Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Blown Away!

Today (the 26th of March) is one week since we launched the crowdfunding campaign for Warbirds. In that time we have raised $1880, with 42 backers from a dozen different countries. The support has been mind-blowing and the feedback has all been positive.

In short, I am honoured. I never thought we would get here.

We are now entering the second week of the campaign, and donations are slowing down. This pretty common, as most campaigns slow down a bit in the middle. To keep interest high, however, we are going to keep releasing weekly videos throughout the campaign, and we are considering making regular videos until the game launches.

In other news, our prototypes for the GM screen, Dogfight Tracker,  and Tokens are nearly finalized, and we will be putting up picks this week. I'm also working on the custom dice. The plan right now is to go with a blue die with gold pips, and the silhouette of a fighter on the 6 face. The dice will be ready with the game, but will take a little more time to prototype, as we have to go through a third party for them.

I'm running another Warbirds playtest tonight, but we don't have too many of these left before we lock down the text. There have been a few nudges and changes here and there, but we are closing in on the book's final form, and then it goes for copy editing and proofing.

I also picked up a copy of Bioshock Infinite today. I might have to budget my play time to make sure I stay on top of this campaign.

There will be more videos, pictures and blogs in the near future.

Thanks for all of your help.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Inspiration and Research

So a few commenters have been mentioning different animes that may have served as an inspiration for Warbirds, so let's talk about where the ideas for the game come from. The game wasn't created in a vacuum, and there was a massive breadth of pop culture and history to draw from. Let's look at some stuff.


My degree carries the fancy name of "Military and Strategic Studies". In english that means "War History and Political Stuff". So I spent years studying wars and conflicts and strategy. One area that I enjoyed was studying the disruptive effects of technology, and looking at how new innovations changed warfare.

With Warbirds, I wanted to create a place where fighter pilots are at the apex of society. To do that, I needed to mess with technology a bit. So first I created a Guild for the pilots. Guilds are great at controlling and limiting technology to further their own ends, and they did for centuries from the middle ages through to the enlightenment. Next, I built some structures into the setting to limit the power of disruptive technology like radio and radar (radios work, but they suck. Radar is absolutely useless). Finally, I wanted a lot of diverse countries and cultures that would clash frequently. We ended up grabbing the Caribbean from history because of its diversity.

When we were looking at pilot personalities,and how they relate to fame and the media, we did a lot of research on Amelia Earheart. She was not only a skilled pilot, but also a canny self-promoter. She had her own fashion line, a long list of sponsors, and a knack for getting herself in the media. She was able to use her fame to generate money to finance her flying and become even more famous in the process. For Warbirds, when Cait designed the Fame system, she took Earheart's business model to the extreme, and made "Fame" the game's currency. It works very well.


Let's get this out of the way. When I think of dogfights, I think of the space battles in Return of Jedi. The final space battle in that movie was fast-paced, visually interesting, had high stakes, and managed to do it all using primarily minor characters (Luke, Han, and Leia were never involved in the space battle). When I decide whether not to take the dogfighting rules in a certain direction, I compare it to the Jedi space battles, and see if they hold up.

Hand in hand with the Star Wars is Indiana Jones. A lot of the game's art direction and flavour is directly influenced by the three Indie movies (I disbelieve the 4th film). Even our aircraft design is influenced by Indiana Jones. Does this look familiar to anyone?
Other movies that definitely influenced the look and feel of game include Sky Captain and the World of  Tomorrow, The Mummy (first one), and The Rocketeer. When we look at anime films, the two that spring to mind are Wings of HonnĂȘamise and The Sky Crawlers. If we are talking classic WW2 movies, then I direct you towards Tora Tora Tora, and Midway.

We need to have this conversation before we continue. I both love and hate Top Gun. It was the ultimate 80's movie, Tom Cruise's vehicle to legendary status, and the source of uncounted thousands of military jokes. Do I take inspiration from Top Gun? Yes. I think it might be impossible not to take a few things from it when writing anything about fighter pilots. Am I proud of it? No. I could go on for hours about the shit that it got wrong, but I won't. Next section.


