27 February, 2013

The Conflict Wheel

I've never read the specific details of the system, but I've heard it mentioned, described and critiqued by a range of people. I understand the system is found in the game 'Exalted' by White Wolf (or whatever it is they're calling themselves these days). There may be precedent for it before this point, but I'm not sure.

It basically works like this.

Instead of initiative with alternating actions, everyone is assigned a place on a circular track based on a combination of their reaction speed and a randomiser. Like a clock-face, there is a counting mechanism that moves around the track...when it comes to you, your character gets to act. If you perform a quick task you move a little bit around the circular track with your action and it doesn't take long for the counter to reach you again. If you perform a complex task you move around the circular track a larger distance and it takes longer until it reaches your turn again. The most complicated of tasks might have you stay in the one place, requiring a complete rotation of the circle before you get to act again.

I see this as working well for reflecting the style of combat you see in many video games, especially side scrollers like the 'Street Fighter' series, or one-on-one 3D combat games like Tekken. It doesn't fit the turn by turn combat style that you see in games like 'Final Fantasy' but I'm willing to veer away from that style of combat toward more anime-style power battles if it makes storytelling more cohesive within the game.

The basic idea for Voidstone chronicles would be a 12-step combat wheel. Characters are randomly allocated a value from 1 to 12 based on their Mental attribute and the elemental value of the stance they are taking for the conflict. Fire tends to act more rashly, water tends to act more thoughtfully, air tends to move more quickly, while earth remains stalwart but slow.

The basic combat attacks would be a quick strike (that pushes you back three spaces around the circle), a medium strike (that pushes you back five spaces),  and a big power strike (that pushes you back seven). The basic defenses would be a block (which only takes you back a single space and halves incoming damage if successful) or a dodge (which pushes you two spaces but completely ignore damage if successful).

Different elemental stances would open up new conflict moves, so would different weapons, classes, cultures or training techniques. Each specific action would be written up on a simple reference card for easy access.

You play the card, roll the dice, determine the effect, move the combat tracker around the circle. Seems simple, I'm sure it will only get more complicated with exposure to the real world.


Thoughts for Voidstone Chronicles

I've had a few more thoughts about where to head for an interesting game environment in Voidstone Chronicles. The key to this setting is that it exists on a series of floating discs.

Naturally, the movement between discs would be a significant factor.

I'm generally viewing the setting as a giant clockwork device, developed 'in the grand fantasy tradition' by an ancient and mysterious magical race who have been long  forgotten (or who have disappeared for some arcane reason). The rate of disc spin and disc movement through the world is goverened by percieved laws, some rotate like orbital gears, others  linkto one another and might spininsuch a way that is governed by the position of other nearby discs.

If I wanted this to be a high crunch game, I could provide engineering tables and elaborate details on how these gears interact, but most people just don't bother to read that stuff. This is going to be another simple game, and it's rules are basically derived from 'Tooth and Claw', so a simple and abstract method of moving across the world needs to be applied.

Here's where my current ideas lie...

Every action in the game is performed by rolling dice; the more you try to accomplish, the more dice you roll. The aim is to roll high, but under your attribute. Dice rolls in 'Tooth and Claw' are modified by the character's current mood; dice rolls in 'Voidstone Chronicles' are modified by the elemental affiliations of the action and the character.

In this context, movement across the world would be a 'physical' action, modified by the element of 'air'. A character would roll a number of dice based on the amount of time they spend travelling. Characters may roll extra dice if they wish to take risks in theirtravel, or if they have advantageous skills like 'endurance' (to prevent gettng tired on long distance movement), 'navigation' (to avoid getting lost along the way) or 'athletics' (for sheer ability to run). Some character types might get specific advantages to these travel rolls. Every success is equal to the movement from a single disc to the next (in the case of very large discs, it might simply indicate the movement from one sector of a disc to another sector on the same disc).

