Archive for November, 2011
Here’s a thought for publishers out there of the small press stuff. For the past several years, I’ve flown around from convention to convention running indie games for people. Many of them try several games, like sampling a buffet. If I’m excited about a game, like I am right now about running Technoir tonight, I’d like to leave an physical impression on them as well as an experiential one, to maybe get them to check out the game.
So, publishers, how about this: make a one-page document that has fliers for your game on it. Make it so that one page will print out six, ideally 3×2 or 2×3, whichever. Make it easy to cut out after printing from a normal desktop printer, that doesn’t look weird because the outer margins are larger than the inner ones — take mandatory page margins into account. Put your game’s name/logo, your name/company name, website, and maybe one more line on it, and you’re done.
If you’re compelled to make a color version, also make a black & white version for those who don’t have color or are trying to avoid using whatever color you are because they’re out of that ink. Similarly, don’t make an ink-heavy version…or if you do, make an ink-non heavy version too (both to save the ink and to not have the end product have ripples from wet ink drying).
Here’s a text mockup:
high tech, hard-boiled roleplaying
by Jeremy Keller
Check out the free players guide at TechnoirRPG.com
Not that I’m a visual designer. That’s someone else’s job, like the wonderfully talented Jeremy Keller. Now, maybe no one will use it, but is there harm in throwing it out there and seeing what happens?
For those games that have related games, like the various in the GUMSHOE line, you could also use this as a space to direct to those games. (Edit: Kit adds a smart idea in the comments about tying this to a meeting/networking/friend-making element.)
(I’m pretty sure I wrote about this idea years ago on my LiveJournal, but that was an eon ago in Internet time.)
The totally kick-ass Elizabeth Sampat has a new project that I’m (a) totally excited about and (b) totally not involve in! :) She’s making a game called THEY BECAME FLESH, which is about the fall of a third of the Host and their exile to the mortal realm. I was privvy to an early rules draft, and was really intrigued by what I saw.
Check out the Kickstarter video:
If this sort of thing sounds up your alley, a PDF is as low as $5. $12 for a print as well, and from there.
Rock on, Elizabeth. You may have just made the angel game I’ve been waiting years for. Here are some highlights, for those just tuning in:
- Play during the game, and the decisions you make, will drive your fallen angel toward an endgame, much like in Polaris, or if you’re not familiar with that like Fiasco’s aftermath (though, it doesn’t feel like Fiasco at all, just there’s an endgame you’re going toward).
- There are two GMs, one playing God/the forces of Heaven/cosmos/etc. and one playing Humanity/people who need & want stuff & have feelings and junk. (And may or may not be as emo as I just suggested, your play will vary.)
- It has the same sort of vibe as, say, My Life With Master, where the things that you are…well, not so much “good at” but “are inclined to do” is based on descriptive phrases. Each one is tied to their connection to God, to Humanity, and to their Fallen brethren. What sort of connection you use is important, because that informs your direction. It’s, of course, the job of the GMs to challenge that.
- It uses far fewer dice than Mythender. :)
So, yeah, I’m all over it.
 Yup, all caps. Like God is saying it, in the way that God is depicted as speaking in media. If I were a thoroughly heretical person, I would recommend that someone tell God where his caps lock key is. (Pro tip: I totally am that person. :)
(…okay, next to taking the money and running.)
The biggest sin I see committed is when publishers sell their backed products to the general public well before backers get their copies.
Seeing the tweets today about the new Kindle, and how people who ordered day one — the alpha consumer base — have not received theirs when peope who have ordered later are getting packages today.
Now, I know enough about dealing with fulfillment when I worked with Indie Press Revolution to know that fulfillment glitches happen pretty often. This is a big, noticeable one, but I’m not surprised. However, it does remind me of the problem I’ve seen with a number of pre-order and Kickstarter campaigns in the RPG world: after your money is taken, you’ll find it available at Gen Con before you’ve received your copy.
When you do that, you’re sending a clear message that your alpha customers are only valuable to you for their money, and not after that. Now, sometimes that’s not the intended message — when I spoke with Graham Walmsley briefly at Gen Con about Stealing Cthulhu being available for sale while my backer copies hadn’t been shipped yet. he seemed apologetic. I didn’t leave the conversation with a sting, but I will think twice now about backing something else he does.
