Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No Post This Week

Sorry, all.  I'm taking this week to brace myself and prepare for the holiday season - which gets busy at work (not that this is unique to my office).  So this is really my last week to kick back, relax, and enjoy myself.

And I'm going to take wild advantage of that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Doin' It Right

I spend a lot of time here complaining about delayed Kickstarters and backers whose projects are delayed. Or which don't live up to their expectations. What I don't do - and should do more often - is write about projects and creators whose projects aren't constantly delayed - or which are only slightly delayed but awesome.

The very first project I backed on Kickstarter was Hellas: Princes of the Universe by Jerry Grayson.  I have since backed four or five of his projects - all of them have been filled in a relatively short amount of time.  I won't say he's not late on his projects - he is - but he doesn't run very late and his project quality is regularly good.

Daniel Solis' project Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple was the first project I had arrive ahead of schedule.  And it was (and continues to be) good.  He's been involved with other projects, generally doing layout, and his presence seems to get them out the door in a not-horribly-delayed fashion.

Sage Kobold Productions' Dungeon World is awesome. And, while it was late, it wasn't that late - and they did a good job of communicating with us. Seriously: If you see this game on the shelf, buy it.

Andy Kitkowski's Tenra Bansho Zero was a hair late, but it had a ton of stretch-goal-based add-ons. And all of them have been filled (with the exception of a few PDF-based stretches).  The game itself is ... fascinating.  It's a translation of a Japanese RPG, and it appears as though games in Japan traveled a different path than games here in the US did.  Andy has a project currently up - Ryuutama - another translation.  And I backed it with no hesitation.

Joseph Bloch has Kickstarted two projects so far, both for Adventures Dark & Deep - and both arrived ahead of schedule.  Both are also very well-done. The game is a retroclone - and he managed to capture the feel of classic AD&D both with his layout and the art style.

Ron Edwards' Sorcerer is the game that kicked off the Indie Revolution in gaming. His project was originally for PDFs, but it grew to the point where he was able to offer print copies of his books as well - for the same price.  It delayed the project by six months, but we had the PDF files about on time.

Torchbearer by Luke Crane and the Burning Wheel HQ team arrived slightly ahead of schedule, but it's ... it's as unique as Burning Wheel was at the time it launched. And I really like it. Even the paper they used feels like an old-school D&D book. Only it's nothing like it mechnically.

Ryan Laukat's City of Iron is actually the second project of his I've backed.  I have enjoyed both it and Empires of the Void a great deal - and neither one was hugely delayed.

The Shadows of Esteren line of games is one that Steph and I have been backing as they launch.  We've been very impressed with the books so far. It's another translation - this time, translated from the French - and it's been more-or-less on-time with its project releases.

Caias Ward's Trigger Happy: Roleplaying In A World That Hates You came in almost exactly on schedule - and that's even accounting for stretch goals and the like.  It looks to be a ton of fun - and I'm enjoying the concepts on the chapters I've read so far.  I really need more time to read.  More hours in a day, perhaps, or no day job. Or something.

While it's not complete, yet, Jesse Butler's Short Order Heroes got its basic set out on time - we're only waiting on stretch goals at this point.

And, of course, FATE Core.  Yes, it's later than it was going to be.  It's also six books.  Or seven.  I lose count.  I could have paid more for shipping to have things as they released - but I'm willing to wait.  And I have tracking for my shipment which says it's due to be delivered the day before you will read this. Still ahead of schedule, by the way.

These aren't all of the good projects and creators I've backed - they're not even all of the creators I'd choose to back again. But these are the ones who have been close to on-time (or have communicated effectively when they were late).  These are the ones whose products I have enjoyed reading, and whose next project is one I'm likely to back again.


I just know I'm missing someone, here, too.  Probably multiple someones.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I don't go to as many conventions these days as I used to.  It's not a lack of interest - it's a lack of time off from my Day Job combined with my sticking to my stated priorities.  But I'm working on it - only four more years until I get another week off.

I'm (as I write this) at OryCon in Portland, OR.  It's bigger than I'd expected, but still pretty small as conventions go.  And many of the faces here are faces I recognize from NorWesCon in Seattle, which is much larger.

I've had a good time at the show, and I do intend to return in the future - but I didn't interact much with the show this year.  In fact, I only went to a small handful of panels, and, in most of those, I was oddly disappointed.

For example, the "Crowdfund Your Book" panel covered nearly all common-sense items that I'd learned from the Kicksnarker community on Google Plus.

