Version 4 by the Numbers

Version 4 of the alpha has just recently come out. Here’s how it looks by the numbers:

  • Pages: 142
  • Faculties: 152
  • Modifications: 162
  • Number of testing sessions before release: 3

By contrast, the page count for version 1 was 60, version 2 was 74, and version 3 had 92. So that’s the largest increase in page counts since the alpha began.

Version 1 started with roughly 100 faculties and we’ve added half again that quantity since. The end goal is 400 faculties, so at the current pace (3 versions = 50 faculties), it’ll be around version 20 when we reach that goal. Going by the time span (3 versions = 1 month), it’ll take half a year. We’ll be working on accelerating that pace as best we can, though we also suspect it may slow down once the initial rush of ideas starts to lessen.

Version 4 was the second most tested before coming out. Version 2 was created after only a single test session. Version 3 was made after being tested at San Japan for 3 days solid, with multiple game sessions, making it the most extensively tested to date. Currently, version 4 has been played twice since release, but even with a few more sessions, it is unlikely to be as well dissected. The next version to be brought to a con (which is likely to be version 6 or 7), will likely top this. The goal is for the three conventions planned in October, as well as an intended major event in November, to provide a wealth of information.

Version 5’s main focus will be filling in gaps and shoring up what’s there, rather than adding as much new content. For example, you can modify range weapons, but not melee or armor. Weapon types will be defined, since right now they’re purely aesthetic. Rough drafts of lore were introduced, so those need to be fleshed out. Basic rules for vehicles are in version 4, so we’ll add ways to modify them as well as faculties related to driving. There have been many new contraption ideas since they were first conceived of that need to be added. And so on.

Alpha vs. Beta

We’ve been asked on multiple occasions why we refer to the current version of Aes as an alpha, rather than the more commonly used beta. This was not an attempt to be different for the sake of it or to sound cool, but a concerted effort to divide the development period into distinct phases.

To us, a beta item is one that resembles – at least in general form – the intended finished product. A core book for Aes that’s in beta will have most of the section, rules, and a content intended for eventual release. This will be content that is deemed thematically and mechanically appropriate as an introduction to the basic game and be enough for those who only have this one purchase to play enjoyable games. The content will be cut, expanded, or revised as needed during testing, but the central “meat” will stay consistent through iterations.

An alpha, by contrast, is much more open ended. We’re still in the “throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks phase.” We know that not everything in the alpha booklet will be in the core. That’s okay! Anything not in there will see use (hopefully) in other pieces. At least it gets playtested and refined now. At the same time, there could be really fundamental shifts in the game play or design, such as with talents, materials, and durability.

Another benefit of having an alpha stage is the lack of limits. We can think of wacky, crazy ideas, put them in the book, see how people like them, and then integrate, modify, or reject them based on feedback. Doing this for ideas we know will be expansion material down the road allows us to have it in the lore and game design from the start. Then our expansions feel less like they were tacked on and more like an additional piece of a larger plan. A narrow focus at the beginning hampers “next step” planning down the road.

At the same time, when it’s time to focus on a beta, the supplementary material will be shifted out and left alone for a while. Plans are in place to stow this material into a supplementary document called “The Sterling,” which playtesters and developers will have access to, but not general beta testers. That will allow interactions to still be tested, while emphasizing what is and is not core to the first release.

Right now, a timeline is not yet in place for when the switch from alpha to beta will occur. It won’t be before the basic mechanics are properly soused out. For example, differentiating the types of weapons, plus talents, memories, memberships, and ideals all need to be implemented before a beta can occur. This will all unfold over the course of several alpha versions, each addition tested and vetted for adding to the game before being allowed to remain.

Version History and Nicknames

With the game in alpha, there will be many different versions of it released over time as content is added, revised, and removed. Version 0.04 coming out soon (next week planned), here’s a look into how the game has changed so far.

Version 0.00 – “Rough”

This is where it all began many months ago. This was a massive detailed work, with dozens of rules and systems. Too many, in fact. Frustration mounted when it seemed that there was an endless rabbit hole of new rules needed. A break was taken to work on the lore and world building, to let the frustration lessen and reflect on what was wrong. The break through came with the discovery of Minimal Viable Product. That lead to the scrapping of everything from this version and a rebuild from the ground up. Good ideas from this are still filtered into the newer releases, but slowly and with modifications.

