Developing games, and then bringing them to market

I’ve been spending most of my working/creative time for the last year on thinking about and developing tabletop games. (I actually started working on it fairly seriously over 18 months ago, but I definitely spent several months of the first half of 2013 working on Virtual Danger.) I’ve developed at least three fun, playable games in the last six months or so. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

Getting the ideas, developing the themes, working out the gameplay, designing the cards, crafting the prototypes, and then playing, improving, and refining the games is generally quite satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding. It’s intrinsically good, for me. Throughout those parts of the process, I frequently get so caught up in the joy of the work that I lose hours, days, even weeks just totally consumed by the work. It’s actually really interesting to be almost-consciously-able to trigger something like a manic episode just by setting myself to work on a project I care about.

Then there’s the other side of these projects: Everything about bringing them to market. It’s a bit like poison.

On the first big project I put together last year, everything seemed to go smoothly until I got past a few good play-tests and began seriously considering what would be needed to take it to market—namely, coming up with art for all the cards. For my private-use prototype, I’d been using a bunch of images grabbed from around the web. A lot of fun and funny pop culture references and visual puns, but not a one which could lawfully be used in a commercial release or even a free distribution. The whole subject of modern Copyright law and how it applies to protect giant corporations from individuals is an injustice which upsets me greatly, and one which has shaped my entire life in ways I frequently despise. Correspondingly, attempting to approach the task of drawing (for the first time in many years, and after having never really put much time into illustration) several dozen pieces of card art for no other reason than that it was painfully expensive for me to pay for the photographs which better-suited the tone of the game (even just using stock photography would have been easier & better than the sort of art I’ve been able to imagine for the project, but would have cost many thousands of dollars in licensing fees—and forget about paying for custom photography!) made the whole process feel terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it made me question whether I were even an artist at all, as I wrote about.

But it turns out it wasn’t the art that was the problem, necessarily, but the reason for having to create the art. It was feeling forced by the laws, by the corporations, by the requirements of the market to create the art which poisoned the process for me. I wasn’t making the art for the cards because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. That game will never see the light of day, now. The handful of people who got to play it are unique in the universe for their experience of it. I disassembled it and recycled it and moved on. It wasn’t worth doing things I didn’t want to do –several hundred hours of things– to try to take the game from a fun experience I shared with my close friends to a fun experience I shared with “the world”.

Ah, “the world”. What a thing. What an idea. The concept that by simply making something available on the open market (or even for free on the Internet), it’s been shared with “the world”. I’ve been publishing books for over a decade, now, I’ve got 19 discrete books out (not counting multiple editions, or eBook-only short stories), and I can tell you with certainty that sometimes “the world” can be counted on your fingers and toes. I can tell you that if there’s a cost for a thing (even just the cost of having to put in an email address), most of “the world” won’t share in what you have to offer. That game I was working on and quit would have retailed for $60 or more, and probably cost almost as much to print, as a print-and-play version—there were a lot of cards. It took me over a year to sell out of 50 copies of the Never Let the Right One Go hardcover, and it was a mere $35 (and relatively easy to market); to think I could sell my strange card game for almost twice as much is silly. The world can’t be bothered to show up. You have to take your idea to their door, not just open yours.

I’m barely comfortable opening my door for close friends; I’m certainly not one for going out into the world, trying to extoll strangers of the virtues of my creations. Did I mention I’m not going to be exhibiting at Phoenix Comicon, this year?

Anyway, I began steering my creative thought more in the direction of smaller games which would be more affordable to produce, cheaper to price, and more reasonable for people to simply download and print for themselves, and away from projects so large they would be infeasible to produce in smaller quantities. A lot of board game manufacturing relies on economies of scale, with minimum orders in the thousands. A few components (cards especially) can be produced on demand (just like all my physical books) in smaller quantities (usually as low as one, or sometimes as few as 18 cards, so they don’t waste the sheet), but for any truly unique components or, say, if you wanted your box to have one of those nice custom plastic inserts for keeping everything in order, one needs a good chunk of capital to even get off the ground. Around ten or fifteen thousand dollars for a board game without too many custom components is the typical floor. I don’t have that kind of money. I have no faith in my ability to drum up that sort of response to a Kickstarter; when I went so far as to ask for $1000 for Never Let the Right One Go, I managed to get $361 in pledges from 14 backers. Finding enough customers, ever, for a thousand copies of a game is beyond the scope of my capabilities. Coping with the realities of dealing with a distributor, even if I were making enough money thereby to pay their fees, currently feels like it would be beyond the scope of my capabilities, but that might just be my anxiety and insecurity talking. The bottom line here being: If I want my games to be played by anyone at all outside my own home/presence, I need to be able to manufacture them affordably in extremely low quantities.

