Category: Making

Articles in this category are about tools and ideas about making things, and my belief that you can make things.

Cities And Towns

Let’s talk about a game idea, and what I want to be sure I’m saying with it.

This game idea is known tenatively as cities and towns. It actually started as a colour matching/multiplier game, a math game for my nephews but I liked the metaphor of it being about things rather than stuff, and so it slowly took its shape as a town builder.

The notional mechanic is that there’s a common pool of cards, the city, that determine the value of the cards in each player’s personal pool, their town. At the start of the game, you deal each player a starting card that’s not worth anything, but gives you a place to start from, and put three cards into the city, to give people a standard view of how things are valued. This means that putting cards into the city can represent an explosion of value for you, but it’s something other players can piggyback on – if you have two of type A, and there are two more A in the city, you get four points, but any player who builds an A gets two, too.

I like this mechanic for representing things like trade dependencies and culture growth. A university on its own isn’t worth as much as a university surrounded by other smaller towns with universities, and a market thrives when there are other, connected markets. Players are simultaneously building the scoring mechanism for the game as they are building their own little spaces in the game.

Then came the time to make the game pieces, and I hit an interesting conundrum. See, one thing I could do is go with a pastoral, adventure-game vibe, you know, the not-necessarily-fantasy, but-probably of kingdoms with farms and quarries and woodcutters, as you see in games like Settlers or whatever.

The next option, however, is to build assets using something like these Kenney assets, isometric city representation.

Now this choice opens up an interesting question. I think that a modern urban city and smaller town thing presents an interesting set of different mechanics – after all, you have faster communication, and maybe there are some buildings that can’t go anywhere but in the city, and some things that can’t go anywhere but the town, because of infrastructural needs. Is there a need for variety the same way in buildings when they look modern, when they could show similar buildings on different blocks with ‘zoning’ rules?

But then we hit an additional question: What about redlining? What about the history of deprivation? If these are buildings that look like cities, but outside of cities and minus the skyscrapers, am I just building suburbs? And if I am, do I really want to present a scenario to players where they want to build more schools in the city, because it makes their schools out in the suburbs more desireable?

Now, I’ve made my decision – the game’s underway. But these are decisions you gotta be prepared to consider and confront. When you make a game, you are responsible for the things you choose to put into it, and the assumptions you make about what the game should have in it.

Shirt Highlight: House Logos!

Ever have a day where you had some things you needed to get done, but you were so sick with anxiety and rage you couldn’t, so instead you threw yourself into something in the hopes of making one person maybe crack a smile?

No?

Hey, good, good for you, I am so glad you’ve never had to be here.

Anyway, today I fancied up these shirt designs I’d sketched out:

If you want to get these shirts representing your favourite Houses for the School Cup based on whether you feel you’re Basic, Extra, Boring or Evil, you can check them out on my Redbubble. There’s even one shirt that holds all four designs to show people all at once!

If, by the way, you like these designs but don’t want to buy a shirt, don’t forget you can always get stickers of what I make, and stickers are often very cheap, especially if you buy in lots of 10 or more!

Story Pile: The Zombie Apocalypse Of The Author

I’ve written about the idea of ‘the death of the author,’ but to crash course it: The concept of death of the author is the idea that the interpretation of a story is about the person doing the interpretation, not about the person who made it. That is, there is no ‘author’ who can be said to truly represent what the story means in any and all circumstances. There’s a lot more to it, but it’s mostly cigarettes and sadness. That’s your basics:

The Death of the Author is the idea that the Author does not have exclusive rights to define interpretations of their work

This is a great idea and its most obvious modern application is fanfic and fan media. The story says Snape is an ugly snooty jerk, but that doesn’t matter, because you read the book and your interpretation involves no such thing, and the image of these characters interacting in your mind is perfectly valid. You don’t get marks for how the story works in your head, nobody’s grading you. If other people can grasp what you’re expressing when you share it, then that’s all that matters.

