Monday, 29 September 2014

For the People! (or Dear God, what have I done?)

Well, with Mad Science out and Gencon being merely an attend event for me this year, you would think I would be smart enough to take a bit of a break this fall, and focus in on getting my new day job in order. That is a very reasonable thought, and isn’t even close to what I ended up doing. Instead of easing off the gas, I floored it.

Giving Back to the Community
Being new to the Panama City Area, I was looking for a way to meet other gamers and have some fun. My arrival coincided with the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I offered the local game store (Comic Emporium) proprietor to run a once a week open game of the new 5th Ed so that people could learn the new game. I would get to meet new gamers and have fun, AND give back to the gaming community by teaching new players the ropes.

Now, while I have mentioned that D&D is not my preferred game, it has always been a very serviceable game, and I have burned many hours blasting through dungeons and even fighting a dragon or two. The new version of D&D is, in my opinion, the best version to date. It is fast and smooth, but keeps the heroic D&D feel. So I bought the new book at Gencon, read up on the rules, created an episodic campaign, put up an advert and hoped players would show. Due to a serendipitous event, my first session was overflowing with players. Things slowed down to a manageable 3 players the following week, and 4 players the week after that, but last Friday hit 9 players! Next week I might have more!

I will take a moment to remind you that I prefer small groups. Remnants was always designed with 3 or 4 players in mind, while Warbirds works best with 3 to 6. Dealing with 9 players in a system as complicated as D&D, even streamlined 5th Ed D&D, is a rough go, and I had one hell of a time keeping up. The saving grace of a group that large is that there was always someone who grabbed whatever bait I dangled in front of them, and there was too much chaos for the players stop each other from making foolish mistakes.

If I do hit 10 players next week, I am going to have to split the group in half. I was thinking an early game and a late game, or run two parties while GMing for both, but I think Cait has the most elegant solution: an A game and a B game that are played on alternate weeks. I have to check with my players, but while there are GM’s that can run 10+ groups, I have never been one of them.

Opening My Big Mouth
So a while back, this thread popped up on Reddit. Being the foolish fool that I am, I replied when Warbirds got a mention, and I sort of accidentally committed Outrider Studios to an unplanned project. As a result of my folly, The Jet Age Sourcebook for Warbirds is nearly finished the draft process. I hope to write up the last few jets within the week, and have it ready for editing in early October. The plan is for it to be similar in style to the WWII Sourcebook as a PDF-only release with lots of public domain photos instead of art.  

In making the new book, I had to break one of my personal rules of game design and include a chart. The chart is both simple and colour coded, but a chart none-the-less. It turns out that once you explore the complexities of Beyond Visual Range air combat, a chart becomes a necessity. Cait gave the chart a very suspicious once over, but decided to let it slide on the promise that there would be no other charts in the book and I would not increase the current chart’s complexity.

Oh, and once I finish this project, I still have another bucket of them waiting to go.

*Note: By “Chart” I mean that players must consult a grid to determine the result of an action(s). I don’t consider lists of stat blocks of vehicles or gear to be charts. You can just copy their statistics onto your character sheet and never look at them again.

More Theory
My posts of late have been more biographical and company-oriented of late. I have a few bits of theory that I definitely want to write on, and I will try to touch on them in the coming weeks and months.

Until then…

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Problem in Sidonia

So, the print version of Mad Science is in the dreaded proofing process, and it looks like I will make Gencon this year, but that’s not what this post is about. Today, I am going to talk about anime, specifically, Knights of Sidonia and my thoughts on it.

Some Background
I am not an anime aficionado, nor am I a weeaboo or a japanophile. I was enamoured with some aspects of anime in my late teens and early twenties (sorry Kirk), but my tastes drifted away from anime with time. These days, a show has to really stand out to grab my attention.

It’s been a long while since any anime show caught my eye for any length of time, let alone an entire season. Knights of Sidonia managed this by shamelessly pandering to my interests. It has:
-Giant Robots
-Giant Monsters
-Space Battles where Giant Robots fight Giant Monsters.

If you follow my blog, or have read my RPGs, then you know that I am into these things pretty hardcore, so I hung in for all 12 episodes. Now, having watched the series, and in the spirit of my rants on Pacific Rim and Titanfall, here are my thoughts on Knights of Sidonia. Spoilers will follow, so read at your own risk.

The Cliches
Serialized anime is loaded with clich├ęs and Knights is no exception. We could dive down the TV tropes rabbit hole, and look at how the main character, Nagate Tanikaze, is a teenage (maybe 20 years old?) boy with superhuman mecha piloting skill who needs to use a special weapon to defeat the alien monsters attacking his home. But I am not too concerned with the plot and tropes here. I can accept that the show follows the typical Campbellian hero’s journey, and encounters the standard trials and tribulations along the way. I am more concerned with how well the series pulls these tropes off, and where it stumbles.