So I focused more on smaller, card-based games. The next game idea I went anywhere with has gone much farther than the one before it, in part because the art direction was something I was excited by from the first day I was working on the idea. I already had notes on what the cards would look like, what the art would depict, for every single card (triple or more than what I ended up with in the current prototype) in the entire game—again, from day one. The art, the theme, the gameplay, it was all developed as one from the start. I think I posted about that, too. About how rewarding and amazing it’s been to work on the art for this new game. I’ve already been working on it for three and a half months, and I’ve only recently been reaching the parts of the project which are poisoning me.

The parts about bringing it to market. The parts which make me want to give up on the thing and throw it all away, or at best just toss it up as a POD/PnP offering without much more thought and move on. Even if I only wanted to sell the game to a publisher and let them take care of the rest (potentially gutting the game, since normally publishers handle all the artwork), I’d still have to do almost everything I’m currently faced with, because it would have to be marketed to the publishers and they want the how-to-market-to-the-market part as part of the pitch, of course. Of course! Why not? *sigh*

It’s stupid stuff, too. Stuff which shouldn’t kill me, but does. Stuff like trying to guess how to categorize the game. I hate categories. I just had an argument with my wife over genre categories for fiction, because it’s such a complicated and ridiculous subject, for which it is very difficult for any two people to agree upon the definitions of words. In my recent weeks of research, I’ve learned several different “main ways games are categorized”, few of which I’d ever heard before and almost none of which particularly fit the game I’ve developed. Which may mean it’s simply unmarketable. …Or stuff like writing the descriptions and blurbs of the game. You probably know I have the same problem trying to write blurbs for my books, or even to explain what they’re about. I don’t know. I don’t think about them that way. I certainly don’t want to feel forced to go into the design process with a specific categorization and blurb in mind. Yech. To try to design a game based on how easily it could be described on the back of a tuck-box is a painful and ridiculous (to me) idea. But thinking about what the tuck-box should look like has been giving me stomach-aches.

So I’ll go a couple of weeks working on the game, working on the art, the card designs, working with manufacturers and examining samples, trying to get the game to be just right, and it’s great. It’s a high. I’m having a good time.

And then I’ll get back to having to figure out the marketing side. How to sell it. How many copies I need to figure out how to sell to hit various manufacturing thresholds, so I can offer various stretch goals on a Kickstarter, for example, without costing myself meaningful amounts of money. And it’s torture again. Working out a spreadsheet with the numbers is actually pretty fun. Contextualizing those numbers and thinking about what it would cost me, both financially as well as emotionally, to reach 150 or 500 or 1,000 people twists me up inside. Even just going through the following calculation is fairly upsetting:

In order to potentially reach even a couple hundred backers, I’ll probably have to reach out to at least a dozen or more of the major game reviewers (I don’t currently know them or follow them, and even if I start now it still feels slimy/gross to contact them directly, to ask them to look at my games, it’s Marketing, and it makes me sick, sending unsolicited messages to strangers about me and my work) and send them prototypes of the game, which will cost me at least a couple hundred dollars, which increases my costs-needed-to-cover by an order of magnitude, which means my plans to start with a totally-feasible goal (such as 5 copies sold, or about $75—I’d be glad to go to the trouble to assemble and ship out copies of the game if at least 5 people were interested, even though I wouldn’t even make enough to cover what I’ve already spent developing the game) go out the window and I’d need to start with a $1000 goal just to cover the costs of the prototypes for the reviewers, and I already know from history that I can only raise $300-$500 for my projects, so betting hundreds of dollars ahead of time that I’ll easily double or triple that sure feels like throwing good money after bad, while making myself feel bad by doing it.