The thing is, thanks to Twitter and the Web 2.0 era of produsage, one of the groups of people getting involved in further creating fanfiction for these works and they are most annoyingly, the original authors.

Thanks to the unprecedented access we have to authors these days, we have a whole host of authors who are actively and aggressively attempting to insert into their own texts things they didn’t bother to try and put there the first time around. I’ll always kick at the Harry Potter franchises for any reason, but specific way that Rowling has claimed that Dumbledore is gay will always bother me. This has recently come to a head – again – with the upcoming Fantastic Beasts 2 movie that wants to have Young Dumbledore but also is ensuring to absolutely not show any of that icky gayness that the story isn’t about at all.

What this means is that any given reading of the text, these days, is not taken as a reading, with people willing to examine it, but as with all things in nerd cultures, we bury it under the toxic intention to prove it. Work must be tested or verified to be acceptable, interpretations must be justified to our satisfaction, and thanks to the availablility of certain authors, and their willingness to pontificate on what their work really means, we are now facing Zombie Authorship.

The author lies not still in their grave but shifts and moves, ever tumultuous in their position, expanding the work a tweet at a time – Werewolves are AIDS, the nudity is justified, you will e’re love the story for its manifold purpose. Tarantino, Martin, Rowling, Kojima, they each inflate their work not for its art but to remain alive a word more, to continue, to consume.And so the zombie slough flows over us all, and we do not engage with or interpret or study art, but we see it all as grey slurry that washes over us. The nerd cries out, be canonised, be purified, be true, and our eyes grow dull and dull and dull.

As for the Death of the Author, the sad thing is it contains within its own explanation; we bring out experiences to bear interpreting work.

The act of creating the work is one of those experiences.

“Prove Me Wrong!”

We don’t talk enough about falsifiability.

Specifically, we don’t talk too much about how importance it is to think of things that are important to you in terms of what can prove them wrong.

Falsifiability is a wonderful thing. It works in design, for a start. You think your design will lend players going this way, and all you need to do to see if your design does that is to see if the players don’t.

Falsifisability is great when you’re learning about science! What would prove this theory wrong? Well, then we keep an eye out for that. The Bible tells us that it’s true, but all we need to do to falsify that is to find a single place the Bible isn’t true – and with that, the whole proof collapses. Easy!

Falsifisiability is also good when you’re considering your own behaviour and if you’re being an unreasonable b-hole. Is there anything this other person could do that would change what you think of them? Is there anything that might indicate you weren’t 100% in the right? And if you can find that, how will you handle it?

The darker half of this thought is that the unfalsifiable is the sign of the conspiracy theory. The internet stranger whose every actions are always false and evil, no matter what she does, the political system that resists all negative examples, the personal belief that resists any proof to the contrary? Watch out for those. That is a mental space where some abusive earwigs live.

How To Write A Light Novel

Hey friends! There’s a Lite Novel Jam going on over on itch.io. Did I mention there’s a Lite Novel Jam going on? I only ask because I want to make sure that you’re aware of the Lite Novel Jam going on.

There are good odds you have never written a Lite Novel before. That’s great. Neither had most of the people who wrote their first Lite Novel and that’s exactly what this opportunity is for.

Why should you write one? Well, because you want to write one. But this is a particularly good opportunity because right now, you have a gathered audience of people who are at the very least, going to read your book title and maybe give it a shot.

What I want to present here, then is a super-duper crash course on a Lite Novel, as suggested by someone who has written, let’s say, comparable stories.

Scope

A Lite Novel at its litest weighs in at around 8,000 words, quite short. For comparison, this blog post is 1231 words, and you’ve read around 200 of them. When you have only a small number of words, you don’t have a lot of room for what we call world building. You don’t have room for a huge cast or a glossary of every character and their relatives. You need to focus on a small group of characters, maybe as few as two or three, and how they get through their story. You don’t need to isolate them – just like, remember, if you’re doing a story set in school, you don’t need to flesh out every single other student. Focus on what you can.

