Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On The Benefits Of Drunk Playtesting

There's a quote in Stephen King's On Writing, when King reluctantly takes on a newspaper job reporting on sports:

"I told Mr Gould I didn't know much about sports. Gould said, 'These are games people understand when they're watching them drunk at bars. You'll learn if you try.'"
That reminds me of this quote from Peter Molyneux:

"The first rule of game design is that you mustn't produce games that are too complex for people to play."

On Saturday night, I ran a playtest of Bad Family for a few friends. It happened at midnight and they had had quite a lot to drink. It was a super-informative playtest.

I kinda recommend drunk playtesting if you're designing a game that's low-complexity and low-strategy. It seems to work best when the players are drunk but you aren't.

Here are some things I noticed when teaching drunk people a game:
  • You have keep your instructions clear and short
  • You have to give them something specific and simple to do, frequently
  • They will immediately tell you if they're confused about something 
  • If the game isn't consistently and frequently delivering fun, you'll see it
  • They are really honest about the problems they see, but they don't try to give you solutions


Thursday, June 25, 2015

What are the best practices for Kickstarter? (Using Undying as an example)

+Paul Riddle  has just launched his Kickstarter for Undying, a diceless Apocalypse World hack for playing vampires scheming and battling each other down through history.

I've been following this for about two years and it's really exciting. The finished draft is freely available from the Kickstarter page:

Undying Kickstarter

What I wanted to note, though, is that Paul's kickstarter followed some great best practices. Here's what I saw him do:

  • Assemble a team of Kickstart veterans to give him advice
  • Do a two-stage launch of his Kickstarter preview: with his
    support team, and then with his social media followers (to
    get advice and pre-launch subscriptions)
  • Completed everything he could control, pre-launch (writing,
    illustrations, design)
  • Released the full text of the game -- not just for backers, for
  • Launched on a Tuesday (which I've heard is the best day)
It's also possible that Paul has completed the stretch goal that he's
responsible for (something that's also under his control).

Another best practice I've been hearing about is giving certain members
of your support team access to your Kickstarter account, in case 
anything goes wrong for you (health, personal crises, etc). In that
event, you have people that can post on your behalf to explain the
situation. This avoids situations where the Kickstarter organiser 
goes silent for several weeks or months while trying to deal with 
the crises.

What Kickstarter best practices have you seen?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blender: Action! Camera! Lights! (Creating an Animation)

Now that I've created a 3D token, it occurs to me that I could probably animate it. Here's the end result.

This tutorial was easy to follow and taught me how to spin the token:

I've done a little bit of special effects work in Adobe Aftereffects and a little bit of moving titles in KDenLive (video editing software). So the idea of applying an effect to different keyframes feels pretty natural to me.

What was less familiar was the idea that I'd need to insert an artificial light-source and a virtual camera in order to film the token moving. I'd sort of heard about this on the special features for the Toy Story movies.

Another tutorial (and some trial and error) sorted me out:

So that's nearly it, for now. I need to:
  • export the file for printing
  • look for a local 3D printer  
  • figure out what I've (inevitably) done wrong
  • write all of this up into an easy to follow guide

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Soth: three examples of how the game works

I recently ran a game of Soth at a local convention. This post describes a few moments from that game, and demonstrates how the rules were used.

In Soth, you play cultists in a small-town, trying to summon a dark god. If you complete three more rituals, Soth will rise. The question: can deceive your family and friends, while you commit murders perform the necessary sacrifices?

(You can buy Soth, here: https://payhip.com/b/Ux9O)

The cast of characters

The cultists in our game were:
  • The Farmer / cult leader
  • The Mayor's wife / holder of the Tome of Soth
  • The pastor's wife
  • A young lawyer, 
  • A maimed WW2 veteran

Example 1

The cult has just completed the first of four rituals to summon Soth, sacrificing a homeless war veteran. The Farmer decides to feed the body in a wood chipper, then take the body parts out into the woods.

In the woods, he starts scattering the mince among the autumn leaves. And then meets a local truffle hunter and his dog. The Keeper (the person providing the antagonism in the game) has used the rules to introduce someone they don't want to see and start a conversation.

