Aug 24, 2014

Explanations are in Order

Bureaucracy blows. I'm not into naming names and shifting blames but I'm even less into making promises that I can't keep because of external factors. To summarize: Paypal's crowdfunding policies require you to go back and forth between them and your bank or your credit card's website. The former is uncooperative and wants me to wait (until next month at the latest), while the latter has has a crappy website that insists I do not exist against all physical evidence stating the contrary.

Basically we're all going to have to wait a little longer. It happens.

It dawns on me that if you usually do not see more regular updates on personal projects like this, it is because constantly saying there's nothing new to show and apologizing for it feels rather pathetic. Oh well, other than that I'm basically done with preparations and the plan remains the same. I'm taking off next month from everything to properly devote myself to it and ensure nothing goes wrong. Nothing.

In lieu of making exciting things happen today or next week, instead I'm going to talk about said things. It is not quite as good, but it is still something. Starting with...

My Diabolical Plan to Help you Save Money

Printing and shipping hardcovers costs money. Keeping track of the copies received and delivered also requires a good deal of work and physical space, because the boxes full of stuff need to be stored somewhere. This drives costs even higher. To spend less time and money on this and let me focus more on the Fun Game Stuff, I'm going to use DrivethruRPG's services to deliver all physical product. 

From my end of things, this is fairly practical. DTRPG has experience doing this kind of thing and they do ship worldwide so this minimizes risks of something going wrong and causing us all to lose money. Today opened up with me almost ranting about one named company and two unnamed ones, but my (albeit relatively limited) experience with DTRPG is pretty much only positive.

From your end of things it effectively lets you split total costs into two or three payments. For example, let's say you want one copy of core BCG and one of the expansion BCZ. That has a total cost of $40* (plus shipping) distributed as such:

  1. First you contribute $20 to the campaign.
  2. When BCG Core is ready to print, you receive a coupon to redeem your physical copy any time for around $11.
  3. When BCZ is ready to print, you receive a coupon to redeem your physical copy any time you want for around $9.
  4. You can have them shipped individually or both at once to save more. That's your call.

*: Prices subject to change depending on changes to the pagecount.

Or you could pay everything upfront, adding shipping costs and an extra $5 to account for any increases in printing costs from adding more content. This second method might be more practical to you, but if you want to have more control over the process and to save some money, you can do that too. This is particularly important if you want to print books for your whole group or for yourself - because you don't want to damage your precious limited edition backer-only copy.

Next week I am going to finally start talking about the expansion and how you'll get to decide what goes in it.

Aug 17, 2014

PDF - Pretty Difficult to Fabricate

Part of making a game is presenting it in a way that makes the reader want to play it and the player glad that everything is presented so well. About the worst thing you can do throw over a hundred pages of words in a .txt file at people. On the other hand, you don't need to insert a dynamic document with hyperlinks everywhere either.

The industry standard is the PDF, because it works as a document to read and is a good format for printing. In this digital age there are other options, especially if you don't intend to actually print out anything, but generally speaking if you want to write your own RPG you'll have to make a PDF file.

Too bad that working with PDF files from the creator's side of things is terrible.

Microsoft Word can, technically, export documents as PDFs but good luck not having an aneurysm if you try to add images, sidebars, or anything remotely fanciful to the text. Dedicated software like Quark or Publisher will work better, but they each have their issues.

Probably the best one of the bunch is InDesign, which is okay as long as you admit to yourself you are okay with having to do your tables of contents manually - or are okay with it looking like crap and taking up twice the space it should. Second best is probably Quark and it is one hell of a drop in quality, I used it a few years ago and this twitter account is not mine but it totally could be because it sums up my feelings pretty well. Maybe it has improved since then, but I wouldn't know and I really don't want to have to find out either.

Oh and good luck if you lose the original files or need to convert them to another publishing software. See, all those fancy programs work with their own file extensions then export the document to something the average user can read. If at any point all you have to work with is the resulting pdf, you are boned. About the only thing you can do at that point is edit what you have left with a PDF editor.

