What the hell is a Tunnel Monster Collective?

After a brutally busy 2020, and an extremely productive start to 2021, we have finally caught our breath! We have spent the past few months finalizing our first game project with the Land Art Generator, and working with our beautiful partners at Natural Selection Design, Studio Lithe, and Twothirty Media on logos, branding, social media, and our new website.

I have been looking forward to this post for a long time: a chance to connect with friends and family, and to reach out to future friends as we begin to tell our story. We hope to regularly create content that provides insight into our creative process. It’s a horrifying prospect, but I think this is how we grow as a company. This is how we become the monsters we were spawned to be!
Let’s start with a little background on our company. From there, we can begin our deep dive into ongoing game projects.

Tunnel Monster Collective was established in 2019, but our roots run much deeper than that. Leo, Dave, and I attended the same high school in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. Leo and Dave were/are lifelong friends…they are such good friends that its really annoying sometimes…I am definitely not jealous or bitter. I met Leo during my senior year, and Dave shortly thereafter. At the time the school was overrun by an (local) internet phenomenon known as the Dragon World Federation (DWF): a message board e-federation for professional wrestling roleplaying. Trust me, it was more fun than it sounds. Prior to my engagement in the DWF, I had never played a role-playing game. Evidently, donning a professional wrestling persona and reading line-by-line output from a text-based wrestling simulator was something I needed in my life. I have been chasing the excitement of that experience ever since; I interacted with more people in a few months than I had in the previous 4 years of high school. I didn’t have home internet access at the time, and I still remember waiting to log onto a public library computer to sign up for fight cards.

I was the photography editor of the school paper, and had free reign to choose my assignments. Leo was one of the architects of the DWF, and feature story about the DWF was the perfect excuse to dodge school sports leads, or editing photos of a random FHA-event. The DWF only lasted a few months, but its impact on my friendships (and apparently my career trajectory) were significant. I stayed in touch with Leo and Dave in the years to come.

I got my first dose of Dungeons and Dragons a few years later. There was something special about mining through those 2nd edition manuals, building my first character, rolling terribly in my first quest…I can still smell the musty, secondhand books, eraser dust, and damp basement where I fought ninjas in fictitious taverns. Fast forward a few years, and we were building the foundation of what would become CAST, our roleplaying system that is currently in development.

CAST Roleplaying System was our hobby for the next 15 years. During this time, we learned a few valuable lessons. 1) It’s probably not wise to begin your game design journey with your magnum opus. 2) Part-time game design is tough… careers, families, personal triumphs, and tragedies can all complicate the creative process. Thankfully, Ian joined the team in 2017, and injected new life into CAST and our desire to build a game company. Ian was a friendly face at many game tables, and had the drive and creativity to complement to our own.

Even with the fresh perspective, creating an entire game universe, complete with flora, fauna, geography, geology, ethereal physics, and mechanical infrastructure, was a daunting task. Early in 2020, we began to expand our focus to include tabletop board games. Unfortunately, the pandemic quickly drove a stake through the heart of our playtesting. Like everyone else, we retreated to virtual tabletops and conference calls as we dodged COVID. After a few months we were able to start meeting in person… just in time for a huge partnership opportunity!

In the summer of 2020, we were approached by the Land Art Generator with a partnership opportunity to create an educational game to compliment the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch design contest. We immediately signed on. The focus of the project (a game rooted in science education and sustainability) was a theme perfectly matched to our team’s skillset; I had worked in conservation for almost a decade, and had designed a handful of education programs. Leo and Ian had also had relevant professional experience that was extremely important as we created content for the game, having worked in renewable energy for many years. Paired with the design expertise of Land Art Generator, this was a match made in…the Nevada high-desert.

A story for another day. Thank you all for your continued encouragement. We will see you in the tunnels!

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