Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Doom That Came To Atlantic City: Update!

Cryptozoic Entertainment, best known for the Penny Arcade card games, has stepped up.  They will be publishing The Doom That Came To Atlantic City.  And, best of all, they are making sure that Kickstarter Backers get their copies.

The announcement can be found here.

Well played, Cryptozoic.  Well played, indeed.  You've scored a PR coup, which is likely to gain you additional customers down the line and it (along with the word of mouth from this) will hurt your bottom line in the short term, but I sincerely hope it helps in the long term.

The Doom That Came To Atlantic City

If you are at all active in social media or follow game blogs other than this one, then you probably heard last week about The Doom That Came To Atlantic City.  There are literally hundreds of blogs out there speculating about what happened.

So I'm not going to speculate much.

As near as I can tell, Erik Chevalier saw Kickstarter as a way to get his new game company off the ground. The problem is that he put the cart before the horse, as it were.  He used the Kickstarter funds to build the company instead of to produce a product with which to sustain the company.  Yes, he moved cross-country.  Yes he quit his day job.  But - really - had he produced the game, there is a possibility he would eventually have done these things anyhow. With the profits from the game instead of the seed money he needed to complete the game.

Wrong order.  Rookie mistake.

End of analysis from me.

I give Chevalier full credit for one thing that a lot of the community has overlooked: Instead of launching another project in order to raise money to finish this one, thereby creating a series of "kited" projects, he owned up to the problem.

At least one name in the gaming industry did just that with his projects, by the way.  And now none of them are complete, and people are angry. At least he managed to hand some of his projects off to third parties who can (probably) complete at least the core of the project.

Chevalier also didn't just go silent and hope people would stop talking like another project I could name. He kept posting. And, after admitting that the project was dead in the water, he hasn't gone into hiding, either.  He's also not hiding behind backer-only updates.  What he's telling backers is visible for the whole world to see.  I salute Chevalier for this, as well.

What's interesting to me is how the greater community is reacting. Several of the Kickstarter projects I backed that are running late, for example, have posted updates specifically to let us know that they aren't going to fold and eventually get us refunds.  Even if they'd been good about updating us all along.

Dozens of people have stated in public that they won't back projects that are from unknowns or first-timers.  Personally, I think that's completely ridiculous. And it goes, in part, against the spirit of Kickstarter itself.

Far West is from an experienced hand.  Gareth-Michael Skarka is working on it.  But it funded two years ago. Powerchords is reaching epic levels of late because Phil Brucato's personal life had some things get in the way.

These are experienced hands in the industry.  And they have - so far - failed to deliver the finished product.

Meanwhile, Children of Fire was in my hands about a month after it funded. And it's now on Amazon, too. Not bad for a first-time publisher.  Not bad at all.  Especially considering the book is full-color and beautiful

What I think everyone needs to remember is that Kickstarter is a risk.  Yes, the Terms & Conditions mean that the project creators are required to provide what they said they will provide.  Yes, the creators need to make every attempt to get it done in their estimated timelines.  But there's no teeth there.  The only thing the project creator risks is not being able to create another project, really.  Yes, it's possible to sue them for breach - but you'll spend more than you're likely to win.  And all the creator has to do is maintain a paper trail that shows that they are working on it.

"Behind Schedule" is normal for these projects.

So - as a backer - just assume that money is gone.  Forever.  You will never see it again. By backing any project on Kickstarter, just assume that you are throwing your money away. Don't spend money you can't afford to spend.  Which is pretty common sense, but people get excited about stretch goals and add-ons, and forget that they need to eat and pay bills.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you back stupid projects. Or obvious fraud.  Or even projects that make you feel especially suspicious. Because trust is also part of the equation. See, you're not just throwing it away. Realistically, you will get something. Eventually.  Usually.  Leave all the foolish things to me. Or to the Snarkers.

Do your homework. Learn who is involved with these projects.  Don't be afraid to back out if you have sudden expenses or something you don't like appears in the project. And don't spend money you can't afford to lose.

Then, when you do hit a dud (because you will hit at least one), you're not subsisting on ramen because of it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Follow-Up: Ingress

Early this year, I wrote about a game that Google had put together for mobile play.


I ... I wasn't a fan of the game, as it had a number of flaws that made it less-than-fun for me.

I still play, and, in fact, have made it to fifth level (out of eight possible).  The game has been patched a number of times, changing the overall experience at the same time.

Many of my complaints still stand, however.

The game still has zero direct player interaction, other than the comms. And the comm channels have been updated so if you try to get someone's attention, you can. It allows for a bit of coordination, but it's still not a game in which you can expect to interact with other players.

In January, I talked about portals. I said, "Occasionally, you will find a Portal. Inevitably, it will already be claimed by someone of a much higher level than you are. If it's claimed by the same team, then it won't attack you when you hack it and you won't gain any experience points (AP) for hacking it."

