As an independent game designer, I’m always on the lookout for tools that make my game design life easier. I’m also looking for tools that won’t cost me an arm and leg because I don’t make any money at this (I’m looking at you Adobe). I do it for the love of it. I use many free tools that are just incredible and I’m so thankful to the folks who build and support them – it’s obvious they love what they’re doing too. If you aren’t familiar with these tools, I highly recommend you check out Inkscape, Scribus, and Google Drive.
Enter Component Studio. First things first, if you are a game designer, whether professional or hobbyist, you should familiarize yourself with The Game Crafter. They are an incredible support to the gaming community at large, they participate in all the big conventions and are a constant source of encouragement and help to the game designer community. (No, they didn’t pay me to say that.)
I will say that CS is not free, but, it’s worth it to pay the monthly sub because of its incredible power to let you manage your game projects, make changes quickly during the playtest and development process, and its integration with third-party services. Since I’ve started using Component Studio I’ve taken the plunge and begun the process of migrating all of my games to it, and I have zero regrets.
CS supports projects, which let you easily organize your games. Each project consists of a section for storing Images, Data Sets, Designs, and Fonts. This means you have a nice workspace for each project with all of its perspective pieces and parts. You can also make copies of components and projects easily, so you could likely even set up your own templates as a starting point for future projects.
Your process will naturally have to fit in the CS design paradigm which includes using spreadsheets to manage your game text, quantities, and other variables. This might be a mind-shift for some of you. In my opinion, this is the way you ought to be handling your design process anyway and this actually allowed me to solidify some things into a much cleaner design process. Also, there is a 20GB limit on accounts which could be a hurdle at some point, if you have enough projects. I’m hopeful that this limit will eventually go up without any additional cost (disk space is as cheap as it’s ever been, and I know they’ve back-boned this on E3), but for now, I’m OK with this.
You can use CS to design all of your game components, including creating the layouts for your cards, boards, or what have you.
You can do almost everything in one program instead of having to learn a ton of tools. They’ve implemented a pseudo-code system that lets you choose a set of data and merge it with a design and voila! You have all of your components complete with text and graphics. Need to change the text on your cards? Update your data set and rerun the export and presto! All your components have the change applied.
You need to know a little bit about programming to fully leverage the system. I’m actually a programmer by career, so this wasn’t a leap for me at all. However, for someone that does not really have any technical savvy, this could be a learning curve for you. It’s worth it to learn this, however, and it will save you oodles of time once you lay the groundwork for your project.
If you come expecting Adobe Illustrator, you’re going to be disappointed. This isn’t a professional design tool, but it does a decent job at what its here for.
This is the big kahuna. Component Studio integrates with a couple of other platforms by literally clicking a button. Want to playtest your game online? Bam! Export your game to TableTop Simulator. Want to print a prototype of your game? Kapow! Export your game directly to a Game Crafter project. Oh, you want to give a print and play copy to the world? Zzzap! Export your game to a print and play PDF.
Updating your resources for your Game Crafter or Tabletop Simulator project could not be easier. The folks at The Game Crafter understand technology, they know that their stuff should integrate and play nice with other services, and they already have a proven track record with developing and supporting a powerful API via The Game Crafter.
They only support 2 external services at this time: The Game Crafter and Tabletop Simulator. This list will eventually grow, and it’s new tech, so this is not unexpected. If you don’t care about either of these things then there are no cons here for you.
I didn’t even flinch at paying for Component Studio for one simple reason: I got in on the early bird discount and so I only pay $5.99 a month for life. The standard price is actually $9.99 a month if you missed the discount window. Honestly, I might balk at that number myself since I’m a hobbyist and I make $0 doing this. But, let’s compare this to, oh I don’t know … Adobe Illustrator which weighs in at a whopping $19.99 a month.
Even if I had to pay the full price, I think I’d still bite the bullet because CS lets me spend time designing my games instead of worrying about how to get them to print so I can play them. You’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s worth it to you — The Game Crafter offers a 3-day trial (which I think should be atleast week).
They also seem to be very responsive and are constantly adding little improvements. If I had to guess, I’d wager they are eating their own dog food.