Sep 28, 2014

This Game of Mine Glows with an Awesome Power

I love G Gundam to bits. The concept is fun, the characters are memorable, the music is fantastic, and even the English dub is glorious - some would say the dub is bad, but the overacting only makes it better in my view. You know you are dealing with a fan when they argue that something bad is actually good with a straight face. Point is, I really like G Gundam and it has influenced pretty much everything I've ever done related to giant robots.

This is because G Gundam is a very well thought out show. Conceptually it might just be a goofy show about a giant robot tournament with a bunch of really racist mecha designs, but the execution makes it so much more than that. I'm going to delve a little into what G Gundam means to me and what you can take from it for the purposes of BCG.

There will be spoilers for G Gundam below.

G Gundam recap set, reaaadyyyyy go!

Mobile Fighter G Gundam is about a giant robot world tournament. Every four years the space colonies hold a tournament where the winner will rule over the Earth and the other colonies for the next four years. Gundam Fighters are the representatives of each nation, and they all fight each other using the Earth as the ring, until only one remains.

But that's just the window dressing. G Gundam's plot follows Domon Kasshu, pilot of the Shining Gundam and representative of Neo Japan, in his search for the Ultimate Dark Devil Gundam. The Devil Gundam is made out of nanomachines capable of self-repair, self-multiplication and self-evolution. Obviously, it falls into the wrong hands and our protagonist must stop it.

To no one's surprise, the antagonists are participants of the tournament and had something to do with the disappearance of the Devil Gundam.

Enough retreading of what any Wiki article could tell you! Let's talk about G Gundam in the context of BCG.

Gundam Fighter IV: Tournament Edition

As is, G Gundam is fit in both tone and rules for a game using the unmodified BCG rules. This is a setting where people can punch beams from their fists and their Gundams let them channel their anger into giant swords. It is pretty much perfect, really... Except for one little thing: The tournament structure.

Most of the fights are 1v1, which is convenient if the group consists of exactly two people, but a lot less enticing if there's four or more Players. You could run a game where everyone takes turns having fights, but it probably works out for the best if everyone is part of the same team and the matches are 3v3 or 5v5 or what have you. Like in Build Fighters Try.

Get it? Build Fighters Try because they're a TRIo!

This works out much better because BCG is designed with teamwork in mind. Absolute Barrier is a lot better when you are the only target and enemies cannot ignore you, while Reversible Thrusters can outright make you invincible against some enemies. At the same time, Finger Net does very little without any allies to take advantage of it and Steel Guardian is essentially useless.

My Love, my Anger, and all of my Sorrow

From a character standpoint, G Gundam is fundamentally about warriors that express their emotions with their fists. Domon starts as this an angry young adult who doesn't speak much. At the very end of the last episode he admits that he is a guy who only knows how to fight, and that is why he had so much difficulty expressing his feelings to Rain. Domon Kasshu is basically a tsundere. And most of the show is about how a bunch of dudes punch each other until their feelings come out and they get over their various hangups.

One of the most clear expressions of this is in the abundance of combination techniques, as a manifestation of the bonds that the Gundam Fighters have with each other. For roughly the first half of the series Domon fights alone, but in the second half he (and his friends) develop an affinity for Synchro Attacks, with or without Domon. If I had to come up with unique rules for a G Gundam game, they'd be about stronger or more varied types of Synchro Attacks.

There is also a theme of enlightenment and mastery of one's own emotions. Domon starts with the Super Mode that channels his rage into a powerup for the Shining Gundam, but he later replaces it with the Meikyou Shisui ("To have your heart clear like a mirror and still like water") which, in essence, means Serene Mind. The Super Mode renders him vulnerable, like a berserker who does not think his actions through. Thus, Domon needs to master his emotions entirely and have his heart in the perfect balance between passionate intensity and stoic detachment - that's Serene Mind. Also the Shining Gundam upgrades to the Burning God Gundam, because subtlety is for chumps.

And enlightenment turns you into a super saiyan I guess. Sure why not.

Add this to the previous the theme of Fist Friendship and emotions are a pretty big deal in G Gundam. It sounds to me like we could similar thematic notes via tweaking Genre Themes (to focus more on intensity of emotion) along with Synchro Attacks.

But before writing any of those, there is one more thing that needs to be addressed.

