Category Archives: Game Design

Tears of a Machine, 2nd Edition

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If you’ve seen me at a convention in the past year or so, or heard me talk on one of a few different podcasts, you might already be aware that a new edition is in the works for Tears of a Machine, my table-top role-playing game of giant robots and the emotional teens who pilot them. However, it may be that this is all news to you, so I’m going to answer a few questions on the subject. Most importantly-

Why a new edition?

I’ve changed and grown as a designer over the past years and have a better understanding of my own talents, as well as the theory that’s gone into making some of the best, most successful games of the last decade. I designed a new game I really enjoyed, but it didn’t feel right to add to a market with plenty of 80’s nostalgia inspired games. My wife suggested that I could take the parts I liked from that design and use it for Tears of a Machine. At first, I didn’t want to go back to an earlier game, but in time I realized she’s absolutely right. With only a few tweaks I was able to begin playing Tears based on that design.

What makes it different enough to warrant a new edition?

First and foremost, a new rules system. I’ve experimented with ways to convert Tears of a Machine into other systems, but never felt comfortable that they captured exactly what I wanted to be the focus of action and attention in a game of Tears. I want rules that serve a character’s motivations and build story while still allowing for strategy and critical thinking. What I’ve designed meets those requirements I set for myself, balancing open narration with guiding rules that not only resolve situations but also promote the growth of the characters.

There have been some subtle, but important changes to the game setting as well. For example I’m changing the name of the space-faring invaders to one a find more evocative, and clarifying their master plan. I’m also no longer adding unnecessary capitalization to the code name of our giant robots.

What about accessibility?

I am as committed as ever to bringing more accessible features to gaming. Tears first edition is still available as a free synchronized-text audio book, and the new edition will be too. However, with this second edition I started from a foundation of accessibility. I’ve learned more about dyslexia, as well as dysgraphia and dyscalculia, and I challenged myself to create a system that avoided numbers or complex and detailed rules.

Tears of a Machine second edition character “sheets” are a few structured sentences with important keywords. The only numbers needed can be tracked with short stacks of tokens. Fate (or Fudge) dice are used because they are easier to read, and the limited possible results balance flexibility with focus. This is not a “Fate” system game however. It is a new system, custom designed to tell these mechadrama stories.

There will be an audio book version, and I’m planning a series of video and audio tutorials to accompany the release. I’m also investigating what it would take to have an interactive PDF version, a support wiki, and roll20 character sheets with built-in dice rolling functionality. The real drive behind accessibility is to provide people with as many options as possible to experience the content, so I’m looking into every avenue I can.

When will it be released?

As soon as it’s done. Really, I had hoped to be finished with the beta draft by now, but life and the world have not been kind to my writing output. However, know that the core text is all in place, play tests have all been encouraging, and right now it’s a matter of connecting up all the pieces and beginning a full edit. I’m hoping to get a kickstarter going early next year. More updates on that soon!

What about the current edition?

I won’t be deleting the files for the old edition or taking it away from anyone. I’m still quite happy with it, a rare thing for my creative output. While the new edition is a refinement of the ideas that you’ll find in the old, it’s not so different that you couldn’t enjoy both. That said, characters and stats and such won’t really “convert” across editions. As the new edition develops I’ll put together a guide on how to recreate your favorite pilots in the new way of Tears, Second Edition.

Thank you for your interest in my game. I’m looking forward to being able to share more news, and eventually a new game with all of you! Until then, stay safe, stay sane, and remember that from knowledge, comes victory.

Russell Collins

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Afterworlds

Press play to listen. 1 minute, 28 seconds.

This past year I began work on the next game from Robot Claw. Afterworlds is about people trying to save the world from ghosts of the subconscious. Everything people do leaves marks on our collective minds – Echoes. Though most are passing thoughts and fading memories, especially strong feelings can hang on and negative emotions can fester. As Echoes linger they grow stronger until they’re hungry, jealous, angry ghosts that try to reach into the world of the Here and Now.