The Farmer tries to appear innocent, while the truffle-dogs starts sniffing at the meat-covered leaves.

In conversation, a cultist needs to use the Mask of Sanity rules: choosing from a list of increasingly worse options that signal all is not well with the cultist.

The Farmer starts explaining that the dog should really stopping sniffing around ... because he's disposing of infected pig meat. He finish his explanation with the phrase, "Praise Soth".

Soth uses a diceless system to evaluate how suspicious the cultists are being. When a cultist deceives someone, the Keeper evaluates how they did, using this list:
  • Did the cultist pull it off flawlessly? (-­2 Suspicion
  • Will the person being deceived think about it later? (+1 Suspicion)
  • Was the deception pretty comprehensively botched? (+3 Suspicion)
  • Is the cultist clearly connected to recent horrible crimes? (+5 Suspicion)

    -1 Suspicion if the cultist’s reputation would be an advantage in this situation.

    +1 Suspicion if their reputation would disadvantage them.
The Farmer pulls it off flawlessly, and his reputation is an advantage. The Keeper removes 3 Suspicion. To reflect that success, the truffle hunter later starts spreading a rumour in town that there's a disease affecting the local pigs.

When a cultist covers up a crime, the Keeper evaluates that, too. In this case, the mince-the-body-and-hide-it-in-leaves plan isn't totally perfect. The Keeper gains 2 Suspicion.

Example 2


The Mayor's wife has been slowly poisoning her husband, and he's now bed-ridden and in agony.

The cultists are meeting at the Mayor's home, in the kitchen. They're discussing how to transport the Mayor to the Town Hall, to sacrifice him. And they're deciding who they can sacrifice next to him at the same time.

That's when the Deputy Mayor rings the front door-bell. He's dropped by to see why the Mayor hasn't shown up for work [introduce someone they don't want to see].

The Mayor's wife tries to manipulate the Deputy Mayor, suggesting he come into the kitchen before checking in on the Mayor. Her manipulation succeeds because the Deputy Mayor is not an Investigator (someone who's actively tracking and blocking the cultists), and he has a positive relationship with the Mayor's wife.

The Keeper creates Investigators by spending Suspicion. Suspicion is also used to put the cultists under pressure. Earlier in the game, the Keeper created an Investigator: a church busy-body who is concerned the Pastor's wife neglecting her duties and spending too much time with war veterans.

The Keeper spends 1 Suspicion to have the busy-body waiting outside the house (show up somewhere inconvenient).

The young lawyer cultist has grabbed a cast-iron skillet. He smashes the Deputy Mayor on the back of his head when he walks through the kitchen door. The young lawyer is attempting to commit a crime.

I actually mis-applied the rules here. This should have been a conflict (see below), where the young lawyer had all the advantages. Instead, I applied the rules for when you try to murder someone. The Deputy Mayor isn't an investigator and no reason to be suspicious, so it succeeds.

In this particular situation, either way the results are the same: the Deputy Mayor is knocked out and ready to transport to Town Hall for the second ritual.

The second ritual ends with most of the evidence being destroyed.

... except for the evidence of arson. When you cover up a crime, the Keeper assesses its effectiveness. The Keeper gains 3 Suspicion for an obvious crime.



It's the final stages of the game.

The Mayor's widow has commanded a servitor (a summoned supernatural entity) to kidnap an unmarried adult and bring them to the final ritual

The pastor's wife has stolen the Tome of Soth from the widow's home, in order to be able to command the servitor herself.

The cultists have decided to perform the final ritual at night, on the front lawn of the church, under the queasy milky light of Soth (a bright new star in the sky).

Here's the situation:
  • The lawyer and the pastor's wife are conspiring to murder the mayor's widow as a final sacrifice
  • The servitor arrives with a sacrifice (whose arms have been snipped off in a prior conflict)
  • The mayor's widow has been waiting, unseen, for the servitor to arrive. Now she walks onto the lawn where the ritual will be performed. She has no idea she's about to be betrayed
  • The pastor and the church busy-body (an Investigator) reveal themselves [The Keeper spends 4 Suspicion to witness something inconvenient and bring a non-Investigator friend].
The pastor's wife immediately commands the servitor to kill the busy-body her husband's protecting. This initiates a conflict.