This is still partly true.  There are a lot more portals than there were at the time.  A lot more portals.  To the point where I can't turn around without hitting one. In the area where I play, every entrance to the mall has a sign, and every one of those signs is another portal.

I suspect that the game is still frustrating for low-level players, as all of the portals near my office are regularly claimed by high-level players.  I'm high enough level that I can knock enemy portals down (if I have enough XM and the time to spare), and I've made a point of leaving portals partly open so that lower-level players can game some experience points by dropping resonators.

You can also now gain experience by maintaining portals.  It's not much - it's only 10 per time you charge the (gradually decaying) resonators, but it adds up over time.  And for low-level players in a high-level area, it may be the only way you have to gain experience. Or if you are in a one-portal town.

In fact, I mentioned the "tourist problem" for the one-portal towns, but - in all honesty - I'd love to have a hostile visit my town and take over my portal if I lived in a one-portal town.  Because you get 100 experience for hacking an enemy portal, and you can do that several times per day.  It's a much faster way to go up in levels when compared to maintaining a portal via recharge.

There are more mods than just shields, now, too.  So now there is actual thought necessary before you upgrade your portals.  If you can get the other mods.  What is missing is any sort of in-game documentation.  I have several mods that I don't know what they do.  The various Ingress communities on Google+ have been very helpful as far as that goes - but some of them are still woefully unclear, even with help.

I talked about low-level players wanting a lot of Bursters before attacking enemy portals - and that stands.  A Lv1 XMP Burster only does 1% damage to most resonators.  In fact, XMP Bursters seem to be a near-waste of time until about fourth level or so.

It still takes 10,000 experience for a Level 1 player to hit Level 2.  I can recharge resonators 10-15 times just on the way to work in the morning - that's 100-150 per day.  At that rate, it'd take about three months to hit Level 2.  And, looking at the game, that doesn't sound unreasonable.  Level 1 players - more than anyone else - need to make higher-level friends who will knock portals down so that Level 1 players can plant resonators and gain the experience for it.  Otherwise, you just won't get anywhere.

Let me go over the four big problems I saw last time:

Not Enough Portals: PARTLY FIXED

There are areas with too many portals.  And there are a few areas with not enough.  But, for the most part, this problem is fixed (even if some of the portals are in some odd places).

Level One Players Will Never Get Anywhere: NOT FIXED

There just aren't enough things for players to do at low levels, and it's next to impossible for low-level players to advance without significant help from higher level players.

Items Are Not Explained Well: NOT FIXED

They added a bunch of other stuff - but they didn't explain it in the game.  And even the fan forums are a mixed help.


This is less of a problem than I thought it was - portals decay over time.  And there are limits to placing resonators - for example, I can only place two Level 5 resonators on any given portal.  And four Level 4 resonators.  So if I grab Podunk, ID for my faction, I won't be dropping a set of eight Lv 8 Resonators.  And my resonators decay at 15% or so per day.  So - in theory - I can continue recharging the portal, but there were a few other changes to the game - for example, it now costs XM to deploy resonators and to fire Bursters.  So I may decide to save my XM and let the portal decay - if it's not part of an important link, I'm less likely to maintain it.  And, if it's further away, it will cost me more XM to recharge than if I'm nearby.  In fact, I have keys for some Baltimore portals that I can't charge at all - they're too far away.

In short:  The game is improving.  Slowly.  But Level 1 still sucks.  And Level 2 isn't much better.  I didn't start really enjoying it until Level 4.  And there are (in some areas) finally enough portals.  And some areas have too many portals.

I still can't give the game two thumbs.  I'm enjoying it, but new players won't.

(And, by the way, I have some invites available if you have an android phone and want to try it - just let me know).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ENnie Awards Nominees Are Up

I'm not a fan of ENWorld.  A decade ago, I was there a lot - but then I stopped buying d20 material, and the website became irrelevant to my interests.

Well, not quite.  But I stopped paying attention to them, because they were so very focused on d20 (and later Pathfinder).  To a great extent, they still are.

But, despite being (to me) a mostly irrelevant site, they spawned the ENnie Awards, which are the most relevant awards in gaming.  Mostly.

The nominees have been announced - and there's some really good stuff in there.

So here is how I will vote (when the voting goes live next week):

Best Adventure
There are some really strong candidates here. And only one Pathfinder book in the category - and it's a reprint of an older book - But Night's Black Agents is phenomenal.  So my vote is for The Zalozhniy Quartet by Pelgrane Press.

Best Aid/Accessory
I don't know Protodimension Magazine.  But I may have to check it out.  The Unspeakable Oath is a long-running quality magazine which is worth reading if you're at all into Call of Cthulhu.  Green Ronin is doing a great job with their Song of Fire & Ice game.  But The One Ring is amazing.  Just top-to-bottom stunning. And all of their supplemental materials have just floored me with their quality and appearance.  Including the Loremaster's Screen & Lake-Town Sourcebook, which gets my vote.