A Weak Protagonist
There are some serious problems with our hero, Nagate Tanikaze. In short, he lacks agency and has a weak story arc. We will tackle each of these in turn.

First off: agency. Nagate doesn’t do much. Instead, he has stuff done to him and he reacts. He is essentially forced to become a pilot, dropped into his first mission, and then is a pawn caught in the schemes of Sidonia’s captain and council, while being fought over by a small harem of love interests (more on that in a second). We never learn what motivates Nagate, nor how he feels about any of the larger issues in Sidonia. By the end of the season he manages to claim that he wants to defend Sidonia because he likes the people there, but he is still mostly incurious and passive.

Number the second: weak story arc. The very first scene of the series establishes that Nagate isn’t just a good pilot, he’s a great one. He has mastered the art of mecha combat. He is so awesome that the only time he makes a serious tactical error, it turns out to be a rival sabotaging him rather than a true error on his part. In later episodes we learn that he has special training (never mentioned up to that point) on weapons that no one else knew existed. So, as far as character growth is concerned. Nagate does not grow as a pilot. He starts off as the best of the best, and stays there.

So how about personal growth or relationships? Well, there isn’t much there either. Nagate is too passive to take any chances in his personal dealings, and despite multiple opportunities, never really makes any attempt to connect with the people around him. Oh, they all try to connect with him in some way. His bevy of girls literally fight to be with him. His rival tries to discredit him, the cook (who’s a bear, don’t ask) tries to mother him, and the ship’s captain tries to control him, but he is too imperceptive to catch that most of this is going on. Even when he almost forges a relationship with another pilot, Shizuka Hoshijiro, the series brutally kills her one episode later. She is resurrected as an alien mute creature captured by the humans. After that Nagate has the perfect companion. They just sit and stare at each other through a piece of armoured glass.

Portrayal of Women
At first glance, Knights of Sidonia seems to do a good job in the world of gender politics. Sidonia’s captain is a powerful, competent woman, Women can and do become mecha pilots and a woman is one of the main squadron commanders, and there is even a gender-swapping character who is genetically androgynous. Past that veneer lies a very sexist show.

First, there’s the character design. Every female character (except for the cook, who I once again remind you is a bear) has the overdeveloped proportions of typical male fantasy. They also have the high-pitched teenage girl voices that have become default for anime (I watched the dubbed version, I didn’t want subtitles distracting from the action). You could explain this away in-universe by talking about why would a world with genetic engineering accept anything less? Well, there are male characters in the show who have less than perfect looks, and wouldn’t a society that uses genetic engineering and cloning progress beyond such simple sexual aesthetics? There should be more characters like the cook with widely varied body plans that follow either practical function or whimsical invention. No, the girls in the show are pretty so the guys who watch it have something to look at. The show even throws fan service at its audience with characters having to get naked to photosynthesize. It’s strange how only female characters are shown doing this…

Next we need to talk about the purpose of the women in the show. They nearly all exist to serve Nagate in some way. In twelve episodes he has no less than 3 women that are madly in love with him. Even the androgynous character immediately falls for the guy. The weird thing is that we never find out why these girls find Nagate so attractive. It certainly isn’t his charm or warmth, or even his looks. My best guess is they like him because he is an outsider, and he’s a good pilot. These traits don’t seem like a good basis for a relationship, but these one-dimensional women are hard to read. So maybe his skills make him seem like the badboy transfer student who also turns out to be an ace football player? These are pretty shallow reasons to like a guy. But Nagate lacks depth, so I guess this is all we’re going to get.

Finally, we need to talk about a minor character, Eiko Yamano. She is only in episodes 1 and 2. She is important because: 

a) She does not give a shit about Nagate, 
b) We immediately learn through flashback that she is personally motivated, and has her own reasons for becoming a pilot, and 
c) She is immediately killed. 

My wife does not watch much anime, but she caught the first episodes of Knights. Her immediate reaction to Eiko, “I like her.” My immediate response, “She is so dead.” When I was proven right just minutes later, my wife stopped paying any attention. Knights took less than two minutes of screen time to establish Eiko as an interesting, driven, and conflicted character. It then killed her outright. This would be ok if there were other characters with comparable depth, but instead the series hamstrings itself by leaving less interesting characters alive. We could dig deeper and talk about how male writers punish female characters who dare to be interesting on their own merits, but I think I lack the background to discuss those ideas with authority, and there are some bloggers already doing a better job of it than me. 

