Friday, April 28, 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Later on Saturday, I was able to run the new demo mission I've been designing and my target run-time of 1 hour was achieved. I was also very happy with the results of the new dialogue system--the recent changes in the rules now allow for an "opposed" persuasion check. This means that npc opponents can "fight back" with their words, adjusting their posture towards the characters negatively if they succeed at their persuasion check against them. The interrogation that occurred between a player and an npc ended up being much more calculated--the player had to more carefully consider what approach he would use each round. Diplomacy would play things safe, but not afford much of a boost if successful. The risk was much less, though, if he failed. Bluffing was a little riskier, and intimidation even more so...
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Another success at JohnCon was regarding the new character sheets I've been designing. I totally re-organized a lot of the information on the sheets, grouping it in a way that would hopefully make more sense and provide quicker access to the most frequently used character information during a game. The players at JohnCon gave me useful feedback, and it was also great to see that the new sheets helped them to easily understand how the game worked. With the old sheets in the past, I sometimes had to correct people and explain how to conduct skill checks, but with the new character sheet, that didn't happen once. The final step is for Solar Echoes artist, John Fell, to polish the graphical aesthetic of the sheets. I just got an email from him only minutes ago, and work is now underway! These new sheets will be added to the online updates coming soon to the digital versions of the Solar Echoes books.
Monday, April 17, 2017
This Saturday at JohnCon, I met a lot of nice people and really enjoyed trying out the new Solar Echoes rules with players. Despite a computer glitch with my wife's laptop that left me improvising some of the mission I was running, everyone was still able to get a good sense of the game. We spent the first hour building our characters together--even though I offered the pre-made characters as an option, two of the players opted to build their own. Another player brought his character from last year, and another that showed up after we'd started chose one of the pre-made characters so he could jump right in. I ran things with the new dice system, and it worked really well--there was a greater range of rolls, meaning a few more misses than the almost 50/50 chance of success with the old system. However, this didn't slow the fast-paced tempo of the game like I'd worried it might! Once I've officially confirmed with each of the players that they are ok with it, their names will be going into the beta-tester credits of the updated Players Guide!
Friday, April 14, 2017
A nice perk at JohnCon is the low vendor fee. This allows me to bring the prices down on everything for the students at the convention, and I also am offering a special benefit for those who buy the Players Guide (PG), Mission Controllers Guide (MCG), and/or Starter Kit (SK): if you buy any of these three and give me your email address, I will send you a free, updated digital copy of the book(s) you purchased. The printed versions of these three books were all done back in 2012, and since then (especially the PG!) there have been a lot of updates to the books in their digital form. This includes new rules, clarifications, error fixes, and more artwork. The few copies I have left of the original print run could be considered “collector's editions” now, because if I do another print run in the future (maybe through a Kickstarter campaign), the prints would be of the updated digital versions. I've been leaning my business model more towards digital, so these physical copies aren't going to be around for much longer—they are selling at every convention and my inventory is getting low. So, if you're interested in getting your hands on any of these books, don't miss your chance at JohnCon! Thanks for the support, and I literally can't wait to start playing Solar Echoes with everyone this weekend. See you there!
Thursday, April 13, 2017
If you play Solar Echoes at JohnCon, you'll be entered into a raffle to win some free stuff, like the Union Guard Handbook! I'll be bringing some game books for Solar Echoes to the convention at Hopkins this weekend, but this year, among those books will be the new Union Guard Handbook. This booklet contains setting and character info, lots of colorful art for each alien race in Solar Echoes, emblems for each race and other organizations, and color map icons for the characters. All artwork is done by artist John Fell. The UG Handbook showcases not just his character art, but his great emblem designs. Originally, I came up with the idea of emblems for each race because of the Overwatch video game, where each character has personal logo “sprays.” When I talked to Solar Echoes artist John Fell, he loved my idea, and we began brainstorming and passing ideas back and forth. I'm really happy with the emblems he put together, and I plan to do more with them in the future. If not for a JohnCon I attended in 2015, I never would have discovered this talented artist, because one of the convention organizers, Mike, gave me his information when we talked about my goals for the game. You never know who you will meet or what new connections you might make, and for me, making the connection to John through Mike has been a huge boost for the overall look of Solar Echoes. I can't wait to show everyone the UG Handbooks this weekend so they can enjoy John's awesome art!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Another reason to stop by and play Solar Echoes at JohnCon this year is that I'll be using 3d-printed miniatures! In the past, I've had to use paper stand-ups for character icons, but now the game is even more immersive because these new mini's look fantastic! Last fall, I worked with 3d-sculpting artist Jeremy Gosser to design models for each alien race. They're available on Shapeways.com, and the mini's I'm bringing to JohnCon were printed at Shapeways and delivered to me in the mail. Seven of them were then painted by model hobbyist Saejin Park, so players will be able to use a painted miniature during the game to represent their chosen alien character. As a small bonus, I'll also be showing off my newest 3d-printed miniature: the Reln Voidrunner starship, sculpted by artist Charles Oines! I'm hoping to work with him in the future to make the starships of the 6 other alien character races (maybe through a Kickstarter campaign.) Check out the mini's online here:
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
I'm particularly excited about this weekend at JohnCon because the students there will be the very first to try the newest changes to the core Solar Echoes rules. If the players this weekend are willing, I plan to put each of their names into the credits as beta-testers in the Solar Echoes Players Guide update. The updated rulebook will be released online sometime near the end of April or at the beginning of May. At JohnCon, I will be using the new dice system I discussed last month, which involves a few twists to make die rolls more dynamic with greater risks and rewards. I'll also showcase the new rules for the dialogue system, which allows NPC's to "fight back" with their words during a dialogue encounter. Plus, all the alien characters now have a particular biological weakness, which should increase interest in the various weapons available. Gamers at JohnCon will be the first to play with these new systems and have their names immortalized as beta-testers in the credits of the updated Solar Echoes Player's Guide!
Monday, April 10, 2017
A large variety of conventions are run throughout the year, and I've found a number of them where convention goers enjoy playing tabletop role-playing games like Solar Echoes. This coming weekend, from April 14-16, Johns Hopkins University is hosting their annual gamer convention, JohnCon. I get excited for JohnCon every year, for several reasons. One reason is that the Hopkins Homewood campus brings back fond memories from when I took some classes there during college, such as Creative Writing (training which I've definitely used to make Solar Echoes!) Another reason is that I love hanging out with the college crowd, and playing Solar Echoes exclusively with college students is always tons of fun. It's a dynamic quite different from other conventions, and though it isn't a sprawling, crowded event like Balticon, the students that put JohnCon together do a great job, bringing in vendors, putting on comedy shows, providing interesting panel discussions, and running anime, movies and games all night. There's lots of food available and, if you have the stamina of a college student, you can enjoy the convention 24 hours a day--it never closes until the convention ends on Sunday!
Friday, April 7, 2017
It's difficult putting together an RPG product and publishing it. Long hours are spent editing and formatting so the text is concise, readable, and presented logically. Graphical design options are limited, but recently I have begun to put in boxes that highlight certain areas, such as stat blocks for enemies and vehicles that characters will encounter. I've also been trying to work a lot of color into recent products—originally, when Solar Echoes began, I was pursuing a physical printing model for my business. I intended to print up lots of books and sell them in game stores and book stores. My first print run was very small, and I knew that printing with color was significantly more expensive than black and white, so I kept most pages down to only a couple colors. However, now that I've shifted my business model more towards digital sales (though I may swing back to physical if I decide to pursue a Kickstarter campaign to that end), I can potentially fill every page with color. As a result, I've been going back to a lot of the artwork I originally commissioned as black and white and have been taking it into Photoshop to touch up and colorize. It's a very long process, but the results are much more appealing. Every time I raise the level of a product, it sets a new standard for future products, so I'm very excited to continue making more products for everyone! Hopefully, you'll spread the word about Solar Echoes so sales will help make this possible. Thanks everyone!
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Artists have areas of specialty and preference. As an analogy, I play classical guitar, but if someone asks me to play rock, jazz, or blues, it just isn't my thing. I might be capable of it, but it's not my specialty; I don't enjoy it, and I'd sooner recommend someone else do it than try it myself. I've quickly learned this with artists—one person might be incredible with alien character design (John Fell, for example) while another might be more interested and skilled with logos, vehicles, or weapon design. Due to this variety of specialties, I had to hire several different artists to put together the Solar Echoes Player's Guide. It was difficult getting them all to come together to the same style and vision, but it was necessary because the art in the book needed to feel like it was from the same game universe. I worked with several artists independently at once, but shared their art so that they could get a better feeling for the style. Timing was important, too—the character artists weren't comfortable designing weapons, so I delayed the completion of some artwork so that my weapons artist (Jon Aguillon) could finish his work, which I could then share with the character artists. The character artists would reference and integrate Jon's designs into their own. One style description I often give to artists is that Solar Echoes should look sort of like “anime blended with realism.” I don't want heavy, dark realism, but I also don't want things to be too cartoon-like. It's a difficult blend to achieve, but now that I have enough artwork, I can share it with other artists and simply say, “do something similar to this.”
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
As I mentioned yesterday, I've been working on putting together fresh artwork by combining the works of other artists. I'd like to highlight today a recent work that I've “Frankensteined,” using the work of Sarah Carter (Reln and Omul alien characters), Jay Darnell (Reln head), John Fell (Chiraktis character), and Jacob Sumrow (vehicle.) I've included an image below so you can see what the original artwork looked like from each, and then see how I colorized the black and white pieces and combined everything into a new piece of art. Originally, I had thought about using Sarah Carter's fun “road gang” artwork—it has a lot of character and I've used it before in other products. However, I wanted something newer, so I decided to use Jacob Sumrow's sleek gang-skimcar image. I'd intended to simply cut and paste Sarah's aliens into the car, but once I got started, I kept adding bits and pieces from other artists. I hope you enjoy the final result! This can be found in the car chase section of the upcoming demo-kit (which will have a different name...wait for it ;)
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Artwork is so expensive because it requires a lot of time to produce. I'm a decent artist myself, capable of making sketches that can suitably convey my ideas to others. But my artwork does not have that professional polish or look, even if I spend days on it. Thankfully, though, I have enough artistic ability that I can communicate really well with the artists I commission. When artists I'm working with send me their latest iteration, I can go into an art program like Photoshop and make adjustments, write in details, and send it back for them to polish and adapt the changes I made. It's a very collaborative process, and I especially appreciate artists that are receptive to my ideas and understand my vision. (See example of the process with the artist, John Fell, and how I guided the changes in his art for the final version of the Chiraktis) This art production process takes time, though, often weeks to months, so I decided last year to purchase Photoshop. Now I am able to get in on the process a bit more by myself, producing simple pieces of art or making derivative works of previous art I've commissioned. By being more involved in the art process, I can help speed up overall production speed and get finished products to you more quickly. One thing I've been doing more of recently is combining the art of various artists...
Monday, April 3, 2017
The thing about artwork is that it is expensive. Very expensive. Corefun Studios is a very tiny company with an equally tiny budget—a budget that is funded exclusively by gamers. When you buy a Solar Echoes product, your money is going directly towards keeping the company running and towards the production of future projects like new missions, game supplements, and even 3D-printed miniatures for the game. The difficulty is that there are other very big gaming companies out there that I compete with (note that I'm competing with them—they're not competing with me...at least, not yet! ;) Companies like Wizards of the Coast (Dungeons and Dragons) and Paizo (Pathfinder) are extremely successful and have a huge following. This enables them to invest tons of money in their games. If you've ever looked inside one of their rulebooks, you'll find high-quality, full-color, professional artwork on almost every single page. These companies pump $50,000+ into the artwork for their books—they understand that gamers look at the rulebooks as artbooks, not just gamebooks. I'm trying my best to provide Solar Echoes fans with as much artwork as possible in every product, but I understand very well why art is so expensive. Check out an image of two pages from the upcoming demo-kit I've been putting together—I'm trying to keep it colorful and full of artwork.