Rolling a natural 10 in 'Tooth and Claw' provides a point of experience in the attribute being used, it's a failure but it is one that the character learns from. In this game, I'm thinking that 10's provide interesting situations. Things like random encounters...or maybe different discs have different danger thresholds...on a safe disc, a 10 indicates that a temporary inconvenience has been met, a typical disc might see some kind of conflict on a 10...a dangerous disc might see some kind of conflict on a 9 or 10...a truly dangerous dsc might see issues on a natural 8 or higher.

These sorts of things would be clearly indicated to the characters in a giant map of the setting. They can choose to take the quick and risky path, or they can be safe and take the long route.

It seems pretty simple and it allows for interesting things to happen along the journey...and since this is a game about journeys and epic quests that start small, it makes sense in context. Itseems better in my mind than simply saying "you walk here, you walk there, you wait an hour for the bridges to line up between this disc and the next, you walk again, you wait a bit more for the next bridge/disc alignment".V

26 February, 2013

All Quiet on the Observation Front

It's been a while since I last posted anything here... a week maybe more. It's hard to tell because I'm using a new toy to write this post.

I've started university this week, going back into study after a break of over ten years in the 'real world'. My new toy is a free iPad 4 with Retina Display, all off the new students were given one. I might review a couple of RPG related apps if I get the chance.

For the moment, I'll try to get to a few more 'game mechanisms' since I think I'm running behind by a week or two (maybe three). There are a few more maps and images to display as well.

So, I haven't quite dropped off the face of the Earth...I just figured I'd keep you all informed.


20 February, 2013

Cold City Map Work

Because I like giving my players some decent props, I've drawn up a few maps for our Cold City campaign in progress.

There will only be one more week of this mini campaign, but that doesn't mean we can't have nice things.

 A warehouse raided in episode 1.
The Nazi bunker that has been requisitioned as an underground base of operations by the heroes (with convenient entrances via the subway and sewer system of course).
The Cathedral overtaken by cultists in episode 2.

Font Work

For those who were interested in seeing the rough workings for the fonts I'm currently developing, these are basically the proof sheets. Three different fonts that could be used for a variety of purposes...





19 February, 2013

A Peek at Voidstone Chronicles

Work in Progress


Voidstone Thoughts

A world of spinning discs floating in the eye of a storm; perhaps a storm the size of Jupiter's roving maelstrom. All around, the clouds sweep with mists and gaseous vapours, gradually approaching deadly speeds as you travel further from the civilised discs of the core. But for those willing to risk the discs on the edge there can be riches to uncover, fragments of civilisations lost to antiquity. For those willing to go further into the mists there are dreams and nightmares beyond imagining.

Who wants to come exploring?

Evocative Character Imagery

I like character portraits that are done well.

Portraits that hint at a character's past and their environment through the clothes they wear and their assorted  adornments.






These were shared on G+ yesterday, but due to an erratic internet connection and a few things that needed to be done, it wasn't until today that I finally managed to get the links open. As a result of that, I can't remember who shared them. Sorry, I'd give credit where it's due if I could remember or open the page from which they were shared.


The artists who produced these works...
noiprox.deviantart.com
depingo.deviantart.com

...I'm sure they have other great stuff but I'm having trouble opening anything at the moment.

For a range of other cool images have a look at Digitaldraco's collection over on Pinterest.

14 February, 2013

3 Ladies for Valentines Day

I've just uploaded February's three new character types for Ghost City Raiders...and in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I've created 3 women who belong to a secretive order known only as "The Sisterhood".



Hopefully next week, I'll have uploaded a trio of interconnected storylines for these characters to participate in.

They aren't necessarily designed to work as a team, but when they are together, their abilities should produce a few twists in the play experience.

Have a look over at RPGNow.

Daughter of Bastet
Daughter of Isis
Daughter of Maat

13 February, 2013

Game Mechanism of the Week [Neo-Redux] 6: Critical Hits

It may seem to go against the other things I've posted in this series, but I like critical hits. Even though they may slow a game down, they inject an extra degree of flavour into the narrative.

