May 4, 2014

Mid-2014 Status Report

Any time you start a project you have to know that you can have it done Fast, Good or Cheap, and that you can only pick two. To do something quick you have to either sacrifice quality or put up for someone else to help you out. Finishing a quality project necessitates a budget or plenty of hours to sink into it. If what you want is to do it cheap, you'll have to take your time with it or risk delivering something that just isn't as good as it could be.

The motto of "Fast, Good or Cheap but only two at a time" is a good rule of thumb to follow for any kind of project, especially those that require hiring other people. Sometimes you have to make do with just one, and sometimes you get to have all three, but most of the time you should be planning with two in mind. Last time I checked I wasn't in the shovelware business, and placing my budget somewhere between A and F nets you a G. That leaves time as the sacrificial scapegoat.

But hey patience is a virtue, good things come to those who wait, a delayed game is eventually good while a bad game is bad forever and so on and so forth. Where I'm going with this is that getting art for a two hundred page book has been going slowly. You need to give your eyes something juicy to taste in between all the rules, descriptions, guidelines and whatnot. Big names in the RPG trade know this and have least one piece of art every two or three pages, while the indie side tends to show a few illustrations every ten pages or so then repeat them in their bestiary or gallery of example NPCs at the end.

I'm going for a middle of the road approach, with something to let your eyes rest from all the words every five pages or so, though most of it would be bunched up in the end chapter. Without doing repeats that means that means forty unique pieces to cover two hundred pages. Anime is a popular thing, so if you spend some time looking and you'll find some pretty good artists who can do character design cheaply and without taking forever to finish.
The very first BCG design piece that I received.


Mecha art is a completely different issue though. Turns out mechanical design isn't so easy to come by! Our triad of Fast, Good or Cheap comes into the picture here, so it is going to take longer than expected to get everything finished. Do I have a tentative date? I currently have half of the art I'd like to have, so let's say around December/January.

On the positive side that means more time for me to make sure everything else is in order. It is plenty enough for proofreading to hell and back, tinkering with layout to find optimal arrangements, and adjusting the balance of things up and down as necessary. I think it is going to be for the better.



What Comes Next

I intend to use the next few months on the next step of the process: Expanding the game. That means rules and guidelines to better adapt the rules to sub-genres of Mecha like fantasy a la Dunbine or Escaflowne. It means including a Sanity system for games where PCs are neurotic and either suffer it like in Evangelion or revel in it like Getter Robo. It means more complex abilities like Downgrades that weaken your Mecha but grant you extra MP and Genre Powers that scale in usefulness if you spend Energy or Actions when using them. There is more, but let's not start building castles in the sky yet.

None of these will be coming out until BCG is finished, and they're barely more than drafts for the time being. But the plan is that you'll be able to take a look at them not too long after BCG is out. I think it'll be along the lines of a hundred more pages worth of content. Will a hundred pages really take a little over half a year? Well, yes. Probably.

I do most of my RPG writing on weekends and the occassional weekday night, this timeframe covers anything that goes into a manual, stress testing PCs/NPCS, and even this blog. I come up with new ideas during my one hour of train ride to and back from work, and that is also when I write proof of concept PC/NPCs using them as well as doing the general number crunching. A short aside: I have realized during the past few years that I have something of an addiction and that I can't even watch TV without a notepad next to me because I always come up with something while I least expect it. It is usually between ten and twenty hours per week, not counting actually playing and running games or the stuff I do while I'm away from home.

Good writers can do a thousand words of coherent writing that won't make an editor cry in an hour on a good day. I wrote most of the GM advice section during a single afternoon, at a rate of one 900-1000 word page per hour. Most of the time it would take me somewhere between one and two hours, and that is ignoring any time spent planning out how to write it, researching the subject matter or, God forbid, the time wasted when inspiration does not come easy.

Obviously this breaks down entirely when it comes to rules. Designing a single Weapon in a way that communicates clearly what it is and how to use it can take one minute or ten, for example. Then there is all the rewriting that inevitably happens during the development process. For a hobby it feels a lot like work. Funny thing, that.
But then I look at this little guy and it is all so very worth it.

That concludes our Status Report. I have considered that, since it is going to take time anyway, I could run a quick one month crowdfunding campaign to add more art and chop off some more months of waiting time. The big problem with that option is that my country is batshit tsundere about the US Dollar to the point that companies put bizarre barriers on their services offered here. It can be solved, but it is a hassle.

I said this before but it bears repeating, no matter what happens the rules will be available for free. Games exist to be played. It sounds obvious, but I think a lot of designers fail to realize this, and I'm not a fan of RPGs that are commercial products first and games second.

13 comments:

  1. You can get a paypal account or something and then just buy and import stuff from abroad with it. That skips all currency conversion.

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  2. It does, however, require dealing with Paypal, which is like not dying only to spend eternity being tortured. So it ain't all sunshine and roses.

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  3. I've been using Paypal to get a few pieces here and there, and it works as far as making payments goes. Relatively. I have to use it for international transactions exclusively, which is a bit of a nuisance but is tolerable.

    For actually receiving money though? Paypal is known for doing things that no real bank would get away with like locking you out of your funds preemptively. A pretty famous recent case: http://www.joystiq.com/2013/04/23/skullgirls-funding-temporarily-blocked-by-paypal/

    The big draw of Paypal is that it works for a lot of websites and is widely accepted by freelancers, so it is basically the best option there is.

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  4. On this note, there's something I've been thinking about...well, two things, really. The first is, if you want to crowdfund part of BCG, what sort of incentives would you offer? After all, that's what a campaign needs to be successful (and you could totally swing a good Kickstarter if the pitch was good and spammed far and wide so it got some attention).

