Not much to say this week, so have some art – and see if you can guess what we’ll be writing about 🙂
Welcome to the second monthly playtest report. Due to the levels of concentration we’ve been putting into Shards, and its kickstarter, we didn’t do much playtesting of our own games. Instead at the monthly Playtest Northwest meet I was playtesting an in-development computer game.
The game, created by Luke Perkins, is as yet untitled. So, for the purposes of simplicity I’ll call it LupeLang.
In LupeLang you play a scientist who has just been cryogenically frozen until the 35th century – at which time she is aware there is some sort of time anomaly, having received a message sent back through time. Unfortunately the message was written in a language unknown in the present day, and thus her assignment is to learn the future language and then send a translated message through the anomaly; and return through it herself if possible.
You awaken in a museum that has been laid out with exhibits of images from the 20th century and earlier, each of which is marked with a description in the future language – a form of pictographic representation. For instance: △ might mean “mountain”, and thereby also “stone” and “huge”, while ∪ means “artificial container” including buildings as well as pots.
As the game progresses you learn more about the language and solve puzzles involving locked doors that can only be opened by placing the correct symbols beneath a picture.
There were various issues with the control set up which I won’t go into here because I’m not massively interested in that side of video game design, but we also spent a lot of time discussing the worldbuilding aspects of the game.
In essence with a game with such a strange setup (you’re in a museum where every door is locked by code-locks with the password being pictured directly above them) you have two options:
Fortunately that sort of worldbuilding is exactly what we do at Artemis Games, so I was well set up to help with it. Ultimately we discussed it, and came up with a potentially quite compelling explanation; but one that Luke wants to keep as a slow-release mystery for the first stages of LupeLang. Still, all told while we weren’t playtesting anything of our own it was definitely a productive event.
The Shards: Worldbuilding Zine kickstarter is ending today, and while it’s far from the greatest success we’ve ever had, at 300% funded its undeniably successful.
So, what comes next?
Well, over the next six months there’s the fulfilment – every month we’ll be writing 44-48 pages of content for the zine, and keeping that exciting and informative is going to be a big job. But that’s not all we’re going to be doing.
Our current plans for the coming six months focus on the following:
Kickstarter is a lot of things, from a pre-order platform to a place for helping small indie businesses get projects off the ground. Quickstarter is a little nod in the direction of the small and indie – so, us – by encouraging small, cheap, fast and simple kickstarters without all the studio-made videos and focus-tested page layouts that feature in the largest and most successful projects.
Another nod in that direction is Zine Quest spending February promoting RPG Zines, black-and-white, A5, fit-in-the-post magazines of RPG themed content. Again, right in our wheelhouse.
It’s been a year since we wound down Jigsaw Fantasy, planning to rebrand as Setting Shards and relaunch. So now is when we want to do so.
Put all those facts together and you get a crazy idea that just might work (and actually seems quite sensible after a month of working on it) – we’re taking the best bits of Setting Shards and distilling them down into a monthly Zine for GMs, Writers and other worldbuilding enthusiasts.
Each month will be a new issue containing four articles – three detailing Shards that can be dropped into fantasy and/or sci-fi settings and the fourth covering a more general concept without a specific answer where things like “Where do dragons nest, and why?” or “how do I come up with good names for characters and places, quickly?” can be explored
Next weeks blog will have more of the details – including the exact date for the launch. It will be early February, but how early? Well, that depends on when we have all the articles finished – as we experienced with Jigsaw Fantasy a monthly schedule brooks no delays, meaning we always need to maintain a buffer of completed pieces.
This weeks blog is slightly delayed, due to our trip to Dragonmeet in London over the weekend leaving us somewhat drained, and having met quite a lot of dragons! (We brought four with us too, so they could socialise with their scaly comrades)
Whenever we go to a convention there’s a good chance we’ll come back with more ideas than we went with. Dragonmeet was exceptional on this account, with 3 separate concepts crystallising, and a fourth flaring into existence.
First: 13th Age Southlands
The 13th age system suits our gaming styles, and our design ethos, very well indeed. So we’ve been working for a while on moving some of our system-neutral designs over to 13th age specific ones.
At Dragonmeet we actually met Rob Heinsoo and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, two major writers for 13th Age (Rob Heinsoo being one of the two primary voices) and got a chance for a brief chat about our work, which helped us feel more confident that we’re not going to be stepping on any toes.
So work has picked up the pace on The Southland’s Project – designing a region to go south of The Dragon Empire with something of a different theme – where the core setting has almost half its icons directly tied to Imperial Politics, our region has 5 icons that are tied to Nature in some way; from the Pack Mother – leader of all those who follow their instincts, whether they be red in tooth and claw or maternal caring – to the Lichen Lich who promises that life and death need not be so different after all.
Second: Mine Slayer
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of logic puzzles; and I’ve been considering what it would take to make a game in which one of the players can design a puzzle for others to solve. While I had been thinking of this purely as a co-operative endeavour, talking it over with the team during the hours-long car journey resulted in something rather different – one player laying a minefield and the others playing minesweepers trying to be the first to cross it without exploding.
We have playtests for this later this week – the mechanics are still quite open with a large number of valves in need of adjusting: how many mines the mine-slayer gets to place being the greatest conundrum.