Critical hits don't happen all the time, and that's one of the things that makes them interesting. Worked carefully into a system the open up a range of possibilities, but when ad-hoc shoved into an otherwise elegant system they can simply seem like an annoying diversion from the real action.

Description:
Different games handle the mechanism of the "Critical Hit" in different ways. The classic old-school version said that if you roll a natural 20 (that's a roll of 20 on the 20-sided die, before any modifiers are applied) then a critical hit occurred. A critical hit might do maximum damage, it might do double the damage rolled, or it might have an effect based off a table.

3rd Edition D&D started messing around with this formula by creating threat ranges; where if you roll naturally within a certain range of high figures, you've got a chance of getting a critical, then you have to actually roll again to achieve the elusive critical. Again, depending on the player options used, the actual critical might do double (or triple damage), or might have an effect from a table.

The Fantasy Forge Star Wars Beta, has just updated it's critical hit rules, before they applied some fairly vanilla modifiers to a victim, but now they run of a varied table of mysterious injuries that could be applied. In this system you can gain successes or advantages during your die rolls; a success applies damage, reaching a certain threshold of advantages allows a player the chance to roll on the critical hit table (different weapons have different advantage thresholds).

As examples from the worlds of miniatures, Mordheim uses d6's and allows a critical hit if you roll a natural 6 on your injury roll. Critical hits have a secondary table with three results, each of which deal extra damage, and some of which make it impossible for the victim to absorb that damage regardless of their armour. Rackham's Confrontation used a d6 system also, but you rolled 2d6 (the high result determining damage, the low result determining where you hit) doubles on damage rolls applied critical hits.

Some games even include "critical hits" for non-combat situations. Perhaps enough of a success in the social arena might shut someone down for the rest of the scene while they deal with their wounded pride. Perhaps a crafting action might produce an unexpected masterpiece.

Pros:
I guess that critical hits were one of the first ways to create a system with multiple degrees of success. Either you missed, you hit through skill or you got incredibly lucky and did something massive.

Critical hits provide an occasional bonus, they aren't something you can evenly rely on, but when they do manifest in play, they provide that kind of storytelling moment that great gaming anecdotes are made of. Critical hits can also provide depth and colour to the attacks made, a few game systems use a variety of critical hit tables to reflect the capacities of different weapon types and combat styles (one for slashing effects, one for piercing effects, one for bludgeoning...etc.).

As long as critical hits are used sparingly and the effects produced are complimentary to the story, they can be great.

Cons:
One of the issues with critical hits is that they often tend to be a subsystem only tenuously linked to other parts of the game; this forms a bit of a disconnect when the critical rules are activated during play. Any break in procedure can cause a moment when the game and the story lose momentum...like those times when a rule book is pulled out for a clarification. If that pause makes for an appropriate moment of tension building, then it might not be so bad; but if the pause is simply because of confusion, or over-complication, then it becomes hard to regain the pace of the session.

Further cons come when the critical system doesn't feed back into the other mechanisms or narrative effectively, or when the benefits of the critical hit aren't that special. The first incarnation of critical hits in the new Fantasy Forge Star Wars game were an example of this; they may have been simple andtied into the other mechanisms, but they didn't really do much. The thrill of the awesome roll was negated by the fact that the roll didn't have an awesome effect.  

Response:
I like the idea behind critical hits, but they need to be implemented correctly.

A bit like some good spices in a meal...too many and they lose their impact, not enough and you don't even realise they're there, the wrong type and the meal just leaves a bad taste in your mouth\.  

09 February, 2013

Game Mechanism of the Week [Neo Redux] 5: Closed Games

Today it could be argued that I'm looking at a game convention or restraint rather than a mechanism. But, if you follow the "Big Model" of game design theory, then the social contract and human expectation of a game environment are just as intrinsic to the experience as the rules inked into the books defining setting and system. In this way, the concept of today's topic is a valid mechanism within the play experience.

