Seems I poked the ant nest a little, sparking a bit of a conversation with my last minipost. Not that I’m claiming credit for anything but sparking some thoughts, though; these fine folk are doing the heavy lifting:
I’ve commented at their places, so I’ll keep this short and hit something I haven’t touched on there, speaking of specialization and generalization. (Since one of the tangential topics is about players and their approach to their characters, as well as how characters fit into MMO design.)
From Robert Heinlein:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Disclosure: I work at a small gaming studio, where I’ve carved out a niche of being a multifaceted employee. I’m primarily an artist, but I dabble in design, animation, even scripting. I love that I can be a bit of a generalist, as it makes me valuable in more situations, and keeps things interesting. I’m not as fine of a painter as my concept artist buddies, who paint all day every day, but I’m happy where I am. This is also why I’m not a minor cog in a big studio like Disney or EA, where I would be a specialist. I’ve been there, and I didn’t care for it. That said, those specialist positions don’t threaten me… they just don’t interest me.
I also play a Druid character in World of Warcraft. It’s the most flexible class, and I latched onto it precisely because it does allow the greatest variety in play. And flight form. I love that.
(Oh, and as I noted at Rowan’s place, I’d push it further and let passive and maybe even active abilities persist on the character, no matter the class. I loved Final Fantasy Tactics for how I could build a strong character by pulling from a variety of jobs/classes. I could keep a Ninja ability on my Knight, and it was great fun. I’d love to see that in an MMO.)
It’s been a great 2013, with our two Kickstarter projects doing well, thank you everyone! We’re still shipping out the Tinker Decks and the Tinker Dice, but we’re also looking forward to what else we may be able to do. To that end, we’d like to get some feedback from those of you who might be interested in what we’re plotting. (And if you’re one of the kind souls who come here for my other assorted posts about gaming, game design, art and photography, I’ll do more of those, too. I’ve been itching to do some “regular” blogging. Lots of ideas rattling around here. This Kickstarter stuff might just be static, sorry, but we’ll get some more signal in here, too.)
So, first and foremost, we’re planning a new campaign just for the Gearchips that we offered in the Tinker Deck campaign. We do have a few leftovers, but there is some interest in more.
These Gearchips are poker chip sized, ready for play with the decks… or whatever else. My kids just love playing with little metal gears, and they can serve well as tokens in a variety of games. They are 39mm, so they can even stand in as wreck markers in WarMachine for 40mm base units or the like. We’ll fire that up in the next month or so, since a lot of the groundwork is ready to go. We need to run a campaign because we still have to make sure we have enough interest to get a “print run” of the coins. We’re not yet far enough ahead of the curve to just go get more coins and hope the demand happens later.
Secondly, we’re planning a set of Gearchip-like game coins. Specifically, they will be gear-edged coins, all built to mesh with each other, no matter which denomination. They will have square holes in the center for use either as driver gears with a square axle, or to be able to turn freely on a round axle. They can function in any game or situation that calls for coins or chips of different denominations (say, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy or Magic the Gathering), or as parts to a machine, albeit a simple, low powered one. These won’t be highly hardened, tempered, true machine-ready gears, just toys. Still, that’s enough to have fun with.
We have some questions on these, though. What sort of metal finish? How to simplify the sale of them in batches, while still allowing some customizability to allow for use in a variety of games and situations? We’ve been very impressed with the Gearchip coins, and we want to see how we can riff on the idea. If you’ve a moment, we’d love some answers to this survey or comments down below. (For all the surveys, you can select more than one option if you wish.)
Third, we’re looking at producing another deck. We had a lot of fun with the Tinker Deck, and have other ideas we’d like to experiment with, if it’s worth it. We’re not at all sure that we’ll go with Bicycle as the printer again, though. They do good work, no doubt, and they are really good people to work with, but the print run of 2500 or so decks is a significant monetary hurdle. It’s not impossible, to be sure, but there are other options that we’re considering. These, of course, don’t carry the brand name or the instant quality assurance and recognition, which can be a different sort of barrier. If you’ve an opinion (or recommendation) on printers, please let us know.
Also, while we’re brainstorming, how about these options?
We’ve also considered making the Tinker pair of decks available in plastic, though that will definitely mean going with a different printer. We’re not seriously looking at Kem custom cards, as their prices are prohibitive. We’re looking at non-US printers for this (unless someone in the ‘States can compete).