Don't do it. PDF editors are the spawn of Satan. I swear they work on Lovecraftian alien physics because none of what they do makes any sense. If you so much as try to insert a new line into an existing block of text then when you export it will roll 1d100 on a mishaps table and the resulting document will likely have one of the following:
  • The line will be in a completely different font and size than the ones you used.
  • The edited page will show up completely blank.
  • You find a whole new page for that one line right after the original one.
  • The document will be entirely written in blood and signed by Qos-Ukthtog, Cacodemon of Despair.

Bottom line is for the love of Valsione keep a backup of your original. If you can do that and can find suitable workarounds for whatever problems you can find with your publishing software of choice (I'm told Scribus is both decent and free, so there's that) then you'll be good.

For the record, I do use a PDF editor in JPDFBookmarks, but just to add bookmarks and leave it at that. It saves the bookmarks as its own .txt file you can import later to another version of the same document and modify from there. InDesign can do bookmarks but I don't like the way they are arranged automatically, and if I'm going to touch them up then might as well do them manually and keep them in a .txt for later use.

Unless you want a document that looks good in, say, a tablet. Then you are super boned because .epub and .mobi files are unruly children and you need to pretty much write up files entirely around them from the ground up. You can't approach them like you would any other manual, because they behave somewhat like a webpage in a browser and thus much of the end result depends on the end user's settings. They are not a very popular format for RPGs, understandably so, but that is a shame because they are much more useful as a reference document when you're gaming in meatspace.

If you really want to use them though, here's a few tips:
  • Stick to the basic fonts that everyone should have. Even if you embed your own fonts into the document they might not look good.
  • Don't divide things by pages because what fits on a page depend on the user. Divide things by sections or chapters instead
  • Don't work in layers because foreground elements will be pushed below the objects behind them. Basically don't have background objects.
  • Tables tend to lose their formatting so be careful with them. You might need to apply some HTML.
  • You really, really need that Table of Contents. Automatically generated ToC's work pretty well here.

If you're going full-digital there are other options worth considering, like using a wiki or cloud-shared documents, that might be worth sticking with instead of dealing with all this stuff. I use them to run my games, for example.

This was a pretty nuts and bolts post type post, I stuck to the key points and didn't really want to lengthen it with images because either you're interested in this stuff enough to keep reading or you don't care. If this was interesting I might do more in the future with more detail to them.

Next Week: Things Happen.

Aug 10, 2014

In Which I Totally Sell Out, Man

Next week or the next after that (I swear it will be this month) I am going to launch a crowdfunding campaign. My intent is to raise three thousand dollars, which is a lot less than it sounds, and basically spend all of it betting on horse racing on artwork. It would not just be for the core book but also for the expansion in one fell swoop. It will be through IndieGoGo because that's basically the best option I have available, since Kickstarter is not open to residents of my corner of the world (Argentina).

Not much of a choice when one of them just isn't available, is it?

Let's have a quick FAQ.

Is the game going to continue being free?
Yes. Well, mostly. I spent a lot of time debating how exactly to go about this. I like to say "Games are meant to be played." which, in this case, means that I think people deserve to play a good game first and I deserve recognition for a job well done after the fact. Also piracy exists and that's not a battle I can win by conventional means. The current System Reference Document is a good example of what I will give to everyone who wants to give BCG a try. 

Why should I pay money for a free game?
Because you want it to look good and art is not cheap. Because you want the game to be better and if we overfund I can spend more hours on it. Because you want a limited edition hardcover that won't be accessible otherwise. Because you want to have one of your own ideas in the expansion. Because you want to show the industry they should be making more games with a focus on good rules. Because you just want to help me pretty please with a cherry on top?