Redeeming Qualities
Ok, I just spent a lot of words slagging this show, and its problems do run deep. But believe it or not, I liked it. The animation is beautiful. The mech and monster designs are well done. The setting is weird and interesting, and the central mystery of what the monsters are and what they want is compelling. I thought some of imagery was a little heavy handed in its attempts at symbolism (the neo-natal nature of the monsters and the spears that kill them pretty much screams “abortion”), but over-all I enjoyed the ride. 

What I really saw in Knights of Sidonia was a series of missed opportunities. The show has so many chances to make interesting and mature choices, but instead bogs itself down with mediocre execution of genre tropes that make it so much less than it could have been. It’s still enjoyable to be sure, but it was like hoping for a ride in a fighter jet but getting stuck playing a flight sim. Maybe things will pick up in season 2.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Good News, Everyone

Well, I've been busy. I live in Florida now, and the locals have been nothing but friendly. So far we are having a great time, and we are happy to be visiting the US for a few years.

ENnie Nomination!
Warbirds was nominated for an ENnie for best setting. Hooray! please go and vote for us. While you're at it, vote in all of the other categories too. The ENnies are the closest thing that gaming has to the oscars, so I'm hoping for the best for us, and wishing the best for all of the other nominees.

Mad Science!
If you backed our indiegogo campaign, then you got a little surprise the other day. The Mad Science book is out for backers. Yay! We hope to have the PDF up for sale on DriveThru early next week, and the print-on-demand version in a few weeks (we have to go through the dreaded proofing process again).

I still don't know if we can attend. I am willing to offer a fairly strong maybe, but I can't go further than that. Assuming we can go this year, I am stoked. It's been a few years since I attended the con just for fun, and I am looking forward to getting lost in the dealer's hall, finding random pickup games, and generally goofing off with friends old and new.

If I do attend, and you do find me, and say, "I voted for Warbirds for the ENnies!" I will immediately owe you one demo session of Warbirds before the end of the weekend. A few caveats though, this offer is not valid if you are a member or affiliate of Outrider Studios (Derek, Desi, Patrick, Kevin, Andrea, this includes you), and I will run a demo for no more that 4 people, so this offer is only open to the first 4 people who give me a shout. While I am not expecting to have anyone take me up on this, I really hope someone does, as it would be incredibly cool.

What's next?
Well, with Mad Science out, I can take a short breather, but there are more supplements to write and other projects to develop, so we will see what we can get done this year. There are a few options, and I have a plan. Let's just hope this new job lets me stick to it.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Good News and Bad News

As the title of the post says, the last month has brought some good news and bad news. So without any further adieu, bad news first.

Bad News:
No Outrider Studios booth at Gencon
Sadly, Outrider Studios will not have a booth at Gencon this year. We had everything all booked, but if you remember my rant about moving to Florida, well, that’s happening. And it’s happening too close to the Con for us to be ready for it. So, we have deferred until next year. If we are lucky, and I mean really lucky, we might get to attend as just attendees, but if you want Outrider games you will have to go to the IPR booth to get them.

If we go, and if you see us, please feel free to say hi. We always love to meet fans of the games. I hope we can make it, but no promises.

Good News:
Mad Science Art
Dimitris, our esteemed Warbirds artist, delivered some of the pieces for our Mad Science supplement, and they look fantastic:

This will be an NPC in the book. Note the little imp in the foreground.

Everything about this picture is awesome

Bad News:
More Delays
We still have more art on the way, but even once all of the pieces are in, construction of the book is going to have to wait until we arrive in Florida. We may miss our Gencon window on this one. That is great sadness.

Good News:
More Warbirds and Remnants Products Planned
Once we get established in Florida, I am getting back on the writing train. We have at least one product planned for each game for next summer. As per usual, it will be a terrible slog to get them made, but here's hoping that we have a bunch of new stuff ready to sell at Gencon 2015.

Random News:
Panama City is within striking distance of Atlanta. Maybe we should give Dragoncon a shot (as attendees only). It doesn't sound like a place where a little indie RPG company like ours can make a profit, but it does sound like a heck of a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Stuff... and Things

So, What's on my mind? I could talk on any number of subjects today, but I will limit myself to a few odds and ends.

Mad Science Update
The Mad Science sourcebook is in the final edited and ready for layout. There is a slight delay, however. The esteemed game designers over at Modiphius had a brilliantly successful kickstarter for their Achtung! Cthulhu game. First off, I have met several of their designers and they are all brilliant people doing excellent work, and I highly recommend you check them out. The problem is that we share an artist (the irreplaceable Dim Martin) with our British brethren, and they have first dibs. As I would never dream of violating the ancient and rarified rules involved in the system of dibs, I must wait until they are done with him before he can make our art. This pushes the PDF for Mad Science into the June timeframe, and means we just might get the print version in time for Gencon.

