The Tears of a Machine S.C. is on its way. The full text of the book is written and in editing. The fancy new logo is ready, courtesy of Nathan Paoletta, and cover and interior art is already in progress with Jennifer Rodgers and Rashad Malik Davis. We’re on track to bring the game to Kickstarter, but there’s a lot more going on here than just a book. When I first created Robot Claw Design for my first edition of Tears of a Machine, I made a commitment to better accessibility for role-playing games. I will continue that intent by creating a human-voiced audiobook of the new edition, and even taking that a few steps further. ePub and rich-media books have developed and grown in the years since I released Tears, and with Tears S.C. I can take further advantage of that to include video demonstrations, as well as audio narration, and even embed the book into a Robot Claw website, allowing it to be its own standard reference document release. And it can continue to grow from that. We have the ability to include interactive features that could even become learning tools for teaching people to play!
Get ready for The Tears of a Machine S.C. Kickstarter campaign July, 2021!
Click play on this embedded audio to listen to this post (Two minutes, forty-four seconds):
Black Lives Matter.
Get involved wherever and however you can to help support people fighting oppression and pushing for societal reform. Visit the official Black Lives Matter homepage, donate to the bail funds, donate to the street medics, but also look to the Black voices in your community, offline and on, asking for help. Scroll through your Twitter feed and see who you can help with a gofundme or ko-fi donation, or even a simple share. Still unsure? Check out this card.
Change is not a sprint, it is a marathon; so get involved now, pace yourself, and see the challenge through.
The rest of this post will be me talking about myself, so feel free to move on – you’ve already experienced the most important part.
The Author is Alive
Making sure our work sends the right message is a challenge to creatives. Unless we are explicitly obvious we run the danger of someone misinterpreting, or even misrepresenting something we’ve created. In the past I’ve very much espoused the “death of the author” as an attitude regarding role-playing games. Once the writing is out of my hands I’m helpless to control what players do with it. In the years since then, a lot of important and impactful articles and posts have been shared that challenge that assumption, so I’m making a pledge to do more with Tears of a Machine 2nd Edition.
Sensitivity editor – As soon as there is enough text to review I will be hiring a sensitivity editor (or two!) to help me assess and correct my flaws.
Content guidance – In the previous edition content and setting were left open-ended or at the Director’s discretion. The new rules include steps for all players to collaborate on the subject matter at the start of play.
Less prescription of the setting – I want players to see themselves in the world and shape it to become a place where they belong. I’m loosening up some of my world building, rather than building in possible stereotypes, and hopefully countering some existing ones.
Language choices – There are some vocabulary words that are charged with meaning that I want to avoid in the new edition. “Alien” for example. While we default to have it mean “space aliens” when writing science-fiction, it’s real-world meaning shouldn’t be overlooked.
There are other changes as well on the way, but they are more specific to the content itself, such as emphasizing the role of the Preservation Force as an emergency response effort, rather than an army. I may share more about them as writing progresses.
Thank you for your time, and thank you to game writers such as James Mendez-Hodes and Meinberg for articles that have challenged me to reassess my own messages, and for designers like Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain for Consent in Gaming, published by Monte Cook Games.
Click the play button to listen to this post (4 minutes, 26 seconds):
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.
To celebrate the release of, well, everything, Tears of a Machine is available on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow at a discounted price. 25% off the standard price for PDF and Print-On-Demand. Now’s your chance to tell your friends to go get their own copy or gift them one to share the fun. This offer expires on September 15th, so be sure to spread the word and take advantage of it soon!
I was so excited yesterday that I wrote a long, babbling post and buried the lead! Here are the links to get the book files and some free playback software.
Download the ePub with this link: Tears of a Machine ePub. You’ll need software or hardware with support for ePub 3 rich media files, like Readium. You can still read the text with other software but you will not have audio playback synchronized to the text.
Download the DAISY files with this link: Tears of a Machine DAISY. Unzip the files and add them to your DAISY library. You’ll need DAISY playback software or hardware to get the synchronized audio playback while reading. Try Amis for a free option.
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 “Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 3”→
You may think I’ve been very quiet. Just the opposite! I’ve been very talkative in my studio, with my microphone and TOBI recording. Now that first big milestone is past: All of the text has been recorded! The raw audio files total 8 hours and 4 minutes so my prediction was good.
Next will be the detailed editing passes as I go through all of that audio removing stumbles or misreads and ironing out the placement of marks. How long will that take? I’m not sure but I expect it will be easier to get the time for it since I only need my laptop and headphones instead of the home studio and a quiet day. I’ve set a goal for myself to have the book released in DAISY and EPUB formats by August 2nd, the one year anniversary of our Kickstarter success.
Speaking of anniversaries, if you have any friends who’ve been wanting to get their hands on Tears of a Machine but are waiting for a sale, July 3rd is the anniversary of the KS launch, so they’ll soon have their moment.
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.