What is this about an expansion?
BCG is cool and all but I want to use it as a base from which I can build other, more flavorful and genre-specific stuff on top. Battle Century Z, the innovatively named sequel, is going to feature around a hundred pages of supplementary material, of which the most prominent are a series of 'hacks' or alternative rules to, for example, set your BCG games on fantasy worlds with magic-powered robots. Of course, it will also feature an expanded armory of powers, weapons and other goodies to spice up your non-hack games.

What kind of rewards will you be offering?
There won't be any T-shirts, custom dice or other paraphernalia that doesn't really add anything to the game. Instead I'm going to offer, in addition to getting things at a discount of their retail value, limited edition hardcover versions of the manual and a few limited slots to let you commission abilities for the expansion. You think of a Miracle, an Upgrade, or any other cool thing you want in that doesn't exist yet, I handle the rules, and you get your name in the description to show everyone what a totally radical person you are.

How much is it going to cost?
Exact prices are subject to change but I want to keep them around the following tiers (all prices in US dollars): 10 for both digital pdfs, 30 for both softcover manuals, 40 for both hardcovers and 60 for two hardcovers and two softcovers. These costs don't include shipping, but I'll be delivering via the awesome folks at Drivethru who have experience in sending stuff all over the world at decent prices so there shouldn't be any surprises there. Because printing won't happen immediately, anyone who gets physical product pays half when the campaign ends and the other half when it is time to start printing things out (next year). I'll go more into detail on this later, but it is a pretty cool thing and it is all thanks to Drivethru.

What will be the format of the books?
BCG will hover around the 200 page range, BCZ will be around 100. Both books will have softcovers with black & white interiors to keep things cheap for me and accessible for you. Games are meant to be played, after all. This is not going to be a book you keep in your library to show off, but the one you want to actually play with. The limited edition hardcovers exclusive for backers will also offer to have a softcover companion copy so you don't have to damage your collector's piece. Overfunding means more art and me adding things to the books, so they could go for up to 20 or 30 pages more each.

How is the money going to be spent?
Carefully. I'll post a full breakdown later, but a quality color cover or splash page (the kind you see in works with a real budget) is going to be around 200-300 dollars. Smaller illustrations range from 50 to 200, and surprise surprise, anything involving giant robots requires a skillset that is more expensive than anything that doesn't! BCG has about 75% of the art it would need (40 individual pieces), but that's still only about half of what a 200 page book would need in a best case scenario to space out the walls of text better. BCZ obviously has none yet.

Do you have an expected delivery date?
If things go well: You'd be receiving a finalized BCG pdf around the start of next year and the physical versions would deliver one or two weeks after that. BCZ would be a year from then. These are my estimations based on the assumption that no plan survives contact with the enemy. I'd like to finish things before the new year but there's no way I won't run into unexpected inconveniences. If things don't go well BCG would deliver around the same time and BCZ... Well, let's just say it'll have to wait.

How we got Here

Roleplaying is special because any GM is part-time game designer, and the more effort they place in crafting an experience for their group, the more likely they are to end writing up their own custom rules and whatnot. I like games. Or at least, I like games in the broad sense, because I tend to find most games lacking. After enough goofing around homebrewing various systems to make a Super Robot Wars-esque experience, I realized I might as well write the game I always wanted to play myself. Clearly no one else was going to do it for me. That was Giant Guardian Generation.

I admit I miss the overwhelmingly ridiculous name. Dearly.

Quick aside for those not in the know: Super Robot Wars is a turn-based tactics RPG, often featuring pilots and mecha from various anime, manga and videogames. It combines all these wildly different series together by not even pretending to care about realism and carrying its pretty basic gameplay with a lot of style. End aside.

GGG was as much of a fangame as it could be without outright calling itself a fangame, because I really wasn't aiming any higher than 'fangame' at the time.The concept of maybe publishing my own thing was there from the start, to be honest, but as the kind of thing that would be cool if it happened. Like world peace, a solution to global warming, and getting to see Rebuild of Evangelion 4.0 in my lifetime.

The movie is just going to be two hours of Anno laughing in a pit of money and figurines.