The Keeper establishes the characters' intended actions for this round.
  • The servitor obeys its command. It seizes the initiative (a special action to try and act first in a conflict)
  • The young lawyer moves to attack the mayor's widow, who fights back. Both of them also seize the initiative, trying to act first in their fight with each other
  • The pastor's wife tries to kill the first sacrifice
  • The pastor defends the busy-body

Characters act in this order:
  • Servitors go before Cultists and Investigators
  • Anyone who seized the initiative
    • Cultists before Investigators
    • low Clarity before high Clarity
    • If Clarity is tied, roll d6 (higher wins)
  • Characters without a disadvantage
  • Characters with a disadvantage
So, the servitor acts first, trying to kill the busy-body. But the pastor is protecting her, so the servitor grabs the pastor to throw him aside.

The Keeper evaluates the effectiveness of a character's action, by assessing:
  • their capability, position, and any effects of previous actions
  • whether the intended action still possible or partially possible
  • whether the character is acting at a disadvantage.
The servitor has giant strength, the initiative, a fearsome appearance, and no disadvantages.

So it flings the pastor far into the air: his body hits the church steeple and clangs the bell. The Keeper assigns an injury (ranging from 'stunned' to 'dead') and/or a non­-injury effect. In this case, the pastor is dead.

The young lawyer has a lower Clarity than the Mayor's widow so he acts first. The Keeper evaluates effectiveness: the lawyer is stronger, and charging towards the widow. A non-injury effect is appropriate: she's is knocked to the ground.

The widow goes next. Because she's seized the initiative, she can change her action without acting at a disadvantage. She elects to try and tussle with the lawyer and end up on top of him. The Keeper evaluates effectiveness and assigns an effect: the lawyer slammed into her with momentum. The two of them are on the ground, but no-one's clearly on top. They're still struggling.

The pastor's wife acts last. She is trying to murder the sacrifice. Not only does he lack arms and is suffering from massive blood loss, but he's a non-investigator.

Her murder automatically succeeds.

---   ---   ---

The conflict continued but I'll stop there. It was a fun game: one that ended with a rare victory for the cultists.

Hopefully those examples are clear.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Soth is available at https://payhip.com/b/Ux9O.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Blender: You think it'd be easy to add an image to an object

So it's time to continue trying to create a game piece in Blender that I can send to a 3D printer.

I've just created a small disc. My next objectives are to give it a little bit of an indent or rim and to try and put an image on top of it.

But first, thanks to everyone for their help and advice in the previous posts. Here's what you've taught me:
  • Check out YouTube and the Blender Foundation for tutorial. The Foundation has a great series on making models that will work for printing
  • When 3D printing, you need a manifold or "watertight" mesh. When you've TABbed into an object and can select its vertices (Edit Mode), make sure you have no vertices selected (hit A, then A again just to be sure. That'll select all, then deselect all). Then choose Select -> Non-Manifold. Blender will tell you if you have illegal geometry (for printing).
  • You'll need to apply the modifiers when you export for 3D printing, but the Export option has a checkbox called "Apply Modifiers", so you can just have Blender do that for you.
  • There are Blender cheat-sheets, including this one: Blender Hotkeys (.pdf)

  • There's a official add-on for 3D printing, that's shipped with the Linux version (which is what I'm using). I need to check User Preferences > Add-ons to confirm it's installed.
    G is the "move selection" hotkey. R is rotate, and S is scale. Holding down Ctrl will let you snap to unit increments as you go (by default - this can be changed).
    The numpad controls your views. You can split your viewport into 4 quarters so you have top, 3D perspective, front, and right views. Like this: http://puu.sh/itYNS/cd88e7be59.jpg
Thanks, +Richie Cyngler, +Adam Schwaninger+Markus Glanzer, +Winchell Chung and +William Black.

---   ---   ---

The easiest next step should be finding out if I can import a .jpg file and map it over one side of the disc. Here's the image I want to map:

It took a little bit of mucking around in GIMP to create this on a transparent 60x60mm layer. A quick check in Blender's File > Import menu doesn't reveal any obvious options for images.