This scope also means you don’t have tons of room for complex explanations. You may have a reason or an explanation for how your hacker exploited McDonalds’ code for their registers, but you don’t need to put that there.

Part of why we give these Lite Novels such silly, ostentatious names is because that title becomes part of how you set the scope for the story. Substitute Familiar pretty much straight up tells you that hey, familiars exist in this world, and there’s probably, like substitutes for them like substitute teachers or other temp work. It’s a load-bearing title but that load bearing does a lot to frame what you read.

It’s also typically a genre full of what’s known as magical realism. That is to say, there is an assumption that things are, pretty much, like reality, and occasionally, magical things will happen, but it will go uncommented on and unexplained. This can help you with the scope. If your story wants to have a character turn into a talking tree that’s got va-va-voom hips, you don’t have to give the backstory for how that happens, you can just have characters reacting to the thing itself.

You know what does this? Gremlins. Yeah, I know, weird, but in Gremlins, there’s no point where grown adults, encountering Gizmo, go ‘that’s a totally weird thing, and a new animal, and why can it talk? That’s extremely weird.’ Nobody notices or remarks on Gizmo, Gizmo is just there to set up the next bit of the story, and be adorable.

Structure

Okay, so there’s some temptation when you get diving into a lite novel to rip off the standard hero’s journey, or if you don’t know it that way, the star wars plot structure. You know, you start with some sign of a problem, you introduce a character, then you explain their world, etc etc – that’s fine for a sprawling epic, but you don’t have that kind of time or space.

What I want to suggest for you, in Lite Novels, is the Pixar plot.

The Pixar plot structure is something you can reduce by watching any given Pixar movie, and it doesn’t matter if they’re big and epic like Wall-E or small and personal like Ratatouille or Toy Story. They’re stories that follow the same basic pattern:

“Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

The important thing about this structure is that it often doesn’t need a villain or an antagonist as much as it needs a disruption, an interruption. Now, most Pixar films feature some form of opposition or enemy, but you’ll notice how they’re kind of just… there, often only there to compete for something at the end or in the mid-point. Consider the evil Chef in Ratatouille or the rival driver in Cars. They’re not there to enact a grand plan. They’re just there to provide some contest at the end, because you’re at the second Until Finally.

These Pixar movies start out with a pretty good status quo. Life is okay, and people are pretty happy though there’s some small thing, one single thing, that’s… flawed. Then something changes them, and the protagonist is not happy about it, and then something happens and they resolve it, and return to that status quo without the flaw. That really is it. Woody has a nice life as a toy except he has to be paranoid about new toys arriving, then Buzz arrives and he gets mad about it, the Buzz plot is resolved and Woody is happy again with the paranoia removed because now he recognises new additions to his life are potential friends.

This is the formula I recommend for your Lite Novel and I recommend it in part because it’s kind of how Cat Wishes works. In Cat Wishes, everyone at the start of the story is pretty okay with their lives but all have something going on that they keep hidden. Then a cat grants a series of wishes and they’re left trying to adjust to their new life, and when it resolves, they more or less go back to their former life. They’re still friends, except now, you know, they’re catgirls and one of them is making out with someone they really wanted to make out with.

That’s all you need! Think of the end point for the status quo you think would be cool, then you can work backwards to think of the way those events might have looked before.

No Need For Bummers

Finally, you don’t need to make your story sad or miserable or anything like that for it to be fun or worth reading! If you want your story to be as simple as characters going to the store and negotiating around some fun quandrary that happens there, that is totally fine. You don’t need to make your characters miserable to have your story taken seriously. Let me repeat that: You don’t need to make your characters miserable to have your story taken seriously.

What you want to do with a Lite Novel is put forward characters you (and a hypothetical reader) can care about, doing something that lets you show how they’re the different or the same, and then give them a resolution that means the situation at the start of the story is not exactly the same as the situation at the end.

