Version 9 “Fully Charged” By the Numbers

Version 10, the end of the alpha stage for Aes, is currently in the final stages of being printed! Before that’s finalized, we wanted to give the summary of how version 9 came to be, as we see it exiting the testing landscape.

  • Pages: 332
  • Faculties: 226
  • Modifications: 486
  • Testing time: 4 months

Looking back at the numbers for version 8, several things are clear. Version 8 was focused on removing content we knew would not be a focus for the core book, such as sand shapers and grit tech. Version 9 focused on moving us closer to beta by adding core content: 34 more pages, 27 new faculties, and 122 new modifications.

On the faculties front, hurled weapons finally got support through specialized faculties. There were also additions made to self-defense and invention.

With crafting, the two biggest additions were charges and thrumbines. Players now had the chance to customize explosives, making a demo man a viable player type. Thrumbine mods allowed for personal vehicle creation, a definite thematic necessity. A new type of hybrid between mods and faculties – habits – were added, finally allowing explorers to customize their animal companions, at least a little bit.

Two major systems implemented with version 9: memories and vending points. Memories had been on the character sheet since it was first drafted. We always knew we wanted a system that players could use to signify special in character knowledge. It also gave us a way to impart more lore about the world from a “first person” perspective, so that players could put themselves into the minds of their explorers more readily. Version 9 saw memories added for each of the four main nations, with Aeneam and Zahnrad being the main focus.

Vending points are a system of special “chits” players can cash in once per game session. We’ve discussed their implementation and relation to the five ideals already.

In terms of testing duration, version 8 to 9 had one of the longest periods to date with 4 solid months and multiple conventions. There were 2 regular sessions a week for much of it, so the total sessions alone were easy above 20. That allowed for robust testing of all the new material and helped identify some bugs.

However, this length of testing time was quickly dwarfed by version 10’s dev cycle. Version 10 featured cuts and additions, but overall sported very different numbers from version 9, as we’ll see in its upcoming “By the Numbers” breakdown. We’re planning to have the print version ready before the end of November, in time for the holiday season and to close out 2017 on a high note!

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Aes-y Listening 17

For episode 17 of Aes-y Listening, we did a reading of “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

Here is the full text of the poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Con Sponsorships: Choosing a Con

Earlier this year, we posted about some of our first hand experiences with convention sponsorship. Since then, we’ve had many more cons reach out to us, several very good and one incredibly bad (to the point of needing legal intervention due to theft). One topic we didn’t get into with the previous article was how to select a con in the first place.

As indie game devs, you have limited resources. You want to get the most bang for the buck with your marketing resources. Proper con selection is a crucial element. Throwing thousands in marketing materials at a con that doesn’t do anything with them wastes time and money. It’s a risk roulette whose lever you need to pull. Here’s what we’ve seen as factors that contribute to whether a con will “payout.”

Homework

First, this is good behavior for you. Do your homework on a con before you send in your materials. Have they delivered? Are their vendors and sponsors happy? Who owns the con? Is this their main source of income or a hobby? What about the staff?

Look at who has sponsored them in the past and see if that changes a lot or if the same people keep coming back. Have they grown their sponsor base over time, stayed the same, or lost them? If they use crowd funding, are they meeting their goals? If they’ve ticked off their base, they’ll fail them or set them low. If they’re doing great, they’ll be hitting stretch goals.

Good Signs

1. Determined support levels

This seems obvious, but a convention that knows how to accept donations is more likely to use them well. Look for cons that have a published sponsorship packet. If they don’t, ask via email and clarify as much as possible. You want things in writing.

2. Size

Big cons are attractive – lots of people, lots of eyeballs. But you’re a small dev. Big cons attract big devs, like Wizards of the Coast. You’ll run the risk of both being overshadowed and having to spend money to get the con to advertise you.

It’s much better to go after a small convention within your target demographic (at least starting out). They’ll be more grateful and might offer extras if you’re nice to work with. Plus, you’ll be more likely to be the only advertiser attendees see, ensuring they won’t confuse your game for a release by someone else.

3. Material Donations

Indie devs are big on creativity – and light on wallets. A lot of advertising options involve money. You’re going to spend a bit on promo materials, like it or not. The best advertising has you distributing materials to attendees directly. Tactile connection vastly supercedes a simple banner.

Even better is if you can make the materials being handed out the entirety of the donation. A con that will let you give them your handouts as payment for distribution is the best. You only have to pay once, not twice, for those materials.

4. Tabletop Schedule

Sponsoring a convention is great – and even better if you can demo and attend in person! For this, there needs to be a) tabletop space and b) a way to get a table for product demos. There are times when you can promote with a con lacking tabletop, but that does mean the folks there aren’t going to be as interested. Having dedicated space for gaming means some of the people there love gaming – and they’re your customers.

Assuming they have tabletop, what game stores do they work with? Does the game store help promote the con? We have one huge store locally that a few cons tap for their board game library – but they do very little to promote the events. Having a store that helps signal boost can help you in turn. This can also help you get a relationship with a FLGS, necessary when you want to launch and want people to carry the game.