See, backing & pre-ordering is about trust and, in this very small world, relationships. Show that you don’t value them, and see what happens. I had such a reaction at Gen Con 2010 from Luke Crane, when his Adventure Burner was on sale at the show and people had not yet received their pre-order copies. I commented on this and he blew me off, which told me not to pre-order anything of his again. I saw on Twitter that people did get their copies of Burning Wheel Gold before Gen Con, so it’s cool that he learned from his mistakes there.
Unless you have a fan base that will forgive you for your sins, don’t do this. It takes a lot of work to repair gamer/consumer trust & relationships.
This happens on accident with people who are new to publishing, because new folks always underestimate the time it takes to do, well, everything involved. If you find this happens, gracefully apologize and explain the situation. And, you know, learn from your mistakes. :)
 Or British. I’m not sure.
 There’s another lesson in how, if you have a rabid, cultish following or create books that are critical to conversations online, you can abuse expectations and people’ll keep coming back. Hell, I bought Burning Wheel Gold at Gen Con.
 Edit: Though, apparently Graham has publicly called me a troll for pointing out my consumer reactions to his Kickstarter fulfillment. That is an unfortunate display of character.
I’ve been writing quite a bit more in the last couple weeks. As the days are grow shorter, I find myself wanting more time outside, to enjoy the sun and nature. But I also have deadlines to deal with, and longhand writing takes time! What is a writer to do?
Well, if you’re me, you end up accumulating stuff over a year that turns you into a mobile writing station. I thought I’d take some time today to share this gadgety setup with you fine folks:
What you see there, from left to right:
- New Trent iCruiser IMP1000 portable battery
- iPad (first generation, wi-fi only) in the standard-at-the-timeApple case
- Apple wireless keyboard in an Incase Origami workstation/keyboard case
- SGP Stylus Pen Kuel H10 Series (which you can’t really see well in that pic, but the cap is hanging off the right side of the iPad and the stick itself is on the top of the keyboard.)
- Split charge cable, along with the long USB-power cable I either got with my iPad or I went out and bought. Given how long that is, I probably had to buy it separate at the Apple store.
- Belkin mini surge protector with USB charger
What isn’t in that picture, because I used it to take the photo, is my iPhone (3Gs right now) with the standard Apple headphones.
The portable battery takes a bit longer than overnight to charge, but once it does, it has enough juice for around 40-50 hours of iPhone use, and less for my iPad. That’s a necessity for using my iPhone on the go, given how much data & music, like running Pandora, can kill the battery. It also helps when I forget to charge my iPad. The battery has a single USB outlet and a simple indicator to tell how much power is left on it. It also automatically shuts off after around a minute of not charging, so if I unplug my phone from it, I don’t have to worry about it continuing to operate fruitlessly.
The writeosphere has talked quite a bit about writing with an iPad, so I’ll save you a lengthy explanation. I like the fact that it requires me to focus, being a unitask device (even if you can multitask via background), and when I’m not near wifi I can’t get too distracted by doing a “quick” Wikipedia search. For the times when I need to look up something on the Internet or want to take a quick Twitter break, that’s why I have my iPhone.
Of course, I need to get back to wi-fi to sync. Right now, I use Notably along with Dropbox (while I have Pages for my iPad I haven’t used it in ages). I have tried also editing off of Google Docs directly, but that requires an Internet connection and honestly the iPad editing web software is so not ready for primetime. I did nothing but mangle a doc I was working with, causing me to just revert back to an earlier version. Ugh.
For a few months, I stopped using my iPad to write. This is mainly because while the Apple wireless keyboard is sturdy enough to just toss in my bag, whoever thought it was a smart idea to make a sensitive touch on/off switch is an asshole. I would more often than not find that my iPad was disabled because in transit it would get turned on and keys would get pressed, attempting to insert a code to unlock my iPad. When that failed, the iPad would lock up for a bit. I recall one time where I had to wait 45 minute before I could fucking write.
I was pissed. If someone meets that product designer, buy him or her a beer. And then throw it in his/her face. At least they got the on switch right on the Magic Mouse.