Speaking of reprints, we did order some extras of the Tinker Dice, but if there’s enough demand, we may well do another campaign for those to get another batch going… though we’d spice it up a bit by offering new finishes. We’d simplify the ordering scheme, though, since it was overly complex this last time.
We’re also seriously considering rebooting the initial, failed, plastic Tinker Dice campaign, though we acknowledge that metal dice just seem to fit the theme better… and are in some ways, just plain cooler. Still, plastic dice have their charms, and are less likely to destroy your gaming table. They would be less costly, too.
There’s also a temptation to do some sort of token set for wargaming… but we need to figure out the best approach for that. Some of those templates are big, and might get prohibitively expensive to do in metal.
So thanks for chiming in, and for your support thus far!
…and we’ll get back to a game design post here in a little bit. There’s this one on worldbuilding I’ve had in mind for a while now…
It seems that a lot of it comes down to what I think of as tribalism. You know, the human reflex to want to associate with those who are like you, or who are perceived as like you, and shun those that are not. That “other” guy isn’t part of the tribe, so he isn’t to be trusted. It filters into everything, from politics to gaming. World of Warcraft is one easy example to point to, with their strict divide between factions, even to the point of enforcing it on otherwise genial Pandaran characters. It’s an easy thing to leverage in game design (and psychology); whip up some fury against the Other, and the emotional argument can stay ahead of logic and evidence.
For the Horde! Go, go, Alliance! …or whatever. (And ultimate victory goes to the cabal pulling the strings or jockeying for money or power, never the people doing the fighting.)
The whole core of “diversity” as a concept enhances the subconscious categorization of tribes, since everyone gets tagged and filed away in neat little categories. It fosters continued contention as factions jockey for position and prominence. It has always seemed to me to be Sisyphian, or perhaps Schroedingerish, where the “cure” perpetuates and even creates the problem.
When it comes to games, though, there’s an extra wrinkle. Some people play games and imagine themselves in the game, and want their game avatars to represent them. They want to connect with the characters on a personal identity level. This isn’t how I play games or read books, but it’s an understandable approach.
In fiction, this is less of an issue since books aren’t assumed to have a high level of interactability. Games, though, bank on giving players some level of autonomy, so it makes sense that players would also want their identity to be a part of that. I don’t care about it as a player, but it’s something game designers should keep in mind because some players do care.
For a point of reference, two of my favorite books in my teens were The Blue Sword and Sabriel, despite being neither a necromancer nor a kelar-gifted horseback warrior. I loved the heroines of those stories for what they did, and their gender and other “diversity” flags didn’t matter. (In fact, to this day, it sticks out to me that there’s a bit in Sabriel where the lead character thinks a bit about her period. It just seemed shoehorned in to show she missed her mother and to bracket her age… and that she’s a she.) Rather, they were fascinating characters with interesting choices in intriguing scenarios, and I learned about life seeing them grow, even though I didn’t really identify myself with either of them. I didn’t need to. To quote Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.“
In games, we are given the ability to make choices. I think this is crucial to the whole point of making a game in the first place. It seems to me that choices are the best vector to really look at diversity. I do love a Final Fantasy and its plucky band of teenagers and token minority characters out to save the world via weird leveling up schemes and oddball weapons, but it’s trite storytelling sometimes.
So… it’s not something that really bugs me, this push for diversity, except that I think it embraces the wrong priority. I think that a greater diversity of motivations, choices, conundrums and consequences are the far more important direction for creators to address. With luck, as the medium matures, this will happen naturally… though given the PAX kerfluffle and that quota-based mindset evinced in the tor.com article, I’m not sure that it will happen significantly quickly or profoundly.
I endorse this game design, though their implementation is timid, expensive, and extremely limited. I’d love to see this as a crack in the MMO design gestalt. It’s a simple little thing, but it could create some interesting ripples.
We now have the Tinker Dice in hand! We’ll be shipping them out to those who ordered only Tinker Dice. The Gearpunk Dice are still in processing (I emailed the company again last night to get a timetable and photos… we’ll pass along what we learn), so we’ll send those out later, along with the Tinker Dice for anyone who ordered some of each.
I’m an animator. I’m a writer. I’m an artist. I’m a math and science geek. I’m a gamer and a game designer. I do a lot of creative things, and always wish I could do more. My interests are varied and my skillset rather “MacGyverish”, and I work at a fairly small company, so I don’t really focus on animation, but it’s what I earned my college degree in. En route, I took many classes that required many papers to be written, and a handful of creative writing courses. Much of what I ran into there was either dry and boring or trippy hippy artsy fartsy nonsense, but it was at least good practice.