That was around three years ago. Time may not fly but it sure rides the shinkansen. I've been doing this long enough in my spare time that I figure I have a shot at this as a second job. Still, my priority is to make a good game, and get more people to play it. As I stated earlier in the year, the part of the process that is not just my own work has been going well but not fantastic. I mentioned before that you can do things cheap, fast or well and you can only have two options of the three, and I ended up choosing well and cheap (in that order).

This entire year so far I've basically not even tried to get the word out, because I've invested all my effort on the design side of the game and going back and forth with artists, editors, and of course you, my intelligent readers of refined taste. More eyes on the game is obviously a good thing, so that's what I'll be doing next. And if I can trade 'cheap' for 'fast', that would also be really, really nice. Over the course of the year I've been debating exactly whether crowdfunding from Argentina is a remotely viable idea for something like BCG. There are many hurdles in the way, but ultimately I lose nothing by trying.

If we don't go next week then I might actually treat this like a normal blog and discuss some other stuff related to the game that has been going on. I eagerly anticipate good news rather than shaking my fist angrily at the sky, but I'm prepared for you, sky. Give me your worst.*

*Please don't give me your worst.

Aug 3, 2014

It is good to be back.

They say no plan survives contact with the enemy, and I was prepared for one week of delays, but not three. I am still getting ready all the elements of ~=|The Plan|=~, but the manual has been locked in and ready to upload for a few weeks. I don't think it is worth delaying it any more, I'll just execute ~=|The Plan|=~ in stages instead of all at once.

So! For you today I have the a v2 Beta. The v2 numbering is because it is a noticeable jump in quality from the previous one but also the last beta there will be. Way back in early June I was going to do this with a v1.3 that implemented the experimental mechanics and called it a day. But in between then and now was when ~=|The Plan|=~ ran into the most complications... Yet that also gave me more than enough time to try out actual gameplay tweaks.

I could have made another experimental pdf, but that would have added another week (or more) to the delays and it would have been really awkward to cross reference with all this stuff. I'm not happy about changing the rules twice mid-beta, but the wait was supposed to be six months instead of twelve. As a whole, it looks like my work rate is at its best with one year test periods rather than six anyway, so I will plan for that in the future. Everything is a learning opportunity.

The grand majority of tweaks are simple buffs anyway, which is a pretty easy thing to adapt to. There's a couple of buffs-as-rewrites, nerfs, or things outright removed/replaced... Though the number is higher if we count the experimental mechanics like Beams. Ultimately it should open the playing field to more varied PCs and NPCs, and that's a good thing.

Anyway on to the actual game stuff. Below are the customary pdf files with a simplified epub/mobi System Reference Document that has only rules and no images whatsoever. I have spent way too much time trying to get those to look passable, and the formatting is still weird in places, but they will do.

And now, a summary of changes: Behold the walls of text! For the sake of simplicity these assume you never bothered to look at the experimental mechanics handbook, thus they list anything from that file as well.

General Changes:
  • Redid the layout to improve readability in digital and printed formats.
  • Prettier. Art still TBD.
  • Altered the wording of several abilities to make some interactions more clear. For example, most abilities that boosted or lowered Guard now alter Defense directly instead to simplify the math involved in recalculating Defense.

Playing the Game:
  • Reworked Matches with more Action types and more mobility for Characters.
  • When Maneuvering (as Character or Mecha) you gain a flat Defense bonus. You no longer get a chance to escape through Maneuvering, however.
  • Simpliied Terrain. Defensive Terrain is a flat Disadvantage to all attacks. Extreme Terrain Tests Systems or Speed instead of both as a Mixed Test. Difficult Terrain halves Speed.

