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Archive for November, 2011

I suppose this is technically an addendum to my last post about the signet rings, but I figured it merited its own mention.  I now have Moonkin Druid signet and slim rings in my Shapeways store, Tish Tosh Tesh Toys.

Moonkin Slim Ring

Moonkin Slim

Moonkin Signet Ring

Moonkin Signet

Ah, that’s the full set now.   Back to Zomblobs!

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It’s “Cyber Monday”, and among other sales out there, Shapeways is having a 15% off sale.  That means my Gearpunk dice are on sale, as are the World of Warcraft Druid signet rings.  They are rejiggering the pricing around a bit as well, so the prices are going to be changing in my shop, too.  No more of the nice progression of price points I planned out, no, it’s going to be a mess of weird numbers.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that all the prices are going to be coming down a bit.  I’m happy about that.  Lower prices, 15% sale… it’s a good day to investigate Shapeways.

Here’s my shop, Tish Tosh Toys

and there’s the main Shapeways page.

I now have the Resto and Cat form rings up for sale as well.  Sorry they are late, but hey, sale day is a good day for them, right?  Moonkin rings are in the pipeline, hopefully available in the next few days.

Cat Signet

Cat Slim

Resto Signet

Resto Slim

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Dyed Dice

I posted about these over on the Shapeways forums, but I neglected to show them off here.  The paint job isn’t done yet, but I’m pretty happy with how these turned out.  (These are the dice I noted over thisaway, my Gearpunk dice, with freshly fixed D24 over on Shapeways.)

Starting out in white plastic…

Gearpunk Dice Set

I used RIT cloth dye (the white printouts are actually a nylon plastic, and the RIT dye work on nylon), a plastic spoon and a plastic cup.  I never did really get the water boiling (I just used hot tap water and 30 seconds in the microwave every six minutes or so), but I kept stirring the dice in the hot water for about a half hour.  In retrospect, I probably should have dyed them again to get a darker color (and I should have used a brown instead of black, which just turns out purplish), but they are dark enough to contrast well with the bronze acrylic paint I’m using to pick up the highlights.

Dice Dyed Painted

…they do look better under different lighting, and in person.

Dyed Painted Gearpunk Dice

I’m obviously not done yet with the big dice, but I’ll get there after doing all of my other projects.  I really want to get Zomblobs! into playtest form within a week, and I still need to make Shapeways see my other signet rings I made.  (Healer and Cat glyphs in the druid rings.)

Oh, and I finally pulled the trigger and bought RIFT from Steam’s sale this morning.  Maybe I’ll play it sometime next year.  I do want to give it a shot, but life is kinda busy at the moment.

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One of the cardinal… guidelines… of game design is the K.I.S.S. mandate: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Designers (and I count myself in this group, though I’m just an indie, and an artist by day) have a tendency to want to make intricate systems with many moving parts.  Part of the beauty of a good game is how well design elements mesh and make something more than the sum of their parts.  Tangentially, this is why emergent gameplay is so fascinating, but that’s an article for another time.  This tendency is an asset and a liability.

Like a precision watchmaker, I find joy in making initially disparate parts work together to make a great game, and like that watchmaker, sometimes most of my work will never be seen.  It’s like working in special effects in a movie; if you’re doing your job right as the FX guy, nobody knows because the effects are seamless.  (I almost went into movies; that is what my degree was geared for, Pixar-style, but I refuse to work in California.)  Like a good watch, a good game should present a simple function to its end user, and do an excellent job with this primary function.  Maybe there are bells and whistles under the hood that are there for further tinkering, maybe the function takes a lot of work behind the face, but in the end, a watch tells time.

A game provides… what?  A good play experience at the very least, hopefully with more depth as players dig into the strategies and implications of the design.  This exploration should come naturally, though.  Dropping an encyclopedia on a new player might be fine in some niches, but generally, the old Othello tagline “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Of course, each game will be different, and will appeal to different players, so this is more about culling extraneous design elements than it is about establishing a baseline for all games.  If a particular game design element just isn’t giving a lot of benefit for its cost, maybe it needs to be cut.

