Friday, March 31, 2017

Free or Not? (part 5)

A company that looks at the consumer landscape will see consumers that are easily distracted from products, unsatisfied quickly because of the plethora of options available to them, and are, for the most part, very resistant to paying much at all. The music industry has also suffered tremendously from this new era of technology, where Spotify avails free music (though you must pay if you don't want random shuffles) to consumers while paying artists about $0.000158 cents per song play. For perspective, that's about $8 for 50,000 plays (a number which only successful and popular artists enjoy.) What has this generation of free done to us? It has devalued the work of talented people and is forcing them to look for other work. We barely notice their extinction, however, because the market is constantly flooded with products, distracting us from recognizing that the talent and quality behind these products is fading quickly. It's like watching all the gourmet restaurants die out while being replaced by junk food establishments—people often don't care, as long as there is still something available to consume. For all the “free” products out there, the cost is rather high.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Free or Not? (part 4)

Think about the free things you have accumulated. If it's a free e-book, have you read it yet? If it's a free video game, have you played it for more than an hour yet? It's interesting to note that we tend to undervalue things that we get for free. I know that if I even spend a few dollars on something, I'm going to try to “get my money's worth” by playing it. But I have file folders with tons of free stuff that I've never even opened. I have one service subscription that offers several free games a month for download, but I rarely take advantage of the offerings. If I do, I might play things a couple times and then delete them from my hard drive. Not only do free products become undervalued, but they also create a distracted, impatient, difficult-to-gratify consumer base. This generation of consumers most likely has the shortest product attention span than any generation before it. A variety of new games are released on a weekly basis, so it's easy to hop from one game to the next. Several of my friends have altogether stopped buying games for months on end because of their “game backlog,” games they have bought that they have yet to open up and play. From a company perspective, the climate for putting out new products could not be worse...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Free or Not? (part 3)

Free or Not? (part 3)
Another pitfall of offering free products is that it adds a sense of entitlement to what is already considered one of the most entitled bunch of consumers in the market—the gaming community. Gamers are accustomed to free patches and upgrades to the games they have purchased. Gamers are used to being showered with free products to gain their attention. However, this very negatively affects new companies trying hard to gain a foothold in the gaming community—these small companies have spent large sums of money to finish their product and bring it to market, yet find angry gamers refusing to pay a few dollars for it because they can find something similar or better for free. In the meantime, larger companies that can afford to offer the free products don't suffer loss while gaining a dedicated crowd waiting for the next handout. Money in these cases is often made through advertisers piggy-backing on the free products. Sometimes someone will put forth a free offering simply as a vanity project—the designer  just wants to see his work consumed by others and is gratified by the following he generates, much like social media users try to accumulate “likes” or “streaks.” This further damages the small company that is trying to break into the industry and survive, or for that matter, any company that needs to make a profit to continue paying their staff and create products for consumers.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Free or Not? (part 2)

Making a product free has its risks, but often the benefits seem to outweigh these risks. One risk, however, is that adopters might scoff in indignation when that same company turns around and starts charging for some of their products. The gaming community has seen this practice for years, and the reception has been mixed. Often, game companies will put out free games that are gutted versions of a fuller, more robust experience. To gain access to the larger experience, players will have to purchase something. Many games are offered free with many smaller upgrades available—this practice is known as “micro-transactions.” Download the game, play it for a while and if you decide you like it, it's up to you how much you want to spend. It doesn't sound like a bad model from the outside, but many gamers fervently resent this approach. They'd rather an entire, completed game be released instead of a partial experience. Yet the company marketing gurus argue that this model makes more money for the company than a full release would have—the free offering at the beginning gets many more interested and addicted to the game.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Free or Not? (part 1)

The internet has changed so much in our society, and has produced many positive and negative results. One thing that it has affected in a very big way is the sales industry. We can order things online with ease, with physical products delivered to our doorstep in a few days or downloads of digital products to our hard drives in a matter of minutes. It is extremely easy to make these products available to the public now, too, thanks to the internet—no longer do we have to travel to a physical store to find what we're looking for, we can just browse online until we find it. Of course, the downside to all this is that, because it is so easy to do, so many are doing it that things get lost among the mass offerings available. How does a product get noticed among so many choices? One method that companies are using more frequently is a sales plan that seems to rival common sense—they're making some of their products absolutely free...