My iPad was still good as a TV, game station and library, so it’s not like it was a waste. But writing on it wasn’t going to fly.
Then I got the Incase Origami workstation. It’s a case for the standard wireless keyboard that, when opened and folded. gives you a place to set your iPad. It works great with the standard-at-the-time iPad case from Apple. It protects my keyboard from scratches & dings, but more than that it keeps it from turning on or getting pressed. :) And then it gives me a place to use my iPad like a netbook.
There’s no attachment, it’s just a place to put the iPad. I sometimes use it apart, when there’s not a good place to put the setup but there’s a good place to sit and a place to put my iPad at eye level. I then cross my leg and use that to rest the keyboard on.
I also have a simple stylus for my iPad, and man is it great. It helps keep oils from my fingers from messing up the screen, it’s more comfortable, and it just feels a little bit classier. The stylus I have us an insert in the cap where it attaches to the headphone port. Since I use my iPhone for music 95% of the time, that’s not a problem. And if it is, I can take out the stylus cap for a little bit, whatev.
The split cable is nice. It’ll charge one device and work as a charge & sync cable for another. Now, it won’t jive with the portable battery because that doesn’t produce enough juice to power two devices, but that’s cool. It’s mainly for when I’m out at a coffee shop and don’t want to take up two outlets. Also, it lets me use my long cord to benefit both, giving me more choice of seating in a shop.
Finally, I have my mini surge protector, or as I like to call it, the device that makes friends. If I need an outlet and it’s crowded, I’ll ask someone if I can unplug theirs long enough to put the mini in. And now we have power for three 110s and two USBs.
So, that’s how I roll. Here’s the kicker: all together, it’s still lighter than my MacBook Pro, which is the main reason I use this setup instead.
 Which, since I intend on moving to Seattle in the coming months, is part of why I’m trying to get my sun fix right now. :)
 I get a huge hate-on for shitty product design. It magnifies when dealing with cross-OS/device applications where it’s clear the UI developers on each app don’t talk to each other. Hi Twitter, Facebook, and Wunderlist (which, aside from that, I’m liking so far).
People make their own win conditions. This is as true in games as it is in life. And it’s true when it comes to being an indie publisher.
I used to play a lot of chess with a friend of mine also named Ryan. We would go out to a local brew-pub and drink liter steins of beer while playing game after game. Typically, we’d play three games during one of those afternoons, of which I averaged winning one out of three games. Ryan was pretty good. And while we had a ritual where we would deconstruct a loss — including backing up a few moves and playing together to see how to get out of a situation — I still wanted to win.
When it would get to a point in a game where I wasn’t going to win, due to material lost and position ceded, I would play to the stalemate. Sometimes, I would get that stalemate. And while that isn’t a win per the rules, my own emotional rewards for achieving this new goal were triggered. I felt like I won. And when it comes to psychology, feeling like you won is winning.
I used to also play the Legend of the Five Rings CCG, many years ago. I made a Scorpion deck that was neat, thematic, and…impossible to win with in a multiplayer game. Almost all we played were multiplayer games, so it was a bit of a disappointment. But then the third time I tried it, I noticed a pattern — I ended up playing the kingmaker, the player who would decide which other player would win. The other players started to hate that deck, because it robbed them of a sense of a “clean” victory, so my new win condition, from an emotional reward standpoint rather than a rules standpoint, was to make the win “dirty.”
And I won a few times, from that standpoint. It did get boring, so I made a new deck, but these times where I would adapt what was, for me, “winning” to feel good about the game I played is interesting. If you watch, you’ll see the gulf between “winning by the rules” and “winning by your own emotional validation” — tight gulfs can result in hyper-competitive people for whom there isn’t much of a different, or you’ll see wide gulfs in people who just enjoy playing games regardless of who wins…if the game is interesting. Sometimes you even see that last one to an extreme, where “an interesting game” is the only reward condition, and winning a “boring” game doesn’t actually trigger the emotional rewards.
(Edit: To be clear, since Rob brought it up, I’m not advocating this, especially not to where you become a dick to other people. I’m pointing this out because we all do it at times, and it’s useful to examine that.)