Sympathy for the Devil Gundam

Most tournament arcs have a plot twist written into them to make things more exciting, ending in the reveal of a bigger bad that pretty much everyone in the tournament will rally together to defeat. In G Gundam that ultimate antagonist were the people involved in the Devil Gundam conspiracy.

The Devil Gundam was originally called the Ultimate Gundam, and its nanomachines were going to be put to use to nurse the Earth's environment back to health. It is not evil per se, it is just... out of control and fulfilling its primary directive: To self-reproduce, healing itself and evolving continuously.

Truly this is the face of a Gundam who just wants to make friends.
And of course, the human antagonists of the series are trying to control the Devil Gundam to use its power for their own ends. Arguably, if the conspirators had never tried to hijack the Ultimate Gundam, it would not have malfunctioned at all. It is a common genre convention of Mecha that technology gives its user the power to be a God or Devil, depending on whether you use it for good or evil. G Gundam does not mince words and pretty much spells it out.

The Devil Gundam will wipe out humankind then do whatever it wants to the Earth, possibly eating it in the process. Its instinctual drive is the opposite of the Serene Mind that Domon must master to defeat it, like a more cunning version of Domon when his Super Mode made him a frenzied berserker. The Devil Gundam needs to have a human core, a sort of pilot as a biological heart, and can infect humans with "Devil Gundam Cells" to brainwash and give them superpowers. This implies that the Devil Gundam is not just a rogue artificial intelligence, it is more like the dark side of the human heart - controlling, uncaring, and always hungry for more.

The Devil Gundam is an instinctual monster and a corrupting influence, it is a thing that needs to be stopped and most free-willed participants in the tournament will agree. If you're going to run a tournament-themed, I strongly suggest to also have a Big Bad Evil Guy Thing at the end separate from the tournament structure.

The big draw of having a secret ultimate antagonist in a tournament arc or series is that it gives you a good excuse to let all the important characters team up at the end. Even old rivals that were previously defeated can show up to assist! In the context of an RPG it is even more important because having encounters with the bigger bad through the course of the tournament raises the stakes and adds more tension to the plot. Even if the PCs actually lose the tournament, they can still end things on a high note by saving the world from whoever was plotting sinister things in the shadows.

It also helps to spice things up and have some variance in encounters. If your tournament is about 4v4 matches, having an antagonist outside the tournament itself gives the GM a chance to throw as many Grunts and Bosses at the PCs as they wish instead of having to juggle numbers to keep it at 4. Creative uses of elite Grunts or Minibosses can keep parties of 4 enemies fresh, and you can pull shenanigans like a team of three terrible Level 0 Grunts carried by a big Level 5 Boss, but it is still quite predictable.

Breaking away from the tournament structure a little for a more ambitious plot is a good idea.

Look, the East is Burning Red!

That is enough for today. This was all theory, so next time I'm going to put this to practice and write some mechanics with all of this in mind.

Sep 21, 2014

So. Much. Noise.

From Wikipedia:

Argentina celebrates the beginning of spring, conventionally, on 21 September, one or two days before the actual spring equinox. This day also marks Student's Day.

Though this is not a work-free public holiday, it coincides with Student's Day, which is a no-school day for students on all the levels of the education system (Except for Primary Schools). The holiday is therefore mostly observed and dominated by teenagers and young adults, which massively take on public parks, beaches and other outdoor venues in the larger cities, and enjoy sports or picnics.

Local administrations usually offer the public a number of entertainment shows, such as free rock concerts. In later years security operations have been staged to avoid incidents such as fights and vandalism, as well as controls to curb the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

As a ~=Responsible Adult=~ September 21 is, for me, "That day in which everyone around where I live is really, really loud.". I have been trying to concentrate for the past few hours to no avail, because I live at an intersection between two of the busiest main streets in the city, and the traffic jams are unbelievable today.

They just spent a whole 5-10 minutes honking, because that is clearly how you make the jam clear up, right?

I need good headphones.

Next week: What a game inspired on G Gundam might look like, with advice and mechanics. I'll do Gurren Lagann after that.

Sep 14, 2014

A Change in Perspective

As a teacher, I would rather help students figure things out for themselves than spell everything out myself. As a designer, I'd like my work to speak for itself objectively without adding my subjective bias to an introduction of it. In my ideal world this would be the formula for success.

Sadly I live in the real world where students need things explicitly spelled out and hype is the most effective form of marketing. I am okay with not being rich and famous, but I do want this to be the best game it can possibly be. The more thoroughly I explain the game, the more feedback I get on it, and the more feedback I receive, the better I can make the game. So I do need to invest additional effort and both talk about the game some more and reach out to people with it.