Friday, March 24, 2017

Exciting Changes! (part 5)

There are also some long-term goals for changes in the Player's Guide. I'm tentatively planning a possible Kickstarter campaign, where the goals would be to do a re-print of the core rule-books, more Solar Echoes miniatures (like the rest of the starships!) and possibly even releasing my Solar Echoes novel, the first of a trilogy I'm writing. This Player's Guide reprint would involve all these new details I've mentioned this week, plus, a graphical upgrade! I've been talking to various artists and graphic designers, and looking at what might be possible within the constraints of the material. I'm also experimenting with graphical templates in the upcoming Demo-Kit, to see what might be possible for a small visual overhaul for the Player's Guide. There are some exciting changes ahead, so keep your eyes open for further posts about new developments! If I was to run a Kickstarter campaign, would you consider contributing?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exciting Changes! (part 4)

Do you like knowing the odds? Sometimes we don't want to know, like Han Solo's famous statement to C-3PO in Star Wars, “Never tell me the odds!” But some of us do want to know, so I've put together a new table showing the exact odds of rolling certain combinations of dice in the Solar Echoes system. The odds are detailed both as percentages and as fractions, for those of you that would like to check the math and see how I arrived at those numbers. I warn you, though, the probability calculations were not easy—I had to seek outside help because the many probability charts and equations for gambling that I found online did not deal with the particular system that Solar Echoes uses. A friend of mine, who wishes to remain unnamed, sent me a very detailed proof of how she arrived at her numbers, and it took her 8 full pages to detail the information. After reading her proof and running her calculations myself, and after having several outside sources verify, her numbers are confirmed to be 100% accurate. I put together a table detailing the results, and I've added this table to the back of the Player's Guide in an appendix entry so you can see what your character's chances for success are in Solar Echoes for any skill use. However, if you're like Han Solo and just want to “roll the dice,” you may want to avoid that page at the back of the book!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Exciting Changes! (part 3)

I just finished updating the Player's Guide with the new “Opposed Persuasion Check” rules (ie, Interrogation) and it feels great to finally have that in the book! Now GM's can conduct a dialogue mini-game against players, resisting their attempts at diplomacy, bluff, and intimidate using NPC checks to alter the situation. If ever there was a quantified system for a dialogue battle in an RPG, this is it! Here's a sample scenario: Your character, a Union Guard agent, has captured a smuggler and cuffed him securely to a chair. The smuggler angrily glares at your character, but it's clear that he isn't going anywhere. “Where was the shipment going?!” you ask, adding a bluff into your question, “We've already captured others in your gang and have interrogated them. Don't lie to us!” The smuggler grins at this, “They know as well as I that if they talk, our employer will have us killed. I'm not talking!” The smuggler gained some ground and is getting even more hostile—if he gets the upper hand again, he might be unbreakable. Frustrated that your bluff failed, your character takes a big risk in failing this interrogation and steps things up with intimidation. “What makes you think I won't kill you? I can do worse than that—I can hand you over to our Reln operatives for an invasive mind probe! People lose their memories after those. Now talk!” The smuggler believes you this time, his eyes widening in fear. He is obviously shaken. “Mind probe? You guys are Union Guard, you guys wouldn't do something illegal!” His attempt at reason fails, and your character smiles, “Illegal? Who's going to know? We are the law, after all!” That time, the bluff worked and you've managed to wear down enough of his resolve. The defeated smuggler quickly gives up the information.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Exciting Changes! (part 2)

Another change that is coming in the Player's Guide update involves the dialogue system for the game. Our previous system is still intact, but I kept running into situations during conventions where I had to improvise and ad-lib the system a little when players wanted to question someone in the game. The previous dialogue system works perfectly for encounters where characters are trying to convince someone of something. For instance, in a situation where characters were trying to convince a guard to let them into a secure area, they just needed to make a Persuasion check against a set number. By making several Persuasion checks and using diplomacy, bluff, or intimidate, they could potentially raise the guard's Posture score enough to that set number if the checks were successful, and then he would do what they asked. However, in situations that involved an interrogation, suddenly the system didn't feel quite right—the interrogated subject should be able to lie to the characters, using his Persuasion skill against them. There are even talents, such as Convincing Lie or Fast Talker, that could be used against the characters. The new dialogue system adds a challenge where characters and non-player characters (NPC) can use diplomacy, bluff, or intimidate each-other, back and forth against each other. The characters win if they succeed at enough checks to raise the NPC's posture to the target number. The NPC's win if they can lower their own posture to 1. Once someone is at a posture of 1, they are totally hostile, won't cooperate, and will even attack!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Exciting Changes! (part 1)

