by Jairus Elarbee on June 27th, 2016

Anathema to the success of a game in a social setting is the disinterested player. Though they often come with the best of intentions, often out of friendship or dedication to another player, they only participate halfway in the activity. While it is certainly the game's job to engage the person, there is also an expectation that the player will come with the appropriate mindset. Here are some tips to avoid this common error:
  • Put the phone away. Seriously. This communicates the same thing as yawning during conversation, which is disinterest in your surroundings. Pulling it out briefly once or twice in the evening is fine, but you're here to engage with the people in front of you, so focus on what's around you. 
  • Pay attention to the action. If you drift your focus from the game, you'll feel lost and always be asking what's happened when it's your turn again. If you focus on the action, you and the other players will enjoy the game more.
  • Ask questions about how to play the game and pay attention to the answer. It's perfectly understandable if you have questions about how a rule works or a system is operated. Everyone has to learn the game, so ask these sorts of questions and internalize the answers. If you forget, that's fine too, but make an effort to try to remember what you're asking.
  • Ask for advice, but play the game yourself. If you're a newer to games, it's completely understandable to ask questions on how something is played. It's important to see what possibilities are out there as you develop your own strategy. The problem is when this is used as a crutch to the point where the other player is playing the game for you. Make your own decisions, and you'll start improving the experience for everyone.
These are some my recommendations on how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that new players often fall into. Any experience on your end you want to share dealing with these problems? What sort of advice do you have for players?

by Jairus Elarbee on June 23rd, 2016

I've recently begun running a Dungeon World campaign, so a topic that's been on my mind lately is world building. As players of roleplaying games who have been GM's before know, campaigns will come in two types: those that are pre-constructed and those that you build for your party.
 When I'm the GM for a role playing game I'll often choose to select a pre-packaged scenarios that can be completed in a single session. These come with several advantages.
  • The majority of the setting and its characters are already fleshed out. This allows me to focus on refining the details of the characters and the specific settings, requiring significantly less prep work on my end. This is more conducive to last minute planning or busy schedules.
  • They allow me a manual to consult when I'm stuck or wondering how something will react. The players will often go off script during the game, but the manual gives me a greater resource than I would have otherwise to keep things on track.
  • I gain access to the skill of the author and his or her writing. The level of thought put into a published product will often far exceed that of an off-the-cuff campaign, and so will contain play notes and suggestions for the GM. 
Designing your own setting is a whole different animal.  While there are difficulties involved, it also brings it's own advantages.
  • ​​It's an exercise in creativity that I wouldn't encounter in my day to day activity, so it can be an exciting challenge to face. It forces me to think outside of the box and trains my improv skills when the players throw a curveball at me.
  • I'm given complete creative freedom on the direction of the story and the world. If I have a cool idea, I have total power to make it a part of the story. This can be daunting if you feel stuck, but it's ultimately rewarding when you make realizations about the nature of your own creation.
  • Players can have an active role over where the fiction leads them. When you are making your own history and world for your players to explore, ask them probing questions and find out what interests them. You're then able to make a story or setting that you know will excite the players, increasing the engagement and immersion of everyone involved.
These are the some of the lessons I've learned in my experience with roleplaying games. A resource I've found invaluable is the online generator donjon, which can give inspiration and content for any number of scenarios and settings. Another game I've found is a really interesting and useful tool for group world building is Ben Robbins history building game Microscope. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in world building. 
Do you tend more towards pre-built scenarios or those you've built yourself? What resources do you use to draw inspiration when trying to flesh out a fiction?

by Jairus Elarbee on June 20th, 2016

A game of Android in all its glory.