Character Creation
  • All Player Characters now have 100 starting CP to use without restrictions. The four teamplates are full Level 0 PCs.
  • New Miracle: Phasing. Lets you pass through solid objects while active, including attacks from Characters and even Mecha.
  • Replaced Snipe Shot and Aerial with Range Booster and Flight Pack Equipment respectively. They are pretty self explanatory.
  • Multiple pieces of Equipment associated to the same skill can all be made into one single item.
  • New Deathblow: Called Shot. It inflicts a Disadvantage to all Tests for a Round.
  • Removed Got You Where I Wanted, Sniping the Targets and Cool your Jets.
  • Three new Powers. I'm Breaking Through makes your current attack bypass Active Defenses at Reaction speed. I Cannot be Defeated lets you survive lethal hits a la Invincible Alloy but only once per Round. This is my Battlefield creates a four-Zone square of a Terrain type of your choice that lasts three Rounds.
  • Buffed Believe in Myself, The Tacticool Approach, You are Going Down and Don't Give Up.
  • Slight common-sense nerf to Take One for the Team and a more considerable one to Mind Over Matter.

Mecha Construction
  • All PC Mecha now have 100 starting MP to use without restrictions. The four teamplates are full Level 0 PC Mecha.
  • Replaced Weapon Master with Duelist Model and Sniper Model. Duelist Model is a free attack when Enemies Disengage and grants 1 Advantage to Melee attacks. Sniper Model grants twice your Systems to Long Range Weapons and 1 Advantage to Shooting attacks.
  • Two new General Upgrades: EWAC (Early Warning Aircraft Control) automatically resupplies Support Upgrades with a cost of 5 or less for 4 Energy without consuming Restorations. Guardian of Steel is the team-shielding function of the old Stealth Field.
  • Tweaked two General Upgrades: The Beast removes the innate Disadvantage to Default Weapons but now it costs 2 Energy to bypass Active Defenses. Experimental Reactor reduces Weapon Energy Costs by 1 and grants 1 Advantage to Beam attacks.
  • Buffed Comander Type, Stealth Field, Expansion Pack and both types of Combiners.
  • Slippery Chassis is now an Internal Upgrade that costs 10.
  • Integrated Weapons, Invincible Alloy and Assistant cost 15.
  • Removed Remote Hotfix and Flash Analysis.
  • Resupply and Jury-Rig both have a Range of 5 Zones and cost 10.
  • Antigrav costs 10.
  • Buffed/Tweaked Overcharger, Airstrike, Fire at Will, Electromagnetic Detonator, Ensnaring Trap and Interference Bomb.
  • New Upgrades: Surprise Minefield is a Support that creates 1 Zone of Extreme Terrain and costs 5. Secret Equipment grants 10 bonus MP when Tension is 5 or higher.
  • New Weapon ability: Crippling. Only technically new, grants the benfits of Suppression.
  • Tweaked Dueling Blade to grant an Advantage if you started the Turn in a Duel.
  • Buffed Finger Net, Zweihander and Missile Massacre.
  • Tweaked all Beam Weapons with reduced cost to 5 MP with optional Energy costs to Boost them for an Advantage and other possible bonuses.

Running the Show
  • Grunt NPCs start with 50 XP and gain 30 XP per Power Level. They cannot have more than 50 CP in Skills/Traits or 50 MP in Upgrades/Weapons though.
  • Grunts have the Storm Action. One Grunt may grant another identical unit right next to it a +4 Bonus to their next attack.
  • Bosses start with 100 XP plus their usual free stuff, but only gain 15 XP per Power Level and may only spend said XP on Attributes.
  • Boss Characters have their own unique progression. They get up to 110 CP for Skills and Traits and 3 Boss Traits.
  • Buffed/Tweaked Invasive and Elusive Form.
  • Combat Profiling and Spectral Body have a fixed 3 uses/Rounds.
  • Replaced Come forth my Minions and All Become One with I Accept your Offering and We Are Legion respectively.
  • Slight nerfs to Useless!, Constrict, Adaptive Morphology and Afterimages.
  • Tweaked It Keeps Coming Back, Phantom Predator, Merge, Suicide Swarm and Telekinetic Strike.
  • Nixed Graviton Wave.
  • New Boss Weapon: Tentacle Lash. Long Range Melee area of effect attack.
  • Renamed Biomechanical Leeches to Technoleeches.
  • Rewrote Allied Reinforcements.

