Friday, April 28, 2017

Solar Echoes in the UK!


A month ago, I was interviewed for the D20 Future Show podcast in the UK. Tomorrow, I'll actually be playing Solar Echoes with the same group, using Skype to coordinate. They'll record the whole thing, so I'm excited to see how it goes! Everyone is selecting a pre-made character from the upcoming demo-kit release, which includes the new character sheet design. These characters are based on the pre-made characters in the Starter Kit. One of the players has elected to play a Chiraktis Worker Drone. They're great with hacking, cybertech, etc, but not great at fighting—that's why they fly their robotic cyberweapon drones around to fight for them! Another player selected the chaotic, amoebic Omul, and this particular character build is focused on being a great lookout, a stealthy trickster, and more of a ranged fighter. This Omul uses a glob pistol, a Phoenix blaster, and throwing knives. Its talents include: Watchful Eye, Sweep Kick, and Swift Hands (Pseudopods?) I have yet to hear about the other character choices, but I'm really looking forward to hanging out with the guys at D20 Future Show online this Saturday. I'll be sure to let you know when the podcast is edited and online so you can listen to the game!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Behind the Scenes (part 4)


When John's computer finally arrived and he emailed me a greenlight on the project, I sent him what I had and also indicated that I'd like the overall graphical look of the page to be somewhat reminiscent of a sci-fi video game menu or user-interface. I suggested making “metal frames” around the boxed areas, and then making the interior of the boxes look like digital viewscreens suspended or positioned by those metal frames. We bounced ideas back and forth a few times, and John sent me at least one new update every day. Email became fun again! Seeing John's latest iteration and design progress was like getting a mystery package from a friend dropped off at my front door every day. What John produced felt like a sci-fi layering of desktop windows in a digital, high-tech landscape. His graphical polish to the character sheet really brought it to a new level—I admit that I might be biased, but I've not seen many character sheets this cool in a table-top RPG before, and I might even say it competes with the character sheets of some of the big boys on the market, like D&D and Pathfinder! What do you think?


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Behind the Scenes (part 3)


Happy Accidents! I had been intending to place the Union Guard “UG” logo at the upper left of the page near the “Agent Profile” title, but when I imported the logo, it was huge and almost covered the entire page. I looked at it, and thought, “Wait a minute, that's actually pretty cool!” I changed the opacity of the giant UG logo and it “faded” underneath the details of the character sheet, appearing in the background, like a giant Union Guard watermark. People at the con and friends I emailed my prototype page to really liked the look with the logo. As I continued to work on the design, I recalled that over the years, there were a few areas on the sheet that no one ever used, so I scrubbed those spots entirely. Another problem with the original sheet was the confusion around how the attribute dice and skills worked. In my redesign, I pushed everything over to the far, far left, with the boxes on the left column plus a vertical line separating them from the skill list. I also grouped Ranged and Melee Dodge with skills, because even though you can't add ranks to them like other skills, they are still affected by wound penalties just like all other skills. Seeing them positioned there was to remind players: yes, your Dodge is still a skill, so when you are wounded, you'll be less...dodgy. At JohnCon, the gamers totally got it, and one gamer also had a great suggestion—she said that the order of the attributes at the top of the page made her feel like the skills should be ordered in a manner similar to the progression of attributes. It made sense, and they weren't in any particular order originally, so I regrouped the skills into roughly the same order: skills associated with Strength and Reflexes were grouped first, and Influence skills were last, to mirror the attribute list at the top of the page.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Behind the Scenes (part 2)


You may already be familiar with Solar Echoes artist John Fell—he's the guy behind the awesome color character art that you see at www.SolarEchoes.com. John's forte is character art, but he has been willing to work with me on other art projects as well, such as the cool emblems that are in the UG Handbook and also on the website. I recently asked John to help me re-design the character sheet, and though he indicated he'd do his best, he warned me that it might not be something he'll be very skilled at. There is a difference between a graphic artist (John) and a graphic designer; graphic designers draw graphical templates, border art, logos, etc. When we were ready to start, John sent me news of an unexpected delay—his computer totally crashed and he had to wait a week for the new one he'd ordered to arrive. During this time, I decided to get as much done on the character sheet as I could, so that John could focus on the artistic aspects of the redesign rather than go back and forth with me on formatting options. He's only somewhat familiar with the game rules, so I figured I was probably the best person to work on changing the format. Over that week of waiting for John's computer, I worked during every spare moment on reformatting the character sheet...


Monday, April 24, 2017

Behind the Scenes (part 1)


For the last few months, I've been re-working some of the rules and other details of the Solar Echoes game. I've changed and improved the dice system, the dialogue encounter system, added in character race vulnerabilities, and have been hard at work on a total re-design of the character sheet. All of the above has already been playtested, thanks to the college students at Johns Hopkins during their gaming convention, JohnCon, and some of the testers have confirmed that they are ok with me putting their names in the credits of the Player's Guide. Over the last two weeks, I've been focusing most of my time on the character sheet re-design. More than 5 years ago, when Solar Echoes was first released, our character sheet was done without any graphical design, and the format had some flaws. During the conventions I've attended over the past 5 years, I've gathered feedback from players and have begun to assemble ideas about how to re-organize and visually present the information on the character sheet. After all, Solar Echoes gamers will be spending a lot of time with their character, so I wanted the character sheet to be as easy to use as possible, and to look really cool at the same time...


Friday, April 21, 2017

JohnCon and Beta-Testing (part 5)


The player wasn't convinced the npc was telling the truth, though, so he considered trying more intimidation. However, risking intimidation would have meant total failure if the npc succeeded at his next discern motive check. The player decided to approach the situation more delicately and promised the npc leniency regarding his crimes, if he cooperated and revealed the desired information. This last approach succeeded, and was just the right amount to get the npc to cooperate and reveal what he knew. The truth he admitted to was that he was actually the gang leader, and he revealed the names of his employers for the smuggling operation. The leads he provided were valuable pieces of intel the Union Guard needed. The player had succeeded at this part of the mission!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

JohnCon and Beta-Testing (part 4)


Interrogation in Solar Echoes now has the feeling I was looking for. Thanks to a beta test at JohnCon using the new demo mission, I was able to get a sense of how the system felt and how players responded to it. During an interrogation in the mission, the player struggled to convince a gang leader to share what he knew. He made several attempts at bluffing and intimidation, but the NPC was resilient and didn't believe the threats and lies, perpetuating his own lies by insisting that he wasn't the gang leader. The NPC lied and told the player's character that he was just there to assist, that the gang leader always kept information compartmentalized and rarely told him much of anything. The player was losing the upper-hand in the interrogation, and was beginning to wonder if the NPC's words might be true--maybe he was only a "grunt," and the real gang leader was the one that had managed to escape in a car during the recent battle...