But accidentally pressing CTRL-TAB brings up the Brush menu and a whole bunch of other painting related options. Seems like that might become useful, soon.

Anyway, this short tutorial shows me how to import an image:


I'm not sure how to move it into the main window, yet. You can't click and drag it.

Further investigation reveals there's an add-on you can activate called 'Import Images as Planes'. The tutorial in that link looked very promising. However, I seem to have simply imported a grey square.

So now I'm wondering if I'm going about this the wrong way. Could I:
  • import the image directly onto a new cylinder, or
  • add the image as a texture to my existing cylinder?
After button-mashing for a bit, I selected the 'Shading' menu and ticked 'Textured Solid', which creates this:

That's pretty close. Now: can I shift it onto the cylinder? ... I've discovered that right-clicking an object selects it. In the 'Object Tools' menu, I can click on 'Translate' and manually shift the image around.

An astounding comedy of error follows, as I accidentally rotate the bull image and shift it 24 metres away from a 39mm large object. After struggling to find and reposition it, I have this:

For my serenity, I walk away for a couple of hours. When I come back, I find (and follow) this crystal clear tutorial, which does exactly what I want:

Following those instructions, I succeed in putting the texture on the disc. You can see it on the right-hand side, below. It's not centred yet, but I'll take the win:

 And that's where I think I'll leave it, for the moment.

Previous posts:
1. Figuring out how to create a 3D object
2. Learning how to create a disc


Friday, June 19, 2015

Blender: Learning how to create a disc

I've started teaching myself how to create a 3D object. Last time, I learned how to create a sphere (SHIFT-A > Mesh > UVSphere) in Blender, an open-source 3D graphics programme.

Through a combination of accidental button-mashing, I've learned how to rotate the camera slightly: using the scroll-wheel and different combinations of ALT, CTRL, CTRL-SHIFT.

So, 1.8 goals down. Now to try and figure out how to make a disc and then make it 39mm in diameter and 3mm thick.

Checking the Mesh > Shape options, it looks like 'cylinder' gives me exactly what I want. But the default cylinder is too thick. I want to adjust its dimensions.

There has to be something on-screen that'll let me define that. Looking at the Object tools menu, there's a section that's specifically about the cylinder--and it has categories for vertices, radius, and depth.

Let's see what adjusting the depth does ...

So it looks like adjusting the dimensions is easy. But how do the units that Blender uses correspond to the real world? What is a radius of 1 in millimeters?

Googling 'blender measure' brings up a couple of tutorials and Q&As:



It looks like there's something called the 'Scene' tab, which has a 'Units' option in it. And in Units, there should be options for:
  • None
  • Imperial
  • Metric
... but after a thorough look around, I don't see 'Units' in the Scene tab. ... And my attempts to add one lead to frustration and losing all the default toolbars. After restarting Blender I find the Units section they're talking about ... but only by observing which button is highlighted blue at the top of this picture in one of the tutorials):

A small bit of fiddling around later, and I've created a 39x3mm token!

(It's pretty small in this picture.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blender: figuring out how to create a 3D object

For the last year, I've been realising that I need to learn how to create objects for 3D printing. It feels like it'll be a useful skill within about 1-3 years.

Step 1: Find out what file type you use for 3D objects. Google tells me that they're .obj and and .stl files.

Step 2: Find an open-source programme to create 3D objects. I've chosen Blender.

Step 3: Install and boot up Blender 2.69 ...

Step 4: Try and figure out how to do something. My first two goals will be to rotate the camera and to change this starting square object into a sphere.(*)

(*) This is one of my favourite parts of the learning process:
seeing an overwhelming number of buttons and options, 
and gradually making sense of them.

My experience with teaching myself GIMP and Scribus is that whatever you google for, there's usually a tutorial.

So, after googling I immediately learn that:
  • TAB changes the menus on the side of the screen from 'Object Tools' to 'Mesh Tools'
  • You can select all the vertices of an object by pressing 'A' (and I've learned that the idea of 'an object's vertices' is important)
  • ... and I've learned that there's a 'To Sphere' button somewhere on this screen but that I can also 'sub-divide' the object 100 times.