A couple of days ago, I posted a unit card for my Zomblobs! game.  This is a game that is meant to be a tabletop wargame, in the vein of BattleTech or WarMachine… just with blobs and some other quirks.  Here’s the card again for reference (and remember, it’s effectively boiling a whole page of data into a single card):

Zomblob Card Murmurer

As Andrew and Yeebo noted last time, it’s a busy little beastie.

There are three major mechanics in play here that drive the game engine:  Time, taken largely from my Tick Talk Time articleHeat, inspired in equal parts by BattleTech and Hordes and a simplification of what I wrote about in my Losing Control article, and the D6 Combat (no fancy single word keyword for this yet) based largely on the World of Warcraft Miniatures tabletop tactical game.  There’s nothing revolutionary here, like 4D space or psychometric controls, but that’s not really what I’m aiming for anyway.  This is a part of a bigger whole, ultimately, but it needs to function as a tabletop game as well.  Consequently, I’m dancing around a few self-imposed design constraints.

One, I want it to be easy to pick up, both for new players and veterans of Warhammer and the like.  Two, I want it to be a relatively small scale game, where every unit is important (think Final Fantasy Tactics rather than Warhammer).  Three, I want to explore the tactical implications of time.

It’s that third one that I hung a lot of hopes on.  Zomblobs! Tabletop isn’t a game where players take turns moving their whole army, like Warhammer or WarMachine.  It’s more like the WoW Minis game, where units move according to their own personal clock, and turns can wind up interwoven like the queue in Final Fantasy X.  (Again, I wrote more about this in the Tick Talk Time article.)

This, of necessity, means each unit needs a way to track their time.  Officially, these are the rules for Time (though I may rework the text for clarity as time goes on, this is the core of the design):

Every Action in the game costs Time.  Time is listed in the Costs section of each Action.

When an Action is used, the unit gains Time Points as noted in the Action Cost.  A unit can never have more than 6 Time Points.

Each unit will need to track its current Time.  A D6 die will work well for this.

A unit can only take its turn to move or use Actions if it has no Time Points.

If all units have Time Points, remove one Time Point from all units.  After this, any units that now have no Time Points may take their turn as normal, acting in Initiative order (highest initiative goes first, roll for ties), choosing to move and/or Act.

A unit’s turn incurs at least a single Time Point cost no matter what, even if they do nothing but pass their turn.

This should do what I want it to do, with teams interweaving their turns, units acting when they are ready instead of waiting for their laggard teammates.  This is also a mechanical theme; Feral units are fastest and will be able to act more frequently and move farther, while the Zomblobs are slow, plodding, powerful beasts, and the Aspirants are somewhere in between.  It might be a lot to think about and track, though.

…wandering off on a brief tangent again, Mark Rosewater has written a few times about tracking information in the Magic the Gathering game (though my Google-fu is weak today and I can’t find said articles, sadly).  The game has this Frankenstein’s Monster card with a weird mishmash of counters to show its state.  In recent years, they have tried to make counters only be +1/+1 or -1/-1, with a few exceptions like time counters.  This streamlined the game and made it easier to understand just what those little counters on the cards meant.  In effect, it means that the players have to track and parse fewer things to understand the game state.  The game has been “dumbed down”, perhaps, but it made it easier to play while still maintaining the bulk of the complexity and tactical depth that comes with those unit modification counters.

…back to the Time mechanic of Zomblobs, then, it’s one more thing to track in the game.  This, on top of Health (Hit Points, really, as Yeebo wrote eloquently about) and Heat (both of which will have a 12-unit span, making them trackable with a D12 like Time Points can be trackable with a D6).  Now, tracking three things per unit isn’t terrible when compared to some tabletop games, but it does mean fiddling around with pen and paper or dice.  I’m not inherently opposed to this, it’s expected in this sort of game, but I am keenly aware of the potential pain involved in tracking too much.  It seems like tracking Time isn’t quite as essential to the unit as Health or Heat (it’s not even part of the unit card), but at the same time, it’s pretty central to what I’m doing with the game’s combat tactics and pacing.  Time and Heat are both costs for each unit’s action, and they are fundamental to how units interact.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the time system will be too much to handle for players who just want to take turns.  I think in the balance, the Time system adds enough tactical depth that it’s worth the cost of tracking it.  Maybe I’m wrong, but hopefully playtesting will give me a better idea of how well it’s received.