Version 0.01 – “MVP”

The first real incarnation of the game. With as few rules as possible and only a hint of what would be later on. This had version 1 of the character sheet and the initial layout of the book. Interestingly, this version is still similar to the current versions, speaking well of how robust the design was for this. There haven’t been many fundamental changes to the formulas introduced here, mostly additions and tweaks.

Version 0.02 – “San Japan 2015”

After version 0.01 got some playtesting, there were a number of aesthetic and rule fixes made. Concoctions were added with serums and the book became easier to read. This is the version that was taken to San Japan for the big public testing and the version that hooked dozens of folks to the new game.

Version 0.03 – “Con Animals”

In the wake of the immense feedback from San Japan, this version represented a large step forward. Numerous fixes and the game’s first fundamental change since version 0.01: how the action point economy is handled relative to faculties. Numerous new rule additions, as well, including animals, status effects, stealth, teamwork rules, etc. This was more about tightening and expanding the rules than player content.

Version 0.04 – “Biohazard”

The upcoming version. A much more content heavy edition. A brand new science – Evo Control – with the most mods of any maker faculty to date (50). Plus roughly 25 new faculties across the board, bringing the total to nearly 150. Another major addition is a new mechanic thought of at San Japan: combos. These have been added with a small start for later expansion and growth. There’s also rules for called shot locations (since so many wanted to be able to aim for the head or limbs) and finally some material to help those who want to run their own games, including an XP guide and random encounter generators.

The Future

Plans for version 5 (tentatively nicknamed “Toph Enough”) are already taking shape. Lore has been largely absent from these releases, so adding that will be a focus. Resonators are another new maker faculty we’re hoping to introduce soon. The first will be Earth Resonators, allowing for changing and shaping the ground. That way all of the basic types are present and can be expanded to their full roster lists.

Vehicles are being refined and will be implemented similar to animals. There’s been a lot of requests for a minion system – some kind of army building technique explorers can use. Plus, there’s the ideal system, which is one of the major role-play centric mechanics in the game. And we still have materials and weapon types to mix in sometime eventually.

Aes has come a long way in a short period of time. We’re amazed at how quickly things are moving up and can only imagine what the game will look like in a year!

Podcast Guest Appearance

One of Aes’s developers was a guest on the W.I.P Podcast last week! He got to talk about the game for a good 20-30 minutes, including the mechanics, themes, races, and lore. For folks wondering about where the game might go, it’s a pretty nice preview. (We do promise that the core book and most expansion material will be family friendly.)

As a result, plans are underway for Aes to appear at RealmsCon in October and hopefully with a recorded play session starring the W.I.P podcast team!

Check out the recording below! (NSFW due to language.)

Running Game Demos

Game demos are one of the key ways of expanding the player base of a game. While it’s possible for people to just see the book and buy it for the art or content, many buy games after they had a great time playing it. There is something about an in-person demo that lets a person connect with a game on a more personal level than simply reading the book.

This means the purpose of demonstrating a game is to entice sales or attract other players. A successful demo is one that ends with a sale or at least a positive recommendation. Therefore, there is a protocol in place to make sure the demo accomplishes this.

I’ve seen this principle missed a couple times by people trying to sell me on games (one board game and one video game), so I thought I’d write up their errors. It’s a good example of what not to do if you want someone to be invested in something you enjoy or are trying to sell.

1. Give the person learning the best starting situation you can. When I had the video game demonstrated, the guy picked a character and then revealed after character selection was done that he had taken the one with the best performance in the game. This is something you help someone with before hand. If you know a certain character or combination works well, recommend it. Don’t force it, but it’s information a new person will appreciate.

2. Try to make the initial experience as balanced as you can between challenging and straight forward. If it’s a cake walk, then the game will come off as too easy. If it’s too “curb stomp the new guy,” they won’t have any fun. For example, when I tried the board game, the other person deliberately chose the play style my chosen faction was weak against. As a result, the game was one-sided with no hope of victory. I ended up going through most of it frustrated I couldn’t do anything interesting. No one wants to play a game they feel is broken.

