the ready and start drawing. (I was an architecture student back in the day, and computer graphics was nowhere in my field or reference.) 

I turned on my overhead lamp and then selected an excellent music station with a sketch pad for notes and comments like a maestro in front of his orchestra.

Our games, Gin-Go and Attactics, were invented back during that period when “graph paper” ruled. It became the medium through which the grid of Gin-Go and the maze design of Attactics found their origins. The maze design in Attactics is an open maze with each quadrant duplicating each other. Other than Maze Center, I wanted no straight line to be longer than four squares. I used to enjoy maze games a lot when I was younger, and in a way, the race to the center of the maze kind of reminds me of “King of the Hill,” a game we would play trying to be the first to get to the top of a dirt mound. My brother and I would always come home muddy and dusty to a mother shaking her head and throwing us in the bathtub. Attactics took a few months to play, test, and test again before becoming satisfied.

With Gin-Go, drawing the four columns and thirteen rows on graph paper quickly gave me the basic board design for creating the coordinates for the standard deck of 52 cards. Being an artist (sculptor), I have been very fortunate to see things three-dimensionally, which is handy. Gin-Go actually came about one night when I was gathering trash. Old Bin-Go boards and Pokeno boards were about to enter the trash bag when I pulled them back out and pondered mixing a card game with Bin-Go – hence Gin-Go. 90% of the game was written in three hours, with minor changes over the years.

While I enjoy the speed provided in technology’s wake, there’s something about taking a pen or pencil to paper to see what is pulled out of this gray matter. Even our newest popular game, Kitunda, was reintegrated from a game called “Chess Plus,” which was also created on graph paper.

Nowadays, when I’m at a diner or restaurant, carrying my writing, sketch, and graph paper pads is essential with my packet of straight-edge tools. The lines can tell a story, and a story can reveal the lines.


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