I hope to have a set of PDF files available here in a couple of weeks or so for printing by beta testers.  I’d greatly appreciate any help in testing this, especially by those of you who do have experience with other tabletop wargames.  I’ll make a big post on that when it’s ready, but I figured I’d mention it now.  In the meantime, does this make sense?  Any thoughts?

Thanks for the input!

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Welcome to the latest sneak peek at the current state of the Zomblobs! project.  This is a unit card for one of the Zomblob units.  Each unit will have a miniature, a card and some dice to keep track of game data.  The units will play on a hex grid by default, but the game engine can convert readily to a gridless system.  The core game that I’m making will consist of six units for each of the three breeds, Zomblob, Feral and Aspirant.

I’m in the middle of something at the moment, so I’m not going to dig a lot into much of this, but I’ll do a proper writeup of it over the next few days.  I just wanted to get this out there and see what sort of impression it leaves.  It’s not exactly final, as I want to tweak the visuals a bit for colorblind players, and I may tweak some of the values and effects.  This is pretty close to what I’ll call my beta version of the game, though, and while the details might change on this particular unit, and the graphic design may change a bit, the mechanics are all where I want them.

Zomblob Card Murmurer

See you in a few days!

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I turned 35 today.  As I noted over on Google+, this means I’m officially eligible to be President of the United States.

I’m not sure if that’s scary or a simple answer to the question of who to write in on the ballot.  Maybe it’s both.

Whatever the case, my extended family gave me cash for my birthday (so much easier), so I ordered a couple pounds of dice from Amazon.  I should have the Zomblobs! design in playtest form by the time they get here.  (And I’ll be looking for beta testers, incidentally, if anyone is interested in printing out some PDF files and playing along.)

Oh, and here, have a song to celebrate!

Still Alive (Mirror’s Edge) by Lisa Miskovsky

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OK, it’s not the same thing as MMO tanking, and neither is it the same as social tanking, but real world tanking is far more important.  Many thanks to veterans of the armed forces.  All politics and gibberish aside, I think this sums it up quite well, the impulse to serve and protect:

Honor

(hattip Brian Gallimore’s blog)

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I received the 3D prints of my Druid Signet ring, the Druid Glyph ring and my set of Gearpunk dice.  Shapeways does good work… though it looks like I need to do a little still with the D24 to make it read cleanly.  (So to the one person so far who has ordered the ten die set, I’m sorry!  Please contact me via the contact info up there on the About tab, and once I get this D24 model all happy again, I’ll print out another one and send it to you.  It’s not really Shapeways at fault here, I didn’t design the numbers well enough.)

It looks like I was aiming too small for the detail work, but overall, for custom 3D printing, these turned out really well.  Only a decade ago, this would have been absurdly expensive to do.  Now, for all three prints, it was around $50.  It’s not practical for big stuff, but for little cool widgets and wodgets, this is awesome.

Druid Rings Together

The big ring is size 10 and the small ring is size 6.  Bigger is better for detail work, apparently.

Druid Rings On Hand

Both of those are on my fat-fingered hand.  Note to self:  hands on the same person can vary in size somewhat… the ring almost got stuck on my right hand, but fit just perfectly on my left (it fit nearly as well as my wedding band; it’s quite comfortable).

Gearpunk Dice Set

Dice Size Comparison

I fully intend to dye the dice black and drybrush them with metallic paint to get the proper steampunk feel, but that will come later.

In the meantime, there’s also this little gem that I burned 12 hours on over the last few days.  A World of Keflings, now in Sculpey!  (Based on this promotional poster, direct from NinjaBee, my employers.)

A World of Keflings

Wire, armature wire and tinfoil armature on wood, 2 hours.  This is really the crucial part, because it’s the skeleton of your sculpture.  It needs to be solid (though you can fudge it a little bit with a thin layer of Sculpey you put on and then cook, then put on your detail layer) so you don’t have trouble with the structural integrity.  Like a figure drawing, you really need to nail down the proportions or else all the detail work in the world won’t help down the road.  (Notably, I should have made Doug’s arms longer so his face would be more visible, but once I got the clay on, it was too late.)