Sure, I can project that if I can get this many backers I can afford this manufacturing discount, and if I can get that many backers I can afford to offer that stretch goal, and fiddle around in a spreadsheet to find the tipping points which account for shipping both ways and Kickstarter/Amazon/Wire-transfer fees and mailing supplies and a percentage of loss due to damage and so on and so forth. But it’s one thing to say “if I get at least 1,000 backers buying the base game, I can give them all the expansion for free”, and another entirely to find 1,000 people who would be interested in my game and convince them to part with $15+ on the promise that they’ll get it in a few months. (And a further thing to consider the scenario where I get 1,000 backers exactly and end up with another 1,100+ copies of the game (and its expansion) taking up space at my house (or costing me money to take up space at a warehouse).) Did you know that in the neighborhood of 85% of all new tabletop games sell through fewer than 500 copies? That’s certainly in line with book publishing where 8 or 9 out of every 10 books published never earn out their advance. With odds like that, what are the chances I’ll reach stretch goals requiring 1,000 sales? With a history like mine, with social anxiety and anti-Marketing sentiments like mine, what are the chances I’ll make the ~70 sales necessary to reach a $1,000 goal, even with positive reviews? (And who says the reviews would be positive? In my experience they’ll be middling, if they come at all. Did you see that The First Untrue Trilogy got its first Amazon review, recently? Two stars. Seven years after I first published it, thousands have read it, and it has one two-star review on the world’s biggest book store. Yay.)

Someone just messaged me on Facebook with a link to a Card & Board Game Designers group, and my first reaction was that punch-in-the-gut feeling I get when I think about heading into a crowd, or a cocktail party. They mean well, I know they do, and I may even attempt to join the group, possibly even to participate in some small way, but probably I’ll be 99% a lurker, or just never click through. Because social anxiety. Because inferiority complex, impostor syndrome, whatever. Because I don’t play well with others. My brother basically doesn’t talk to me any more, and I got kicked out of my own home, because I don’t play well with others—in this case quite literally referring to the playing of tabletop games. I’ve been trying to play-test my game with as many people as possible (which has been emotionally exhausting), but I’ve been trying my best to avoid actually joining in on most of the games, because I know that playing with me just isn’t much fun—and then I joke about it, that clearly the designer of the game has an advatage, so it wouldn’t be fair. I’d rather the game could just go out into the world on its own and report back to me about what needs to be corrected.

In fact, I’ve been working on that (creating a PnP download for remote play-testers), but a key part of that is in writing clear, concise rules. Certainly, I can teach someone the game in person. If I’m there to explain scoring during each hand, that certainly helps smooth things out. But normally people don’t have the game designer on hand to teach them the game, or to score it for them. They have the rules. I tried. It was another of those difficult parts, the parts I don’t get any joy from but instead get a lot of pain. And I kept at it until I felt I had a good, clear set of rules. And then I tested it with some people who had never played before, and the gameplay didn’t survive the translation to the written word and back again.

So not only is it painful for me to write the rules, but I’m not actually much good at it, either. Reminds me of blurb-writing, or most any other form of writing-for-Marketing; it hurts to do, and doesn’t actually give the desired results. But I certainly can’t bring the game to market without a clear set of rules. I certainly won’t succeed on Kickstarter if I can’t explain the game clearly in the project description and video. If I can’t describe the game. If I can’t do the marketing. If I don’t reach out to reviewers. Et cetera.

And the development process is an up and down. A rollercoaster. Some parts of it, most of it, in fact, is awesome, and the awesome parts can bring me 99% of the way there. Right now I have a fun game with great art I can play with my friends and anyone else I’m there to teach it to. But I’m also just about beyond the point where there’ll be any more of the ‘good parts’. From here on out, the only good that comes from the remaining effort and expense is the joy I get from seeing/knowing that people are enjoying what I’ve created. Watching people play. Hearing back from people who enjoyed playing. Knowing that my creation is out there, “in the world”. I’ve just got to hope that the joy is worth the torture.

Right now I’m on the verge of giving up on this one, too. Setting it aside—though at least as part of my own game collection, rather than as a mere memory. Possibly not even bothering to make the POD or PnP versions available, or *only* going that far, and foregoing the rest of the effort. No tuck box design. No suffering over the description. No videos. No reviews. No Kickstarter. No shopping it to publishers. No dealing with overseas manufacturers, or with distributors, or with pallets of unsold games. No more trying to find people to play-test it, no more trying to cope with having to deal with social situations every week (or twice a week) with all those people coming over. No more pressure to be “part of the community” in any of several board-game-related communities, for the sake of marketing my games.

Right now I’m on the verge of giving up on sharing, on “the world”, altogether. I’m on the edge of just keeping all my creations to myself.

Nevermind, I’m an artist. Maybe not a good one, but an artist nonetheless.

I apparently haven’t posted here since November. Oops.