I might get skewered for this, but does anyone else remember the old Disney cartoon Tailspin? Disney took the characters from the Jungle Book and gave them airplanes. It was a good kids show for its time, and when I look back at why I like airplanes and aviation, Tailspin was one of my starting points. It had air pirates, airships, action, and adventure. I have a feeling if I went back and watched it now I would be disappointed, but I can still hear the theme song in my head.

The other big TV inspiration is the old Macross episodes of Robotech. I have talked about Robotech before, but I cannot stress enough how smooth and flowing its aerial battles are. If you watch Macross Plus, the are even better, but they go a little missile crazy.

Part of my research for the book was going back and watching almost every episode of History Channel's Dogfights, and then digging back to primary sources from there. One thing that show was good at was distilling the air battle down to layman's terms, and I made several of my rules choices based on how the show kept things simple but still accurate and interesting.

Video Games

There are a ton of air combat flight sims out there that I used to play (I was universally terrible at them). More recently, I loved Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. I never liked the board or clix versions of Crimson Skies, but I think the video game caught the right feel for a pulp game. A lot of the Mad Science stuff in the game is inspired by Crimson Skies.

An Incomplete List

This is just the stuff I thought of off the top of my head. There are dozens more media properties to whom I must tip my hat, but this post is already a little long for my liking. I haven't even touched cultural sources for all of the different islands (maybe that will be a separate post).

Campaign Update

As of this writing, our Indigogo campaign is at $435. We are almost halfway! Thanks again to all of the backers, and if you aren't a backer yet, then please donate

I will see up in the unfriendly skies.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The New Game is Warbirds!

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you may have noticed a lot of references to that other game without much in the way of details. Well, I can finally announce it to everyone.

Warbirds is Outrider Studios' new game about fighter pilots, pulp-comic action, celebrity culture, and exploration. We are crowdfunding the project on indiegogo.com (no kickstarter for Canadians) and I am hoping that you can contribute and make the game a success. You can learn a bunch more about the game by going to its website. Please give it a quick read before continuing here, as some of the stuff I discuss won't make much sense unless you already know the basics.

During the next month of the campaign, I will posting all sorts of little bits of insight into how the game was made, how the new dogfighting system works, and the though processes on why the game is the way it is. In this post, we'll look at the roots of the game, where it started, and why it evolved the way it did.

Why Fighter Pilots?

Right after Warbirds' first playtest a friend asked, "Steve, why the hell did you make a game about the crap you deal with every day?" He asked because my day job is "Air Weapons Controller", which means I spend my day job staring at radar screens and talking on radios to provide guidance to fighter pilots as they carry out missions. Right now I'm teaching the job to new controllers, so I spend all day thinking about fighter tactics, engagement ranges, radar characteristics, and communications priorities. Modern air combat is, in short, complicated.

So, why the hell would I bring my day job into my hobby? Well, for starts. I love it. I love fighter aircraft, I love the intensity of a dogfight, and not a day goes by that I'm not jealous of the pilots out there doing it for reals. (Full disclosure: I failed flight training after spending 120 hours in the air. It turns out that guys with poor hand-eye coordination, and frequent bouts of airsickness make poor pilots. Who knew?) 

Next, I refer to the old adage: write what you know. I know air combat. I am not an expert on it, like an actual fighter pilot is, but it's safe to say I know a lot more than the average layman. The other thing I know is RPGs, so I have a unique opportunity to try to bring them together in a fun an interesting way.

Why Dieselpunk? Wait, WTF is Dieselpunk? 

First off, here's Wikipedia's take on dieselpunk:
"Dieselpunk is based on the aesthetics of the interwar period between the end of the World War I and the beginning of World War II... The genre combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pin-ups) with postmodern technology and sensibilities."

So why dieselpunk? Because, as I said before, modern air combat is complicated. It's also a little dull from an RPG perspective. Modern fighters start shooting at each other when they are still over 30 miles away, and most engagements end before either pilot ever sees the other. The best tactic for a modern fighter pilot is to fire his best missile at the longest range, and then run away and wait for the missile to hit. If pilots do get close, the planes have heat seeking missiles that lock on just by looking at the enemy plane, and radar assisted cannons that take the guesswork out of the ultra-rare guns kill. 

