Category: Making

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

Decemberween: Bob Ross Stuff!

Bob Ross was an American thing. I don’t ever remember seeing him on TV here, in Australia. He was also a sort of proto-ASMR media format where the man’s gentle voice and soothing style was prone to giving people a sort of relaxation space even if they never joined in and painted. Then you throw in that there were VHS artefacts and analogue TV distortion creating more of the stuff we associate with lo-fi ASMR, and you get a dude who you find out about if you get into ASMR, no matter what.

The thing is, this guy’s work isn’t just about being relaxing, it’s also depicting a hobby, an artistic practice, and it’s a practice that was, formerly, in the day of Bob Ross’ lifetime, involved a bit of work ahead of time; he popularised a form known as wet on wet, where you start with a canvas that’s already slick with a base colour, meaning that colour you introduce has a medium to melt through.

You know what medium can handle that kind of deformationreally easily? Almost all drawing tools on your phone and tablet, and a number on your computer. Put down a blob of colour, then use the smudge tools to get that same wet-on-wet effect.

It’s December. You might like me have free time around friends and family. You might want something you can try out while the family are interested in using tech like tablets and videogames, and still want to work on something together.

So…? Check out Bob Ross’ channel on Youtube. Give it a shot. Make some happy little accidents.

December Shirts: The 2020 Worst Thing Participation Awards

Hey, I know I normally do the T-Shirt designs at the end of the month. This time, there’s a reason that maybe you want some product of mine for the end of the month? I don’t know why, but maybe you do, and because of that, I’m doing this month’s t-shirt designs up front, early.

This is a year that’s been, all told, pretty bad. At first I was working on a design that showed a range of the many ridiculous things that happened this year, informed by resources like is2020over.com. The problem is when you look at the things of 2020, most of those things are total bummers.

With that in mind, and figuring I don’t want to give you depression on a shirt, I thought, let’s cover some of the weird stories this year that didn’t have a chance to be even one of the worst things.

There are three designs, about Murder Hornets, boring UFOs, and The Monolith found in Utah, and you can check their collection here.

How To Be: Wolf Queen Nailah (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

And this month, before we talk about our subject, though I mean she’s in the subject of the blog post that you just clicked on so I mean what are we going to cover, suddenly a swerve and it’s going to be about trotting out pairs of characters that can be Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. But see, this marks our twelfth How To Be, and it also marks the first year of this feature. It’s fun! I’ve enjoyed doing that!

And because variety is important to me, we’re going back to Fire Emblem. And maybe, being you’re one of my friends, you might be thinking that yes! I’m going to bring up ya girl Edelgard, who is… very, very similar to Hilda.

No, we’re talking about Nailah, from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. And we’re talking about her because she’s cool, and she can do interesting things, and most importantly, because Fox likes her. I started with one of Fox’s favourite franchises, and then with a character she kinda didn’t like one way or the other? Terrible form on my part.

Let’s look at a Wolf Queen.

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Create From Empathy

I’ve said in the past that the two motivations for creating anything are spite and horny. You either are mad that something doesn’t exist, or that something that does exists wasn’t what you wanted, or you had a deep and personal want for something so you made it because of that. Sometimes the thing you want is just the experience of ‘hey, can I even make something in the first place,’ sometimes you’re horny for praise, sometimes you’re horny for being seen as productive, whatever. It’s a want or it’s spite.

Once you’re making, though, I’d like to encourage you to try and build what you’re building out of a sense of empathy.

When I teach students about how to make things, whether it’s a board game (as a structured object) or something like an instagram account (as an ongoing practice) it’s very easy to get caught up on thinking of an audience as literally the people on the internet who find the thing. This is something I have to try and uproot like a tree stump, every time.

Your audience are not ‘the people who see your work.’ It’s not your followers, god help me it’s not your impressions on a tweet. Your audience are the people who, if they see your work, are likely to like it. They’re the people who will respond to your work if they ever get to see it. When you stop thinking of them as people who are responding to your work, but rather as the people who would respond to it, you can stop worrying about ‘why am I bothering’ but instead ‘how do I make sure this work is as good as possible for the people who haven’t found it yet?’

First of all, there’s a lot of stuff people create without thinking about how an audience might experience it, or participate in it. If you’ve made fifty pages of worldbuilding, that’s fine and good to have, but how many of those pages are going to be useful to the person you’re hoping will read it?  Should you present them fifty pages, unorganised, or is it worth your time, is it respectful of their time and feelings, to go over what you wrote, and see if you can introduce ideas better?

Second, there’s a member of your audience you should have some empathy with, which is you. When you find yourself disinterested in making more of the thing, that’s someone you should listen to. When you find yourself tired, or sore, or bummed, and the urge to create isn’t overwhelming that, if you’re not playing with ideas, if you’re not finding yourself engaged with it… have some empathy with yourself.

You might just not be in the mood for it right now.

And if you’re never in the mood, maybe you don’t want to do it. Take what you learned, and move on.

We often think of our past projects and ideas and ostensible commencements of things as some kind of failing, some kind of moral weakness. This is pretty silly, and it’s a lot like trying to make people feel bad for unfinished games in their Steam library.

We’re all just here, playing with pieces.

So be kind to yourself. And to the people you want to share with.