I was also reading through "Hot War" last night (the award winning follow-up to Cold City), and it mentioned the notion of today's discussion within the text of the rules. So that makes it an even more legitimate point of mechanism discussion.

The idea is the Closed Game.

Description:
When I was in high school I remember there being two or three groups of students in higher years than me, they were running D&D campaigns that seemed to draw a regularly weekly crowd...week after week for months on end. I'd overhear tales of the player's adventures and the characters exploration of strange places.  There seemed to be no end to the campaign being played, adventure continued for the sake of continuing the adventure. This is an "Open Game".

I heard about other epic "Open Games" later when my gaming circles expanded into the Australian east-coast convention circuit (notably Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne). The guys at "Lions Fodder" (a christian gaming club based out of a church in western Sydney), who had been running a game in the same fantasy setting for 20 years...characters had come and gone, some retired as storekeepers or local barons, others killed and rendered a part of local folklore.

This is what I thought most people aspired to in roleplaying.

I thought that convention one-shots were an anomaly. I thought that a game which finished after a single session or two was a failure. But these days, it seems that almost every second indie-game is designed to be played as a one-off event. You quickly get to the meat of a situation, you resolve it in a few hours and you're done...next week you move on to a brand new game with brand new characters in a brand new world. This is a "Closed Game"; it has a definite start point and a definite end point. You may not know where things will end, but you know that in a few hours it will end.

In our current gaming group, we divide GM duties between two members. I run 4 weeks, then Daniel runs 4 weeks. My 4 week sessions are intended as closed games, a self contained storyline with 4 episodes. Daniel intends to run his sessions as open games, 4 episodes which will continue with a further four when it's his turn to GM again.

Pros:
I like action movies, stories where the pace doesn't let up....and if it does, it's only to reload or maybe explore a bit of character motivation for why the action is happening. These aren't the only movies I like, but as I sit in front of the DVD wall in our home theatre, at least half of the collection could be described as action. If it's not an action movie, I like stories that twist and turn and keep you thinking (or at least engaged); I'm not particularly fond of stories where the protagonist just waits around hoping something will happen. I like to keep things moving.

The Closed Game has a self-imposed time limit. If it's being played at a convention, then that time limit is a rigid thing (perhaps a 3 hour slot); if it's being played at home he specific limit is a bit more vague but it's still restricted to a set number of sessions each a few hours long. In a Closed Game you need to resolve enough events in that time-frame to get a satisfying conclusion. This usually means the pace is faster than an open game, things are always happening (for the good or for the bad).

With the right players, closed games have a life of their own. They are born with a scream, they mature into a complex organism quickly, and degrade gracefully before reaching a natural conclusion. Those who take part  in a closed game see a full story arc in a single session (or short series of sessions). Many of the "open games" I've seen over the years can't claim the same life cycle, they typically seem to build slowly to draw out the potential length of the campaign, it takes many sessions to reach some kind of temporary climax, and they often fizzle out before real momentum has been achieved, or degrade horrifically.

I should point out that games aren't the only things with a closed and open switch. TV series do the same thing. In my opinion, Supernatural was a great TV show for the first five seasons (the original length of the closed story arc), then it got renewed further and has become an open-ended series...after that tight 5 seasons, things have just gotten silly to justify producing more content. I'd have rather it stayed at 5 and ended there. Babylon 5 was good for it's closed run...most of the Star Trek series wee good for their 7 year runs (I'll get to Voyager in the "Cons" section).

Cons:
Once a closed game is over, it's over.

Closed games seem to have a tendency to leave story lines hanging and unresolved. If you have a tightly woven net of five interplaying story lines that all lead to a dramatic conclusion, then you can be fairly certain that one or two of those story lines will be followed and just as many will be picked up on but never satisfyingly concluded. Movies do much the same thing, so it's not just a flaw with the closed game but perhaps the concept of closed narrative in general. It takes some good writing, good forethought or clever manipulation of the events underway to really pull together the disparate threads of narrative into a well tied conclusion. I've seen plenty of less experienced GMs (and movie directors) fail dismally at this.