This brings me to the current poll. Running games in the style of anime series is, obviously, a thing that BCG is suited to. Chapters 4 and 5 give you some good starting points but don't actually tell you quite how to run, say, a giant robot world tournament in the style of G Gundam. Previously I would have refrained from writing about this, because I think figuring this stuff out for yourself is part of the fun of GMing, but I figure it should be useful inspiration to someone.

For the next few weeks I will be elaborating on how to run games in the style of the various polled anime series. An aside: I chose those series because I figured that "Names starting with G" (with some leeway to have more than just super robots and Gundams in it) was as good a starting point as any.

Also I forgot about Gravion and Godannar. Sorry.
And now: Blogging

It became painstakingly clear through the course of the year that, even if I were to stubbornly try to publish BCG entirely on my own, it wouldn't live up to my standards. I mean I could just pick up everything I have right now, publish as an electronic game only on DriveThru (with a Print on Demand option) and call it a day. Some think of crowdfunding as "That thing you do when you want to get easy money from people.", I see it as admitting that you need help.

I keep my cards close to my chest, only cryptically hinting at what I am planning and I never ask for help without offering to pay back with a favor of some kind. Which is not really asking for help as much as it is negotiating for mutual benefit. Basically I am allergic to asking for help.

Last week I spoke of how I'm now working with fellow designer buddy LawfulNice to publish this thing together. I am making another person deal with shoddy webpage coding, sending faxes back and forth (Who the hell still sends faxes???), and of course putting money up front in my stead.

Also he has to deal with all of my nagging which costs less money than any of those but takes just as much patience.

I'm just trying to convey just how much of a paradigm shift it has been for me to try crowdfunding BCG. Anyhow, the next weeks should be interesting,  the campaign may or may not start next week but if it does I will still be doing this short series of posts on sundays. There's still a few days to go until the poll closes and I'm curious to see which series wins out.

Let's see what happens next week!

Sep 7, 2014

Good news, everyone!

It is a good thing that I'm a really stubborn person and I really like game design, because the non-game design aspects of this adventure have been an experience I can only compare to rubbing fire ants all over my face

See, I like writing new stuff and adjusting existing stuff, and I can convince myself that I enjoy doing the layout work and also indexing things manually too, but it is really hard to keep repeating "MMM YES I LOVE HOW IT BURNS AND STINGS AND INSECTS ARE EATING MY EYES." when it comes to everything else. Here, meet our metaphorical colony of arthropods that has been torturing me as of late:

Imagine coding errors stamping on a human face - forever.

When I contacted IndieGoGo Support, they said that they were "aware of an issue that currently affects a small subset of campaigns from saving changes." but "at this time we unfortunately do not have a work-around." which is pretty bad news. I tried creating a new campaign or even a new account and kept running into this problem. I tried doing different things and managed to make it work once every ten tries experiments or so, and only if it was the first draft saved each time for one account, leading me to believe that "small subset" is something of an underestimation and also that their website runs on fairy magic.

Pretty much all of the issues I've been having so far were because I have been trying to publish as an individual through IndieGoGo, and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I have now teamed up with my good friend and fellow amateur game designer LawfulNice (of DtD40k7E fame) to make a Limited Liability Company for our mutual benefit. Meet Gegenschein Games.

I swear I did not choose the name. Honest.

I am basically banking on him being the cool, successful Jerry Seinfield to my aloof, unlucky George Constanza and between the both of us somehow run a good campaign. Grab the popcorn because this frankly sounds like the setup for a buddy movie and we will somehow end up saving the planet from alien invaders by the time this is over. If I'm lucky, there will be robots.

Anyhow this means I am making changes to the plan - slightly. Going from the second best crowdfunding platform to the one that is just the best but also the one with good tech support and less sketchy practices doesn't really change much as far as you are concerned. As far as I am concerned? Costs go up an additional 5% from extra fees, so I have to be a little more careful with the budgeting. Frankly I'm just happy that I will not have to put up with stuff going wrong from this end again and that I can use the platform with the better prestige.

We're currently getting everything verified, a process that takes up to 7 days. If my plan to leech off LN's good luck is any successful, we should be going live this next weekend. Fingers crossed!