Bad Signs

1. Art as Sexual Harassment

A new trend with some conventions is to treat art – such as prints or in books – as a form of harassment. You can find this in the rules conventions post (and those that do this will post it). They’ll say that they reserve the right to ban art they feel depicts women badly.

What a con will say is that overly sexual art harasses female attendees. They try to make it a safety or diversity issue. The truth is the opposite.

In reality, conventions that have this rule use it to ban LGBT artwork and generally be sex negative. For example, we had prints of 2 of our main characters embracing. They were fully clothed and nothing was touching other than hands on arms. Yet a con ruled that this piece of SFW artwork depicting a same sex couple was “harassment.” It wasn’t because the art was sexual – it’s because the art positively represented a same-sex couple.

Do not promote or support any convention with this clause. It’s a huge red flag that it’s run by anti-expression sorts who want to police art to suppress what they personally dislike.

2. Prop weapon bans

We’re a steampunk game. So if a con bans prop weapons, like modified costume NERF guns, they’re telling every steampunk, “Don’t bother with our con.”

Apart from the direct relevance of making a convention a terrible for us in particular, this kind of ban – like the ban on depicting same-sex romance in art – indicates a bad kind of leadership culture. Prop weapons cannot hurt others (apart from being blunt instruments). Banning them does nothing for safety nor does it solve any issues. Yet it does make many feel unwelcome and increases instances of “gotcha” con attendees can have with security. A leadership that doesn’t care about the enjoyment of those who attend is one that isn’t building a healthy environment worth associating your brand with.

Note that we’re not referring to bans on actual guns or swords. Those are in place because of liability and insurance. Don’t fault a con for that.

3. Serial Con Running

This ties back to doing your homework about a con. Look at the folks running it. Have they been running the same con for a while? Or do they keep starting new ones and letting prior cons die out?

It’s okay for a convention to have new leadership. People move on and new people ascend. But if you have a group constantly jumping from one new con to another, they lack commitment. That can also mean they don’t have the skills to ensure a steady, loyal audience – something you need among those you promote with.

4. Potpourri Vending Hall

Ideally, you’ll be able to personally attend the cons you sponsor. If so, look at the vending room. Are the vendors there geek oriented, or do you see the odd presence of mundane stuff? For example, do you see mainly comic and anime retailers? Or are there people selling insurance or time shares?

This has become an issue in recent years as some cons – mainly comic cons – struggle to make ends meet so they allow anyone and everyone to vend, just so they can stay in business. This is a warning the con is circling the drain. If the con is doing well, they’ll attract enough vendors they can afford to be picky and turn down a car insurance company.

Don’t associate your brand with cons in trouble like this. You’ll risk being seen as irrelevant to attendee interests as the vendor trying to sign people up for a condo in Aruba.

Summary

To conclude: go after small cons that accept material donations and have defined sponsor levels, preferably with an established track record. Avoid cons of any size that ban “sexy” art, prop weapons, are one of many in a string of serial convention startups, and that will let just anyone vend.

Hopefully these tips help you. Ask us any questions that we might answer in a future post!

 

The Armor Problem

We love it when we find solutions to problems in the game, even if it means having to change how the game works a bit. It’s one reason we’ve kept Aes as an alpha for over a year and a half: it’s easy to change what’s rough (as John Lasseter has said).

In the current version of the Metric Steam Engine (the game system that powers Aes), there are five tiers of armor players can choose from. We noticed a problem, though, with how they interact with this: they would either have nearly none or maximum. The middle 3 tiers went largely untouched.

Contrast this with our weapons. Every weapon comes in 5 types, with varying damage and limitations. Larger equalizes require bracing to shoot straight. Larger blades require 2 hands. Players often picked a variety of sizes, from the small to the very large. The problem with armor selection was not an issue with the tiers themselves.

Like weapons, armor also varied by tier in benefit and trade off. Heavier armor soaks more damage. However, it reduces speed and give penalties to dodging attacks. The bottom tier armor soaks a little while giving no penalties, while the maximum tier armor slows an explorer down and makes them easy to hit while absorbing considerable damage. Players were choosing either max soak or max speed and nothing in between.

This problem isn’t new, either. We based how we model weapons and armor on other RPG’s that use a similar increasing rank method. The idea is that rather than trying to differentiate hundreds of different kinds of items, they’re grouped broadly by fundamental characteristics. Players then add whatever flavor they prefer. In these games, developers noted a similar problem: only the first and last tiers of armor were used.

More specifically, most players tend not to utilize much armor at all. Those who used max armor tended to play specialized tank characters. They use faculties allowing them to mitigate the penalties of high tier armor. They are in the minority. Most players simply choose to take no penalties and low soak over even medium armor.

The reasoning, based on this behavior, appears to be that players value a lack of penalties over the ability to absorb damage from being hit. They’d rather leave their dodge higher to avoid being struck rather than be able to take a hit well. What we realized as a solution to the problem was to find another trait of the armor they might value and have the game system encourage players to choose it as a focus. But what?