Wallet Game Worker Placement

Earlier this year, Perennial Clever Cloggs Button Shy put out a competition to make an 18-card Wallet game that wanted to be a worker placement game. That is, a game where placing a ‘worker’ gives you an effect, and it deprives other players of that effect. So if I put my worker on the 3 Pineapples square, and you wanted 3 Pineapples, you have to find some other place for your Pineapple needs.

Don’t know why Pineapples. Maybe it’s just a funny word. Or maybe lots of worker placement games are colonialist.

Anyway, so I thought about how I might do this without a large, standardised board, and how to do that with a tiny number of cards.  Here’s what I came up with.

The game is divided into four basic parts: your worker card, which can be set to represent four different types of worker, depending on its orientation. Each worker card is split into two halves, and each side is different. So depending on orientation, the card could be A, B, C or D. There’s your four worker choices.

The resources can be shuffled up and arranged however based on each game. Maybe it’s turf or territory, or network nodes, or even a yearbook photo page, meant to represent social connections in, like, I don’t know, Mermaid Prom. Resources can be flipped up or flipped down, to create ways to deplete resources, or transform them. There’s room for them to vary.

Each player gets to place their worker card at one of the two sides of the board, 90 degrees from one another. They get everything in the line they choose, except, the card they have in common.

This gives you resources or opportunities to do special things, which I’m not sure how to track. You can make it so a resource card may have something as potent as ‘win the game’ on it – so you’re trying to jockey things into position where you can force your opponent to pick things you’re not.

What you do with the resources could be like Mana from MTG, where the resources go away at the end of turn, so each turn you’re trying to make a particular combination, to buy a card in the market, or enable something. You add cards from the deck to the marketplace as they go away.

This is the idea. You’re probably aiming to acquire some cards from the Marketplace, and you’re doing it by manipulating the resources with a small number of worker options.

Game idea intrigues me. I may give it a shot if I get a theme I like.

Skub (in Tabletop)

There’s this idea from The Perry Bible Fellowship, which is one of those comics we talk about in the context of ‘one of the good webcomics.’ It is also responsible for the origin point of one of the most widespread neologisms in internet culture today (‘weeb’), but lesser known is the term Skub.

Skub typically is used in gamer circles to refer to something people fight about, often extensively, which does not matter, and does not have serious impact. It’s an idea that clearly picked up in tabletop conversations because we are a ridiculous people who will have extremely heated arguments that attempt to prove our own emotional states as factually correct rather than be willing to openly admit and respect our needs, or to respectfully handle conversations about ideas that aren’t themselves necessarily an attack. It’s tricky stuff, but we make up for it with years on end of extensive, pointless, preposterous fucking fighting over bullshit that doesn’t matter, which we then bikeshed super hard.

Thing is, in tabletop gaming, there’s a lot of stuff that’s player decisions or preference that we tend to try and cook into ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ This can get super complicated, because it’s hard to tease out where some of these arguments have boundaries.

For example, Dungeons & Dragons is the largest corporate driven TTRPG in the world, and has been pretty much forever, and it is as a wing of Hasbro, part of a complex interconnected set of brands and franchises, some of which have been sketchy at best and some of which are having to do a lot of work to try and make good on deeply vile histories, like Monopoly. There’s an entire wing of how Hasbro wants to be a good corporate citizen which is itself, a big conversation that has an assumption in it that such a thing is possible. Then you can go one step above it, like how Dungeons & Dragons is itself an ecosystem all of its own, and whether things like encouraging others to create for it is an act of control or an attempt to address a power imbalance.  There’s a whole conversation there about whether or not it’s possible for Dungeons & Dragons to be capable of good agency given a poisoned root. These are all big and complicated conversations and some of them only work with spherical gamers in a zero-G environment.

But then you keep going down the line and you get into conversations that are definitely definitely skub, but which are being treated with the same tools and academic rigor as if the solution to racism is in the shape of a dice. What can exacerbate this is the work of people who are working hard to create in these spaces, where it’s not hard at all to, thanks to time spent working on critical tools, bring to bear long sentences that translate to what I enjoy is factually correct and what I don’t enjoy is wrong.

Personally, there’s a lot of skubby opinions that I like a lot to talk about, because if I know your flavour of skub, the stuff that matters to you that doesn’t matter in general, I know you better.

Anyway, I don’t like completely unstructured character building. Not my flavour of skub.

Burying ‘Good’

I’ve been writing on this blog now for weeeooo seven years and it sticks out to me every time I go back and review writing, even recent writing, just how often I’m willing to drop the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in discussions of games. It’s a reasonable impulse, because those are useful handle words.

It also comes from a defensive space, and I’m kind of embarrassed about it.

I teach about games. I teach students and ask them to stop using the word ‘good’ when they want to talk critically about games, or ‘bad’ because those words are big baskets with a lot of possible meanings and it’s not clear. Now, obviously on my blog I can have a jocular and funloving tone, whackyhee, but I still realise that I reach for that basket myself not because I don’t have a better way to describe the games I’m talking about, but because I’m often left needing it as a sort of waving stick to throw for an approaching dog.

I feel a lot of the time I need to be careful not about calling games good or bad, but failing to call them good or bad. I’m honestly a little more comfortable with ‘I hated it’ than with ‘this game is bad,’ or ‘this game fucks up this part’ because there at least I’m talking about a detail, I’m divining an intention and trying to explain it (which is, itself, funnier, but at least Roland Barthes has my back there). I am left, still, now, feeling really bad if I criticise a game if I don’t at least put something out there to signal to some arbitary, imagined reader, that hey, if you like it, I don’t mind, that’s okay, this game has Likeable Qualities, which

is dumb?