Is this the only way to do this? Of course not. That’s silly. This is a toolkit – something you can grab to get a hold of your story and get it underway. And I recommend you do it, because hey, writing is fun, and a Lite Novel is a great way to get started!

March Wrapup

Hey, here’s the end of March – and now how’d that go?

As before, we had a daily blog post. In this month I’m particularly proud . This is while meeting the three regular segments, Game Pile, MTG, and Story Pile.

I’m really happy with the t-shirt design for this month too. It’s called ALL DOGS ARE COMMUNISTS, and you can get it on Redbubble and Teepublic. Redbubble stickers are pretty cheap if you like the design but don’t want to ship, like, a shirt.

I did this design in a day, and it’s my first really proud-of-it-proper piece of art done entirely with my tablet, rather than using vectors to define a clear outline. I hope you like this comrade doggo and they brighten your day.

Game launched? Burning Daylight, here at Invincible Ink and DriveThruCards! It’s a hand management game where you get to control your own little gang of grungy solarpunk heroes, against a fascist city that seeks to assert its way on a world that doesn’t want them any more!

Burning Daylight marks three milestones. One, it’s a game I consider substantial. Several of our games are designed to be lightweight and fun, like Foxtail or C-QNS or even Winston’s Archive. Burning Daylight is a game with some lore and a multi-turn system for playing and advanced rules. I wanted to make sure that we weren’t just releasing the easier types of games to make, but instead releasing a good mix. Basically, I want to make sure we release a few Fabricators and Sector 86 along with our simpler games.

Secondary to that, it’s just a game I’ve been working on a while and iterated on a lot. I’m going to do a history of the design for Patreon (which will be posted here, for free), because it seems to me an interesting project.

And third, it’s one of the first games I’ve made where I could afford to pay both for the game’s art (which is Stock) but also for consultancy fees, and send promotional copies out! This was enabled in part by you, on Patreon, so thank you so much.

Making video was another one, which I fulfilled early in the month; another episode about Magic: The Gathering.

As always, this work is being financed, in part by my Patreon! Over there, we did our first Bundle Sale and I floated the idea of making a simple ‘game a month’ tier, where for, like, $15 or $20, depending on how shipping costs work out, I just send you a game each month. We’re still feeling it out, but please, feel free to become part of the conversation.

On a personal life front, well, I had some medical woes, and some payment woes, but I’ve also now got some work at the Uni that seems to fit with my like, life schedule really well, and kind of uniquely needs my skillset of ‘check this thing out, can you make it work, and then tell us how we can make it work.’ That’s pretty neat. I’ve also been teaching, and I love doing that.

I did get some news about my diet, which is more embarassing than anything else (ie, ‘don’t eat all the pasta’, and other stuff I should know already), and I hung out with my family some more. I’m taking care of myself.

Also this is the first month I’ve had lately where I haven’t been itching for the next month’s game release. We might have a simpler game up next, or maybe we’ll have a surprise that comes out of nowhere. I don’t know. We’ll see!

Term: Dice Pool

A dice pool refers to a resolution mechanic where rather than rolling a dice or a number of dice and summing the results, the number of dice themselves is some part of the mechanics. The simplest version of a dicepool is one where you roll a large group of dice, and then select which results apply to which part of the resolution.

A single dice (or number of dice plus a modifier) is a resolution mechanic that follows a very simple experience: You roll the dice, you do the math, and then you have your result. This makes a dice roll, singular, as a very simple ‘switch’ experience, comparable to pushing a button in a videogame. You press a button, the system responds to the math, you get a result. That’s a really good, robust mechanic I like using for any game where you want some variance in a reliable, regular action – like in D&D, for example.

A dicepool, by comparison, is more of a system for making resolution itself a game. This isn’t all it’s used for! But it’s a simple way to use dice that isn’t just adding or subtracting on top of them.