(Here's where I take a quick swing at Star Trek Voyager, if you know that you've got 7 seasons to bring your protagonists home, why spend 6 seasons getting them a fraction of the way back; often using Deux Ex Machina to jump the crew thousands of lightyears home in a single episode. And then have everyone "magically" get home in the final couple of episodes, travelling tens of thousands of lightyears just so your can cram the result of the journey into the series without needing to add a movie at the end. When running a closed narrative, know your constraints.)

Closed games also suffer from the notion that characters often don't get as well defined as we might like them. Story focuses on the events and scenes, and while the characters may drive these through their actions; we often end up with two dimensional heroes and villains because we don't get the chance to fully explore them from a range or perspectives.

Another issue I've faced with closed games is the idea that once the story is over, there is less motivation for players to come back for more play. An open session ending on a cliffhanger will draw players back to find out what happened; while a closed session has a higher likelihood of participants saying "I've done my story, what else is out there...I might come back once you've finished off a few more stories, when you get back to something that really interests me".

Response:

I like closed games, but can certainly see why they aren't for everyone. I think that's one of the reasons why our group has taken a good balance of closed and open sessions; story lines get resolved in the closed games, and character development really gets fleshed out in the open ones.

I think another reason why I like closed games is because I have so many games on my shelf that I have to run them in a closed format in order to get through them all.

As a final note, if you really want to open up a closed game, you can always do what they do in the movies...run a sequel.

06 February, 2013

Cold City (Nazi Eugenics 101)

I don't know the specific definition of Eugenics, but it is basically the science of optimising the human race through selective breeding. Cold City is a game about picking up the pieces in a variant Berlin after World War Two, the key variant in the Cold City Berlin is that the Nazi's were very close to unleashing a supernatural catastrophe or weapon that would have changed he course of history. There may be a single supernatural revelation, or there may have been many secretive laboratories all working on different forms of paranormal research...it's all up the the GM and the way the campaign unfolds. You can play it noir, pulp, thriller, slapstick, or you can go really dark. I like to tread the line between slapstick and dark when I do the GM duties, but I'm hoping to go a bit more noir this time around.

When it comes to quasi-scientific Nazi research, it's only a matter of time before you run into eugenics as a concept. The whole idea of a master race is mired up in the notions of eugenics, so is the elimination of groups that might be deemed unsuitable for further procreation for an optimal future. The X-Men movies played with the concept, so did Captain America (to some degree...but it took things more supernatural and chemical rather than genetic).

The problem with eugenics as a specifically Nazi notion is the fact that the Third Reich only took hold over the German people for 12 years. That's basically enough time for a single generation to be born, and certainly not long enough for this generation to age appropriate and spawn a second generation of eugenically purified children. The whole process of eugenics an ongoing game of trial and error, even if we assume the basic odds of a 50% chance that a child might possess a desirable trait from the mother or the father. If there are 10 possible traits that might be measured by eugenic overseers, this means 1024 basic combinations that might arise. But there are 23 chromosomal pairs, so this expands the possibilities to 70368744177664 possibilities if we assume the simple "on/off switch" approach (23 pairs = 2 to the power 46).

Many of the possible combination effects can't be measured because they manifest as recessive traits, others might involve complex combinations of various genetic markers. The science of the Third Reich didn't have the complexity to deal with these issues, and the single generation of children certainly didn't allow them to get very far with their creation of a master race.

What makes things more interesting from a conspiracy standpoint is the idea of the secret societies that were rampant through European continent in the 18th and 19th centuries; The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, The Freemasons, The Bavarian llluminati, and numerous others. The Nazi party drew on the mysticism of these groups, but who's to say they didn't also draw on generations of eugenic research that had been going on for decades (centuries?).

Mediums, psychic powers, elite physical prowess, awakening of ancient technologies predating Egypt and Greece...the nazis have been documented with research into all of these areas.