Like, yeah, there have been people who shouted at me over not being adequately courteous to a videogame, and a few of those are still in my circle of friends, but most of them aren’t. And the people who aren’t, they’re expressing something legitimate in terms of feelings but the idea my opinions aren’t acceptable isn’t the legitimate outcome of that. When I get those reactions, I need to recognise what I’m actually being yelled at about.

I don’t think I’m going to drop the word ‘good’ on its own? It’s a solid little word, and if I want to give you a general, leading-paragraph impression, like ‘oh hey, it’s fine, it’s good’ then you should be able to parse that out. But it’s a word of moods and tones, a basket word.

Really, what I want to fight with myself over is that impulse to be defensive and afraid about the idea of stating my opinion when here, seven years from start I know that there are people paying to read this.

Quiet

I’m beginning to wonder if I have a word count per day.

I have taken of late to notice that my writing schedule, while still well in advance of now (indeed, this was written months from ‘now’ as you read this) is still being heavily impacted by the Everything that’s happening right now. So again, if you’re reading this in the future, by the time I wrote this, the sharks with legs hadn’t started raiding the coastal cities yet.

The thing is, some of the elements infringing on my time are expected; I’m sharing workspace with another human, which means I’m very selfconscious about doing any recording. After all, while they work, they may get a phone call; while I’m at work I need them to be quiet so I can talk to my students, and the result is that I feel like a real asshole asking for even more quiet if I want to say, goof around with an audio recording to see how well it goes. Add to this that I’m trying to proactively stay in contact with people remotely who I know aren’t having a good time.

Still, I did notice that when I fell into City of Heroes hard and into World of Warcraft briefly (not since Wardads of Draenor, don’t worry, I haven’t caught up), and even into the family Minecraft server I run, that my writing output was just reduced. I don’t think it’s quite so simple as ‘MMO time eats writing time.’ I think it’s a cousin to this: That time spent playing an MMO is very time-consuming, effort-light, and it’s not doing anything that inspires me to write.

I write a lot in MMORPGs. I write backstories and character builds and guides to how they work and test out tables and spreadsheets. I have a list of characters based on their favourite colours, foods, and disney movies. It’s not like I don’t create when I’m playing these games. I just don’t feel that what I’m creating is interesting to you or worth sharing.

Which is interesting in itself. I do not sit here on high, with this immense swell of knowing to share. I know that my knowledge and memory and my experiences and indeed, my writing, are all parts of this interdependent machinery. Inspiration is not an idea appearing in the dark, but rather the process of a long sequence of semi-random testing and experimentation to see hang on, what do I think other people will find interesting?

I don’t think you want to read that much about my City of Heroes characters. That’s why I only post about them once a month and rarely on-theme with the month. I don’t think you want to hear that much about Jimmy Buffett albums, so again, one a month. I try to keep the D&D content per-book spaced out. All these things are helpful guides to me to remember that what interests you is part of what I do.

This is why I ask ‘hey, what do you think I should write about?’ or ‘any requests?’

And hey, those are useful.

Working on Black Jack’s Dungeon

If you follow my twitter, and like looking at me making things, you may remember seeing me work on a card game that looked a bit like this:

This game was called Black Jack’s Dungeon, and it was created and tested and then I made a proper prototype to test it out more extensively. When it comes to really large games, it can be hard to do playtesting and prototyping with just myself and my small group, because it’s harder to make the proxies work well. An engine that works okay when it’s shrunk down may feel really dull when it’s scaled up.

I made the prototype and found that there were some problems that the game was having when it was scaled up to full size.

  1. It was really slow! The original design relied on players flipping cards until they were satisfied and chose to stop, or overdid it, and ‘went bust.’ This is a bit like how Sector 86 works, but there wasn’t a solid way to handle needing to ‘dismiss’ enemies. Originally, players could choose to take monsters other players flipped, which gave it a cooperative element. This design is still something I can do, but it needs simpler enemies.
  2. It was really uninspiring! The heroes all had simple mechanical abilities, meaning that building a party was just a matter of what art you liked. Since there was one character who had a very special ability (turning into a cow when she was hurt), that made her stand out in a weird way alongside the others.
  3. The actual resolution mechanic for the whole game was just a matter of finding one card of many, and that was kinda boring!
  4. With lots of heroes, but you only getting three a game, it was kinda a bummer to never get to play with most of them, especially when a lot were really dull by comparison. The art was nice, I should make these things desireable.
  5. I used pixel art very sloppily. In a pixel art game, all art should use pixels of the same size (I am led to understand), and I didn’t. This made some of the art extremely unsettling to people who are inclined to notice this kind of thing.

I went back to the drawing board. Obviously, it’s not been a high priority, but it has been on my mind more as of late, what with you know, the thoughts about games that are playable without a large group of people. Particularly, this game struck me as an interesting option to make as a strictly solo, big-deck game.

(Huhuh,  big deck).

My current idea is to design a game where cards are adventuring parties – that you will have one card, with one to five heroes on it, and they have goals and types of prizes they will keep for themselves, when you send them into dungeons. Dungeons will be decks, set up around your little town. To send adventurers into a dungeon, you shuffle their card in, then, in another phase, you flip cards from the top of that dungeon until that hero card pops out – then you sort through the revealed cards and see what that means. Sometimes those cards are just smashed by the heroes; sometimes, they rout the heroes and you have to help the heroes recover.