What we’ve done is restructure health points. In Aes, armor, like all items, has durability. Before, a player had health and body points. Health were combat points that measured the ability to sustain controlled injuries. Body damage was more severe. In our new system, armor durability replaces HP as the first line of points depleted in combat. Health replaces body, where losing health represents taking damage to your physical form.

What does this accomplish? Adventurer’s now have a reason to take the middle tier armor, because higher durability means a higher buffer before serious damage is taken. For non-combat types with low health, this buffer can be very important. Early testing has shown it does change player decision making with armor choice.

We feel pretty good about our solution to this design issue. We’ve also revamped range and speed. We’ll post more on that later.

Aes-y Listening Episodes 11-14

More episodes of Aes-y Listening are up!

Episode 11: The Owning of Books – The joy of owning and reading books. A private library is a must for anyone in this day and age.

We also have three more parts of the Tao Te Ching up: Episode 12 (37-45), Episode 13 (46-54), and Episode 14 (55-63).

You can also check out the Tao Te Ching playlist we’ve added to the channel.

Con Sponsorships: Do’s and Don’ts

Are you a fellow indie developer looking to get brand recognition and attention? Sponsoring local (and not so local) conventions can be a great route to take. However, be warned that the kind of treatment you get can vary wildly from con to con. It all depends on their staff and culture.

We’ll focus here on three examples from three actual cons we here at Aes: Brass Revolution interacted with. The names of the cons are left out, since the focus isn’t on chiding or praising them, but to learn about what makes for good and not-so-good sponsorship handling.

Our goal with this article is to highlight the kinds of reactions you can expect so you know whether you’re being treated with respect or getting snubbed. We also want to provide tips to convention runners on how to make sure they’re doing a good job with handling their sponsors.

Example 1: FailCon

Let’s start with the negative, since it’s good to go from low to high. Sometime back we donated about $1000 to sponsor a small gaming con. The arrangement was simple: we give them prizes and giveaway goodies and they’d promote Aes. Specifically, they promised to promote us on social media and had us send an ad for their convention guide.

The result? …Nothing. After we mailed them the items, we never heard anything back from them. In the weeks to the con, no social media posts about Aes. We sent a few check in emails – no reply. The con comes ago, still nothing.

It isn’t until 2 months later we hear back from them. They give us a tracking number and tell us they’re returning the donations that weren’t given away. We were genuinely worried they’d run off with what we sent, so this is good news. The box we got back had nearly everything we’d sent. It looks like they’d completely forgotten to hand out our donations and simply didn’t want to admit it. To this day, we still have no idea if our ad was even published in their guide (probably not).

Example 2: PassableCon

For another gaming con, we donated $750 of material, with the same content as FailCon. Same arrangement: social media promotion, website listing, at-con distro of the prizes. They even threw in some extras like our logo on the volunteer t-shirts.

Pretty soon, they proved better than FailCon: our logo was up on their website! Yay! Actual promotion as promised!

And then…nothing. We sent the ads and t-shirt logos. But no idea if they made it in. Sadly, much of the promise social media boosting didn’t really materialize, either. Hopefully their con went well? At least we know they did help promote us. They met the bare minimum expectation.

Example 3: StellarCon

Our best experience with a con was also one of our first. This was in the early days of the game when we were just starting to produce items we could donate. We gave a con maybe $100 worth of stuff during the weekend. No advance notice. No prearrangement.

What happened? We got a shout out at the closing ceremonies. We were invited back next year, this time as staff to help with tabletop. We had the owner liking our page and following the development. There was communication, there was enthusiasm, and there was a real feeling of being welcome. All for very little! We’ve made sure to stay with this con ever since.

Takeaways

  1. Communicate! Every bad experience can be defined as not keeping in touch or sending out updates. Consider adding sponsors to mailing lists, at least, so they get the same updates as attendees. Let us know you’re alive. Definitely don’t wait 2 months before writing back – but understand that’s still better than nothing. And don’t be afraid to admit you screwed up and forgot. It happens.
  2. Photos! If something is donated, show us! Take a picture of the prize table or the swag bag. One picture will do for multiple sponsors. Show proof what we donated was put to its intended use.
  3. Have defined packages and stick to them. One thing PassableCon did that not even StellarCon had were defined tiers of sponsorship that clearly outlined what we’d get for X amount of donations. It meant we wouldn’t donate too much and get things we didn’t need for promotion and that we could have items – like the convention book ad – ready beforehand. If PassableCon had held to what they promised, they’d be our StellarCon example.
  4. Accept material donations. Money is great, but attendees love STUFF. Free stuff, especially! Getting sponsors to provide things to give away saves you having to buy it yourself. Allow material donation in lieu of monetary ones. That will really benefit indie folks – like us – where that’s mainly what we have to offer.
  5. Consider a variety of promotional avenues in your con. A few were mentioned here: con book ads, giveaways, shout outs at closing ceremonies, t-shirt logos, website placement, social media boosts. Think of more. Banners, bag inserts, and other outlets are all great to have. Just make sure that what you offer, you can deliver. FailCon and PassableCon both fell short because whoever was managing those aspects dropped the ball.

In a separate post, we’ll focus on what makes for good items to donate, how to go about choosing a con (hint: don’t aim big at first), and how to reach out to them.