I’ve been putting plenty of long (-for-Facebook) posts on my Facebook account, and I’ve been writing the occasional private journal entry (in the Day One app), and I suppose this online journal has ended up a little dry. I’d been decidedly infrequent in my posting since early 2005, but rarely fewer than one or two posts a month until now. Oh, well. Things change.

Additionally, about a year ago I started a tumblr account. I had the intention of working more on art in 2013 than I did. I had a lot of intentions. I won’t detail here my failures in that department. I will say that my intention for the tumblr is to post my creative output, my drawings & stories, preferably immediately—drafts, roughs, et cetera, theoretically in addition to polished/finished stuff as I complete things. Not a lot of stuff there, yet. But I’ve been working on card art for the games I’ve been developing, so that’s there.

You may recall a few months ago I made a long post questioning my interest in and capabilities related to creating art. “Maybe I’m not an artist, after all.” I had prototyped a deck-building game, the gameplay was reasonably fun, it was narratively meaningful, it taught behavioral changes through its mechanics; it could have used more polish, sure, but I was satisfied with having created it, and I considered it a successful effort. I want, eventually, to be able to bring my game designs to market in one way or another, and had thought I could take that game forward, so was working on developing the artwork for all the cards. If I recall correctly, I needed something in the neighborhood of 60 or 65 unique pieces of art for the different cards… and it was torture. You can read the whole post for the details. Basically, I was having so much difficulty even getting myself to sit down for twenty minutes to sketch stick figures that I was questioning my entire existence.

Anyway, I ended up shelving that game. I disassembled the prototype and recycled it. I started working on other ideas. NaNoWriMo came along and I tried working on a writing project; it stressed me out too much and I immediately remembered why I’m on hiatus from writing & publishing right now. Luckily my brain had been working on some new game ideas, and a couple of weeks into November I was saved from my anxiety and stress over writing by suddenly developing the core of a small deck-building game in one night of insomniac mania. Over the next few days I worked on the math and developed the theme, printed out a prototype, played a few solo rounds, made changes, played a couple rounds with my wife, made more changes, and got a pretty solid little game… with no art.

The fact that the game works and is fun when it’s just numbers and math (with a very thin suggestion of theme) is a very good thing. (For a while I was very happy about that. (I’m still happy about it, just somewhat less so, for reasons I’ll explain.))

I kept working on it, played with a few more people, got some good feedback, made more adjustments, played some more, and then began working on the card art. I began working on the card art with some trepidation, stemming from the trouble I’d had earlier in the year, with the other game I’d taken that far into development. I started carrying a paper sketchbook with me when I knew I’d have time & space to work (such as to NaNoWriMo write-ins). I got a pressure-sensitive stylus (the Jot Touch 4) so I could try drawing on my iPad. I drafted up some templates to sketch into, and I tried different drawing apps, and I spent a few weeks thinking about and sketching out basic ideas for what I wanted from the card art.

It was slow-going and a little difficult at first, partially because I felt like I needed to be creating print-ready quality in my first drafts. One or two pain-staking drawings (over a couple of weeks) in, I dropped that pretense for a while, and a couple dozen new sketches (extremely rough) poured out in a couple of days. It was going okay.

Then I had the opportunity to play with another new person, and discuss the game and its mechanics with some new perspectives, and in the context of producing and seeing and thinking about the art, I had a new idea for the game. A relatively major alteration to the game, actually, and to the way I needed to think about the art of at least 1/3 of the cards. And here’s the worst part, the explanation I promised earlier:

I won’t know how the changes affect the gameplay until I have a prototype with art.

The game could be unplayable, or just un-fun. It could be unbearably slow, where the last prototype was very fast-paced. It could be awesome, an excellent marriage of theme and mechanics with art that really sells the concept and hooks players, without slowing down the pace too much. It could have crossed the line and become too complicated. It might have been unbalanced by the creation of the starter decks. Anything. I won’t know until I have a prototype with art (and updated card text, and rules) and can play the updated game. So that’s a bit of a worry, and why I’m less than very happy with how well the art-free prototype worked, since the game has moved forward since then but hasn’t been tested yet.