This is the new mechanism in my mind, where you’re the town sending out and supporting the adventurers. It also gives more room for complex party mechanics, without needing to make 20 cards for all the adventurers.

October Wrapup!

Woo~ooo~Ooo~Oooo it’s trick-or-treating niiiight. Which it wouldn’t be wiiiise to dooo~oo~oooOOO~~ because of the globaaal pandeeemiiiiiiic~ You know now I think of it, it is a little weird to not see more Zombie fiction set on Halloween where they have to work trick-or-treating into the plot somehow. Anyway!

It’s Halloween and it’s the end of October, so it’s time to run down what I got done this month in amongst many other things.

First of all, articles. We did some interesting and different stuff this month, didn’t we? First, there were my readings of Hp Lovecraft writings with some critical response afterwards; I read Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn, aka ‘My Ape Grandma’s Grandson Was A Racist’, The Colour out of Space, aka ‘Space is scary and hicks don’t know when to be afraid,’ Nemesis, aka ‘hey, not so much racism this time,’ and The Statement of Randolph Carter, aka ‘behold the ancient days of a century ago.’ These were fun to do and reasonably easy, so if you want this kind of stuff, I’ll consider doing more readings on theme months.

I interviewed Erik the Bearik about Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants, and that was lots of fun. I vented for a bit about ‘ghost hunters‘  and ‘real mystery‘ media, where I pulled my punches and avoided swearing about exploitative nonsense. I also wrote some companion pieces to my SCP Wiki video (and we’ll get to that), where I listed some SCPs I dislike and some I like.

I also did something special this month with videos! Since I’d been doing a lot of experimenting with video this year, I figured I’d bring them together and do five ‘different’ kinds of video.

For Halloween Forever, I talked about the game and about my relationship to Halloween as a cute, fun thing to be enjoyed. This was done by playing the video, then unscriptedly talking about the way the game made me feel. This was really easy to do!

For the SCP wiki, I made a simple video of a series of animations with minimal visual data, but with useful, clear iconography. This works well for representing text media, so maybe this is how I’ll tackle text adventures going forwards. This was also scripted pretty thoroughly before I made the video.

For Scarlet Hollow, I made a very quick series of pan-and-scans over stills from the game, which worked out well for explaining the ways the game worked. This was lightly scripted, but I did do a fair bit of editing to get the right flow down. This meant I could promote the game on kickstarter in an appropriate window, instead of holding things up. This also helped overcome my big problem with visual novels, where I often feel like I’m ‘wasting’ the medium to use video and voice to talk about a primarily textual medium.

 

Finally, Ai: The Somnium Files is like one of your more typical ‘essay-ish’ type videos, though not using the game to make some greater point. I scripted it out, read it, then used a loop of gameplay visuals which I overlaid with graphics to present more information about the game. I was able to weave in video footage and some captioning, which worked out okay, and I liked it.

I think I just talk faster than most video essay people. This video script is 2200 words, and the video is about ten minutes – but a typical audio reading, according to audiobook resources, is around 150 words a minute. Ostensibly, this should mean that this video should be about 15 minutes if I just read slower.

I’ll have to work on that.

For Gloomwood, this was much simpler to make. I recorded myself playing the game, as is, the first time. Everything is here – me messing up, me learning game mechanics, me exploring how the game worked from record to end record.

 I also made a shirt this month! Then I was so happy with how one element on it worked out, I made it into a sticker!

Aiba is a real sweetheart of a character, and I’m really glad to have gotten to play this game. When I make shirts and stickers, it’s often as ‘merch’ of my interests, and so this time I’m glad to be able to make merch of my love of this game.

And finally, personal life stuff? Well, October was busy – I’ve been marking pretty much every week of the month, and the marking has taken up a lot of time. I have a lot of students this semester, and they’re under a lot of stress, which has meant there’s been a lot of late-night mix-ups, or two AM calls from students worrying about how to get things working.

October was nonetheless a lovely month to catch up with some movies and shows I really liked, it was a wonderful experience in video making, and I enjoyed my recordings as well. Let me know if any of the content this month stood out to you as a fave and I’ll see what I can do going forward.

Camp Osum Month Diary

For Asylum Jam 2017, I made a horror game based around that jam’s theme of a zero sum game. My game was very, very quickly made; I documented the process to an extent at the time. Since then I’ve sat it in a drawer and kind of ignored it.

The game at its core is a drafting game, but it’s not a simultaneous drafting game. The game works on a kind of draft I learned as rochester draft; you lay out all the cards on the table, in a grid, and players make choices one at a time, in a circle around the table. These stacks are weighted, so that in each stack, there’s a card that represents the ‘monster’ in this setting. The monster in this story is meant to be a sort of slasher movie monster ala Jason. As players die, they become ghosts, and those ghosts then get to haunt and complicate things for the remaining player, who is trying to escape.

I really like this simple little engine, and I like the way all the pieces work; with three ghosts at the table it can be really hard for the remaining player to pick their way through the stacks of cards that may or may not be boobytrapped by earlier player action. Players want to try and sabotage one another, but they don’t want to make their own potential future as the final player one of immediate defeat, either. The whole idea behind the game is that all victory is a zero sum game: You can only win when either everyone ‘loses’ or when all the other players have lost – and that’s the inspiration for the name, Camp Osum (0-Sum).