Kefling Armature

Tools of the sculpting trade, Super Sculpey and a pair of simple plastic tools.  Yes, this is really all I used beside my own two hands.  You can do a lot with simple tools if you’re careful.

Tools of the Trade

Base and some detailing, 3.5 more hours.  Most applications of the Sculpey are 1/4″ or less.  Thinner layers bake better and faster, and are lighter so the armature doesn’t get overloaded.

Getting Started

Finished product, 6.5 more hours, plus cooking.  45 minutes at 200F, standard electric stove, cooled for 1 hour before I took it out of the oven.

They Probably Don't Need Their Winter Coats

Hero pose!

Grand total, 13 hours or so.  Totally worth it.  Maybe someday I’ll paint it with acrylic paints, but for today, I’m happy with it in this “raw” state.  There’s a certain appeal to the basic sculpture.

In The Soft Daylight

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OK, so apparently, World of Warcraft is supposed to be angling to be more warlike, pitting the Alliance and the Horde against each other as in days of yore.  Actions have been taken by both sides that are somewhat less than tolerant and neighborly, leading to something resembling hate.  Faction pride rests largely on putting the other guys down, and as Raph Koster notes (among other things in this interesting presentation), the service business model (live games, whether subscription or microtransaction) relies heavily on emotional attachment.

On the other hand, there’s this Corpsegrinder fellow, no doubt his moniker of choice indicating his civility and kindness, caught in a recording embodying an attitude we might see as somewhat less than tolerant and neighborly, fracturing the WoW community.  The reaction has predictably been… hostile.

I don’t really intend to speak to the political or social concerns with Corpsegrindergate, other than to note that I think the guy isn’t someone I’d invite to my home.  No, what interests me at the moment is the juxtaposition between the efforts to foster war and division within the game, and the bitter divides that arise out of the game.  How curious it is that hate might be said to drive both (and there’s plenty of hate and anger to go around… Mr. Ranty McGrumpypants Corpsegrinder isn’t the only fellow who needed a nap), yet the former is somehow desirable while the latter isn’t, as if hating someone because they were part of the Alliance or the Horde is somehow less prejudiced than real world bigotry.  (And if we’re going to run the “it’s just a game” excuse, that cuts both ways.)  It’s so easy to demonize the Other… but it’s not paying attention to what’s really there.

I tend to think that driving faction pride and rage-fueled PvP isn’t wise for the community at large.  BBB and his commenters note occasions where die hard Horde players are civil around Alliance players (and why are Hordies assumed to be ruder in general?), so I’m not asserting a full correlation (thankfully)… but I do think that the faction split should be framed more as competition than contention.  There are plenty of threats to Azeroth and its denizens that we don’t need to manufacture internecine warfare.  It’s no longer us as a single player pitting our RTS armies against a computer, those Hordies or Alliance grunts are piloted by real people who have a tendency to take offense, whether intended or not.

Some players will always take things personally, and some jerks are simply jerks.  Some people are incurably ignorant.  Few will conflate real life with the game… but hatred leaves its prints on attitudes and learned behavior, no matter the venue.  It’s a burden on the soul that weighs in at the most inopportune moments.  Yes, drama and games tend to be based on conflict of some sort, someone winning while someone else loses, but the attitudes behind that drive can vary.  It’s always interesting to me to see how devs try to mold player actions and attitudes.

Hate is a powerful, driving force.  It’s also a potentially hazardous thing to use to fuel your game.  Competition and contention aren’t the same thing.  Much like it’s silly to piddle around with various poop harvesting quests while Deathwing is in the wings, Azerothians have better things to do than engage in a deadly version of “he said, she said”.  If we’re supposed to be heroes in Azeroth, petty squabbling isn’t going to help.