Third: Aspect Cards
The Concept Cards line is great, but it’s only really useful for GMs and writers – not for those stuck in a single skin of their player character. Aspect Cards are our exploration of what would be useful to the player – each containing two tied aspects of a character: backstory, equipment, appearance, connections or anything else that works.
Even more modular than Concept Cards, with no card being an island, they should be perfect additions to an existing character concept; or with half a dozen supply the whole concept on their own.
Fourth: Tinfoil Hat
Inspired by a game we were playing on the card journey, Tinfoil Hat is an improvisational game in the style of “But Wait There’s More”:
How do the Illuminati explain the flouride in our water supply? How does Adolf Hitler’s twin brother relate to the moon landings?
In Tinfoil Hat you’re forced to add ever more unexpected curveballs to your conspiracy theory until it eventually falls apart under the weight of red string and mixed metaphors.
The mechanics of the game are still in alpha-0.0.1, but their simplicity means it likely won’t take long to polish them – the choice of conspiracy elements on the other hand may take a while.
No art this week, couldn’t find anything appropriate, but I think the monsters I’ve made are fun.
We’ve decided on the name Kyma for half-animal people – specifically because our version has a tendency towards chimerism, mixing many different traits.
So without further ado:
This week I’ve ended up working on two very different sets of monsters. The first is the Hanging Tree – a huge level 1 enemy that comes with a murder of crows to finish you off.
On a completely different track, I got caught up in the idea that mind controlled minions often seem a bit too similar to everything else. So, here are The Spellbound, soulless soldiers that are so weak willed they can even be swayed mid-fight.
As for why they might be lacking a soul? Why not ask Antonio
As part of Naga Demon, I’m doing a 13th age monster every day this month. This last week has been focused on hybrid animals, from the cute Bearowl to the cunning Wolfcrow. It even features a particularly powerful monster – the epic tier Grootslang
November is National Game Design Month – and I’ve decided to take it up as the challenge of writing one new 13th age monster each day, as we’re looking at the possibility of moving into writing 13th age 3rd party works.
This week I’ve been doing Swamp Creatures: Otyugh, monsters known for their trash-loving lifestyle, and Swamp Things, animate embodiments of the Swamp’s will.
In the first post of this month I talked about how to comb the creative commons – finding stuff that fits well enough to the idea you’re working on.
But when you’re trying to be creative, to step into unexplored realms of fantasy, there may not even be that – especially if you don’t have the funds to buy high quality stock art – and even if there is “good enough” never really feels like it’s good enough.
To get the best results from the creative commons – or from novice artists – you need a handle on image editing and adaptation. Transforming an image from what it is to what you wish it was.
For our fantasy works one vital trick has been demodernising – giving modern day photos the appearance of paintings or illustrations that suit a fantasy feel. There are two steps to that: First you must remove any clearly anachronistic elements and then you can put the image through various pre-made filters like GIMPs “oilify”.
Removing the anachronisms can be simple, just cropping out the electricity pylon on the edge of a photo of a village, or it can be more complicated – removing a deck chair from the middle of the courtyard you need to depict.
The most vital tools for me in dealing with the more difficult cases have always been copy-paste and recolouring: a deck-chair against a wall can be overlaid by another portion of the wall, with the blur that will be introduced by oilify or similar tools hiding the minor seams. Meanwhile the green wellies worn by a medieval re-enactor on a muddy field can be turned a deep brown and simply be leather boots within the image.
Using filters like oilify seems like a trivial task – and honestly it can be. But for best use it’s important to think about how real painters work. Unlike a photograph not every portion of a drawing or painting is equal in resolution, but rather they have a level of detail decided by how much the painter, and the audience, care(s) about them – in a portrait the subjects face may be almost photorealistic while the background is merely lumps of colour in the rough form of furniture. As such it helps to separate portions of the image and use the filters more or less strongly on them depending on how important they are to your final composition [and on how many minor errors you need to hide].
A lot of creative commons stuff is black and white, or coloured inappropriately for what you have in mind. Recolouring is thus an important tool to have in your repertoire as it greatly expands your options – see Gustav at the top for an example.
For colouring monochrome works I rely on layers. A basic tool available to digital editors that makes the process far easier than it would be on paper, layers in an image editing program are pretty much the equivalent of laying transparencies atop one another to make the full image. But they come with some snazzy options that make the whole process a lot smoother. By altering your layers’ transparency settings and order you can use wide swathes and then add detail on top – colour in the whole torso, and then colour in only the belt atop that. More importantly for me you can put the original image on top in a darken-only layer which allows the textures and detail that the original black-and-white artist created to shine through.
I generally use Krita for this as I find its brushes more useful for the process, and everything a little easier to organise, but it is a little slower.
If working with something that’s already in colour I have two options to hand – the first and most prevalent is to use the GIMP colour editing options to alter what each colour on the existing image is. Changing all the reds to purples or making all the blues more vibrant can work wonders. The second is to simply make the piece monochrome and then go from there.
There’s a lot more to say on the subject, and I promise I’ll come back to it in more depth, but for now I need to get prepped for my NaGaDeMon project, a 13th age monster for each day of November. If you have any questions or advice about image editing, be sure to let us know!