I’ve been thinking about revamping this game as a little October release, and I thought I’d give a shot of making the game use pixel art.

  • There are a few asset packs I already own for horror RPGs
  • These assets often focus on backgrounds, a thing I find the most difficult
  • Consistently done pixel art can be really rewarding and nostalgic
  • The game’s mechanics are tense, the game’s art doesn’t have to try and horrify

With that in mind (and I started this back in the first week of October), I’m going to do something a little different here and include a set of pictures from when I worked on this idea each point through the month.

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October Shirt: Ai To Ai

This month and some of last, I played Ai: The Somnium Files. I played it, and I liked it, and I liked it so much I thought about going and buying some merch for it.

There is no official merch for it.

Normally, I’d wait until con season and keep an eye out for Ai: The Somnium Files fanmerch, maybe a print or if I’m really lucky, a keychain of a character like, oh, Aiba’s little teddy bear form would make a great keychain design. I want one of those.

Oh wait, it’s 2020. No con season.

Sigh.

Fuck it, I’ll do it myself.

Here’s the design. It’s an eye, with Aiba, which is part of the general symbolism hammerblowing that is Ai: The Somnium Files. Here, it is, on a shirt, you can use to conceal your body:

But, but, but, what if you don’t want a shirt, but just want a sticker of Aiba to stick on things that matter to you, to mark them as your territory? Well, I made this:

 

Here’s the shirt design, and here’s the Aiba sticker.

How To Be: The Castlevania Gang (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

This month, we’re going to examine overlapping skillsets as we look at not creating a character but creating a group of characters: The trio of monster hunters from the Fang-Em-Up Netflix anime, Castlevania.


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September Wrapup

Bring out yer alive!

This is our second-last unthemed month of the year, and with it came a scattered arrangement of posts, some that had been written months ago and only came out now, cast off into the far future when I could forget about them. It’s also when I wrote about how to handle money in your game design (and how weird it is that it’s how we handle it in real life, almost like life is an unfair game, odd), about how Elite Beat Agents expresses difficulty, and I put out my article on the charming and interesting Magical Land of Yeld.

This month’s shirt is a pie chart reference to a song! The big shakeup in the store is how I took down some Harry Potter themed merchandise which I once upon a time made as meanspirited jabs at a fandom I wasn’t into, but was willing to sell them, because it didn’t matter if their fandom was bad to me, it was important to them. The thing is, now, selling that stuff can be seen as if I’m okay with JK Rowling’s behaviour, and I’m really not.

This month’s video is another short experiment; an unscripted article on Void Bastards, which took me a very small amount of time to make for a game I’d already pretty much beaten. I quite liked doing this, and I’m hoping it’ll work for some of the other games we’re going to look at going forwards.

This month, I hurt my foot, and that snarled up my grading and that means everything’s been done with not enough time, oh no, oh dear, anyway.

Money (in Games)

Money ey.

It’s really useful.

Money is a thing that is useful, because we have our society built around making it useful. The idea of what money is, to a player, is always going to communicate the way money works for us now. It is what you can consider an ideal general utility; No matter what your needs are, you can usually meet those needs with more money.

Now, money can’t buy you happiness, but that’s okay, because we all experience a lot of different problems, and money, sufficient money, can deal with a lot of those problems – it has an overwhelming amount of, like I said, general utility. Converting unwanted resources into money is generally a reliably good idea, because the money will always be able to be put to some meaningful use.

Games use money all the time – letting you convert resources into a single, fungible, generally useful resource. That’s fine, games use resource management all the time, that’s fantastic. What can happen in games – and JRPGs are often going to land in this space – is where you can be confronted by problems where money doesn’t solve the problems, because it’s not supposed to, but your character can still do things that generates fantastic quantities of money that should address problems.

There are three basic ways that the real world keeps money from solving your problem (and why systems of capitalism often involves forcing these problems upon you), which you can use in games to make sure that you avoid the question of ‘why aren’t players solving this problem with their money.’

1. Depletion

There are things that keep us from saving. Rent, fees, transaction fees, costs for upkeep from week to week, like food and fuel and whatnot, those things are all elements that bleed away your money and keep you from saving. In a game, if you want to keep a player from stockpiling money to the point where it’s a problem, you can make large sums of money, or the things that people use their money for, bring with them the upkeep that depletes their reserves.

2. Scarcity

You can make it so anything that the people want to buy is itself inherently scarce. It can be the product of an extremely limited supply, or the end of a slow process, meaning that any that are made are bought very quickly. This can even feel like an infinite wait – players need to wait for keystones to be made craftable, for example, but the expensive components can become more available later in the game. In the real world, there are some products that aren’t reasonably available at any price once they’re all purchased, because the people who have them are refusing to put them onto that free market.

3. Scale

If you’re making a game where players can earn money that compares to buying ammunition, weapons, health packs or storage options, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can stockpile enough cash to buy a house. In the real world, these purchases do not exist on the same scale – and you can absolutely make your game so that the purchases that should deform the way the game works are simply on a different level. Science fiction games for example, set on spaceships, rarely let players earn money on the level of buying candy bars, that also lets you buy spaceships.