It’s the job of Pandoras to fight back. Pandoras have faced their Echoes; they have seen their negativity but accept it. They have turned their Echoes into Avatars, wells of psychic power that make them strong enough to face dangerous Echoes.

There’s more to fighting Echoes than just conjuring up psychic power and hitting them with it. Helping others with their troubles, building friendships, and bonding in close relationships can protect people or even save them from their Echoes. To be a Pandora you need to be a good friend as well as a good fighter.

The game is still early in development but I’m planning to have it ready for a 2017 kickstarter funding campaign. You can see a first play test on my YouTube page. Subscribe to the robotclaw blog or follow me on Google Plus or twitter (@robotclaw) for updates.

Afterworlds. To know thy enemy, know thyself.

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Metatopia Round-Up

To listen to this post press play. Duration approximately 4 minutes.

Thank you, as always, to the excellent staff, organizers, and attendees of Metatopia. This is my favorite convention and I think any designer is well served by attending.

For the sake of brevity I’m going to confine this post to the development of my own designs, but know that even if I don’t mention you here, I had a terrific time meeting, talking, and gaming with you. Metatopia is always a lovely, welcoming event and my biggest disappointment is that I have to stop being there.

GET9

I had quite a table for this one, with Matt Weber, Kay Strock, Will Hindmarch, Kenneth Hite, and James Mendez Hodes. Honestly, I felt a bit intimidated by this collection of experts at my table first thing in the morning. We launched right into it and I was happy to see the game in action with these players banging on all the moving parts. The strengths of the design stayed strong and the weaknesses were, well, weak. It might seem silly but it’s the kind of confirmation that I need in order to go forward. I’ve been so immersed in the modifications to the rules over the past few weeks that I could no longer trust my own perspective.

The ORCHID team set to work chasing down The Hardline after they bombed the arcology’s traffic control center. Soon enough we were schmoozing internet celebrities, crawling through maintenance ducts, and hijacking the ID chip in a rich lady’s purse. The session, though rushed, wound up with Wally Yates escaping defenestration by jamming a hidden shock knife into his assailant’s shoulder and Elaine, Marcus, and Akshay assassinating Engineer_420 with a concealed gun in the middle of a busy plaza.

It’s on the right track; I can see it emulating the structure and content of the inspiration but the balancing of the rules and the things that drive you to take action are still flimsy. I need to overhaul the scene economy or a single session will run eight hours. That’s a bit much when I’m emulating a show with 22 minute episodes. Character motivation is still slim. I need more time set aside for character development and growth which means simplifying the strategic element or hiding it away. I expect I’ll be working on this one for a while to come.

Operatic

Jim Cummings, Matt Weber, and Michael Miller helped me put this one through its paces and it’s a lot closer to done than I thought it was. The structure held up, the concepts were solid. I might need to re-adjust the number of cards in play however. It was pointed out to me that if someone’s already on board to play a game about having a melodramatic death I don’t need to force them down to zero cards to make them play the death scene.

A lunar senator fell in love with the cyborg police officer who defended her from a rioting crowd. Even though society frowned on the crudity of cybernetics and her wealthy fiance stood in the way she went with him into exile on Mars. As he sank into obscurity and depression his cyborg parts broke down and with no one to repair him the senator donated one of her own flesh-and-blood lungs. The operation cost her life however, as her own weak heart gave out and the officer disconnected himself rather than go on without her.

I’m going to set this one loose after a few more rules tweaks. Both Matt and Jim want to show it to their other musical friends and see what they think. I have some grand plans for what a final product might look like but definitely need a longer list of successful playtests before going forward with any of those schemes.

Focus Groups

I didn’t bring any of my designs before a focus group this year but I always sign up to participate in one or two of them. Focus groups discussing someone else’s game are the gentlest critique of your own work you can find. While I’m contributing to the conversation to help another designer I’m also turning over the advice I hear from those around me and comparing it to my own. Some things I overheard are going back into GET9 and might help me around the issue of balancing strategy and improv.