Recently I talked about the new dice system that is going into the Solar Echoes Player's Guide, but there have been some other changes I've been waiting to add until now. It seems like the perfect time, with the changes to the dice system, to add in these other improvements, so I'm calling the next version of the book version 2.0. One of the exciting changes that is going into the book is the addition of alien character weaknesses. In Solar Echoes, we have a variety of weapon types with different effects, but sometimes the effects felt somewhat “cosmetic.” Did you know about “threshold effects?” Thresholds involve the amount of damage that must be sustained before an effect is triggered. For instance, fire weapons have a threshold of 3, which means you must do 3 or more fire damage to trigger the burning effect. Burning deals damage every round or so, until an action is spent to put out the fire. So, we've added in alien character weaknesses to not only give each race a slight vulnerability, but to increase the value of some of these weapons. If you're planning a raid on Krissethi pirates, it might be a good idea to bring some weapons that do cold damage—after all, reptiles are slowed by the cold! If there's a nasty group of Erwani hackers that need to see justice, a good plan would be to bring along some weapons that deal fire damage. Those are just two of the races, we have others that have some interesting and fun vulnerabilities. Only the Human race is without a notable vulnerability—humans are the all-around well-balanced race in the game without any real extremes—and some players prefer that.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Demo-Kit Details (part 5)

The demo-kit is nearly finished, and there are only a few steps left. One of the final steps includes playtesting, and that is soon to happen in mid-April at the upcoming convention at John's Hopkins, “JohnCon.” If you are local and can attend JohnCon, you can be included among the players that will be trying out the new dice system. I plan to include the names of the players in the beta-testing credits for the updated Player's Guide. Once we have enough player feedback on the new system, I will upload the new version of the Player's Guide at and anyone that already has the book will receive a notice for a free download to update their old version of the book. I'm excited to receive player feedback, because although internal beta-tests have shown that the dice system works and is more fun, I need a broader response from other gamers. There is one group that might actually get to try the new system before JohnCon, though—a group of gamers in the UK that podcast under the name D20FutureShow have made arrangements with me to try out a game through Skype. I'm looking forward to being a part of their show, and I will post a link to the podcast as soon as it is ready and online. Currently, they've scheduled an interview with me for tomorrow morning, and we'll run the game the following Saturday.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Demo-Kit Details (part 4)

If you've played “Gun Runners” from the Solar Echoes Starter Kit, you'll recognize the scenario in the demo-kit. I've taken the mission and compressed it a little, changing some circumstances to produce a shorter experience. I've also added in teaching prompts into the demo-kit, so new GM's (we call them MC's, for “Mission Controller”) can learn and teach the game to players as they play. My hope is that jumping into a game will be much faster and easier for new players and GM's. This will allow people to get a feel for Solar Echoes without having to invest several hours in a mission—my goal is that the shortened mission in the demo-kit will run for about an hour, give or take a 15 minutes. It still depends a little on the players—are they the type to rush in and get the job done, or are they meticulous planners, preparing for every possibly contingency? You never know what types of people will be on a team, but Solar Echoes is a flexible game, and it can be fun with any play-style!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Demo-Kit Details (part 3)

I'm trying to break up the text more in the demo-kit with artwork and tables, emphasizing the text through both. I've nearly finished the details on the use of the Persuasion skill, and what better to represent this skill than an image of the alien character with the highest influence attribute, the Reln? I decided to alter existing art and make something original, so I used a combination of resources to do this. I went online to, where I have my 3D-print miniatures available, and loaded up the render for the “Harmless Reln.” I could rotate him to any angle, so I got what I wanted and then did a screenshot. I brought that black &white image in to Photoshop and then colorized it. I also had to add in the eyeballs, since there weren't any in the sculpt image. Then, I replaced the torso with the torso from the artwork by John Fell of a Reln. Finally, I replaced the Reln's left hand with a hand I drew myself, trying to make it look as similar to John's Reln's right hand as I could. I did a few touch-up highlights, contrast and lighting adjustments, and I think I got everything where I want it now. A Reln with two outstretched hands—guys, he's unarmed, and what he's saying makes a lot of sense...I think he must be friendly, right? ;)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Demo-Kit Details (part 2)