Sep 1, 2014

Get to Know Battle Century Z

First of all, apologies for the late post. The power company decided it was a good day as any for a malfunction that left a noticeable chunk of our capital without electricity. Including the people supposed to provide other services, like drinking water. It was not very fun.

Moving on! I've mentioned a few times that I am already writing the expansion to BCG, Battle Century Z, but I've only hinted cryptically at what said expansion will be. Today in our very originally titled post we remedy this. Cheesy music optional.

Unfortunately I could not find two assistants to cosplay while I ramble about games.
But first let's tackle the most fundamental question:

Why an Expansion?

Because some rules do not belong in the core game. The rules you see in BCG are a combination of what I think is absolutely necessary for a generic mecha system and those that make for a fun and simple game. Some rules are either too genre specific, complex or situational to be part of core. See if I were to add the hundred pages of the expansion to the base game then the manual would be a bloated, schizophrenic mess. Alternative character advancement systems and upgrades specific for underwater use have a place, but it is not in the average game. Thus, they're not in core.

Because content is easier to develop if it is done in chunks and over time. If I focus on the core rules first, I will do a better job at it than if I was also worrying about the expansion content too. By dividing everything into several phases, each phase is easier to do properly. Also, as time goes, I naturally come up with tweaks or new ideas that wouldn't spring to mind from playtesting alone.

Because I want to give you all the opportunity to have a say in what makes it to the expansion. Blogging more frequently and doing more polls has been extremely fruitful in terms of getting to know what People Who Aren't Me & My Friends want (and don't want) from the game. But in order to make an informed choice, I want you guys and girls to settle down and get used to the core game first.

Okay so I've (hopefully) convinced you that doing this as two books instead of just one is a good idea. Let's finally get to what BCZ is going to look like.

What will the Expansion have?

Chapter 1: Expanding the Rules. This is where most of the magic happens. This chapter opens up the selection of Skills, Traits, Powers, Upgrades and Weapons for PCs and NPCs alike. It basically gives all Characters, Mecha and even Bosses a full 50% more options than those available to core BCG ones. Around 40 pages.

Chapter 2: Shifting Gears. The chapter with optional or alternative rules you can use to spice up your game. Add Insanity mechanics for a touch of horror, or replace technology with magic in the swords & sorcery version of the BCG rules. Around 30 pages.

Chapter 3: Weaving Stories. Pre-written episodic adventures and NPCs to showcase some of the expansion's new rules. All are compatible with the BCG core setting in Chapter 5 and include ideas to run them as part of a Hiryu, Wagner or Clarke game. Around 35 pages.

Numbers are, of course, a rough estimation. It will probably take 1-5 or so more pages than that and then there's the 5-10 pages needed for a Chapter 0, index, fluff between chapters and so forth. All in all it'll probably be around 115 pages total.

More feedback and more voices makes for a better game, so I want to continue sharing my working process, making polls, and generally asking for input. But that's not all. I am also going to open commissions for custom content.


The entire point of the expansion is to broaden BCG's horizons (it is kind of in the description of "expansion", really) so I want it to reach as far away as it reasonably can. Even if I were the most creative person in the world, I would still not have the creativity of a thousand people.

That and crowdfunding campaigns need good rewards beyond the first few basic levels to make overfunding possible and actually make a profit, unless you're blatantly scamming people I guess. Put two and two together, and this seems like a really obvious thing to do.

There's going to be a limited number of slots for them, like say 10-20. It will be enough to have some variety in there and allow for crazy stuff I would never have come up with, but not enough to make me go mad trying to properly balance all of the crazy stuff I would never come up with.

They're going to work like this:
  1. You tell me an idea for a Character or Mecha ability you want. It can be a high concept idea ("The Gundam X's Satellite Cannon") or a gameplay idea ("A gun that attacks in an area of effect with infinite range").
  2. I take it to the design & development slate and make sure it is neither underpowered nor overpowered. I may tweak it to this end but I will do my best to stick to the core of your idea.
  3. You are credited in the ability's description using either your real name or a chosen alias. If it is a Genre Power, you will be using said Power. If it is a Weapon, maybe you are the scientist who came up with it. And so on and so forth.
  4. You have your own place in the credits section, one tier above all the plebs other contributors.
One of the coolest things about game design is that I get to give so-called Joy of Discovery with so many people, but by doing things this way I get to be surprised and discover fun things myself. I seriously am having a hard time waiting both to talk more in detail about the expansion and to see what comes out of everyone, but we'll get there soon.

Next Week: Good news oh yes.