So for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the art in a new way, based on the requirements of the new round of changes to the game. I’ve been doing it all on paper, and in my art studio. I’ve actually been doing it “actual size”, which would be “totally wrong” if I intended these drawings to be the actual source of the final card art—you’re supposed to do everything orders of magnitude too large; yes, yes, I’ll do the digital files in high resolution, and will entirely re-draw (and color) all the art with one or more of my pressure-sensitive styluses. Anyway, I’ve been working on the art, and here’s where I suppose we get to the point of this entire post:

I’ve been having a really good time working on the art for this project.

Not every day, and not by any means early most days, I’m still depressed, but I’ve been getting up in the morning and sitting down to work on art all day. Putting in four or six or eight hours of good, solid work on drawing monsters’ body parts for these cards, day after day. (Well, I was too messed up (emotionally) a couple days last week, but I accomplished other things with my time, instead, knowing art wasn’t going to work.) Last Friday I had finished a major milestone in the art creation process, and over the weekend I figured out that at the rate I was going I should easily be able to finish these rough (but totally usable) drawings for all the card art (66 different pieces of art are needed for the 66 cards) before the end of the month, only working weekdays. (I generally spend my weekends with my wife.) Over the last three days (Monday was a holiday), I’ve gotten up in the morning, gotten dressed (relatively nice, wearing my button-down shirts rather than t-shirts; how you dress affects your mental state, you know), and gotten to work—and somewhere in there I noticed that I’m really enjoying it. I’m enjoying the work, I’m enjoying the project, I’m enjoying the process, I’m happy with the results… It’s all going quite well.

That I’m still working on the same project two months later says a lot, in itself. I’ve got more than a couple books on my shelves which I conceived, wrote, edited, designed, and published in less time than I’ve been working on this game. That I’m still working on it and not hating it, or giving up on it, but am actually enjoying working on it and happy with the results coming out of that work – it speaks volumes. Plus, there’s the art. I’m creating art again. Some of it –a lot of it– is art I’m really quite happy with, both visually and conceptually. Certainly there’s a portion of it which needs more work, but most of the groundwork is solid and some of the pieces are (to me) brilliant. Beautiful. Elegant. Communicating clearly. Evocative.

I’m learning and progressing as I go, but a lot of what I’m capable of doing this week is because of the sketching and thinking I’ve been doing for the last eight. And right now I’m at a point where, assuming I can get this finished and posted soon and get to sleep and then get up at a reasonable hour of the morning, if I get as much work done tomorrow as I got done today, I’ll have a drawing for all but one card (Conceptually, I just don’t know what to draw for that card. Yet.) by the end of the day tomorrow. I’ll be able to spend all of next week working on the digital side of creating an updated prototype, and still get it done by the end of the month. (I’m having a small game night on the 1st, and wanted to see how a new group of players take to the game—if I can have the updated prototype ready by then.) This is almost twice as fast as I’d been hoping to be able to get the art created, and that could only be possible because of how much joy the whole thing has brought me.

So, yes. I’m an artist. And I still get joy from creating art. And I still have ideas, I have things I want to express, both visually and through other means (words, gameplay, et cetera). You may not think the art I’m creating is any good. You may not think the ideas I have to share are of any value. Still, I’m an artist. A creator. And that’s a good thing.

Maybe I’m not an artist, after all

There’s a bit of a lead-in, here. A longish story. Stay with me.

So, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a new game. A deck-building game. This isn’t the first one I’ve tried to create, but all the thinking I’ve been doing on the subject over the last year or so got me to the point where, combined with the new freedom of being on hiatus from working on new books, I was able to create a brand new, playable, engaging, and fun deck-building game in under two weeks. The mechanics are pretty solid. It has a fair amount of complexity, but is easy to pick up and play (especially if you’re already familiar with deck-building games). It also does a whole lot of other, layered things, which I won’t get into here; suffice it to say that it tackles narrative, theme, and teaches players subtle moral lessons, all through the gameplay mechanics. For the play-testing decks I’ve been printing (and cutting, and sleeving, myself), I did a relatively quick (but professional-looking; I’ve been doing graphic design for almost 15 years, now) layout and dropped in stock photos I stole from the Internet as the art for about a third of the cards. (The rest are blank; I wanted to get to playing, rather than spend hours and hours putting together art I knew I’d have to replace later.)

This brings us to the problem at hand. I’ve been polishing the text on the cards and the mechanics of the gameplay based on how it plays and how people have reacted to the game/cards; no problem. But now, if I want to move forward with this, even just to have a nice version printed up for my own use (to say nothing of the ridiculous challenges inherent in attempting to turn it into a commercial product), I need art for all the cards. Realistically (and, according to the law) I can’t use stolen images, even just for a single set of cards for my own personal use; no printer would (knowingly) print it, and technically what I’ve already done is a couple million dollars’ worth of copyright violation. So I need new art for all the cards.

