Elan Lee, Co-creator of Exploding Kittens


Cool Tools Show 147: Elan Lee

Our guest this week is Elan Lee. Elan is a professional game designer. He is a co-creator of Exploding Kittens, the most backed crowdfunded project in history. And before that, he was Chief Design Officer for Microsoft’s Xbox.

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Show notes:

Blank Playing Cards ($6)
“I am a firm believer in that you just never know where the next great game idea is going to come from, but you can be pretty sure that if you don’t at least record it and prototype it somehow, it’s going to be gone forever. So what these are, it’s literally just a deck of cards, blank on the front, blank on the back. I travel around with these things everywhere I go, and just a bunch of Sharpies. And the basic idea is, any rough idea I have, I used to take all this time to meticulously document them and outline it and figure out the rule sets. And what I figured out is it’s so much easier and so much more effective to go straight to paper prototype. And this is the absolutely best tool to do so. If you have a card game idea, jot down a bunch of cards and quickly see if it works. If that game needs dice, figure out how many sides you want that die to have and pull out that many cards and start drawing numbers on the cards … They’re great to create characters, they create inventory items. Literally any game competition imaginable can be created with these things. So I carry them around with me everywhere I go.”

Don’t Shoot the Dog ($14)
“Don’t Shoot the Dog isn’t actually about dog training. It’s about positive reinforcement, and the psychological aspects of shaping behaviors. And what it all really comes down to in game design is picking a core game mechanic that you want, and a way that you want those players to behave around that game mechanic, and just molding it, reinforcing it, shaping it as much as you possibly can. … I love this book. I recommend it to all new game designers, not to learn how to train dogs or horses or any of the other animals in there, but basically to learn how to model behavior and reinforce the kinds of things you want to see your players perform and make them feel great about interacting with you and those behaviors.”

Retracting Box Cutter ($7)
“In my workshop, I mostly deal with paper. I mostly am building paper prototypes all day, every day. And involved with that is a whole lot of cutting paper. And I was just making a mess. I was cutting my clothes and cutting my body with these stupid box cutters, ’cause I’m not a very organized, careful person. What this thing is is so simple. It’s just a handle, and when you squeeze the handle, a small blade comes out, allowing you to cut paper or cardboard or whatever it is that you need to cut, and when you let go, the handle, the blade, retracts into the handle, making it a perfectly safe thing. So as I cut, and then stuff the thing in my pocket, suddenly I don’t have to worry about tearing holes in my clothes or fingers or anything else. …It’s super light. It’s all made of plastic. It’s actually not the sturdiest of devices, not to say the one I have has ever broken. But it has needed some repairs from time to time. It’s super lightweight, and because of the price point every time I open a new workshop anywhere, I immediately buy about 10 of these things.”

Retractable Charging Cable ($13)
“It’s a Lightning cable. It’s actually also a mini USB cable. … I travel a ton, and the problem I have with all cable organization is I’m just too lazy to adhere to it. The cases and the straps and all the things that I need to keep my cables organized, I end up abandoning. …So this solves that problem for me. What it is is a small plastic case, maybe about the size of four quarters in a stack. And it has the front and back ends of the cable poking out of it. You pull them, and suddenly, you have a two-foot long … in this case, iPhone cable. Pull them again, and they’re spring-loaded, so they retract back into the case. And what this does is I travel around with four of these things, and whatever adapters I need, and then just a USB brick that plugs into the wall and has four ports. So when I set up in any hotel, I plug all of these things in. I can charge all of my devices overnight. And then the next day, when I need to pack up, I literally, one fist, grab everything out of the wall, yank on both ends, they all retract into a single, very neat pile. I drop those into a pocket in my backpack, and I’m done.”

Waterproof Notepad ($9)
“This is one of my favorite things. This is a waterproof notepad. I don’t know why it is, but all my good ideas show up in the shower. I’m sure there’s all kinds of writing about why, but I don’t know. All I know is, every day, I take a shower and that’s where all my best ideas pop into my head. And for whatever weirdo reason, when I step out of the shower, like waking up after a really lucid dream, I’ve just forgotten everything. So my solution was, I found this great super cheap waterproof notepad. It attaches to the wall or tiles of your shower via suction cup, and it ships with a totally standard #2 pencil, that also attaches via suction cup. And it’s waterproof. So the pages have a slight waxy coating to them that … They’re hydrophobic, but the pencil markings work perfectly. So I jot down all my ideas in the shower.”

Also mentioned:

Exploding Kittens ($20)


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