Utility

So one of the most basic things you can do with dicepool systems is you can make players make decisions. Let’s say you have a system where players are setting up a car for a race. You roll a fistful of dice at the start of the game, and select, of those dice, some to be the engine, some to be the tires, and some to be the seating. Then, as you play the game, you prioritise how you drive your car based on those earlier decisions.

One way that Exalted uses a dice pool is that you roll your d10s, and all dice that are 7s or higher are ‘successes,’ and you need a certain number of successes to win. This is a weird bit of terminology that maybe a designer who cared about language might fix but whatever, like in Blades in the Dark the point is that you can use a dicepool to handle a resolution in a system where you want players to succeed, on average, but don’t want the degrees of success to be as varied as the numbers on each dice face.

A dice pool doesn’t even need to be rolled: You can use a dicepool system to have a number of counters that are kept at a particular number, or incremented as appropriate, based on the players’ choices. And even then you can use that these counters are dice as part of the play: Make it so it’s calibrating a computer, and sometimes a virus rolls some of the dice randomly!

Limitations

Dice pool systems can get pretty weird when you make them success-or-fail. It’s also got a mechanical limit – rolling 1d20+30 is not the same physical question as asking someone to roll 30d6 and count the successes.

Another thing with dicepool systems is that when you add components per player, they get out of hand fast – so if you want a game where each player needs to roll 5 dice, then one player needs 5, and 2 needs 10 but if you wanted 4 players you need 20, and you need to store those dice.

One final thing with dice pool systems is that while rolling big fistfuls of dice is exciting, doing fiddly book-keeping or rules changing or changes to each dice in the pool multiplies irritation. So it doesn’t always work with every type of dice mechanic.

Examples

Exalted, Scion, and the other of White Wolf’s other various roleplaying games.

Blades in the Dark.

Print and Play: Adventure Town, Pt 3

For this latest update on Adventure Town, let’s talk about the actual things you’re trying to roll. Unicode is nice and includes a set of die faces (⚀ ⚁ ⚂ ⚃ ⚄ ⚅) so we can use an ordinary text editor to sort out an example of our play boards.

You’re rolling dice to make your businesses and investments in the town do things which will give you money, which will in turn let you buy things to upgrade the town. Ownership of things in town gives way to complex rules, so the personal tableau should be as simple as I can make it.

Any given die roll in a d6 set is as likely as any other, so while we can construct a number of die roll setups, no matter how outlandish they look, they’re as probablistically likely as one another provided they want the same number of dice. Plus, it’s a drafting game – you roll 6 dice, you pick the ones you want, you use them.

Here’s an example, based on what I have in mind.

Let’s do a quick mechanical rundown of the ideas represented here:

Seal

This is where the player draws a symbol or signs a letter or makes a drawing that represents ‘their property.’ When they advance on the town board, they get to sign this symbol onto the properties they built, which also shows which buildings trigger at particular events.

I like this being something the player draws, it gives you some feeling of ownership on the space. We’ll have to decide what kind of space we want it drawn in later – like its shape and dimension.

Opportunities

These are simple cash ins: You can trade two dice of the sets type, and get a payout. Every time you get that payout, you put a cross in the box next to it, and that means some of them can run out. This feelsl ike things where the player is only so able to make money off things a certain time before the demand dries up.

Plans

Plans let you spend one (or more, depending on how many) dice you drafted to cross off die in the Plan list. Plans are more restrictive, in that:

  • You can only work on one Plan at a time
  • Every time you advance a plan, you have to do it with the exact numbers you need to advance it.

This means that a player might roll a 3, decide they want to start on the third plan, and then can’t advance any more plans until they cash in a 4, then a 3 again to finish that plan. Plans make your other payouts better, though – both payouts for opportunities and triggered things from businesses. Consider these a way to earn XP when you want to do something with a die roll other than throw it away to the Old Crank in town (who will buy any die for 1 coin).