On one hand, the use of stock photography works reasonably well with the game, as it exists now. In fact, I feel it adds a bit of light-heartedness the game certainly needs, considering its themes. The careful selection of stock photos could make this into a complete and very enjoyable game, and if the game is strictly for my personal use, I can legally license a set of images for under $100. Possibly for under $50, depending where I get them. For any sort of commercial use, the licenses for the stock photos would cost something upwards of $4k-$6k. (Interestingly, hiring another artist or artists to create illustrations for all the cards would also cost me at least that much, and possibly over $10k-$20k for high-quality/highly-detailed work.)

On the other hand, I could illustrate all the cards myself. Theoretically I’m an artist (though I’m definitely not an illustrator; I have almost no experience doing illustrations/drawings of any kind) and I could maybe just whip up five dozen images. It’s my game, right? Why not just do everything, like I’ve done with all my books? My biggest concern with this approach is that I haven’t spent the last ten to fifteen years practicing drawing and illustration, or even much of that time looking at drawn and illustrated works (no, I don’t read comics, generally). I’ve been painting mostly-abstract and generally-non-figurative works, and focusing on portraying emotional content, rather than literal content. So drawing, say, a person, or a building, or a room full of people, is not something I have any practice with.

And, sure, I could use this as an opportunity to begin working on my illustration skills. I’ve been putting off starting from scratch and teaching myself illustration for over three years, now. This is, actually, something I frequently think I want to do. That I don’t do. So a couple of days ago I decided, “Yeah, let’s try it! I’m going to try to illustrate my own cards.”

Except then I ran into the problem of the theme: The game basically describes everyday life. There are cards for going to work. There are cards for sleeping. Cards for going to school. (Online Classes. Night Classes. Summer School. MBA Program, et cetera. What do you draw for each one of those to differentiate them from one another at a glance?) There are cards for different sorts of work you might do, from fast-food all the way up to Manager/CEO, but again, how do you show, at a glance, the differences between these jobs? Heck, how do you illustrate someone working at any job less

specific than fast-food? Most of the cards are these sorts of everyday things, everyday activities. A few are specific locations or obvious activities (a church, a police station, a library, a karate tournament, et cetera) which would be relatively easy, at least to know whether the image was of the thing described, but most are really referring to abstractions. What does a promotion look like, when I also have to have a card for the job you’ve been promoted into, which you can easily differentiate? Or working overtime? Or all the things we do on computers? How does ‘Online Classes’ look different from ‘Database Hacking’, ‘Craigslisting Old Stuff’, or working on a ‘Personal Project’ (this last one also needing to look different from all those other ‘working’ cards)?

And on, and on, and on, and this, this, is what’s making me think maybe I’m not really an artist, after all. If I can’t come up with a few dozen ideas for images to illustrate the ideas of all these different cards, what sort of an artist am I? Heck, why do I think I could find enough different stock photographs for these ideas? If I don’t know how to illustrate everyday life … *sigh*

So then I go back and forth, and even further than before. Not just back to photography, which I do think I could find enough images from, but all the way back to whether I ought to spend any more time/effort on this project, at all. I created it, it was playable and fun, and maybe that’s enough. Maybe I don’t need to take it all the way through to a theoretically-finished ‘product’, professionally printed and all that. And then further forth, to the idea that I’ve been wanting to try to develop games of this sort, and games for sale/distribution, for about a year, already; that going through this process, even if I don’t ever intend to make this game commercially available, would be a good learning experience for me. To give me a first pass at trying to illustrate an entire deck-building game, and at working with a professional game printer & distributor, and at what it takes to bring a project of this scope not just to a playable Alpha version, but to a beautiful First Edition. And it’s a struggle.

Plus, my mind has already been dreaming up expansions for it. Ways to create a small set of cards (say, 70 to the existing game’s 250+) which by addition or substitution to the set I have now, significantly alter the nature of the game. Such as a ‘Supers’ expansion, which adds super powers and super villains to your attempts to navigate everyday life. Or a horror expansion. Or whatever, but generally of the sort where it would be difficult to continue to use stock photography to depict the new card ideas. Which is actually the sort of thoughts which led me to the above “let’s try it” exclamation; clearly, for the game and its expansions, some sort of illustration, and possibly some sort of cartoony, simplified illustration, to keep a certain level of lightness-of-tone, would be required.

