Todd Porter: The ERMP.TV Interview
One of the most influential disruptors in the gaming industry explains the table gaming evolution and the next logical step to connecting digital 3D gaming to the real world.
Todd Porter, CEO of Advanced Imagination and Chief Designer of BoardCraft™.
BY ANTHONY DOWLING, September 9, 2014
With nearly 30 years in the gaming industry both playing and designing games, Todd Porter unveils the next evolution in 3D Board Games. An avid gamer, he still maintains a substantial world of miniatures, and board games. We caught up with Todd at his home in Texas, and he was as giddy as a kid who just got his first copy of Monopoly®, Dungeons & Dragons® or Axis & Allies®, and already had plans to redesign them to fit his personal gaming fantasy.
What was absolutely amazing about our visit with Todd, was his garage; a proverbial paradise of board games, consoles, home designed games, shelves of characters, a giant train set and a work bench scattered with miniature tanks, buildings, and modeling clay.
The current CEO of Advanced Imagination shared with us, the concept of his latest designs for BoardCraft™, and where he sees the future of gaming and 3D printing verging to create new markets, as well as a plan to revitalize a multi-Billion industry by connecting directly with war-gamers, board and table gamers, on-line gamers and role playing gamers and giving them exactly what they want, a game they can design themselves, play it in the virtual world with their friends and fellow gamers, and then 3D print the entire game and it’s pieces for play at the dining room table or at the latest GenCon event for those who like to show off their gaming skills.
Todd, most people know you from the PC gaming business, however, you actually started gaming many years earlier, correct?
Yes, (laughing), I actually made my first table and board games when I was 7 years old. These weren’t on paper with colored pens, they were actually made out of wood in my dad’s shop with elaborate rules and pieces of wood for playing pieces. I remember most of the neighborhood would come over and play my games. Within a couple of years I was building elaborate gaming tables on four foot by eight foot plywood with hills made out of plaster and little tanks made out of wood and nails.
I grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and being that this is the socially connected era, I’m positive my friends can tell you tales of playing these elaborate games when we were young.
Anything I could find I would use for a gaming surface. I remember my older brother built a poker table in shop class and covered it with green felt – I turned that into an Olympic stadium complete with all the events – even the mile run – which was like 5 times around the table. Players rolled dice to move along the track and I had calculated that if you were able to roll above an 8 enough time on two six-sided dice, you could break the world record. Of course, some people rolled very lucky and our world records were ridiculous – like 2 minutes and 45 seconds for a mile…but it was still fun.
Isn’t it true that you not only founded the gaming society at your college (Central College, Pella Iowa), but also became its first president?
Todd Gaming with his college buddies.
Yes, but that was more like an assumed role than an official one. I set everything up, so everyone just called me president and as we got new members on campus I was the defacto leader.
Ironically, we had a large contingent of non-college members. Guys from the local community in Pella Iowa became some of my best friends. In fact, even today if I go back there we always plan to game.
We were obsessed back then with everything from Dungeons and Dragons to Runequest. We tried all the roll playing games – from science fiction to fantasy. Then we also moved to playing beer and pretzel games to large scale war games. But it was Dungeons and Dragons that really got everyone joining.
We would actually start playing on Friday after class at around 2:30-3 pm and not stop until midnight on Sunday. No one showered, we ran out for quick bites to eat, but all the time talking about the gaming.
I’ll never forget when one of the players – a short little guy with a loud voice – came up to me in the student union and announced loudly that he was curious if it was my “Dwarf” that was causing all the trouble in town. Horrified (I was talking to some girl), I made a new rule that we couldn’t discuss gaming in public… The first rule of gaming……
So, really you’ve been involved in board and war gaming most of your life?
Yes, I have always had a love for board games and war games.
My brother Aaron and I would get up at 5:30 am and play monopoly or risk before school!
But really we played everything. I remember in college, someone brought over a game called Swashbuckler. It came in a record album and when you unfolded it the album became the playing surface. It was a hilarious beer and pretzel game based upon the swashbuckling fights you’d see on TV in the three musketeers. What was so fun was; you had to plan your movement and attacks in private and then everyone revealed their moves all at the same time. You could yank table or whip mug or stab and many times one person was in the middle of throwing a mug when the table he was standing on was yanked and he fell into a stab that wasn’t even intended for him…really fun.
But I always wanted to create – so in college I designed a game out of my head called prison break. I would get a map from the gas station and locate a prison and everyone else was a prisoner on their way to the prison in a bus. I was the DM (Dungeon Master) and I would hand out 3X5 cards that said what each person’s character was and on the back was their Negative trait (a thief, a murderer, etc). Obviously all the players didn’t know what each others negative trait was, so it was like impromptu comedy with guys acting out their characters in wild fashion. I can tell you (laughing hysterically), it was the funniest times I remember in college.