Secret Bonus 4: Let Them

You might notice that these existing tools are all kind of dumb, or rely on a world that’s dumb. They rely on a world where you can have this stuff that’s necessary for living that you then have to siphon away just to ensure people don’t get around artificial blockades in their life that you, the storyteller or game designer, are imposing. Why is it that the system we use for exchanging candy bars is also meant to be applied for managing inflexible needs like homes and medical requirements? That’s weird, the two things are simply not similar – should you be able to sell days of your life or your own health to someone for a candy bar? That’s dumb as hell.

I guess what I’m saying is when you think about money in games, and ways to stop money doing dumb things, you have to notice all the ways money does dumb things in the real world, and notice that they only do that because of an imposed system that’s made to benefit some people.

Weird, huh?

How To Be: Tier Halibel (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

This month, we’re going to dive into the world of the dead and look to the Queen of Hueco Mundo by the most powerful shounen anime right, the right of default, the underboob to Matsumoto’s cleavage well, Tier Harribel.


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BDG’s Commedia Del Anime Chart

Hey, did you like this video?

I liked it. I liked it and it gave me a list that was useful as a way to consider collections of characters (like roleplaying characters, or the cast of a book you’re working on), and that seemed a fun thing to play with. Problem is, the complicated system that BDG outlined here isn’t presented with something like a spreadsheet to copy and fill in on your own.

Sooo

I did that.

Here’s a link to a viewable chart, which you can Make a Copy of and fill in with your own characters. Have fun!

Expanding Fighting Fantasy

Thinking about solo adventures.

Far be it from me to point at the everything right now, but you may not realise it, but a lot of normal avenues for me are cut off – I don’t have access to playtest groups right now. Despite this, people are still TTRPG’in it up, tabletop living in online forms like Magic: The Gathering’s camera systems or Tabletop Simulator and the like. Also, Discord is getting a workout as a RPG room for a lot of people, and I know that my booklet games have been selling well on DriveThru.

That got me thinking: What can I do with just a book, for people who don’t have a ton of room or time to play with other people right now?

I loved the Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, because I also didn’t have access to specialised equipment and I didn’t have any friends. These books were an adventure that I could play and share with only the single monopoly dice out of my second hand boardgame we kept in the cupboard. They also could be obtained from the libary and local book exchange and crucially, not paid for with money.

If the main thing of mine people are buying right now is a book, and I want to give people stories and adventures and settings to play around in, then what about a solo RPG gamebook? That seems an interesting idea to at least explore.

There’s going to be a linked question here, which is, “Well, why not do this in twine?” or “Why not make this as an actual video game?” or “Why does this have to use a deck of cards when this other thing could do the job?” and the answer to that, largely, is shut up.

Not to be entirely rude, but the reason to do things with this medium is to do things with this medium. I’m not trying to get into programming languages – I know how to design game, I know how to design a game narrative, and I know how to format a book. What’s more, when you start using a digital model, you introduce more tools that often will handle things you do better – things like tracking inventory and whatnot. If you’re dealing with a gamebook or a pdf reader, you can tell the reader they have to do something, if you’re non-confusing, the player will be able to make it work.

A few ideas for this!

1. Flow

The typical problem of a gamebook is that you can emulate a linear flow from point A to point B, but it’s often hard to make a book construct a space. This is because some elements are time-sensitive – the first time you enter a room, you may encounter a version of the room that’s got things in it, but once you deal with them, the book has no inherent way to track that.

Now, there is an option for this – to treat the narrative as an entirely linear flow. Lots of good tricks here; using it as a narrative story that works as part of a journey is pretty good when you deal with something like the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever. You could also make the narrative about being pursued – backtracking is inherently a problem.

There’s also the hamfisted way some of these narratives work by teleporting you places, or having you kidnapped or moved on. That’s a thing to bear in mind.

One idea for playing with memory is that your character sheet has a fold-over section, with a lot of out-of-context marks on it; when you do the thing the context mark indicates, you make a mark on the non-folded section, and that means that when you eventually flip that section out, you have a bunch of points that represent things you did, and they then send you to a story point that relates to that.

2. Adding Cards

A way to make the game remember – or forget – things is to use some cards. A deck of playing cards could be used to break up into a number of decks; you could have a final encounter represented by a few cards on a table, as a form of rudimentary AI. You could have treasure decks that mean you don’t find the same items in the same locations all the time.

You can also use cards to represent accomplishments – when successful, you can remove cards from a deck, so that later in the dungeon, they won’t show up. This can also be used to make the combat system more complicated in an interesting way.

I’m particularly interested in this because of how it relates to using a deck of cards to randomise encounters and add resistance without necessarily making the bulk of the book into repeating workhorse enemies and monsters.

3. Legacy Elements

Asking someone to physically write on the book is a bit sketchy, but you could have a legacy character sheet with a fold-out section that lets you draw on specific sections of the sheet to indicate things that have changed. Then you can use that section of the sheet to relate to the next (or all next sheets that follow, depending on how you feel about roguelikes).

This is particularly interesting because if entries are numbered, it’s entirely possible that you can make some entries go away with legacy rules; you have an entry that’s only accessible through the legacy elements, threads of story you can’t reach in the first play, but can in the second. That there’s hypertext.

August 2020 Wrapup

And just like that, poof, August disappears!