Best Art, Interior
I've flipped through Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms, and it's pretty.  I have Night's Black Agents - the included art is spare and disturbing and fits the game perfectly.  Night's Watch is also a well-illustrated book. But Shadows of Esteren is amazing.  And that's where my vote is going this month.

Best Blog
The only one on the list that I read is Gnome Stew.  I will probably check the other candidates out before I vote, but - if I were voting right now, Gnome Stew would get my vote.

Best Cartography
Such an old-school category. Really.  Following the d20 boom and bust, there was a lot of, "but I don't want a Battle Map!" from the players I tend to interact with.

But there are - again - some good things in here.  I find it interesting that The Lands of Ice and Fire isn't a game book - it is, in fact, an atlas which is designed to accompany the novels. It just happens to work with the game, too.  I'm probably going to vote for Sprawl Sites: High Society and Low Life, because I have a weakness for Shadowrun.

Best Family Game
I've seen a few of these.  Most of them are pretty lightweight, and all of them are good for gaming with children.  With that said, however, I'm not sure if my vote here would be right.  Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space is really good.  It's also the "heaviest" game on the list.  The least kid-friendly.

Best Game
Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a game I've heard some really good things about. Broken Rooms is (I am told) astonishing.  Iron Kingdoms is a beautiful book with a system to match.  Champions Complete is the crunchiest game in the bunch - and fans of the Hero system seem to really love it.  But I'm a huge fan of Night's Black Agents.  And that's where my vote is going next week.

Best RPG-Related Product
Some ... interesting things here.  But The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding is phenomenal, and has my vote.  But Eighth Day Genesis could be very good - I need to check it out.

Best Rules
Dungeon World. It took the Apocalypse World engine and tweaked it in several key directions that (in my opinion) make it better.  I like it better than Gumshoe - and that's saying something.

Best Setting
Of all the categories in the awards, this one shows the most Pathfinder-centrism - but part of that is because people who build "generic" settings have been making them either Pathfinder or Savage Worlds for a while, now.  And there are some very strong contenders here - but Midgard by Kobold Press is, in my opinion, far and away the best on the list.

Best Writing
This is certainly a diverse category - a supplement to a licensed game, a system-neutral book on worldbuilding, a system-neutral book on GM prep, and two complete games.  I have (or have read) every item in this category, and I have to say that Night's Black Agents should take the Gold here.  Ken Hite's terse prose ups the tension of the setting, lending it an urgency that might otherwise be lacking.

Product of the Year
From the list given, I'm voting for Night's Black Agents - but it's a very close race between that at Shadows of Esteren.  That said, I have no idea who will win.  I'm not at all representative of ENWorld's readers.  None of the products on this list are bad.

Astute readers will note that I didn't list every category in this post - it's because I'm either unfamiliar with or just don't care about a number of the categories.

Reminder: Voting opens on Monday.  This is one of those contests where the winner is 100% up to the gamers - distributors and retailers don't filter the content for us before we see it.

And that, I think, is why I find the ENnies to be relevant.  The Origins Awards are initially narrowed by a "select panel," and then further narrowed by retailers and distributors before gamers can get their say.  The Diana Jones Award is a small, select, secretive panel from start to finish - and sometimes it feels like they pick products solely because they want to recognize someone who was involved with those products, even if there are stronger products on their short list.

Don't get me wrong - I don't feel as though the ENnies are a perfect award.  The fact that anyone can vote means that better-known products and publishers are more likely to get more votes.  The fact that print submissions need to send in six copies for the awards committee makes it too expensive for many of the very small indies - but I think they're better than anyone else currently out there.

... and that, I think, is all I have to say about that.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Sorry I'm late this week - I was at a convention.

There are dozens of ways to break down conventions - for purposes of this post, I'm going to define "conventions" as "conventions for and about enthusiasts."  Because that's what I'm talking about when I say "convention."

Yes, GAMA GTS is technically a convention - but it's not for enthusiasts, so it doesn't qualify as such for this discussion.  GAMA GTS for publishers to show off to distributors and retailers. The fact that many of these publishers and distributors are also enthusiasts is irrelevant to the purpose of the show.

There are two yardsticks I use when discussing conventions - focus and size.

Focus is - quite simply - how narrow the focus of the convention is.  The North American Discworld Convention is a very tightly-focused convention.  Panels about the effects of weightlessness on coordination would not really fit here.  You could probably make an argument about it fitting due to Rincewind's going off the edge of the Disc at the end of The Color of Magic, but it'd be a stretch.

By contrast, GenCon is much less focused.  It's about gaming, yes, but in recent years it has expanded to include more and more aspects of gaming, including life away from the table (which, yes, does exist).