Well, that was long. There's a lot to take in and you'll need to read the actual manual to see the details so here's some commentary to help digest it and discuss a few other things.

Miraculously Untouchable

The game's new Miracle (Phasing, turns you insubstantial) represents something of a personal achievement for me, because I have been trying to figure out how to get this kind of mechanic into the game for a while. The power to go through solid objects is not one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of action anime, let alone Mecha action anime. But it exists and, somewhat more importantly, it is a pretty cool option for PCs and NPCs.

The funny thing is that I had all but given up on the idea until, while designing Boss Traits, I came up with Spectral Body to represent monsters like the Gnosis from Xenosaga. I realized a while ago that a Miracle variant this would let me give this kind of power to PCs without making them genuinely invincible. The end product is a Miracle so powerful it naturally makes PCs immune to giant robots, and it would be completely bonkers if it didn't slowly drain their Plot Armor and use up their Actions while at it.

The GM's ideal "invincible monologuing asshat" enabler.
I was going to reserve this Miracle for an expansion but I wanted to make up for the loss of the Speed Miracle and also there was some free space in that section. I figured it would be a somewhat risky (IMMUNITY TO MECHA!!!) but worthwhile inclusion.

The True and Final form of Dueling Blade

When you have a Melee Weapon that is at its strongest when you do with it what all Melee Weapons want to do anyway, it tends to trump the competition. Dueling Blade's entire concept is that it Duels Gud, so making it somewhat comparable in power to all the others was tough. That I messed up the wording with the first iteration of the Weapon and it was even stronger didn't help.

I tried several variants to get the concept to stick. Having it grant the Advantage if you are already in a Duel by the start of your Turn is really powerful but deceptively conditional. If you Engage a Grunt and it explodes after that one attack then Dueling Blade does nothing for you, for example. It is fantastic for frontliners that draw the attention of Rivals and Bosses, particularly with Duelist Model.

This was originally going to grant the Advantage only if you won the Speed Test at the beginning of your Turn, but this plays faster and is already conditional enough in my opinion. For instance Slippery Chassis renders it useless.

It also makes a good backup for generalists with a primary ranged focus.

Grunts and Teamwork

Grunts now have a new Action available to them: Paired Attack. Pairing lets two identical Grunts within 1 Zone to make a single Offensive Action with two Advantages. Pairing bonuses do not stack, because that would kind of go against the whole point of the thing. It also feels like they are doing a Synchro Attack of sorts, which is cool. Paired Attacks are a lot more effective than stacking Assists in both terms of gameplay flow and raw power, and that is a good thing.

Q: How many attack rolls do you need for 24 Balls? 
A: Just 3 with Squadron and Paired Attack.

This is one of those things that might not seem like much but is a fantastic addition to the game. Individual Grunts are much more fearsome when they have a +4 to their first few attacks, but it also cuts down the amount of total attacks effectively in half, which also means they take less time to get through all those Turns. In one fell swoop Grunts are more threatening, play faster, and are easier to take out because they need to bunch up.

I put a lot of effort into getting Player options just right because that is what gets the most attention. I spend just a fraction of that time into Grunts and Bosses, even though those are just as important as PCs. One of my highest priorities is that the game should be easy to manage for the GM, so it is little improvements like this one that I'm often the most proud of.

What's Next?

My short term goal is to explain/commence ~=|The Plan|=~ next week. My long term goal is to have the finished product ready within 6-ish months. My midterm goal is to have one more pdf of experimental mechanics in 2-3 months, because I'm sure you awesome people will find something that can be improved. We can't aim for perfection but we can certainly land within the ballpark.

We are charging full speed ahead, ladies and gentlemen. This is going to be a good ride.