I keep saying this, but maybe I should look into being a panelist at a convention sometime.  It seems that more and more, I'm disappointed by the actual panelists.

In 2013, I attended the North American Discworld Con, GenCon, and OryCon.  In 2014, I'll be attending NorWesCon, and GenCon for sure.  OryCon and GameStorm are maybes.  BGG.con is wishlisted.

But I only have two weeks of vacation, and I only spend one week on me.  The other week of vacation is reserved for Stephanie. It looks like there is a lot of vacation spent up there, but NorWesCon is two days spent. OryCon was one day.  GameStorm is one day.  North American Discworld Con was for Steph (as was OryCon).  And yes, I do take occasional unpaid days off for conventions.

I'm learning that I actually prefer bigger shows, too.  OryCon is - as I said - larger than expected, but it's still small enough that many (most?) of the regulars know one another (or, at a minimum, recognize one another).  As a first-time attendee, I feel like a bit of an outsider. This is, by the way, not a criticism of the show itself. Or of the people attending, for that matter. SCARAB was much the same way a few years ago - the difference is that I knew someone at SCARAB other than Steph.  And, by the way, I do intend to return to SCARAB at some point.

At a larger show, people expect to be surrounded by strangers, and so work extra-hard to get to know them.  When you go to a small show, people are often there to see their friends and so don't make as much of an effort to reach out to strangers.

Smaller shows also have fewer panels.  I realize that this is essentially common-sense, but it should still be said.  At NorWesCon, their program book doesn't have any gaps in any of the rooms until late at night.  Here at OryCon, there are rooms that are only in use for a few hours every day.  But fewer panels doesn't mean they're lower in quality by any means - the Crowdfunding panel that was disappointing for me?  Did have good information.  It was just good information that I already had.  Someone who wasn't active in the Kicksnarker community might have found it very useful and/or informative.  I honestly don't know.

One of the real highlights of the show - for me, at least - was introducing my wife to Shogi, using this set.  I'm still learning to use this camera, so it's not quite what I'd expected - but I'll get better.  And there are few things as awesome as a good time-lapse board game video, amirite?

... and that's about all I have to say for now.  Next week, I'll have more words to throw at my screen.  I promise.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Timing, Pacing, Expectations

There's an old joke about the key to comedy being timing.  The joke is all the more funny because it's true. But comedy isn't the only thing that relies on timing - not by a long shot.  Because every story has a pace at which it should develop.  That's part of why story editors make so much money. And why some authors haul in the big bucks and others don't.

One of my favorite movies is The Fifth Element.  It's a tightly-constructed film with a thoroughly dissatisfying ending. Because the film has excellent pacing throughout, but the end is very rushed.  It feels like the author or editor or director was told, "Okay, now you have to wrap this epic story up in ten minutes."

Lately, I've had cause to become more aware of story pacing in the television medium.  I joined a community called ReWatchers - we're watching TV shows as their writing team intended: One episode per week.  We've consciously broken the Netflix pattern of marathoning shows to get through them quickly.  One of the shows that the community is watching is Babylon 5. It's a really good show, but my wife has never been able to get through more than a handful of episodes - and I'm learning now that it's because the show really shouldn't be marathoned - because it's written to feature a broad story arc. Yes, there is a standalone story every week - but the main arc of the story unfolds in odd fits and spurts.  When you're only watching an hour or so per week, you don't necessarily notice how erratic the pacing is. When you marathon the show, some hours seem packed with too much story, and some episodes are all about that week's story.

It reminds me of Hamlet's Hit Points - Robin Laws' book about story pacing from a gamer's perspective.  I know I've recommended it before, but I'm probably going to continue recommending it for some time to come.

But pacing isn't an issue only for role-playing games, either.  There have been a number of games I've played where the timing of the game just feels ... off.

Miskatonic School for Girls took a lot of heat for being a mediocre game - and rightly so. People complain a lot about the randomness of the game or several other factors.  For me, the death knell of the game is its timing.  The start of the game just drags.  Somewhere around the middle of the game, it hits a good pace that feels about right.  And then the game hits a death spiral where it feels like it just suddenly ends.  I suspect that, were the pacing issues better resolved, the rest of the games problems wouldn't be as obvious.  As it is, the pacing of the game throws all of the issues of the game into stark relief.

I saw a discussion recently on whether people like games where "interrupt" actions can allow players to act during someone else's turn. My thought is simple: As long as it doesn't screw up the pacing of the game, I'm okay with it. But there are very few games where interrupts can't screw things up.