NorWesCon is even less-focused on GenCon.  It's stated focus is about science fiction and fantasy.  Books, TV series, movies, comics, games, and lifestyle panels are all very common.

North American Discworld Con was where I was.  It was a small convention - If forced to guess, I'd say well under 1,000 people were present.  But everyone there had a common bond that was pretty specific - we all love the writings of Sir Terry Pratchett.

It got me wondering: Does a tight focus for a convention limit its size?  Has GenCon grown, for example, because they've added a wider variety of panels? Or did it add that variety because of its growth?

Another question which occurs to me is "at what point does your broadening of focus due to growth start to become a problem?"

My wife and I used to go to NorWesCon every year.  But one year, I looked through the con program, and couldn't find any panels which interested me.  The lifestyle panels had crowded out the Sci-Fi and Fantasy panels to a ridiculous extent.  So we stopped going.  I go to NorWes to talk about authors I enjoy and books I like with like-minded people.  The problem isn't the presence of these panels - the problem is these panels outnumbering (and overwhelming) the panels which are supposedly the focus of the convention.

Looking at the panels for the last year or two, it looks like it's starting to swing back to its original focus - fewer lifestyle panels, more of its focus.  I suspect that my wife and I were not alone in steering away from NorWes and their numbers dropped.  Or people complained.

I suspect that tightly-focused conventions that maintain their narrow focus will tend to stay small.  There are millions of Discworld readers, but like any group, only a small percentage is able and/or willing to travel for a convention.

In all honesty, there are probably more Discword readers at NorWesCon than there are at the North American Discworld Con.  But very few of them are tightly focused on the Disc.  They'll be fans of Niven or Barnes or Pohl or Hobb or Butcher or McGuire.  For them, the Discworld is like a side dish.  They may go to a Discworld panel at NorWes (although it's more likely to be a "Humorous Fantasy" panel).

This year, we are planning to give OryCon a shot.  It looks like a smaller and still-focused NorWesCon, and it's not too far away.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This Week

This week's regular post will go live later this week.

I'd tell you when, but I'm not sure myself.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Character Generation Project: Kuro

Those of you who are new to the blog can find out what this "Character Generation Project" is all about here. Stephanie's usual approach to character generation can be found here. In addition, there is a link to all of the project posts in the sidebar to the right.

I found Kuro to be a very interesting game - there are a ton of Cyberpunk-genre mashups out there, and some of them are horror, too, but this one did something I hadn't seen before - it isolated the characters in a setting which is foreign to most of the players.

Which game is this for?

How long did it take you to generate the character?
Half an hour

What was your character concept going into generation?  
Shinto maiden (miko)

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting?  

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation?  
A good amount, though I wasn’t really sure what I was doing

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?  
I kind of felt like I was picking numbers at random, then having to go back after reading a little further and adjusting the stats.

Do you like the character you ended up with?  
I think so

Do you think your character fits your concept?  

Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?  
I have no idea.
Part of the issue, here is that all PCs in Kuro have a rare genetic mutation. This isn't spelled out until 180 pages into the book. In the GM section. So far as players know, they are creating day-to-day Japanese people who have been cut off from the world.

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically?  
Not really knowing what would be useful, in terms of stats
This game was translated from the French. Apparently there are some minor mechanical differences between the two.

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected?  
Not really - I’m still a little in the dark about what my character would be doing and why
And part of this is because the game does that. Players are kept in the dark. The GM isn't given much more info than players are, either.

What changes would you have made to the character generation process?  
A brief synopsis of the setting would be good (though the glossary at the beginning was useful).  Also, associating skill with characteristics in the skills section would be helpful.
The setting info is ... odd. There are sections on daily life and manners. And there are "big picture" chapters which tell you the broad sweep of what existence is like. Then there are sections with tiny details.
As to the "Which characteristic goes with which skill?" question - I think the game's intent was to make this flexible. Want to know what Martial Art someone is using? Perception + Martial Arts - and so on. But Steph is - as usual - correct: This isn't made explicitly clear anywhere in the player section of the book.

Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?  

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?  
Eric asked me to.
I had a new game that I was excited about. I see a lot of potential in this one. In my defense, I sent her with three or four games and asked her to choose.

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?  
I felt a little lost.  In most games, I have no idea of why my character is doing something out of the ordinary.  It was like the opposite of The Edge of Midnight character generation.
Interestingly, in The Edge of Midnight, PCs are special because they can sense that something is amiss. In Kuro, PCs are special due to a genetic mutation that makes them sensitive to the occult events which are spinning up around them.

Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?  
I’d like to find out if she’d be useful, so sure

Does this character make you want to play this game?  
Yes, if for curiosity’s sake alone

Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.?  
I think I’d need to read the entire book to understand the game

Have you given any thought to what game you'd like to do next?  
Possibly GURPS Discworld