Keystone Design Diary #2


Hey Fantastic Keystone Fans! This is Lindsey with a special Keystone: North America Designer Journal. People have been curious about how we designed Keystone’s solo and co-op Field Journals, so I wanted to pull back the curtain a bit and talk about the process.

When we were developing Keystone: North America first edition, the COVID lockdowns had just begun to ease up. COVID affected everyone’s lives in such a profound way, and Isaac and I were no different. We came out of lockdown with a strong desire of wanting our games to not only encourage social connection but be an enjoyable experience when socializing wasn’t available. This led to our decision of giving Keystone a solo variant that wasn’t just a “beat your score” challenge but would be an entirely separate gaming experience for players. This was how the concept of the Field Journal Adventure Book was born!

I’ve always had a passion for creative writing, so I agreed to take on creating the story of the Field Journal and mapping out the 20 individual assignments we would feature in the first edition. I wanted the book to represent a realistic look at what field biologists do after graduating so I started my research there. One of my favorite resources were the vlogs of Kristina Lynn who does a great job talking about the realities of working in the field. I also watched numerous interviews with different types of biologists and even had the chance to personally speak with one about their adventures and misadventures working in caves.

Next, I worked out the 20 locations we would feature in the book. To make it easier for me I did my best to lay them out geographically, so the player works their way from one end of the country to the other. While this meandering line isn’t perfect, it helped to create a structure and seasonal timeline for the book. Once I had all the locations locked in, I was able to research them individually to see what environmental issues are happening there and what species would be affected by them. The time spent researching far outweighed the time spent writing and designing the book, but I immensely enjoyed getting the chance to dig in so deeply. All this led to my first outline, which was then turned over to our wildlife consultant.

We knew early on that we wanted to submit Keystone to the National Wildlife Federation as an educational tool. We also knew that their standards for this were extremely high and anything in the game (art, story, habitats, names, etc.) that wasn’t scientifically accurate would get us disqualified. Luckly one of Isacc’s friends, Joe Lamb, is an accomplished biologist working in the field and offered to become a consultant for the project. He looked over my outline, showing me what corrections were needed and where my terminology was outdated. Once he gave his official approval, I was able to start writing the assignments in earnest.

Then came the best part! I let my imagination dive into the role of a biologist, creating people to meet, imagining scenes in exotic locations, and referring to some of my own amazing moments with wildlife for inspiration. After a few rounds of revisions, the assignments were written and ready to hand over to Isaac, who designed the gameplay challenges. He did an amazing job matching each puzzle with what was happening in the story. Occasionally he would get stuck and come to me with a suggestion on how to tweak the story so he could build gameplay around it. The back and forth made for an amazing collaboration that the whole team enjoyed.

After all the assignments were written and designed, all that was left was to hand everything over to our graphic designer, editor, and playtesters. We had an amazing team of playtesters that played through each scenario and really helped put the final amount of polish on each one. Isaac and I are always blown away by how many people want to help us make our games the best they can be and we have one of the best testing groups out there.

So that’s the secret of how we make our solo field journals! The Coastal Field Journal followed the same process, except this time around I also did the puzzle designs! I had such a great time researching coastal biologists and how wildlife documentaries are made before “diving” into writing the new story. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as the original, and will find the environmental issues insightful and be motivated to help fight for our National Parks, Forests, and Waters!  

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