One of the frequent mistakes I see in different products and games is complexity overload. Systems included to stretch the strategic abilities of the players end up being burdens rather than features. here do so many designers go wrong? I think many designer make the error of confusing complexity for depth.
The difference between these two can seem subtle, but it has great consequences. Games with depth can encourage strategic thinking by providing straightforward options that have effects many turns later. Chess is the prime example here. The game has a straightforward ruleset, but each move has a range ramifications several turns later. Complexity in contrast attempts to create that by adding layer after layer of rules and systems to a game.
One of my early projects I worked on was guilty of this. The game had endless having technology trees, special tiles rules spanning on a massive world board, and endless decks of cards and deck types. Each idea I presented was trying to make the game more interesting to the players, but ultimately people left it confused and exhausted. Though I found the game interesting and could be engaged by the possibilities I knew were present, it was ultimately a game only I could play.
The game pictured above was also guilty of this. Android is basically three separate games, each with their own mechanics, formed together into an unwieldy whole. It's almost as if the designers had so many ideas in their head that they overwhelmed the game in the process of trying to realize them. The ultimate tragedy of the game is that there are several interesting mechanics and themes that would be incredibly engaging in another product, but they're lost under the weight of the other systems.
With these two experiences, I've come away with a greater appreciation for games with simple mechanics. Games that don't get distracted with too many systems and subsystems can be accessible to many audiences, and allow more advanced players a closer lens to analyze the innate game for strategies.

Do you have any experience with these two qualities? Any way these have surfaced beyond games


by Jairus Elarbee on June 16th, 2016

Picture of a game of Endless during a recent internal play test.

When making a game, the value of play testing cannot be underwritten. We've been play testing Endless internally in different variations for a few years now, and the following are some of the lessons we've learned:
  • Theoretical design will always come out in different in execution.
  • The players are clever, and will take every chance to use an exploit to achieve victory.
  • Listening to complaints and implementing changes can lead to better game play and new elements that couldn't be found in a vacuum.
So what are some of the ways you can have a very successful play test?
  • Find players with varied skill sets and play styles to test a system from different approaches. If you play a game where everyone is aggressive, that's useful for that edge case, but usually players will be a mixture with passive and defensive players as well. If the game is only fun for one subset or style, see if changes can be made that encourage both play styles. Don't be afraid to change things in the early stage, but be careful not to lose focus of your project. 
  • Determine what feature you want to improve or test, and focus attention on how it resolves through game play. Look at everything that happens in a play test, but zero in on the new mechanic you added, or the change you made to see how they play out.
  • Take notes on contradictions and rulings that are made: if two systems are found in conflict, try to find a mechanical way to resolve that between play tests so that both can still meet their objective.If this can't be done, think long and hard on if the thing can be changed or cut so that it doesn't come up again. As a last resort, you can consider writing it into the rules how you want it to resolve, but it is always better for game play to be self evident.
  • Print appealing prototypes. This will take more time to make than simply writing rules on note cards, but if you want to do play testing outside of the immediate developer group, doing a bit of design to give the game some polish or flavor will go miles to improve the experience. This can mean using placeholder art to evoke a feel or using pieces from another game to have tactile units, but try to give the players something nice to test.
So these are some of the experience I've gotten from my time doing internal play testing. My next goal will be learning the ins and outs of external play testing, and finding ways to eventually begin blind play tests. Do you have any experience showing people a product and seeing their reactions? Feel free to share some stories in the comments.

by Jairus Elarbee on June 13th, 2016

Recently I went to see the new Alice movie and came away unimpressed. It was clear from the locations and concepts that some artists had spent a great amount of time trying to develop something different, but the final result ultimately fell flat. The movie felt creative without originality, with innumerable strange concepts and ideas being introduced and forgotten. Seeing all this, it made me think of what lessons I could take away from such a failed execution and how I try to plan my work to avoid these mistakes.