RPGs turned 40 this year. Holy crap! Personally, I have been gaming for a little over half of those years. I look back and remember things like the satanic panic (summarized here),  the rise of White Wolf, the Magic card explosion, the D&D collapse, the Wizards resurrection, 3rd Edition, the OGL, the indie movement, the backlash to the indie movement, the war between Paizo and 4th Ed, and a million more little changes and details. Time is weird.

As a Canadian, it is my duty to complain about winter. This one has been brutal. It's supposedly "spring" but snow lingers like the creepy weird guy that hangs around the game store who doesn't buy anything, but never leaves. As a protest, I ceased all winter snow removal activities. I stopped shovelling my driveway, and just rammed my Mazda through the snowbanks instead. I am sure that my neighbours think I am some sort of lazy slob (I'm not saying I'm not), but I am acting on principle, dammit! Winter is done. It's supposed to be spring. You know what, screw this. My day job is sending me on an exchange position in Florida for a few years. I am getting away from this winter insanity.

It's time for a giant robot aside. As a person who designed an entire game about robots beating the shit out of each other, I feel as though I should comment whenever a new piece of giant robot media makes waves. This time it's Titanfall. It has a story... but it's neither good nor engaging. It has first person shooting... it's nothing special; I'd rather play Halo. The big deal is that it has giant robots that beat the shit out of each other. Titanfall's robot combat is fast, brutal, tactical, and incredibly addictive. It's not perfect, and at times it can be frustrating, but I keep loading up to play another mission. There are hundreds if not thousands of Titanfall reviews out there so go check them out, and then figure out if you want to give the game a go. So, to summarize:

-Terrible Story
-No Single Player
-So-so first person shooting

-Giant robots with guns and missiles and stuff
-See above

Other Projects

I said I was working on other stuff. That stuff will become more apparent as time goes on. Some things are being shuffled in the schedule right now, and I will see what will be done when. Something just fell onto my plate recently and it requires immediate action.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The rumours of my demise have been greatly exagerated

I swear I'm still alive. It's been 6 months since I wrote anything, but my existence was not snuffed out. I have some announcements listed below, but lets start with a question. Where the hell have I been? It's complicated but I will attempt to answer.

First off, that con plague I had turned into full-up bronchitis and persisted for over a month. It wore me down like an old set of brakes. At the same time, my day job reared its ugly head and saddled me with far more extensive duties than I was expecting. My days became longer, and I was burning out pretty badly. There were dozens of times that I tried to write, but I froze every time and just stared at the blank page on my computer.

Not writing is bad. Even worse is when I get into the habit of not writing. I procrastinate and put things off again and again. Weeks of not writing stretched into months, and next thing I knew, Christmas was fast approaching. When December rolled around, I was heavily distracted by another of my many chronic issues: physical fitness.

My day job is military. Even though I work at a desk, I am expected to maintain a certain level of physical fitness. Those who know me know that I am not the most fit/athletic of people, and this is made worse by some long-standing knee problems that required surgery two years ago. I had a fitness test to do in December, and I was officially "freaking out". I should not have been so worried, I passed the test without issue, hooray! With that out of the way, I thought I will totally write over Christmas break! Nope.

Turns out, passing that fitness test put me in the running for a software job down in the States. They let me know about it the day before I left for vacation, and I immediately lost two months to the incredibly elaborate, immensely complex, Canadian Forces Foreign Posting Screening process. I have spent the last few months doing meetings, appointments, training, and it culminated in getting a wisdom tooth ripped out on Tuesday.

Mad Science
Now you would think that being that busy would preclude me from writing at all, but for some reason, it didn't completely. As the screening process neared its end (still not quite done) I found time to sit down and type out all of my ideas for a Mad Science book that had been knocking around in my head for the better part of a 8 months.

I finished the draft last week, and Cait edited it immediately. It is now in Patrick's hands for copy-editing and proofing, and we are working on the art plan. The book did grow a little in the writing. What was originally going to be a little PDF expansion pamphlet expanded into a full-fledged supplement, complete with some rules expansions, NPCs, places, organizations, gear, creatures, and more.

The plan right now is to send out the PDF to everyone who backed us, and then make it available for Print-on-Demand at Give us a bit of time to work on art and layout, and the book will be ready soon.

Other Plans
I have some other ideas on the go. Nothing solid, or confirmed yet, but once I figure out a direction, and solidify it somewhat, I will chat about it here. I will say that I hope to make another book before Gencon this year, but I am not quite sure what that book will be yet.