    The second is, have you considered making BCG pay-what-you-want at some point? I've enjoyed it lots and I wish I could conveniently throw some monies your way if it's needed. Most people who know of BCG (all three of them) share that sentiment, too. It can't hurt to have the hobby you love help pay the bills a bit, right?

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  5. That is kind of a problem because in general the incentives for paying extra as far as RPGs go are pretty boring. You can pay extra for a shirt, or a poster, or bag of dice. Yaaaay.

    It'd take a lot of time to set up in producing and shipping for something that doesn't really add anything to the experience. I'd like to offer something worthwhile, which limits options considerably.

    What I -can- offer are lots of limited edition goodies. Like if you want to have your own NPC with giant robot or want me to write a detailed adventure scenario, I can offer that. They take time, money and effort too, and can get out of hand if I'm not careful with keeping the number low, but it is more fun for me and more rewarding for whoever makes a commission. To avoid delaying BCG proper I can make them part of an expansion, too. The question is of which things to offer and how many of them.

    Pay What You Want seemed to be just what I wanted for a while but then I looked around and all it gets you is a dozen daily email notifications of people getting it for free and maybe one customer per week drops a dollar or so. I'd rather keep the rules as their own separate pdf/wiki/srd/something and only charge for a version with everything else.

    The biggest hurdle is having to work with Indiegogo and Paypal, both of which have burned their users before, and turned me off from the idea entirely. But it has been a while since then and it will be a while longer until I finish so I figure I can afford dealing with them to make it bigger and better.

    If it actually sells after that it would be nice, yes. Probably won't compensate for all the time and money already spent on it, but I'll take whatever I can get.

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  6. I was definitely thinking more about stuff like 'premade adventure scenarios' or the like. More actual game content, not really physical goodies (except for book versions of BCG, of course). Or Q&A sessions with the game line writer for people who want to understand the game better and poke at its mechanics with someone who knows about it, or alternate rulesets (like a create-a-weapon rules system). I think those types of incentives would be a better choice, because a Kickstarter campaign for BCG is an opportunity to grow it as a brand and raise awareness of it, not just get the money for the art even if that's the primary purpose. Can't forget the secondary benefits of something that could be so big!

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  7. Adventures are cool because they are a thing that the core book currently lacks, and I have some experience writing scenarios with cool unique subsystems, I just haven't sat down to do any because I prioritized other things. (Look up the [REDACTED] supplement of Adeptus Evangelion, it is a book entirely of Angel encounters and various premade adventures, I led that one project.)

    I kinda wanted to offer hacks too, like 50-100 pages of setting/NPCs/scenarios and some custom rules on top, but if I want to give them art then they'll take a long time each. I can't really ask anyone to pay that upfront for something they won't see until like two more years down the line.

    I didn't think about including the custom weapon system as an option. I am still wary of the idea, but I figure it could work as a stretch goal. If I make more than I expected, I can work a few less hours during the year and spend more time on it.

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  8. How the hell would you even make custom weapon system for BCG? Each weapon is pretty much unique and can't be assigned point values because it works in very specific way. You just go to the DM and tell him what kind of weapon you want and you make something that fits and is reasonably balanced.

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  9. My first thought was that it could stick to the keyword abilities like Long Range, Blast, One Shot and Slow. Maybe include some other mechanics that aren't keyworded but still show up frequently like auto-Suppression or bonus Disadvantages when Supressing. That'd be relatively safe to do, and since most of the current armory has something unique to it, even the Rocket Punch and Assault Rifle, it doesn't make them all irrelevant.

    Beams are more complicated though, but this is a start.

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  10. My thinking is that you can make weapons off a three-tiered system: Minor, Major, and Overwhelming edges, along with equivalent Hindrances. A Minor edge is the ability to pick spots you Maim, or a bonus range increase with the Aim action. A Major edge is gaining an advantage when (X), or Long Range. An Overwhelming Edge is being able to attack enemies in a Blast, or being able to pick between two Major edges (see: The Double Blaster's special ability). You make a weapon with 3 points, and can take on one (perhaps two) Hindrances to gain a few extra points. Beam Weapons start with 4 points, but two of them are tied up into the Beam keyword, with its benefit and cost. The trick is nailing the right price brackets for each effect, but generally speaking it's not too hard. It was an amazingly smooth system that came out pretty naturally from reverse-engineering weapons. There's a couple outliers (Anti Air Missiles are underpointed, the Dueling Blade should probably get both its +1 to damage and the ability to move people around that was discussed, the Stun Rod is kind of ???? to me and I can't tell if it's fine or UP), but overall it lets you replicate all the current weapons pretty easily.The really hard part wouldn't be building the system, I think, but rather providing good design guidelines for people to make their own custom weapons with.

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  11. I considered three similar categories: Support Weapons (Debuffs), Damage Weapons (Conditional Advantages), and Finishers (Techniques, Splashy stuff). With the logic being that I could better provide said guidelines if the roles of the weapons are basically spelled out in their name.

    It makes enough sense in theory, but even in my head it seems a bit... Nebulous. The issue is that it needs to have variety of options without enabling combinations that should not happen and if possible I'd like to avoid burying it under a ton of legalese.

    Also I'd have to come up with like three times the amount of current weapon abilities that I currently have to make it feel like something unique.

    It is possible, but I don't like building castles in the sky when I don't have any proof it would actually work as intended yet. Including the keywords and simpler abilities sounds like a much more realistic proposition.

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  12. And by the way if you'd like to send me your custom weapon system via email that'd be useful. I know what they cost -to me- but someone else's perspective is always nice.

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  13. I'll need to rebuild it (computer crash took it away just before I finished it, uuuuugh) so it might take a day or two, but it'll be a pleasure. I wouldn't be surprised if there were few divergences, actually, except for Techniques (which are...odd, since they come with a built-in heavy advantage and drawback).

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