So, this is my current struggle. Except for the hours of frustration spent staring at blank pages and/or terrible illustrations I’m trying to create on them, the last few weeks have been really nice. The simple act of following my muse, creating freely and without real concern for commercial possibilities, but just because it was what I felt like creating, had made me really happy. I’ve especially appreciated the idea that in order to successfully ‘Kickstart’ a proper commercial run of a game like this, I’d have to hit at least a $10k goal (easily $30k, if working with other artists), and that my fundraisers tend to raise $300 or $500, total, so in there being no hope of success, there has been no pressure to even try; I know I’m only making this for me and my friends, right now.

Maybe, maybe, if/when I finish all the art, I’ll also make it available as an expensive POD game from someplace like, or just put a print-and-play version up for free at But from what I know, my attempting to actually do anything commercially meaningful with this (or anything like it) would just be a stressful waste of everyone’s time and energy. (And I kinda like it that way.)

Anyway, I’m going to keep trying to work on the art for awhile, and either find success or give up on it and move on, and I think either one of those will be okay. If you know me personally, and are local, and you want to play, email/message me and I’ll invite you to one of our game nights. Your feedback on it would be welcomed, as well as your company.

Alternative roles in video games

Last night I watched the midnight showing of Resident Evil: Retribution 3D. Lots of fun/over-the-top-to-the-point-of-silliness action, though perhaps significantly too much shooting zombies in the chest for the fifth movie in a series. They keep adding nods to the games, to the new games, many of which I at least recognize despite never having played any of them. I tried, a bit, but quit within minutes. The first three were too difficult because of the (intentional) limitations of the interface, and while 4’s interface was some improvement, I’m still not quite good enough at that sort of action game to succeed. But watching Milla et al kick ass on the big screen is pretty fun, now and again.

Anyway, what I wanted to post about was this: One of the two groups of protagonists we follow through the film (until the two groups eventually manage to meet up) is a group of five guys, all well-armed, experienced, et cetera… but one of them stood out to me, especially in the first scene they’re facing an oncoming army of undead soldiers. You see, throughout most of the battle, while four of the men were shooting, shooting, shooting, his gun was slung, his computer was out, and he was hacking, mapping, and planning. How are they going to get out of this unwinnable situation? Where can they turn? What about the [evil character who directs the attacks], and interfering with them? What about how this is making them run late; where is the other group, now?

I watched this sequence and thought, “Now there’s a role I’d be glad to play in a Resident Evil game.” I’m not much good at shooting zombies, but maybe I could hack into the computers to look at the situation (accessing cameras, heat maps, systems, et cetera) and plan escapes and systems-based counterattacks, while my team of NPCs shot the zombies for me. Then we all move around together, according to the plans/routes I helped find. I don’t mind a little action being mixed into the experience, but more on the scale of QTEs and/or triggering things I set up or discover with my technical prowess. If I hack well enough, plan well enough, and out-think the [evil enemy] at every step, my team stays alive. The more mistakes I make the smaller my team gets, until eventually I lose when I’m the last man standing and can’t stand against the zombie hordes (or whatever) on my own.

Now, I’m not looking for a “traditional” support role, as seen in MMOs, where the challenge is not much different from the DPS in its button-mashing, just making your side’s health go up rather than the other side’s health go down. I’m looking for something more engaging and cerebral. Something where, as I would in a single-player shooter/RPG, my character is effectively leading the action and the guys shooting the zombies/whatever were really the “support” characters. I generally don’t want to micromanage things like where they stand during a firefight, what weapons and special abilities they use, or who they target; they should be smart enough to figure that out on their own. I should have to pay attention to things like “how much ammo do we have left”, and then if I can find the armory/gun-shop on the map when needed and get my team there safely, they should know to reload and pick up as much as they can carry. Or if one of my guys gets injured, then it’s up to me to find a way to a hospital/clinic/whatever, hack the doors to get us in, et cetera.

It’s not a fully fleshed-out idea, just a brainstorm. Saw the guy doing it in the movie and wanted the option in a game. Even if it does boil down to half a dozen mini-games to resolve different sorts of hacking, plus map-reading and planning, with QTEs thrown in for action, it would probably be more fun for me than having to be the big guy with the gun standing in front. Make me the geeky guy standing in the back. Let me use my brain.