Let's contrast that with World War 2 air combat. Machine guns of the era could shoot a few thousand yards at best, and most kills happened at ranges of a few hundred yards or less. Pilots mixed it up in massive dogfights, and had to take serious risks to get a kill. World War 2 is the moment where fighter pilots had the best machines that didn't automate important tasks. It was the era of the fighter ace, and the perfect technology level to use for a game about fighter pilots. 

So What's Up With the Alternate Reality Setting? Why Not Just Use WW2?

Figuring out the setting for Warbirds was always a tricky one. The game actually started out as a sci-fi game with Star Wars style space fighters and a Battle Star Galactica style story, but the whole thing ended up being pretty 1-dimensional. There just wasn't enough to do when the pilots weren't out fighting. Setting it in WW2 worked a little better, but I found that it limited player choices in terms of character creation a little beyond what I would like. 

It was Cait (my wife and co-designer) who figured out the game's setting needs to actively affect the characters when they are not in their planes. She hit on the idea of combining the infamous ego of fighter pilots with celebrity culture and hero worship. Once we knew we wanted pilots to be famous, we worked on a couple different setting ideas, but settle on islands floating in the sky. The reason being that a society in that setting would have a huge investment in aviation, and pilots would be revered. 

After that, we looked at the cultures that we liked, and found that the Caribbean was absolutely full of different cultures, languages, and religions. Furthermore, all of these micro-cultures were already packed into conveniently shaped islands and peninsulas. So we grabbed them from our history (1804 to be precise) threw them up in the air, hit the fast-forward button on their timeline, and hit stop when they reached 1940's technology and culture (we gave them an extra century to get there; getting marooned in the sky slowed down tech advancement for quite a while).

What else can we expect in the next month?

I am going to make frequent blog posts here, I plan to make a few videos that will give you the gist of the rules, and I will keep trying to convince you to donate.

If you have already donated, thank you very much. I hope you are as excited about this project as I am. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Art: equal parts beauty and frustration

Art can make or break a game.

This is a no-brainer. Good art can make a good game into a great one, while mediocre (or god forbid, bad) art can kill a game before anyone looks between the book's pages.

Example time

This is the cover of my Remnants game:

It has several important qualities. It is simple, iconic, well drawn, generates a mood, and tells players the game is about giant robots. This cover screams awesome, and I have had customers buy the book without so much as reading the blurb on the back.

If you look inside, you will find more mechs drawn by the same artist. Some of the work was licensed, and some was original, but it all worked pretty well. Above all, though, that cover knocked it out of the park.

Getting that cover was a lot of work. My artist lives and works in Germany, while I'm in Canada. This makes scheduling any kind of real-time communications tricky. There were a lot of early morning and late evening Facebook and Skype chats to get it all together. After scheduling comes concept designs, followed by draft after draft as we narrowed in on finished product. Even the font we chose, Criovision, was not approved for commercial use, and I had to contact the South American company that created it to get permission to put it in the book.

The Waiting

The fallout of all of this is that art takes a lot of time. From first email to finished cover took months. You also have to remember that most of the artists I work with do commission work on the side, and only work for me on evenings and weekends. All of this adds up to weeks and months of waiting for art. It can be frustrating, and it has held up several projects in the past, but when a new email comes arrives with new art attached, it's like getting a Christmas present.


My experience working with artists has taught me a few things:
1. Get the best artist you can afford, especially for the cover. A good cover will draw people in. A good game will get them playing.
2. Give your artist a long leash when it comes to image composition. While they need direction in terms of what to draw, let them surprise you with their interpretation of your ideas. My artists have always produced their best work when they were able to use their imaginations and go in directions that I never thought of. 
3. Keep the business part of the deal simple, honest, and straightforward. Be sure to agree to a payment system that gives at least a partial advance upfront, and then more upon the completion of the work. If you ask for lots of changes, you should expect to pay more.

The Payoff

When it all comes together you get great art and a beautiful book. For example, I got some art for that other game. Here's a sneak peek: