From Powerpoint to releasing a game on Kickstarter (part 1)

Hey all!

At some point during the “pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named” I realised I had stopped being a functioning human, and become a real life meme of Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Tom Truman pretending to be Wagner Moura
“War’s over boys!”

Given that one of our favourite past-times is geeking out with friends in person, I suspect many of you have felt the same way (and possibly still do depending on how locked-down you currently are).

If I’m in a low place for too long, I eventually get frustrated and feel inspired to make some changes.

This is what happened in 2020 when I lost my job due to the pandemic. Fed up with being fed up, I finally bucked up the courage to pursue my lifelong dream of releasing a board game.

In our last post (opens in a new tab) I introduced myself, and scratched the surface of Trolls ‘n’ Rerolls and the new game we will be releasing in 2021.

Today, as part of a two-parter, I thought I’d go a little deeper and share my experiences of making games growing up – of how I went from a young kid with big dreams, to a big kid with a board game company.

Creative itch

As you know, our community is a creative bunch. You only have to look at BGG’s designers’ forum (opens in a new tab) that has over 20,000 threads, to safely assume that being into board games coincides with being creative.

I’ve always had that drive. Ever since I was a young whippersnapper, bringing homemade, cardboard box pinball machines into school and annoying my parents with my one-word wordsearches, I’ve been drawn to making things.

Like most of you who are also on the wrong side of 30, I grew up with an old Windows 98 (which lasted until 2008 I might add). As a result, I spent a lot of time on the computer in my pre-teens.

I can’t remember the first computer “game” I made exactly, but between the ages of 7 and 11, Microsoft Powerpoint (yes…the presentation software) was my games engine.

Critical failure.

In prep for this article, I went digging around the flat for an old gem I suspected I still had tucked away. As I prised open dusty box after dustier box (much to my partner’s horror), I spotted it…

Hidden away behind some Red Dwarf Better Than Life magazines, it sat awaiting its master’s return. Like a wild MISSINGO appearing before me, I looked upon it in awe and trepidation:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Tom Truman's childhood CD

“What am I looking at grandpa?!“, you youngsters shout at your smart fridge.

That young padawan, is an old compact disc (a shiny plate of data you feed to your computer) from when I was very young, and like those of you who have put music or files onto a disc know, it is a time capsule to an earlier, simpler time.

With a good clean and a wing and a prayer, I booted it up and had a look for some old Powerpoint games I could show you. I was not disappointed.

Let’s take a look at some of these lost treasures I made when I was just a babe…

“Necklace of Destruction”

I can safely say I haven’t missed wordart!

YES…I know it has a typo, but frankly if I had bought this game that isn’t what would concern me.

Now it might look rubbish but that “menu” features automation AND hyperlinks! I was like the Mozart of slideshows! I’d also like to note I clearly knew that, because as a child I named the file “Brilliant Game”.

It opens on a pretty decent animation of stars falling (I mean we’re not talking CGI quality or anything) as an owl flies across the screen. Its leaving a trail of yellow mist and the words “Smelly Owl Games” come into view. I’ve learnt a lot about branding since then.

It’s not immediately obvious what the mechanics were supposed to be. There’s a couple of clipart stock images that make up an RPG style town screen and some modified sprites from Civilisation II.

I added in a few characters. Golio, the explorer who seems suspiciously similar to a beloved D&D scholar (opens in a new tab) of a similar name, and Liana, who is either your mum or your wife. Regardless she is NOT happy with you:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Liana from Forest Gem, a powerpoint game by Tom Truman
Pick an accent Liana!

I think I was aiming to make an RPG but without the ability to add in variables and cause/effect (without replicating multidimensional theory), we’ll never know if you made it to the Fighting House on time.

What’s that? You’re not a fan of RPGs? Well, how about a shooter…

“Shoot ’em up game”

Beep boop. You have a message from MI6:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: A shoot em up game set in Antarctica, a powerpoint game created by Tom Truman
We MUST stop these decadent fugitives doing whatever they’re doing, and whatever they’re doing looks like great construction work in difficult weather conditions!

This was a bold attempt at trying to do a “shooter” style game on a program mostly designed to handle financial graphs and show off your holiday snaps.

In reality it actually plays like a Point and Click (“play” is used very loosely). I tried some ambitious things like adding in a health and cover system. Once again it struggles with the lack of variables but the narrative sure is riveting:

I mean I’m not sure what my aim was here in the long run. A running trend of these slideshow creations is that my spongey, child brain was clearly influenced by others games I played at the time – in this case, war games (I did play a lot of Red Alert 2 back then and is possibly why I adore Memoir ’44 (opens in a new tab) as an adult).

The presentation trails off after 53 slides, where I suspect my kid-self lost interest when faced with the difficult choice of N64 or grinding away, making slides for any eventuality.

The story was getting silly anyway:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Mount rushmore firing lasers, in a powerpoint game created by Tom Truman
I don’t even know…

“But wait! You’re now making board games and all you’ve shown us are award-winning video games. Give us some real cardboard to chew on!”

Well funny you should say that because buried amongst all of the other presentations, sat a single slideshow named “Board Game Board”. I tentatively opened it…

“Sherlock’s Spy Hunter”

Hey this actually sounds like a game, and whilst it was made on Powerpoint, I clearly took the executive decision not to try and script it. Whilst it is unfinished, the result actually looks like a board:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Sherlock's Spy Hunter, a game created by Tom Truman
Budge over Resistance!

I’m guessing the plan was players use dice to move around the board to different countries (of which only Canada exists, as trees and leaves). But what do you do then when you get there?

For that we need to see the cards on the second (and final) slide:

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Sherlock's Spy Hunter cards, a game created by Tom Truman
Tough break for the player who found “crumbs”.

So I’m just going to say it even if you won’t…I’m actually quite impressed! Obviously it’s not great, but when you compare it to the other two games, I definitely didn’t think there’d be anything of merit.

Mechanics wise, it’s still a bit blurry but I’m guessing it’d work as a traitor game, where you draw cards as resources and use deduction to work out which player is the antagonist.

Although I’m not sure what prompted me to choose the historic rivals Jamaica, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. as the warring countries, I like the fact you could “ask them” if they’ve seen a spy. If only it was that simple!

The fact Sherlock’s Spy Hunter had the potential to be a functioning game is a nice surprise, and I’m impressed kid-me picked subject matter that is used in a lot of gen-u-ine board games (opens in a new tab).

Leaving Powerpoint behind…

As I got older, I grew to realise there were better engines than Powerpoint for game design, and began using the classics Game Maker (opens in a new tab) and Game Editor (opens in a new tab). I remember butchering Game Editor’s demo platformer (replacing the blue-haired caveman sprites with ones ripped from Megaman Zero 2) and realising to make a game that’s actually decent, you need to know how to code.

Teenage-me had a choice, of either putting my energy into coding that would be really helpful (and actually cool), or guitar which would make me seem REALLY cool (and is also still actually cool).

I chose music, and game design took a back seat. It would only be as I entered my 20s and started really getting into board games as a hobby, that I would start creating lots of homebrew content and designing board games specifically.

However, I will leave that part of the story for Part 2…

Enough about me!

If you’re still here I’m hoping you enjoyed the article, and whilst it might seem like I love talking about myself, I’d actually much rather hear about you!

I’d love to hear about your experiences growing up around games and how you express your creativity!

You can contact me here (opens in a new tab) or drop us a comment or message on our social media(s), and we can chat about it:

And with that I bid you farewell! Thanks for reading – Part 2 should be out early next week!

For now, I’m off to finish my game of lockdown Memoir…

Trolls 'n' Rerolls: Nicholas Cage as a cushion playing Memoir 44


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