Which brings me back to the realm of Cold City again.

I've been thinking about a genetically based system for a while. 4 proteins that make up a DNA chain, 4 sides on a d4. Perhaps there is a specific sequence in a specific chromosome that controls attunement to the universe...the kind of thing that the TV show Heroes touched on but never fully developed.

My theory is that every character starts by rolling 10 d4s in sequence. 1 = A, 2 = C, 3 = G, 4 = T.

Andy: AGTTAGCGAT
Beth: TACGTCGTAC
Charlie: TCCAAGTCAA
Diana: CATGTGGGCG

We link each of these proteins to a traditional element (air, earth, fire, water), and all the typical mystic significance that these elements possess. 1 = A (air), 2 = C (earth), 3 = G (fire), 4 = T (water).

If a character has a completely jumbled set of proteins along this particular string, they are a regular joe; no potential for psychic powers, hyper-evolution or similar paranormal quality. If a character has an adjacent pair, they might gain the ability to sense the elemental forces at work for the element in question. If they have an adjacent three-of-a-kind, they gain a minor ability to tap these elemental forces to create some kind of effect. Two adjacent pairs of different kinds might allow specific elemental manipulation effects drawing on both elements in some way.

In our example, Andy has an adjacent pair of T's, that gives him sensitivity to "Water" effects. Beth has no adjacent pairs so she doesn't get anything. Charlie has an adjacent pair of C's (earth) and A's (air), so he might gain access to an elemental "dust" power....as well as a second power of air sensitivity due to the paired A's at the end of his string. Diana has a trio of G's, so she might be able to control elemental fire.

Eugenics becomes interesting if a child has a 50/50 chance of picking up either parent's proteins along the sequence. Beth becomes important to the eugenic midwives because her T in the fifth slot, could combine with Andy's pair of T's in the third and fourth. They have a 1 in 8 chance of giving birth to a child with three T's in a row.

Andy and Diana could also be paired for optimal procreation, with the following combination possible:


(underlined proteins are hoped for, and bold proteins are guaranteed because both parents have them in these slots)

Andy: AGTTAGCGAT
Diana: CATGTGGGCG
Child (based on underlined proteins): AATTTGGGAT

That's 3 T's in a row, 3 G's in a row and 2 A's in a row. A child of massive psychic potential. 

If we assume that the maximum level of psychic power is limited to the number of identical proteins in a row, imagine what would happen if the eugenic midwives understood the key to these powers, and if they tried to breed a child with 10 of the same protein in a row.

Certain drugs, procedures and rituals might be used to increase the chances of certain genetic markers appearing.

If either parent drinks "monkweed tea" immediately prior to conception, there is a reduced chance that the child will inherit their third protein (and therefore an increased chance that the other parent's protein will take). 

If either parent is under the effects of a Coppertooth Wyrmling, there is an increased chance that any of this parent's G proteins will take. 

Decades of research cold have been done to maximise the chances of producing the master race. Characters could uncover fragments of this and may discover that they are able to adopt psychic powers of their own, or maximise their stats beyond human levels. If they are willing to use the dark arts that they have been sent to capture and contain.

But what about the characters who end up in poor Beth's state...no consecutive pairs what-so-ever.

Who's to say a crafty demon would be willing to bend the laws of reality slightly, change a protein here or there in exchange for a small favour? Perhaps a "super soldier" serum works as a genetic retrovirus, providing power where there should have been none? Perhaps a side effect of radiation and mutation leads to the unexpected...things that can't fully be explained by science, but are hinted at in occult texts handed down through the centuries.

It's a fun thought experiment. It'll be interesting to see how it works out in play.



05 February, 2013

Cold City (Prep Work)

The game Cold City has sat on my gaming shelf for over 3 years now. Leah played it at GenCon Oz in 2009 and liked it so much that she immediately bought a copy. I've wanted to play or run it, but just haven't had the chance...until now.