When I’m designing something, there are a few maxims I try to remind myself throughout the process:
  • Find the purpose of the project. If it’s content, why should someone look at it? If it’s a game, what makes it fun? Once I find my central hook or theme, I can make decisions and prioritize my time far more effectively.
  • Add features that add momentum towards the goal. It can be easy to get lost in making endless mechanics and additions to a project, because it can be fun to explore the design space available. Ultimately though, a project with a clear objective is going to be far more successful than one trying to go a dozen directions.
  • Similarly, be willing to remove parts that detract from the final experience. This one tends to be a bit more difficult, but it ultimately will lead to a more refined result. Don’t think you have to throw away the work though, save it for the future and think about some other project where you can apply the concept.
These are a few of the things I try to tell myself when I'm working on projects. Do you have anything you try to keep in mind when you are working? 
 

by Jairus Elarbee on June 9th, 2016

So one of the tasks that I've been working on recently is refreshing and creating a fully custom sigil and seal for the Mondrian Empire. Above is the basic logo that we've been working with thus far and it's one of the one's we've been very pleased with. The symbol represents the Empire's sphere of influence, and the three worlds they claim as their dominion: Mondria, Unitas, and Avalansce. We created out first iteration for playtesting using the HBO's Game of Thrones Join the Realm online application, and came up with the design below.
There are three things we liked about this draft version:
  • The size and ratio of the output matched perfectly with our hero cards.
  • The trim and texture immediately gave the prototype a polished look.
  • The sigil came out just as envisioned using the tools on the site. 
So working from there, I started tinkering with the design using the Pixlr web editor and came up with the image below.
So just a basic start. My first action was the angle the lower two stars to face the circle the same as the top star, then I made some changes to the colors to make them a bit more distinct. I then added the trim and started applying some overlay layers to try to give it some texture. On this one, I have faded leather texture and a fog on glass texture faded over the artwork. It's getting there, but needs more work.
Now we're getting somewhere. Added squares on the corners of the frame to give it a bit more of a pop, added an overlay of parchment paper to really provide some detail. With the I added the name and saved it for later work.
So coming back to the image, I wasn't really thrilled with the title, so I chose a new font and placed an emphasis on the first letter of the name and capitalized the remaining letters. 
And this is the latest draft. Here I decided to change the detail on the corners to have a more ornate, Elven quality to the trim. This was one of my first real forays into graphic design and I'm really pleased with my progress. I do plan to go back and work to smooth out the edges of the sigil, as I'm not really pleased with the way the stars are currently renders, as well as change some of the colors.

Do you have any thoughts on the direction of the design? Any experiences with graphic design you would like to share?

by Jairus Elarbee on June 6th, 2016

For those of you who have been following the development of this game in it's various forms, this post is meant to give you an update on it's present status. Additionally, it will contain details on what Matthew, Gordon, and I are planning on for the game's future.
  • The game is essentially feature complete. At this point all major mechanical elements of game play have been finished and are just receiving refinement. We are happy with the current arc of the game play, and only plan to make small tweaks moving forward to streamline actions of the players, and remove unnecessary features that slow down the core game. 
  • The game has received extensive internal play testing, and now we're hoping to move forward to play tests outside of our friends and developers. As part of this we plan to produce a semi-professional prototype that is more approachable to new players, with the eventual goal of moving to blind play tests. The tasks remaining before we print the prototype are finalizing the Awakeners victory condition, creating the icons for the hero abilities, and writing out a rule book.
  • Though our name through development has been called "Dust," that isn't going to be the final name of the game, as another game already exists with the title. Our current plan is to investigate the name Endless for the project, and determine if a trademark could be placed on that name. Should that be fruitless, we'll continue to think of other names.
  • The final major task facing us before we could produce the game for market is acquiring original artwork for the game. As it stands, the game is filled with placeholder work from countless sources. To move forward on this, we are looking for an artist with a portfolio containing work consistent with style we are seeking for the project to produce some key artwork. From there, we will seek art work for both faction heroes, sigils, and technologies.
That is in a nutshell where we stand on the project. Do you have any suggestions on where to find artists for fantasy work, or thoughts on the direction or name of the game?