Spenser Starke designed Icarus alongside his day job as a producer. Credit: Spenser Starke, Renegade Games

Spenser Starke, 28-year-old creator of Icarus, Kids on Brooms and the upcoming Alice is Missing, talks to Dice Tower editor Chris King from his home in California about his route into the industry and gives us a sneak preview of his upcoming titles.

What inspired you to start creating games?

The first time I played Dungeons and Dragons (only a few short years ago), I realised that’s what I was missing and that’s what I wanted to do. Tell stories with my friends around a table, to improvise and adapt on the fly and create worlds through collaboration.

How did that desire shift into making games?

I found the indie game world, explored the exciting new wave of games hitting the indie market, and design came shortly after. I’ve always been a person to throw myself head first into things, so figuring out how to create parameters that guide play by making distinct choices is always my favourite part.

If you could only play any three tabletop games forever, what would they be?

This is such a hard question. I’d go with Kids on Bikes, For The Queen, and Dungeon World. But there are so many I would want to have.

I love world-building games where players can create the world together

What was your driving motivation behind creating your first game: Icarus?

I love collaborative world-building games where the players at my table can create the world together. The Quiet Year, Microscope, Kingdom, and Dialect were clear inspirations in the initial phase. I also wanted the game to be playable in a relatively short period of time and in one sitting.

You mentioned your love for Kids on Bikes. How does it feel to make an official adaptation of the game with Kids on Brooms?

I’m really excited about it. It’s something I first adapted before Icarus was even published. I knew the system would be a perfect fit, so after Icarus was done I had the chance to pitch the idea over at Hunters Entertainment, and not too long after we were hard at work on it.

Kids on Brooms isn’t the only game you are working on, is it? Can you tell us a little bit about Alice is Missing?

I’m not sure how much I can say. It’s influenced heavily by video games like Life Is Strange and Gone Home, and is played almost entirely via text messages between players.

Was it difficult to make games alongside your other job as Group Nine Media’s creative producer?

Balancing my day job work and game design work has always been a challenge. It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings, working on my lunch breaks, and asking my wife to be patient with me.

What would you say the hardest part has been for you?

You reach a point where the “fun” part of the design process is over and now you just have to buckle down and get to work. That’s where, for me, a design either dissipates or breaks through.

Every game that makes it through the crucible of initial design becomes a piece of me

What’s it like working with Hunters Entertainment and Renegade Games?

Both companies have been professional and wonderful to work with. They went out on a limb with Icarus and luckily it seems to have paid off. I feel really fortunate to have the chance to work with them again.

What has it been like creating two games in such a short space of time?

Every game that makes it through the crucible of initial design becomes a piece of me, so it can be really anxiety-inducing to have people tell you why it doesn’t work or what they didn’t like.

I’m always so afraid something is going to break or be bad, but that’s all part of the design process. It’s still important to get feedback, especially early on.

Which of the games you have made would you say is your favourite?

That’s like asking who my favourite child is. Right now, the one that I think I’m most excited about is Alice Is Missing.

Why’s that?

It’s not a conventional game by any stretch of the imagination, and I love that about it. It’s something designed to be played by a group of players who trust one another and be finished in one sitting, but to hopefully live on with that group past that night. It’s weird and intense and deeply personal to me, and I’ve been very careful with it up until now, so to know it’s coming into the world where other people can play it is infinitely exciting and terrifying. I really hope people enjoy it.

Do you have any tips for anyone getting into the industry?

Your game has to have a hook that sets it apart from the things that are already out there. Also read and play a LOT of games. Don’t be afraid to try things that may or may not work, iterate constantly, and finish the game. That last part is key.