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My kindergarden daughter is improving her reading abilities in leaps and bounds.  One of the interesting things that she started doing on her own is to read a sentence backwards.  She can read it perfectly well forwards, but she reads backwards on occasion more to really get a good look at the words than anything else.  I’m not sure why she started that, but I told her it was a great idea.  (She might have picked up on the quirk I have of reading perfectly fine upside down or sideways when I’m holding a book so that the kids can see it, even if it’s off kilter for me.)

In high school, my art teacher had us take an illustration of a human, flip it upside down, and replicate it as faithfully as we could.  This was her way to train us to draw what we saw, not what we thought we saw.  Flipping the source short-circuited our tendency to just draw what we thought we needed to draw.  The shapes were unfamiliar enough (though familiar, which made for a curious mental perception loop) that we resorted to drawing shapes and hoping we got them perfect enough that they would fit together correctly when we turned them right side up.

Y’see, whether in art or in reading, we tend to think ahead a little bit and anticipate what we’re going to be doing next… and sometimes, we anticipate incorrectly.  We know that a human eye looks like this, our own mental visual shorthand for what an eye should look like (it’s worth noting that everyone has a different mental image).  We’ve seen so many of them over the years that we just assume that we know exactly what we’re doing.  And yet, everyone’s eyes are different.  Everyone’s features are a little quirky.  The vast majority of people don’t even have a perfectly symmetrical face, but since we know that human faces are symmetrical for the most part, we tend to miss the subtler details of the individual.  This is true when it comes to race or age as well; if we know that a fellow with dark skin has thicker lips and a broader forehead, or a Middle Easterner has an aquiline nose, or an older Asian lady has hooded eyes, we may well ignore what we actually see.  Caricatures play strongly to the cliches, largely because that’s what people expect… even if it’s not accurate for the subject at hand.

When someone reads “Rudolph the Red…” they almost reflexively put in “Nosed Reindeer”, no matter what is actually on the page.  When we read “Democrat” or “Republican”, “liberal” or “conservative”, “religious” or “atheist”, “Christian” or “Muslim”, “male” or “female”, our learned mental patterns fill in the gaps and anticipate what comes next.  We know that those (x) are evil corporatist pigs, or that those protesters are unwashed hippies who live in their divorced mum’s basement.  We know that those religious guys are hypocrites, or that rich people cheated the system somehow.  Our brains shut off once we have the sketchy outline, and we fill in the gaps the way we always know they get filled.  It’s obvious, so there’s no reason to actually pay attention.  Why swim upstream against the meme when it’s more efficient to go with the flow?

We know something… that ultimately turns out to be untrue.  This, not because we are wrong to try to anticipate, which is useful, and not because we are uneducated, for we are all very familiar with the human face and common communication patterns… no, we are wrong because we assume instead of observe, we label instead of listen.  We jump ahead to the response instead of reading what’s on the page, we formulate counterarguments and questions instead of listening to what’s being presented.

It’s a survival tactic.  It keeps us from thinking too much, from wasting time.  Assumptions and prejudice help us function in the absence of perfect knowledge and incomplete comprehension and the lack of will or time.

And yet, sometimes… if we miss what is actually in front of us, we make mistakes.

Authors, artists and game designers tend to take advantage of this, and some consumers love the “twist” to stories and art as well.  Humans are very good with patterns, and creative sorts love to tweak those expectations.  Less innocuously, so do media moguls and politicians.  If there are no details presented, or if the patterns might suggest something that doesn’t quite represent reality, well, we’ll just leave that up to the individual, hm?  Certainly the audience can make up their own minds, right?

Allusions, aspersions, assumptions… very useful tools, in the right hands.  Stage magic is all about tricking the natural anticipation and pattern recognition systems of the audience, even if they have to establish a pattern that they then subvert, rather than relying on an existing framework of assumptions.  It’s the old shell game philosophy; establish a pattern, add a little razzle dazzle and sleight of hand, and the mark’s own brain does the bulk of the trickery for you.  Classic Inception-style mental Judo.

So it’s interesting to me that in a world that sometimes seems upside down and backwards, the best solution can often be to look at it upside down and backwards.  Maybe you had it right the first time after all, but taking the time to really look at what you see, really listen to what you hear, and really comprehend what you read, well… that can make a world of difference.  Sometimes we have to look beyond the things we know into the things we really should be learning about.

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