I like the concept behind the game, it sits like a blend of Hellboy, Indiana Jones and the recent Captain America movie (although it predates Captain America by a couple of years).

The premise of the game involves supernatural troubleshooters picking up the pieces in a war ravaged Berlin after World War 2. The characters conflict with one another over personal and national agendas while trying to work with one another to solve supernatural mysteries left behind by the Nazis. I can see it being a lot of fun.

Prep work for this mini campaign will involve a bunch of maps and documentation for characters to find. I'll also be trying the orbital method of plot development, which is something I looked at previously. I was ure I mentioned it here on the blog previously, and linked to someone else's blog ideas about it...It basically means that a story starts with a single point and ripples outward through causes and effects until you find the clearly visible plot aspects that the general public can catch wind of.

New arrivals on the scene find these outermost ripple events, and hopefully they follow them inward to the central cause...if they don't they instead find another outer ripple event and follow that inward. If they find a few of these, they may join up the thread of inquiry and gain a better understanding of what is a work in the shadows.

It seems like a reasonable plot development method for a game like this, while allowing the players to really get involved in the personal politics of the game.

I'll provide some more details shortly, as well as considering some of the other ideas I'll be injecting into this game.    

04 February, 2013

Sorting out some miniatures

Leah decided that it was time we sorted through our collection of miniatures, finished detailing a few figures that had started the painting process a few years ago (before we moved house), and generally worked out what's what...




03 February, 2013

January's Experiment Basically a Success

Towards the end of December 2012, I indicated that I'd be playing with the promotional tools on RPGNow.  The aim was to release a game (or two), then spend some of my accumulated "publisher promotion points" to highlight these games on the websites where they were available for sale. I also intended to get a bit of promotion out of Google plus, various Facebook groups and the assorted web forums I belong to.

I'm not going to get into specific statistical details, but I'll provide a general overview of the results.

First a baseline.

For the last year or two I've been sitting in the long tail end of publishers on the OneBookShelf websites, typically in the bottom 80% percentile. It probably doesn't help that I haven't really released a new product for quite some time (nor does it help that I've only been charging small amounts for the products that I have released). In the past, every time I have released a new product, I've climbed above this ranking group but have never made it into the top 50% of publishers.

If we work on the assumption that Zipf's Law holds true on these web stores, in much the same way that it holds true across almost everything else, then I'm still earning far less during these peak months, but it will take more work to get further (and I needed to know whether the extra work would be proportional to the extra income generated).

The release of Ghost City Raiders (and Tooth and Claw) at the start of the year, and the use of publisher promotion points catapulted Vulpinoid Studios into the top 10% of publishers for the month of January and brought both products into the top 10 listings for over a week each. The company earned more than ten times it's typical income during this period as well (which still isn't a whole lot for an indie RPG publisher, but it was enough to pay off a few bills and sustain my RPG hobby with a few more purchases).

I'm hoping to capitalise on this growth over the next year, with the ongoing experiments focusing on the development of a strong customer base through regular supplemental releases for my games while also producing a few new products.

The experiment of "nearly-daily" posts here at the blog seems to be doing well also. I've ramped up the posting during 2012, basically doubling the interest in the work Vulpinoid Studios is producing, and shifted up another gear during November 2012 for the NaGaDeMon game challenge, doubling the readership again.  I thought this would drop back after November, but the new readers have remained (Thankyou), and that's definitely kept my motivation up for new projects an ongoing development on existing projects.

There was only one experiment that basically didn't see fruitful results. On the purchasing page for Ghost City Raiders I indicated that anyone who blogged about their play experiences or provided a review of the game would receive some exclusive content (a new character and scenario). No one has taken me up on that offer yet.

I'm thinking of expanding that concept across a few more products from Vulpinoid Studios, with the intention of making that a point of difference between my company and the others currently competing in the marketplace.

Things aren't perfect for Vulpinoid Studios, but they seem to be moving in the right direction.
 