In addition to the colorized art, I've also been looking for a graphic designer to help me re-design the Solar Echoes character sheets. Right now, they are a little stale, as we originally designed them in a rather utilitarian fashion. The challenge is that there is so much information we need to have packed onto one page, it is difficult to make much room for any graphical design. My hope is to also combine the pre-made character sheets and standard character sheets into one, so that new players that start with a pre-made character will be able to make an easy transition when they decide they want to create their own characters. At conventions, depending on the group dynamic, sometimes I spend time helping everyone make their own characters and build an effective team together. That's one of the important parts of Solar Echoes—no single character can effectively cover all skills, so it's vital to make sure that other players are covering various areas. For instance, if you don't have anyone with piloting skills, you won't have a wheelman or starship pilot to operate the vehicles in Solar Echoes. If you don't have anyone with Cybertech skills, you won't be able to hack into secure areas, extract crucial data from computers, or deal with robot AI. No one with the Engineering skill means you can't repair armor, vehicles, or understand how to exploit vehicle design weaknesses, and if nobody has Biotech, your team will be wishing there was a hospital nearby. Designing your characters together, in my opinion, is the best way to begin the Solar Echoes experience!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Demo-Kit Details

The Solar Echoes Demo-Kit is moving along, and as I've been putting it together, I've also been working to make sure all the artwork used is in color. Most of the artwork I've commissioned over the years has been black and white, because it is not only cheaper to commission, but it keeps printing costs down for the books. However, since I've been shifting over to digital sales more than physical, color art doesn't cost me as much (at least there's no printing cost!) and I've learned how to use Photoshop to add color into these black and white images. I spent some of my time this past weekend colorizing an old piece of art from Sarah Carter that I commissioned back in 2012. It shows an Erwani in cyberspace, hacking into a computer system. Keep in mind, the Erwani is not shown in full—only the upper torso. I like how the artist showed the tendrils of the Erwani emerging from the pod-like hands to interface with the “keyboard.” When I colorized this art, I added a few things, such as the glowing light of the virtual link eye-piece. I also added in some variation on the head-leaves, showing vein-like streaks on the large leaves to make the Erwani's head look like the designs sometimes found on the predatory pitcher plant. I hope you like it—you can find this and other colored art in the upcoming Demo-Kit, which will be...FREE!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Want to be a Playtester?

Are you interested in trying out the new Solar Echoes dice system? All you need is the same thing you needed before to play the game: four 6-sided dice. Oh yeah, and some luck. There's chance in everything, but with the new system, there's more chance—more probability to roll better than before, but also more probability to not roll as well as you used to. Sound impossible? It isn't, we have the statistical data to prove it, and that will be going into an Appendix in the Player's Guide soon. But first, we need player feedback. I've already reached out to a few groups, but if you'd like to be one of the playtesters, send me a message and I'll set you up. And if you playtest this new system, there's still some room in the playtester credits of the Player's Guide...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Rule Change Coming Soon!

If you've played Solar Echoes before and remember the dice system, we are considering a few small changes. We've reviewed the probability calculations and the numbers are where we want them, so now all that remains is some playtesting. I'll be running the new system at the next few conventions I attend, but if any Solar Echoes groups would like to playtest it and give us your feedback, we'll send you some free stuff! Message me for the details of the new system if you're interested. We really appreciate any beta-tests from gaming groups, and hope that you like the new design! The changes are being made for several reasons:
1. If your attribute score is 4 and you roll 4 dice, it sometimes felt a little too easy to get a 6, which is nearly the highest roll you can get on a 6-sided die in Solar Echoes (in the old rules, two or more 6's equals a 7)
2. Rolling dice didn't feel very exciting most of the time, but we've added in a little something to watch out for that will add some risk!
3. In the old system, people were disappointed when they rolled three or four 6's and we told them that “two or more 6's equals a 7.” Not so anymore!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Demo Kit Beginnings

This last week I've been working on designing a short demo-kit for introducing new players to Solar Echoes. Much of it is based upon the content in the Starter Kit, but it is going to be much shorter, with a learn-as-you-go approach. I've always run things that way at conventions, using the Gun Runners mission in the Starter Kit as a teaching tool, but the demo-kit is designed for other GM's to pick up easily and play the game right away, teaching the game to new players as they play. I've always had a bit of an advantage running the Starter Kit, since I know the game, but I'm hoping the demo-kit will help new GM's pick this up quickly. As I'm putting this together, I'm taking advantage of the tricks I've learned with Photoshop for colorizing some of my old artwork. Check out a couple NPC portraits I've colorized and altered for a new look!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dice and Statistics

Recently, I've been examining the probabilities inherent in the Solar Echoes dice system, and the numbers are where we want them for the most part. However, through some of the games I've run at conventions, a few players have talked about the feeling of the dice system and I have decided to make an appendix entry in the Player's Guide. This entry will clarify the actual chances for rolling certain numbers, detailed in percentages, so it is easier for players to see what is going on behind the mechanics of the system. In addition to this, I've also been reaching out to a few people online to help with more complex aspects of our dice system—I'm looking for experts in statistics. The Solar Echoes dice system, like some gambling games, has a few hidden angles that I'd like to bring to light for players looking to maximize their understanding to make better tactical choices in the game. Standing in the middle of the room while someone is shooting at you is not wise--if players know their exact chances, I'm betting they'll be keeping behind cover much more often!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Game Mileage Varies By Age (part 5)

The last aspect of a game that I can think of which might affect certain age groups is the difficulty level. Games like Dark Souls are known for their punishingly brutal levels of difficulty, but they have done very well and are quite popular. Perhaps difficult games for the “hardcore” gamer are welcomed because there are a lot of games that are too easy—designed for the totally casual gamer that plays games on their smartphone once in a while. With difficult games, mileage varies, because I think most gamers will give up quickly if there isn't a method for improving. Practice was mandatory for most of the arcade-style games in the 80's, with space-shooters like Gradius requiring actual memorization of enemy patterns to survive. Ghosts 'n Goblins was another game that required tremendous practice, but it was possible to solve...if you had insane amounts of time and patience. I'm glad that there are still games being made today with punishing levels of difficulty, because they teach kids perseverance and determination, just like practicing a musical instrument does. If the game is well-designed, fun, and rewarding, adults also enjoy extremely difficult games. But I'm also glad there are games that don't require as much of me to move forward—at the end of a long, tiring work day, I just want to have fun and feel like I'm accomplishing something without having to stress about it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Game Mileage Varies By Age (part 4)

Another thing that I think should be part of every game developer's basic creed is to allow saving just about anywhere in the game. The old concept of “save points” was something done in 80's and 90's games to create challenge—if you couldn't get far enough to a save point and “died” along the way, you'd have to start back at the last save point. For a few types of games (such as arcade-style), I understand this, but for most games, mandating save points is almost a guarantee that most adults won't be able to enjoy or complete the game. I remember Final Fantasy VII, which I purchased along with a brand new Sony Playstation back in 1996. I also happened to be finishing up my Master's Degree at the time, and when I found myself staying up until 2am to just get to the next save point so I didn't have to do everything over again the next time I played, well...that was when I decided I had to quit the game, cold-turkey, so that I could keep my grades up and finish my degree. These days, when I consider buying an RPG, I'll scour the reviews to find out if it allows saving at any time. If it doesn't, but it's available for the PS Vita (the handheld Sony game machine), I'll buy it on that because it at least allows me to pause the system and put it in standby until the next time I want to play—allowing me to resume exactly where I left off, even if the game didn't allow me to save. Interestingly enough, the PS Vita is well-known as one of the best RPG game machines out there. I wonder if it's because of that feature?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Game Mileage Varies By Age (part 3)

I sometimes never come back to a game I really liked because every time I've tried, I couldn't figure out where to go or what to do next. The problem with adult gamers is that we can't sit down religiously, on a daily basis, and remember where we left off. Sometimes we might not have free time to spend on a game for days or weeks. Once in a while, I load up a game and I notice my last save was months ago! If that game doesn't have some kind of information to remind me what quest I was doing the last time I played, I may find it impossible to pick up where I left off. If it starts me in the middle of a vast map without a marker on the map to even show me where I'd been headed, I might wander the wrong way and waste an hour or two—that's relaxing time that is much more valuable to an adult because there is so little of it available when we have jobs and a family. I know game developers have target audiences, but it seems an immense oversight when designers leave out any method for tracking your objectives. I even remember a time when a lot of RPG's had complex maps that you'd need to map out by hand. That was actually a little fun, but with today's technology and gaming environments, an auto-map should be included in every game by default. If you want to relive the hand-mapping nostalgia, maybe just make the auto-map a feature you can turn on or off? Most of my abandoned, unfinished RPG's were discarded because of many hours of aimless wandering. Quest journal? Auto-map? Save-anywhere? These should be standards in RPG's!