August, with its theme of magic – which I tend to expand to be about manipulating attention and tricks, so eventually we wind up talking about heists – is pretty hard for me to work with when it comes to games or movies, because I already did The Prestige and Ricky Jay’s TV special, but after that. It’s great (in my opinion) for the other articles of the month, because I can almost always find other stories about the wonderful weirdoes involved in magic, the techniques of magic, the tools magic gives you access to, and that means that I tend to wind up with a lot of articles I’m happy with while Story and Game Piles kinda suffer.

But that’s okay!

By expanding to heists and stealth like I did this year (the art of controlling attention), I got to talk about Logan Lucky, which is great. I got to talk about Breach, which I still really like even after finding out it’s basically copaganda for the cop’s cops. I also got to talk about Volume, a game that I really like, and has gotten a lot better in the five years since its release because the idea of a Britain fallen to classist fascism in an information economy really isn’t very farfetched.

I also wrote about some useful general principles for dealing with people. One of them was confabulation, the way your brain justifies dumb things it does, and that you may literally never realise you were doing, about slugs and loads, and about forces. The forces article even has my favourite line of the month:

The force is not there to set up the trick: The trick is there to hide the force.

This month also was when I slipped out some of the lore of a Scum & Villainy science-fiction setting, with The Synthetic Mystic and the Century Ship. These are going to become important later, but you’ll find out why. Basically, creative content for you to share and enjoy.

I also hammered in on the absolutely unforgiveable Tome of Magic from 3.5 D&D, which is not a good book and full of not good things, but still deserves a tiny star for trying. I did a How To Be about the amazing Sumireko from Touhou Project. I love when I get to do something meaningful about Touhou Project, because the Touhou fans mark out in just the best ways.

August, I made another pair of shirts (though like, technically, it’s four shirts), showing both a math puzzle that’s part of a magic trick (in white and black text), and a reference that’s not actually vague, but you know, you could pretend it’s vague (in white and black text).

This month’s video was a half hour attempt to get started on Jane Jensen’s Gray Matter, during which time I talked about trying to make Narrative Adventures work, and the ways that you can have problems if you’re just creating flag-based trigger messes, the Australian side of the Steam store, and

Teaching started up this month, and that’s been great fun to do. There’s been some concerns about managing workload, but I’ve also been trying to dedicate more time actually building and playing things, rather than trying to manage my life so I’m just getting by. Also, with some things opening up, I’m getting to see my family more often, which is nice.

August Shirt: Magic Nonsense!

I’ve really become way too into shirts that need explanation and nobody’s going to ask for it.

Here’s this month’s shirt designs:

This design relates to that 300 year old magic trick from a Scam Nation video I shared. here it is, on a shirt:

You can get this design as white text or black text!

But wait, there’s more!

And here’s this design on a shirt:

You can get this design in black text or white text!

How To Be: Sumireko Usami (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

This month, we’re going to become a god damned Touhou.

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Being Bored and Being Boring

If you’re in any kind of communal RP space, chances are good, you’ve dealt with strangers who are interested in playing with your character. The art of striking up roleplay with semi-strangers in a social space is something that builds up over time and it’s a skill. It’s a skill that I realise that I seem to have but also that lots of people around me, I see, don’t necessarily have. I want to impart one simple, small piece of advice in this context, then.

Odds are super good, you’ve either started a conversation with, or had someone else try to start a conversation, with “I’m bored.”

Okay.

Here is a simple little magical trick here: Don’t ever do this.

With this phrase, you are signalling to the other person that you have the least interesting mental state; that you have nothing to talk about yourself, and that by volunteering this, you are asking them to address that. What’s more, because roleplaying spaces tend to be communal and cooperative, people are likely to try to help you out there, to try and bring you in and entertain you.

Me, I don’t. Someone approaches me with ‘I’m bored,’ my immediate response is ‘well, bummer,’ then I stop paying attention to them. Because what they’re asking me to do is entertain them. If I’m ever feeling in the mood to say ‘Well, I’m bored,’ I recognise that that impulse is itself boring, and I’m asking someone else to put up with that and fix it.

There are two alternatives I want to suggest for you: One, approach people and ask them what they are doing. Show interest, and that interest is something you can offer. Ask people questions, see what they’re doing, see what is interesting rather than present what is boring (yourself). The other alternative, is rather than approaching a stranger with a demand – I’m bored, entertain me – you approach them with an offer. Come up with something interesting to do – a small scenario, or a common interaction or a roleplay interaction that let people have a chance to express themselves. Some examples would include asking for directions or dropping something nearby.

The irony is that I understand some of these ideas are functional tools from pickup artists, or people attempting to reconstruct masculinity – the idea is that to be bored is to be boring, so don’t be boring, and always have something to do. But being from a twisted root doesn’t mean the idea is fundamentally bad – there’s value in recognising that other people are not there to entertain you, you are there to create entertainment with one another. Share, don’t demand.

Now, I am going to set aside the possibility that ‘I’m bored’ is a signal. You folks can work out what to do there.

Imposter Syndrome

You have this?

You probably do. I mean you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not particularly endowed with tons of confidence, I imagine. Or maybe that’s just me imagining that my audience is mostly composed of fragile queers, because I don’t have a lot of confidence in my own work and hey look at that, here’s a segue to our subject!

Imposter Syndrome is the term for the psychological pattern of being unsure that one’s praise or accomplishments are legitimate. There’s a lot of reasons for it, some tied to things like self-assessment, and how difficult it can be to subjectively grade your own performance, and also, an awareness of how your own process and outcomes are related to things like good luck.