You can advance plans with as many or as few die at a time as you want, but it’s your whole turn; so if you draft a 5 and a 6, and only the 5 is useful to your active plan, you don’t get to cash in the 6 for money.

Quests

These are different, because quests are big cash payments. They might not even be cash – it might be that they give you another currency, like Quest Points, you can use to cash in for some specific buildings (like, say, a Wizards’ Tower or a Cathedral). Quests, like Plans can only be advanced one at a time, and need the exact next roll to advance.

Also, some adventurers will finish quests for people, based on what they’ve got.

Other Features

I know one feature I want on this is a corruption row – a line of tickboxes that just give you 2 coins every time you hit them. You can use this to make money when you don’t like your die rolls, but excessive corruption can lead to bad effects, and some player boards might secretly punish you (or reward you) for excess corruption.

Print and Play: Adventure Town, Pt 2

Time for more thinking on our print-and-play game tenatively titled Adventure Town. What I know I have is a game loop. I know what I want the play experience to be for the players.

One player rolls a handful of dice, and the dice are drafted; players convert those dice into currency, either by a direct conversion or using a detail on their board, showing which dice they took and what they used them for. Then, players can spend coin on their turn to build things in the town.

With this simple game loop, we define some boundaries of the game. Let’s go over them in terms of wants:


I want a key player to roll some dice, then I want the dice drafted; the player who rolled them gets the biggest share, then the next player gets fewer, then hopefully the next player gets fewer and fewer and so on. I want this number of dice to be large enough that it’s hard to ‘hate’ draft – if you’re passing five dice, you can’t really rely on taking away the one die someone two seats away might want.

I want players to care about what happens when the dice are rolled, but not stress too much about what other players are doing except in a general sense. I want people to care less about individual short-term actions, and more about what they see their opponents trying to do.

I want players to feel like they’re in charge of something. I see them as representing a group, but also making changes to the town as the game goes on. This could make them big and wealthy landowners, but if they were, why would they be hanging around in podunk nowhere? Seems better to have players represent groups – maybe family businesses, investors, workers, cults and guilds.

I want players to have their own play space, and I want them to have a common board space. I can use the common space to track things that people do to affect everyone – in this case, I want them to play and deal with the idea of the town space to see players marking territory and claiming ground. I don’t want the town board to lock options off from players, though – so I don’t want buildings to be only usable by the people who build on them.

I want the building of a building to be a little bit of an event. I want players to recognise that they’re doing something that’s kind of cool, and maybe get to mark it, or sign it.

I want the game board to change. I don’t want to remove buildings that are already in place, though, because that seems to represent a traumatic destruction of the board. Also, players are mostly interacting with the board with pens or pencils, which don’t show destruction as easily as they do creation. Even a big ole x through a square can be missed by comparison.

I want there to be some feeling of procession through time. So with the desire for board change as well, I think I want to create the feeling people are moving through the town.


With these wants in mind, here’s an example of the ‘town’ board I have in mind.

This design means that each turn, from the deck of adventurers, three adventurers arrive, and they trigger things in town. This means each turn cycle has players doing things, building an investment in the town, and then adventurers turn up, and the town does things based on those investments. This could, if I do it right, play out a bit like Machi Koro, except instead of rolled dice, it’s a sequence of adventurers.

Problems with this board off the top of my head:

This might wind up being too tight! I might decide to make the town squares bigger, and not include a space on this board for those cards. I may not need 3 slots, or I may need more than 3 slots. After all, they don’t need to be on the board, and the deck won’t have room to live on the board.

  • The town squares might be too small at a glance.
  • The town squares don’t have to be squares. They could be rectangles, fill out this space in
  • I might have too many town squares. I might want to make it a 9×9 or 4×4 grid, or maybe get a little odder, with some buildings occupying multiple squares, perhaps signifying their importance.
  • I might not want there to be a tree relation between spaces. As it is, I put in the lines to give myself a vague idea of what I was doing, but it’s by no means essential.

Here’s another example while I’m at it: