Tag Archives: Kickstarter

Sharknado: Pre-Release Playtest Comments

A generic "west coast" city. The final game may include a second city map.

A generic “west coast” city. The final game may include a second “East Coast” city map.

EDIT: Kickstarter is now live!

One of the things I’ve found to be a lot of fun at GenCon is hot anime cosplayers spending all my money playtesting games! “Double Exposure” (which, IIRC, began long ago and far away as a group running LARPs in Piers Anthony’s “Phaze” setting) runs a regular hall-o-playtests, where a dozen or more games run on a two hour cycle: You get a ticket, you are given a number, when the guy whose microphone doesn’t work quite right says something that sounds like your number, you go up, and see which games have open slots for that session.

I show up, not knowing what to expect, and see there’s a Sharknado game.

IT MUST BE MINE!

Fortunately, I got in. And I had enough fun I found when they were running demos outside the playtest hall and signed up for one of those, too. So I have played two full games of the pre-Kickstarter version. The rules and design are in “late flux” stage; they’re refining, but the core seems pretty solid. Playtest components are placeholders (a single generic shark photo for the shark cards, instead of unique illustrations for each, etc.) but it’s pretty well along.

First, I asked if they had the license. You’d be surprised (if you know nothing about humanity) at how many people are very far along in the development of a game tied to an IP and who have no idea you need the IP holder’s permission. I’ve even met a few who think the IP holder is going to pay THEM for designing this awesome game to promote their property. (Perhaps I will design a game called “Too Stupid To Live”, something like CAH…)

Yes, they did. Good.

The game is a cooperative race against time. A sharknado is threatening the city, and the players (running various characters with different abilities and strengths) must stop it. There’s at least three scenarios (I played in two), and probably more. There’s difficulty scaling for each scenario, as well.

Sharknado - Mia

I found a laser chainsaw. Your argument is irrelevant.

The sharknado runs according to specific rules, governing its direction, how many sharks it spits out, and so on. During the playtest, one of the designers “ran” the sharknado, like a GM, but that’s not needed. It’s purely mechanical.

Players manage action tokens, reroll tokens, permanent and “single use” equipment, and wounds. If your current character dies (which happens often), you just pick a new one from the stack. Pity about all the cool gear you scavenged.

I found great armor and weapons... then I took a sharknado to the face. And legs. And arms.

I found great armor and weapons (after this picture was taken)… then I took a sharknado to the knee. And torso. And head. And arms.

There are some very nice balancing elements. Players in the same hex can cooperate, share gear, use special abilities (like healing) on each other… but if the sharknado enters that hex, all players in it die. Instantly. There are usually multiple goals to achieve to win a scenario… any one goal is easier if everyone works together, but this could mean there’s no time to reach other goal points on the map. So there’s motive to stick close, and motive to split up.

By design, Sharknado is highly random — the designer referred to it as “Ameritrash”, by contrast with the European style of low- or non- random games. In the two games I played, victories were won by complex application of resource management and careful timing of each player’s turn and actions (each player spends action points, but can do so in an interwoven fashion, with one player spending some points to move into a hex, another player handing him an item, and then spending more points to do something else), but each was won at the last possible turn, and a single die roll could have foiled it all.

It feels like one of the movies. It’s random, violent, bloody, ridiculous, and fun. I will be backing the Kickstarter when it goes live.

PS: Yes, I asked before taking the pictures. I also asked if posting the pictures in public fora would be OK.

KS Hype: Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Just a shout out to a Kickstarter I backed, and think is well worth supporting: Michael Satran’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

Romans, dinosaurs, lizard men, wizards, cyborg mole people(!), and probably a lot more! Perfect for any kind of pulpy or superheroic adventure from the 19th century to the 21st. It’s written to support Hero System, Savage Worlds, and Mutants & Masterminds. Check it out.

Disclaimer: There ain’t none. I’m not part of the project, don’t get paid for posting this, and am not getting anything beyond what I paid for in the KickStarter. I have worked with many of the principles before and hope to again, but given how small the tabletop industry is, the odds are good that if there’s an RPG kickstarter worth backing, I’ve probably had some interaction with the folks behind it.

The As-Required-By-Law Kickstarter Post-Mortem

Kickstarter Post-Mortem (Updated 2-25-2014)

As Seemingly Required By Law


So, my first Kickstarter is done. I beat the odds in several ways… it was funded. The product was produced, if not 100% on time, at least mostly under budget. (That is, I paid for all expenses out of the money raised…. with the exception of paying myself for the time involved. At the end, after expenses, I “earned” approximately $0.75/hour, or 1/10th minimum wage.)

So what have we learned?

Writing The Book Was The Easy Part

You’d think actually producing the core product would be the biggest hurdle, and after that, it would all be gravy. Well, that’s not the case. I found this experience an object lesson as to why any argument to the effect of “Dude, publishers and producers and agents are all just parasites feeding off the creative soul! Eliminate the middleman! Fight the power!” is total bull bagels. You know why middlemen exist? Because the skills and knowledge involved in turning a word processor document into an actual book are not instinctive, and time spent on that process is time spent not doing anything creative. I’d estimate it took almost as much time to handle the post-writing work as it did to write the book. Fortunately, a large chunk of that time was learning curve — it will go more smoothly next time. Yes, I’m stupid enough to think there will be a next time.

Figure Out The Art Early

One of the major delays was getting the art done. Some of this was due to Life Happening on the part of the artist, which is unavoidable and in no way his fault — my own current situation is ample proof that the universe is going to kick you in the balls and then shove you off a cliff at the worst possible time. Another part of it was due to me not knowing what scenes I wanted illustrated… or even what scenes would be in the book… until I was done writing it. Ordering art earlier in the creative process runs the risk of being locked into story elements you might later decide to change, but ordering it later means everything is delayed.

Size (And Shape) Matter

Another exciting discovery was that the costs of a book increase dramatically with page count, and that page size reduces page count — and thus cost. The reason so many self-published or small-press books are 6 x 9 is because that’s an optimal point between increasing cost-per-page due to larger pages, and increasing page count due to smaller pages. However, if your art was commissioned at a different height/width ratio… it won’t fit properly. And if you’re running really late getting the book out, you have to bite the bullet and deal with things that aren’t perfectly sized, cropping or scaling and hoping for the best.

Details Matter

Margins matter. Font size matters. Headers/footers, page numbers, and making sure things look good when viewed in a double-page spread as a print book, not just as a scrolling PDF, matter. Some fonts don’t embed properly. These are all things I didn’t know, and had to learn, and each one added to the delays in getting the books out. (And I shall be honest — the final print copy was “acceptable”, not “perfect”. The kerning is a bit off. The inner margin is too narrow. It’s well within the bounds of “readable”, but it could be better, and now I know.)

"Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!"

“Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”

Software

I figured the only program I needed to know how to use was Word. Bwaahahah! One of the things I learned was that I needed to learn image-editing and image-conversion software… which I didn’t own and didn’t have time to learn. Fortunately, I did have skilled friends who took pity on me. They probably won’t take pity on me a second time, so I  either budget money to pay people for their hard-earned skills and talents, or I budget time and money to learn this stuff myself.

Graphic Design

Seriously, I'm Not

Seriously, I’m Not

I have  very little graphic design sense. Contrary to grade school philosophy, people can and do judge books by their covers. Even with good art, the total design — font choices, placement of title and author, background — had to be good enough to say “This book is professionally written.” Is it logical to judge the quality of the words by the layout of the cover? Somewhat. Just as poor grammar/spelling in a post sends the message “I don’t care enough about my point to write it properly; why should you care enough about it to consider my message?”, sloppy design and layout says, “I don’t care about how the book looks; why should you trust me to care about the plot, characterization, and editing?” So, while I had some placeholder choices for the “late beta” PDF I released when I realized there would be a long delay for the final copy, I knew it wasn’t good enough. Further, the fact the scaling had changed meant understanding appropriate design “tricks” to make the art look good despite having the wrong height/width ratio. Fortunately, as noted, I had friends come to my assistance.

Let It Flow, Let It Flow, Let It Flow…. (Added 2-25-2014)

Something else discovered fairly late in the process. When I was finally getting around to adding in the credits for the backers, I wanted them to look good (and also not increase the page count too much). I knew enough Word stuff to set up alternating sections with different column counts, so I could have a header listing each backer tier, and then a two column list below that, and then the next division, and so on. It did look pretty decent, all in all. Until I converted it to epub. Then it sucked. Why? Because epub and mobi (and probably all other e-reader formats) are designed to flow text across all sorts of screens. They throw away all but the most basic formatting information to allow for maximum flexibility. So, I ended up having two different files (which I have to manually maintain in parallel — if I fix a typo in one, I must go change the other, then re-export both), in order to have one version that looks good in print and one that looks good in silicon. (I understand that “real” layout tools handle this automatically, and by “automatically”, I mean “someone who knows what they’re doing can set them up to do it”.)

General Conclusion: There Is No Magic Book Fairy

Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that all I needed to do was write the book, edit it, and then email a PDF to magicbookfairy@selfpublishing.com, and that would be that. As I learned, not so much. Overall, dealing with art, layout, formatting, and file conversion issues took about 30-40 hours of time. I can probably whack that down to 10-15 now that I know a lot more about what’s required, and that’s going to get factored in to the next budget plan.

Kickstarter Announcement! Rogue Planet: Adventures On The Star Prison! With Exclamation Points! Lots Of Them!

Terrifying… I Mean, Good News, Everyone!

Following a lifetime habit of jumping on the bandwagon after the dead horse has left the open barn, I have decided to try to Kickstart a new novel. As both of my fans know, I have a deep and abiding love for pulp science-fiction, especially the genre known as “Sword & Planet” or “Planetary Romance”. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter, Alan Burt Akers, and Leigh Brackett, are some of the better known names in this area. Alien worlds, swordfights, rayguns, airships, strange allies, stranger foes… it’s an amazingly fertile genre for gaming. There’s been a lot of games and settings out lately that draw inspiration from this kind of space opera, but not a whole lot of new material in the genre — and I have decided to do something about that.

I don’t want to repeat a lot of the information already on the Kickstarter Page, which, by the way, is right here. That page lays out my goals, hopes, dreams, and plans, except for the plan involving the dachshunds with plasma cannons. I mostly want to call attention to the page, as I think there’s a set of people that visit here who do not follow my Facebook page or Xanga site. If you like my game writing and/or my fiction, and you want more, please, back this project. If you back this project, please, tell other people about it. There are, I believe, many more people who would enjoy the book I want to write than I currently have any contact or connection with. I need to reach out to those people who do know me, and my work, and ask them to reach out to their circles of friends and like-minded individuals, and so on.

The real difficulty with Kickstarter, or any crowdsourced project, is standing out from the crowd. There’s a million things clamoring for the eyes, and wallets, of the masses, and as much as I generally dislike self-promotion, there’s no other way for this to work.