Speaking just from experience, the games I’ve made the most money selling are the games that still surprise me, given the type of games they want to be. I know that when I stand in front of a stranger at a table, I can tell them things and they, largely, are going to have to believe me, because why wouldn’t they.

For me, this means it’s really easy to believe it’s not that I have skill in making games, it’s that I have skill in convincing people to buy games.

I’ve taken a strategy to fight this.

The thing is, an imposter is a term we use to refer to a type of con artist. It’s a trick. And the second part of that term is the important one: It’s artistry.

It is not an act of being an imposter. I am, like a cool and stylish thief, using words and ideas and presentation to convince people to pay attention to me, and that even if I don’t deserve it, the fact I can command it, the fact I can lift it, is a cool and clever con. You can make people pay attention to you, you can make people respect your work, and they never get to see the five or ten or fifty drafts to see how good the version you made finally came out. They don’t get to know you’re the kind of person who had to double check for the ‘mentiond’ typo a dozen times.

You aren’t an imposter.

You’re an artist.

You’re taking attention and you’re making use of it, and then you are dancing on.

What you’re doing isn’t fraud.

Rather, what I am doing is an attention heist.

When does a Trick Start?

Are you watching closely?

Magic is the art of manipulating attention. Any time a magician says okay, so here’s the trick, or now here’s where the trick starts, they are straight-up just lying. Any time a magician says now watch closely, there is nothing for you to see. It’s one of the tools of the magician, to simply direct your attention to something, because it’s something that doesn’t matter any more when they tell you to do that.

That’s it.

That’s the lesson.

Magicians want to control your attention and any time you think they’re showing you something, they’re trying to make sure you see nothing.

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Slugs and Loads

I make fun of Harbomb Resguy for his play conditioning term which, to my deep regret, people are using, which is, you know, whatever, but part of why I dislike the term is it’s doing the job of a word that we already had written down in books (and have had for fifty years), suggesting that you’d invent the term if you didn’t understand or know the first word. To this end, I want to be clear about these terms I use in game design, where I do not think I got these terms from game design. I learned these terms from magic – magic tricks, or as they’re known, illusions Michael.

In this case, these terms are slugs and loads.

Since these ideas come from card tricks, you might not want to know what they are, to preserve the illusion when your extremely cool and sexy friend does card tricks, and I should give you a spoiler break.

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July 2020 Wrapup!

Hey, July’s down. We’re getting this year done, day by day, people. If you’re still here with me, thank you so much for that.

This month seems to have had a theme of catching up; the writing schedule has been better, in general, with very few days where I fell behind, and there have been some articles that I wrote months ago that I threw forward into July, the ‘infinity away’ year. Also it was time to dust out and finish off some drafts I had been leaving alone for literally years.

Comically, this did mean one article came out just after a major conversation about its subject matter despite being originally written like, a year ago. Oops. That was the Cards Against Humanity article, because every year I teach students about making games, I see more variants on it, and they’re almost always weaker games because of the overwhelming presence of Cards Against Humanity. Which is a bummer!

I also finally did my set on the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, from manga to the first anime to the second anime to the live-action movie. There’s more, of course – a few more movies and videogames, and man, there’s probably a card game or something – but I finally got my feelings out there about what is, again, probably the best series of its kind that nonetheless has some ways it’s bad.

I also finally penned that piece on Brolonialism, which has been waiting for years; I put out some thoughts about how ‘cancel culture’ isn’t really a thing, looked at tackling the Nephilim from Magic: The Gathering, which is maybe a month old at this point, and even did a writeup of my character Moonheart, from City of Heroes. Also, because I try to keep myself to one 3rd ed D&D article per month, I spent this month banging on the Spelldancer, one of the most hilariously broken loops you can have in a game that normally abhors loops.

July’s shirt continues on my theme of Loss-themed shirts! There are two new additions to the Loss Collection: a lettered and numbered version of the same idea. It’s not a complicated design, but I’m very happy with being able to use the simple elegance of it, in a way that works as a design even without being able to see the Loss element to it.

Video? I did put up a small video explaining a Minecraft thingy I made, a Hopper Loader. But that’s not the ‘proper’ video for this month, no no. This month’s video is a game pile video, which you shouuuld be getting to see tomorrow. Keep your eyes peeled.

Personal life, hm, hm, hm, well this is a break month between two semesters, during which time I’ve been doing set up and consultation for my various work arrangements. I’ve felt obviously busy, and dealing with a lot of best practice stuff about health and contamination, which gets more awkward as schools open up and second waves of infections kick off. I try not to talk about the pandemic much here, but it is affecting me, and I’m trying to make sure the content I put here is an escape from gloom rather than an embrace of that feeling. You know how it goes, and I hope it’s been helpful, even as I’ve been doing my best to be honest with you about my work process.

July Shirt: Absolute Cdestiny ApocalyBse!

Sooo, hey.

Police eh.

They’re not great.

Anyway, here’s some unrelated t-shirt or sticker designs that play with that joke I like making, about that time a webcomic was bad!

Here’re the designs:

 


These designs have been added to the Loss Collection I maintain on Redbubble, and you can get them on pins and stickers and masks, which is still super weird to me.

Here’s the 2×2 ACAB design, and here’s the 2×2 1312 design!