3. Suppress the desire to win quickly. You need to balance your play style – if you know you’re going to win, deliberately make a few mistakes or bad calls to give the other person a chance. Let them try something out. Let them discover the game’s magical combo bits. Shutting them down by going cut throat (as both demonstrators did) denies the essential experience of the game.

4. When demonstrating a game with lots of options, recommend a set you know to work well. I have a poor impression of the video game because my chosen combination wasn’t very good – but the guy trying to sell it to me didn’t help even though I asked!

5. Be a good sport. This is the biggest sin the board game demonstrator made. He made a huge deal of his wins, crowing about it non-stop, even though he knew I was frustrated. Taunts have no place in this setting if you want to get someone into it. If you make the other person think that everyone who plays the game is a jerk, they will stay away. (Magic the Gathering has this issue in spades.)

Since Aes is a role-playing game, there are some special caveats that come with that.

Designing pre-made characters (iconics) is a good path toward getting points 1 and 4. Part of the fun in an RPG is character creation, but some want a quick game to get to the mechanics and lore. Each iconic should be balanced and playable in their own right, with a variety of options the player can pick from. You don’t want one out of six of the icons to be “the sucky one,” since then the player who ends up with them will have a terrible time and you just lost a customer. (This is not the same as the character not matching the play style of the explorer – that’s just a mismatch and they’ll be able to see that.) It can help to couple pre-made characters with preset demo scenarios that give each of them a highlight. Players who get even one “Moment of Awesome” in a game are far more likely to buy it.

The second is to generally avoid GM vs. player situations. Challenge maps, where the Invisible Hand is deliberately trying to kill everyone, can be fun, but only if announced in advance. Aes is focused on storytelling with the Invisible Hand as a guide rather than a tyrant, so challenge maps wouldn’t work to show off the game’s best traits. By not having a “win” condition for the Invisible Hand pegged to player loss, you stay in line with point 2 and 3 above. The GM wins when the players are smiling and laughing.

Player vs. Player (PvP) should be strongly discouraged. PvP can bring out another competition source that can derail the intended positive atmosphere of the game. PvP often leads to a violation of 5 above, since bad sportsmanship can quickly emerge if the players start to war among one another. This is especially bad if there are a mix of experience levels. Aes is meant for cooperative play more than PvP, so this again is a necessary choice to convey how the game is intended to unfold.

Avoid the mistakes, focus on how to create the right environment, and you’ll be good at drawing in new players to your favorite games!

San Japan 2015 Action Report

San Japan 2015 was an amazing debut for Aes: Brass Revolution! Over a dozen people played games throughout the weekend with many more taking bookmarks and signing up for more info. The universal consensus is that Aes is a fun, well paced game with numerous options for problem solving and game styles.

Aes was compared very favorably to several other RPG’s (steampunk and non) and in several respects judged better implemented than even some finished products. Aes‘s crafting system, for example, was praised for its intuitive setup and called by one RPG fan, “The best crafting system in an RPG so far.” The use of a single d10 was especially praised for making the percentages easier to calculate as was the “faculties determine nearly everything” backwards character creation. Another great quote from a player: “You should start selling this alpha booklet instead of giving it away for free.” This is huge praise for a game still in a starting state!

The weekend provided a lot of great feedback on the system. It has prompted significant revisions to the use of action points to make several choices even more elegant than they were before. Instead of faculties being used the same way each time, they can be combined with others to create novel uses. This means two characters with the same faculty could be putting it into use in very different scenarios, which really amps the customization and avoids cookie cutter min-maxing.

We also had a chance to commission several pieces of art for the first iconic character of the game: Ji Wang, concoction discoverer! She’ll be one of six pre-made characters (and story figures) we’ll be using to promote the game. Aes is a game that specifically strives to combine the steampunk aesthetic with diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds, so including a main character of Asian descent seemed a natural course of action. The other five are still in development, though the goal will be a group that represents all the key aspects of the game.

To see photos from San Japan, check out the gallery on the Facebook page!