You also see this all the time in life. The asshole who cuts you off in traffic is trying to feel a win. The person who gives a dollar to someone on the street is trying to feel a win. We’re always going for wins in life, in big and little ways. Sometimes it’s a win against another person and sometimes it’s a win against a sense of yourself or the world. And when a big win looks like it’s not going to happen, folks grasp to change the win or to get some small wins instead. It happens all the time, and it’s worth examining if you’re a game designer.
And that’s where we get to publishing. Specifically, the indie publishing vibe of “this isn’t my core business, and I don’t rely on it to pay for my bills.”
The reason so many stupid, pointless bullshit arguments happen revolving publishing in indieland is because different folks in it have different win conditions. There are folks for whom “I have a book in my hand!” is a win condition, or number of sales reaching some arbitrary point, or just the act of finishing a draft and putting it out on the Internet, etc.
And sometimes in publishing, we feel like we’re not going to hit whatever win condition we fantasize about early in a game’s life — a bunch of sales, awards, critical acclaim, the respect of our peers, or whatever we think of when we go to bed on a night after working on the game. My humble win for Mythender was to sell as many copies and get as much play as A Penny For My Thoughts did. Not because I needed that to pay for anything, that was just the mark I was going to hold Mythender to.
When it’s clear that we’re not going to win, we adapt or suffer disappointment. And it’s pretty clear that Mythender won’t get as much play, because it’s a weird die-heavy game. A bit ago, I decided to change the design to match the win I wanted, to make a game, and strip out a lot of the economy & number of dice needed. I worked on that for a bit, but I was really unhappy with it. The mechanics work, even if it seems cumbersome and it is component-heavy. That was discouraging as fuck, because I was breaking my game in order to make it more accessible & sellable.
After talking with some friends, and initially saying “I’m closing Mythender” — to where I even have a blog post about it that I kept hesitating clicking “publish” on — I thought about what the win condition was. And I spent a bit thinking about some of the other things I wanted to do with Mythender: use it to demonstrate a way of presenting RPG text, experiment with PDF widgets, show folks how this complicated engine that no one else has made works. So I changed the win condition: just get it done and put it out there, like some sort of thesis paper on information presentation & flow.
Trying to sell it isn’t a part of my win condition, so I’m right now playing with putting it out for free. Because by putting “will it sell?” on the line, I’m putting a place where I might lose a personal win condition. And for Mythender, I’m not sure I want that sort of post-creation stress.
That’s what I’m working on right now, alongside making notes on a game whose win condition is “be considered a quality investigative horror game” and “gets as much play as A Penny For My Thoughts.”
The Unwinnable Condition
There’s one condition that you can’t win: make the game perfect. There are folks who believe you can, and tell you things like “You need to just let your game sit for a long while” or “A year is too short a time to make a game.” You get this from people who are afraid to actually finish their games, because finishing a game and then discovering that there’s one more thing they could have done — and you always discover that — means you put out a game that’s an emotional loss.
Don’t listen to those people. Their notions are broken because they cannot win, and they’re trying to pass their inability to win and to change their win condition onto you. Sometimes there’s wisdom in their statements, but that needs to be separated from their crippled notions of winning in order to apply them in a non-toxic fashion to your publishing and your life.
I hope you all find your win condition, friends. And I hope you all grow to see your win conditions change as you get more wins under your belt. It’s pretty awesome.
P.S. I’m still going to be taking a break from blogging for a bit while I finish, but I wanted to pop my head up and say something. Let’s see how well this works out for me.
 If you’re familiar with how I held public Drunken Chess Tournaments back in my early 20s, this is the guy I founded that with.
 To my knowledge, of course. Though there’s a thing some of us say when anyone says “that no one else has made”: “There’s probably a reason for that.” :) Not to stop people from experimenting, but to check a misplaced sense of cleverness at the door as you work on your experiment.
 Penny is a mark for me because, well, actually as I type this sentence it seems hard to explain. But it’s the mark for similar-sized games I’m making. I’m not trying to duplicate Penny as much as use it as a goal for measuring resonance. I have no idea if that makes sense to other people, though.