02 February, 2013

Playing with Genre Conventions

If you don't know that the Resident Evil movies are based (loosely) on a series of video games, then then are some points in the later movies where the origins are made abundantly clear. I don;t care whether you like the movies or don't, some say they deviate too far from the games to truly be considered a part of the franchise except for a few general character names and the same evil corporation...despite this, there are some nods to the origins at a few points.



[SPOILER ALERT] For example, there is a scene where the protagonist Alice finds a mass grave, where every body in the grave is a clone of herself. It's like a tongue-in-cheek reference to the way a game player might die over and over, simply respawning to attempt a level again. The most recent movie makes this idea clearer still.



It's a clever way of playing with the genre conventions of a computer game and transferring them into a new linear medium.

Since I'm drawing on the conventions of 8-bit console gaming for Voidstone Chronicles, I've been wondering about ways to add elements like save points and enforced linear storylines, while considering how "8-bit old school" I want the game to actually be.

In the earliest 8-bit games, a character might not get a choice of weapons, or they might get "sword", or maybe pick up a spear or axe along the way...nothing more. Equipment might come in the form of a range of two potions: one that replenishes health, and one that replenishes (or provides) magical energy. But I like a bit more variety in my games. In these early games, you don't even get much choice in your character...and this not only goes against a lot of my early work in the game, it also destroys one of the fun elements in roleplaying games.

One of the other inspirations for Voidstone Chronicles is settings like the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Worlds where the elemental forces of the world are manifest in the races, cultures and individual heroes.

That means Voidstone Chronicles won't be as "8-bit old-school" as I've been thinking over the past couple of days. But I'd still like to add in the notions of "save points" and "character resurrection".

I think I'm leaning further toward co-op play in arcade games (or early network PC games like "Doom" or the original "Diablo"). This can be addressed through conceits in the setting. Perhaps the characters are agents of the gods, when they enter holy places, they share a connection with their deities (and thus establish a save point), the gods may rewind time until the last occasion when their heroic agents made a connection...or maybe a fallen hero drops to the ground and respawns at their last visited holy site as the gods reform their agent in the mortal world.

Perhaps the heroes are spirits who animate golem-like creatures, and when their golem is destroyed they must return to a "golem workshop" to inhabit a new form. I'm not sure, this feels a bit contrived. I still think the idea of save points gives more of a console game, 8-bit vibe...but I'm not sure that's the right fit for the game.

01 February, 2013

Vector Graphics


If I'm embracing the 8-bit side-scrolling feel for Voidstone Chronicles, it makes sense that I should use images that fit the style.

With a few vector art dolls to build off (I'll have to make sure these are either public domain, or get the suitable permissions), I'm thinking of building up some armour style components and hair styles to make modular character portraits.

Yes, I know they aren't realistic, but neither is the game.

I haven't decided whether it will be a parody of 8-bit PC/console gaming, or an honest homage to the game style. I can see the merits in both.

The biggest two problems I'm having with the idea are...

1. I'm trying to make this another pocketmod game, but I keep coming up with too many core rule ideas to fit into 8 tiny pages. I'm just going to have to strip my more elaborate thoughts away.

2. A lot of the cool ideas I've thought about including didn't really appear until later generations of gaming. For example, I thought about the idea of modular equipment sets that combined to give cool effects...items with symbiotic synergies (if you've got one you get a small bonus, if you've got two then each gives a larger bonus, and if you've got all three then they all give big bonuses)...but I didn't see that sort of thing until Diablo 2, which was well and truly after the 8-bit age.

More thought and ideas to come.


Another Game Design Contest

I like game design contests, they help me focus my thoughts, they give a deadline, and they provide an immediate audience of other designers who'll look at my stuff.

With this in mind, I'm happy that I've found out about the...

Shortest Month, Longest Game – Design Challenge

I'm not sure if I'll be participating at this time, but it's good to keep in mind.

None of the projects I've currently got in mind are currently a match for the ingredients offered in the contest, but if I stew on some concepts for a while, I might come up with something.

Go over, take a look.