I can't immediately find the Sphere button, but pressing sub-divide seems to freeze up the programme. After it recovers, I set the smoothness of those subdivisions to '100', which totally explodes the screen:

So, that's not the way. After rebooting my computer, I try it again with different values for smoothness, but sub-division just seems to create a bunch of different spheres bulging out of the original one.

Doing this, though, I learn how to drag the object through 3 dimensions:
  • click on the blue/green/red arrows in the centre of the screen
  • drag the cursor left/right and up/down
Time to find a new tutorial. This 'Build a penguin' one looks like it has some good info.

And success! Pressing SHIFT-A > Mesh > UVSphere creates a sphere I can drag around.

That Mesh menu has tonnes of options, including 'Circle. I wonder if I can create layers of it, to build a disc?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Soth: Frequently Asked Questions

Soth is my game of small-town cultists trying to summon a dark god. It's a cross between Breaking Bad and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

Frequently Asked Questions

"What should someone running the game for the first time focus on?"
I'd suggest choosing players for your first game who are:

  • creatively enthusiastic about noirs and villains
  • familiar with the time period and the tropes of Lovecraftian fiction, and/or
  • willing to mine the subtext of trying to pretend to be normal, functional members of the community while plotting murders.

Players with this qualities will add lots of stuff to the game, which will give you time to get comfortable with Soth's rules.

I'd also focus on applying the 'Mask of Sanity' rules and the 'Table Talk' rules. 
Aside from that, I'd focus on portraying the NPCs in ways that make them sympathetic, nosey, hateful, and just generally human.

"How does reputation affect deceiving someone flawlessly?"
If a cultist is deceives someone or covering something up and they pull it off flawlessly, they earn:
  • -1 Suspicion, if their reputation puts them at a disadvantage in the situation
  • -3 Suspicion, if their reputation puts them at an advantage?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

This game gave me a ton of new design ideas

A fortnight ago, I played Ross Cowman's wonder-filled map-game Fall of Magic. In it, a group of travellers cross kingdoms and oceans to discover why magic is leaving the world. In play, our game felt like a Rankin-Bass animated film with Bright Eyes as the soundtrack. We only got 2/3rds of the way through our story of a giant, a raven martyr, a tired hero, and a kin-slayer with a hand ruined by magic.

It will probably be one of the great unfinished games in my life.

Yesterday I (re-)discovered that Jackson Tegu had written Fall of Electricity: The Return of Grunge. It uses the same moving-across-a-map technique to explore the lives of a rock band on a surreal tour through America.

That combines some of my favourite things:
  • Fall of Magic
  • the grunge scene
  • surrealism
  • road trips and tours
Just looking at its characters and the map's finishing point, I immediately want to play it.

But more than that, now that I've seen Fall of Magic, Life on Mars, and Fall of Electricity, I think I understand the potential of this format. A few ideas have already leapt at me, particularly:
  • using the structure to create a choose your own adventure, potentially with plot loops in it
  • a format for the Kafka game I've been trying to write for years - along with a way to involve some online interaction.
Fall of Electricity is available as a bonus game when you buy Fall of Electricity's album 'The Grunge Era' on Bandcamp: https://fallofelectricity.bandcamp.com/

Are there any games that have inspired you to start designing in a new direction?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Soth: a game of cultists vs investigators is now available

Kicking this blog off with a launch announcement: after years of playtesting and revisions, I've published Soth: a game of cultists vs investigators.

You can purchase it from Payhip: https://payhip.com/b/Ux9O

Over the next few weeks, I'll blog about the process of writing Soth, including the lessons I've learned from publishing this and Left Coast.

I'm starting to think about publishing as a concentric set of skills you need to build up:
  • the writing and the playtesting
  • layout and art
  • the act of launching, which requires courage and allies (and, in my case, video production)
  • marketing, which I think of as finding the people who will really want to play your game and figuring out how to talk to them
  • print (the great unknown, for me, and a whole other set of skills I need to learn)
I know there's stuff I'm missing. What other aspects of the publishing process don't I know about?