I can also tell you if my gaming buddies from college are reading this they are laughing just as hard!
So your inspiration for BoardCraft came from that rich heritage in gaming?
Todd Porter, Jeff Groteboer and Dr. David Barnes
Absolutely. When I started collecting miniatures to use in our role playing or in a war game, I discovered how tedious painting them was and how involved creating a 3 dimensional dungeon could be. I remember also how bad I was at the little details. Back then a company called Ral Partha made the most incredible miniatures – the details were flawless and you could even see the elaborate chain mail on a character – which was about an inch and a half tall. Well, when I went to paint them it completely ruined the characters.
But modern technology is right at a new era that allows guys like me who have passion but little technical skill – specifically in painting – to create new gaming experiences and have them 3D printed – including all the details and all the color!
But looking around, there wasn’t a user-friendly way to really do this. What I needed was a tool that enabled me to create these boards and an organized format to make sure the 3D objects could be used in a game digitally as well as 3d printed.
I actually designed BoardCraft years ago and tried to do something with my notes in 2009 – but back then I still lacked the manufacturing end. Recent advances in 3D printing really allowed me to take those original designs and turn them into something.
My background in modern electronic gaming enabled me to build and prototype my ideas. I’m a bit of a fanatic so I still program (now in unity), and I taught myself Photoshop and 3D Studio as well so that I could function independently. In January of 2014 we began work in earnest on the designs, art, and programming; putting together the business plan to finally launch BoardCraft on the back of the 3D printing revolution, which had finally caught up with our game and design technology.
So it’s September now, how far have you come?
Well, we have created the graphics pipeline and underlying data structures and have a working prototype of the interface that we are just beginning to use. This allows us to get the user experience perfected before we commit to full blown coding. However, the work we do now will also be used for the shipping version so were not really wasting time.
Also, by creating our first BoardCraft Board, complete with 3D printed landscapes and structures, we have solved a great deal of problems associated with 3D printing.
What kind of problems?
People think 3D printing is like printing an email. But there is a vast difference in the data structures we use in modern games for 3D models and those used by the 3D printers.
This is one of the great things about BoardCraft, by the way. By having a specified format that all objects must adhere to, we can insure that a model will work on 99% of 3D printers as well as function perfectly inside of a mobile, game device or PC (for electronic play).
You can’t simply go to TurboSquid (an online market for 3D models) and buy a model and send it to a 3D printing company – that won’t work. So figuring out how we can take the vast wealth of 3D artwork and use it in our game engine and for printing was a big hurdle.
We have now solved that – and that puts us miles ahead of even many of the apps the 3D printers come with!
Users can be assured if it’s a BoardCraft 3D model it will work on our boards, in our game engine and for 3D printing – that’s actually the point of the BoardCraft ecosystem.
And what about the vast market of miniature gamers who already have figures and vehicles, they are using with other board games?
The guys long before NASCAR 1
Like me, you mean? (Chuckles under his breath) BoardCraft has been designed to pay specific attention to gaming scales. In fact, the first game we are physically producing is actually a blend of 3D printed scenery and terrain – 1:72 scale plastic fully pre-painted vehicles – and 200+ hand painted 15mm zombies, soldiers, and civilians (rebel minis – shameless plug).
We could have printed the vehicles and beings, but I wanted to demonstrate that we look great and in scale with the miniatures industry.
Because BoardCraft is 3D on the computer, designers can easily scale the pieces to fit their type of gaming – if they use 1:144 or 1:1800 – they can select from any of the presets.
So when will that first prototype be completed?
Well, we are running all the buildings and terrain through our process now, in fact, I just saw one of the first buildings go through the translation process – it looks amazing (readers will be able to see the first models by the second week in September).
Since we are targeting our Crowd-Sourced funded campaign for the fall, we are hoping to have it completed by the end of September for an October launch.
So you are thinking of crowd-sourcing?
Yes, we have had an amazing reception since going live with our website and Facebook Fan Page a couple of weeks ago and we believe that in conjunction to exploring VC funding routes; we must also consider crowd-sourced funding as an option. This give our followers and fellow gamers a chance at exclusive content that we might otherwise have not considered adding to the ecosystem. Additionally, it gives our fans an opportunity to be part of the next generation of 3D printing and virtual gaming.
I know once my fellow table gamers – be they war gamers, board gamers and miniature gamers – see our first prototype they will go nuts!
Finally you can transport your table game in a convenient format that fastens together allowing unending configurations and sizes, AND you don’t have to worry about the scenery coming apart thanks to our patent pending plugging system – and because we set the standards for size you know if it is BoardCraft compatible, it will work.
Imagine getting together with your friends and bringing your BoardCraft boards and connecting them; each of you contributing terrain and towns and villages and water so that you interactively create a new vast world to game on.
It’s going to be amazing!
Thanks for your time, Todd and we look forward to seeing BoardCraft in the near future.