So… this NaNoWriMo thing. I’ve known about it for years, but I’m always too busy. This year, I’m actually even more busy than I’ve ever been. Still, I have a lot of novel ideas rattling around in my skull, and some of them really need to escape and see if they can’t spread their wings a little. I’m sort of not really committing to anything, but I’m going to spend a bit of time writing a novel skeleton, if not a novel itself. The thing is, there’s an interesting effect that I’ve noticed in my own writing that correlates really well to my animation. I think that the animator’s Illusion of Life can apply to writing as well.
There’s a difference between “straight ahead” animation and “frame to frame” animation, or keyframe animation. I’ve done traditional hand animation and computer animation. I specialize in the latter, but enjoy both. In both, straight ahead animation tends to produce a more lively, chaotic sort of feel, where the characters and action builds on itself and inertia carries the day. Keyframe animation is much better when certain story beats or timing points need to be honored, and it’s especially useful for things like walk cycles and other sort of motions that game development uses (I presently work in games, though I’d love to animate for feature films). Keyframing is also one of the major things that computer animation can leverage, since the computer can calculate the interim frames between keys, instead of needing an army of inbetweeners, as hand-drawn animation needs. There’s still artistry in making the bezier-like animation curves carry weight and timing well, since computer interpolation is pretty dry and mathematical, so it’s not really a magic “Animate Awesome” button, but computer animation uses keyframing very frequently, simply because it’s good at it. (And looking at those curves should give you an idea of how knowing math and physics are important to animation.)
Anyway, I’ve been thinking in similar terms for the novels I’d like to write. There are “story beats” that I’d like to hit, character moments I’ve written mentally that I’d like to work in, and other assorted vignettes that I’ve worked more on than others. It’s a sort of mental tapestry of ideas, themes, events and moments that I’d like to commit to paper. It’s not so much a bullet-pointed outline as it is a sketch. A sort of “concept art” for the story I’d like to write, a rough mental image that can be built into something stronger. I’ve tightened the art a bit here and there, and left some other pieces loose so that they can be reworked as the whole thing comes into focus.
Interestingly, there’s a bit of what I wrote about here going on, too, where certain bits and bobs of detail can intimate other details, and ultimately, there really is a lot I can leave up to the reader. It’s very much like a painting, in a way, where the novel has to carry enough detail and interest to let the reader fill in the gaps. The interesting thing is that I think this applies in the creative process, too, where I hit the high points, the key frames, if you will, of my story, and then go back and fill in the gaps as necessary, but find ways to leave other gaps open for the reader.
As I’ve been writing this, then, in bits and pieces over the years, I do parts, the vignettes, in “straight ahead writing”, but I use those vignettes, those “fixed points in time“, as key frames to hang the larger story on. It’s a relatively fluid approach, not unlike working from a sketch to a fully realized painting. Like figure drawing, It’s important to nail down a good sketch, understanding the skeletal structure, musculature, physics and such, before going on to finish a piece. Some elements can be done in a relatively straightforward manner, and other things might need to be left in the air, and in many ways, the whole piece gets attention over time, instead of just drawing a head, polishing it to a shine, then doing shoulders and so on. More than once, I’ve seen students do that sort of thing in figure drawing sessions, and then they are surprised when they run out of room at the bottom of the paper for the legs of the model. The piece really works best when considered as a whole from the outset, even if some of the process winds up being really straightforward, like rendering a face or a hand.
I know, it’s a bit of a stretch, writing about how visual art creative principles inform my writing, and all without using much in the way of visuals to underscore the idea (though the links I’ve included have good visuals). Still, I thought it might prove useful to try to illustrate how these principles of creativity can bleed between disciplines, and how learning in one sphere can enhance another. I’ve long believed that, like the basic physiology of neurons, creativity and intelligence grow as you start making connections between individual building blocks of your palette. If you want to have a rich imagination, you really should be inquisitive and explore. Learn as much as you can. Find things that allow you to reframe an idea in a way that you haven’t looked at it before, and it will help you understand what you’re looking at. Look for the connections and look for the different perspectives.
And then commit it to paper. I sketch most often with a ballpoint pen. It forces me to either roll with the mistakes or do it right in the first place. It’s an emboldening process, ultimately, even though mistakes are inevitable. Funny how often that’s true.
She was one of the historical figures I built this deck’s cast around. Some of the more esoteric inclusions, like Henri Giffard, fit holes that I discovered as I went about building my list, but Ada Lovelace was in the cast from day one.