Thanks once again to everyone at Metatopia. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 3

Here we are; the home stretch!

Step 7 Continued – Finishing Up the Editing

In the end, after editing out some errors and tightening up the timing between the paragraphs, the audio version has clocked in at 7 hours and 17 minutes. I’ve listened through word by word and made some minor tweaks to the audio and the text to help them line up a little better, especially around the page marks. It’s not perfect, there’s some stuff I’d like to rework later, but I think it’s ready to be seen and heard.

Step 8 – Export the DAISY Digital Talking Book

TOBI includes a few different options for DAISY output. The most important choice is the format for the audio files. Higher quality files mean a cleaner sound but the book takes up more space, meaning longer download times. Because the audio is just spoken word, I choose to set the sample rate a 22,500 Hz. The reasoning behind this has to do with the Nyquist frequency and physics but suffice to say that the range of the human voice sits pretty well in this frequency band. In fact it’s the sample rate used for AM radio. After setting my MP3 encoding bit rate to 128, a mid-level quality the end result is a DAISY project folder about 200 megabytes in size. Continue reading

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Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 2

Picking up where I left off in the previous post, I’ll continue to guide you through the steps I’m taking to bring Tears of a Machine to you in an accessible format.

Step 4 – The Recording Application

TOBI is a free and open-source application programmed by DAISY Consortium members. It’s a flexible application that lets you work with your text and audio in a few different ways. You can record right through the application or if you want to use other software that’s more familiar to you, then you can import the audio files into TOBI later, matching up sections of the file with sections of the text. There are other applications on the market, some of them quite expensive, but TOBI’s basic features are enough for me.

Loading the new project is pretty easy. I just point TOBI at the .xml files that I got from the Save As DAISY operation in Word. After a quick conversion it opens up the file as a TOBI project. Continue reading

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Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 1

In this series of posts I’ll be posting the step-by-step process of creating the DAISY Digital Talking Book version of Tears of a Machine. Once it’s done I’ll have DAISY compatible versions of the raw text for Text-To-Speech reader software, an ePub book, and a fully narrated audio-book for DAISY and ePub 3.0 rich media playback.

If you want to know more about the basics of DAISY formats and initiatives, visit the homepage of the DAISY Consortium: http://www.daisy.org.

For this first entry I’ll explain getting the book text from Word DOC to DAISY friendly XML. Continue reading

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Tears Progress and Metatopia

Tears is in Layout

Nathan Paoletta’s work continues and it’s really gratifying to see the text laid out. It looks like a real book!

Sample pages

There’s still work to be done in tweaking the layout and settling in some elements. I’m on another hunt for typos as I review. In the meantime, Nathan is working on translating my Excel spreadsheet character sheets from the demo package into real character sheets. Once all of the page numbers are settled, I can begin setting up the files for the accessible text versions and soon start the audio recording for the digital talking book.

Nathan recently joined the crowd-patronage support network Patreon. If you enjoy his work then consider making yourself an ongoing backer of his future projects.

CRC Cards On the Way

CRC ID cards have been ordered so I’ll have them to pack in with books for the SAInt and higher tier backers. Take a look at the digital proof: Continue reading

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Our Work Continues

Preservation Forces Patch

As editing proceeds, we’re working on getting the other rewards prepared and ordered. Thanks to the generosity of our Angel, those of you donating at the $30 and higher level will receive a patch declaring your enrollment in the future forces that will save humanity from the Mayzor scourge.

When Jennifer Rodgers asked me what the patch should look like, I sent her this:

Preservation Force Logo

She, being an actual illustrator took a few hours to tinker with it and then sent me this rough draft:

coat.wip1

Yep.

How about I distract you from that embarrassing comparison by telling you more about Preservation Force tech? Continue reading

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