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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
To listen to this post press the play button (3 minutes, 22 seconds.)
Metatopia is an amazing game convention. The Double Exposure organizers have always been supportive of new and independent designers and Metatopia is an entire convention devoted to us. I’ll be bringing two new works-in-progress there for playtest and I’m looking forward to seeing what works, what doesn’t, and what’s next for them.
(Working title.) Cyberpunk procedural with a heavy emphasis on improvisation. In this test run an anti-cybercrimes division of the government clashes with a cell of terrorist hackers. The inspiration is obvious, especially if you know where this working title came from. It will be quicker to get going if I can say “like this but this” at the start of the session.
This one has a lot of indie-isms at work. Players belong to teams, each with its own Director, who has light GM duties, so it can be played competitively. Characters are made up of collections of Traits, most of which are defined in the moment that they are used as the players reveal their semi-secret origins. The game is diceless, using a sort of rock-paper-scissors resolution of bidding and comparing Traits to guide narration through discreet scenes.
GET9 actually grew out of the notes from Contract Work, my abandoned design about hit men. It was far too ambitious for me at the time but since then I’ve played and learned a lot more so we’ll soon see if that’s going to pay off. My biggest concern is how long this one will run. I honestly have no idea if it will be two hours or eight to complete an operation, with one team taking down the other.
This one’s even more out there. It’s a game system that provides a framework to tell stories of doomed romance patterned after the structure of Romantic era opera. Two players act as the lovers and the others are choristers. The profiles of the lovers and the world of the choristers are decided by the players collectively interpreting hands of cards that they draw at the start, so the world is semi-randomly generated. This one also leans on improvisation, using a system of bidding and comparing playing cards during a conversational “recitative” to decide the player who has narrative control over an “aria,” essentially a soliloquy in which they get to advance the story.
I’ve been thinking of this as an outline game. One that provides hooks to hang the narrative thread but leaves big spaces for the players to fill. That allows creativity to blossom, but also requires players who can think on their feet and roll with the “yes, and” of improvisation. You don’t have to sing. But that would be cool.
Project Wingspan won’t be making it to this Metatopia. Wingspan is a game of secret cyborg super-soldiers, based on Tears of a Machine‘s concepts and mechanics but with a greater emphasis on the “loss of self” that goes into being the superhero on the battlefield. In order to become more capable of defending their homeland the characters have to give in to becoming more machine, and a greater threat to their own side.
The playtests that I’ve already run have shown me that there’s plenty of work to do on it and I haven’t had the time. In essence, I went too far afield from the source mechanics and need to pull it back into a more “traditional” design. It may be ready for the next round of conventions. Time will tell.
A new way to get Tears of a Machine; I’m writing for someone else’s book; and the next game for Robot Claw is play testing at Dexcon 18. This past spring was busy but it’s all starting to pay off now.
First, Tears of a Machine will soon be available through Indie Press Revolution! I’ve uploaded the digital files and a box full of hard copy books is on the way to their warehouse now. Soon you can order your own copy from their friendly storefront. If your friendly local game store orders their stock through IPR then you’ll have another option to purchase a print copy of Tears, and I’ll make the arrangements with Bits ‘n Mortar to get you the PDF as well.
The fine folks at Onyx Path publishing were kind and/or crazy enough to let me be a contributing author for one of their upcoming releases. I’ll be sure to post more about it as the book is ready for publication. I’m very thankful for the opportunity. Hour for hour, I think I’ve spent most of my gaming life in the world of White Wolf’s games and it feels great to be able to add to that body of work.
Project Wingspan. I’ve quietly announced this new design through discussions on Google+ and with a few people on hangouts but it’s time to declare this to be a real thing. Project Wingspan is a variation on the themes of Tears of a Machine, moving the setting to a world of international wafare and cyborg secret weapons, streamlining and strengthening the structure of the rules, and shifting the focus to be nearly all player driven so that it could even be a GMless game.
Each Project Wingspan player is a weapon, a person with a secret arsenal of microbots in their bloodstream. When the enemy troops attack with robot tanks and fightercraft, you transform into the ultimate weapon of your homeland and fight back to repel the invaders. Every weapon however can be just as dangerous to the one wielding it as it is to the target. You’ll need to use your downtime to keep yourself sane, normal, and happy or the next time you activate you just might O-V-E-R-L-O-A-D.
The first live play tests will take place at Dexon 18, this coming 4th of July weekend! Go to the Dexcon homepage to learn more about the convention. I hope to see you there.
All of this, and probably more, is coming soon so thank you for reading, be sure to subscribe to this blog and track me down on Google+. May the SAInts preserve us.
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 →