Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: The Darkness Arrives (Part 2)

In my last post, I discussed the problems with the player’s guide. This time I start to dig into the trouble with the adventure itself starting with its appearance.


The first thing I want to address is the adventure’s appearance. One of the things that definitely irks me about 3rd party products is the wide variance in appearance. Often times the art is a mishmash of styles, typically royalty free art, licensed art packs, and public domain art thrown together into a nauseating visual stew. Now, I don’t object to keeping art costs low, but not at the cost of appeal. Art is expensive and the range of sales is usually quite small, so of necessity keeping art costs to a minimum is reasonable. What I do object to, is when the art direction lacks any sort of harmony. I also hate a mixture of color and black and white or disparate artistic styles in the same work.

I love the cover in this case, a black Celtic design with a strange looking dark elven-esque rune dead center. The cover generates interest. However, this is a common strategy employed by the industry to generate desire for the product. People judge a book by its cover, so the industry tends to focus on cover art more than on any other piece. If there is expense associated with the artwork, this is generally where publishers will spend money. The other thing I like about the cover is that there are only two logos, the company logo, and the Pathfinder logo. I really abhor products that look as though they were designed by NASCAR.

Unfortunately, the appearance goes downhill from there. The color and art sections are a total train wreck. The initial pages have a "black cherry" water color border which is thematically attractive. I don’t actually mind all that much since I can still read the black text. However, the color switches to teal a few pages in. I understand why. Here’s the breakdown.

The entire document is 129 pages. Pages 2-5 (numbered ii-v) are“black cherry–these are the credit and table of content pages. Pages 1-22 are teal–this is the village portion of the adventure (Part One in the table of contents). Pages 24-41 switch to blue–I think this is the outdoor sandbox part of the adventure (Part Two). Pages 42-61 switch to purple and pages 62-122 go back to the original black cherry. The mess ends with the usual product page. So, there was a weird attempt to color code the adventure which fails. Add in yellow, light blue, dark blue, green and orange text boxes and the entire thing becomes incredibly garish. Add in a shitty mish-mash of artwork and you have a nightmare MS Word document gone terribly wrong. See the swatches I've included in this post.

Consider also that the product was designed for both D20 and Pathfinder and pages 62-122 are nothing but stat pages. This means that roughly 50% of the adventure isn’t adventure at all and that roughly 25% of that you may never use. Not worth the $17.

Finally, I really object to the lack of consideration for people that might be color blind or who may have other visual impairments. The industry as a whole really needs to stop making their products so dark and difficult to read. This extends to mapping styles. I realize that products which have a Gothic appearance probably sell better, but I really don’t care. In general, I wish gamers would stop buying horribly garish eye candy and pay more attention to substance. I’m actually surprised more gamers don’t actually complain about the accessibility of products.

Conclusion: This is a truly butt ugly document.

Next up I'll talk about the adventure's structure.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: The Darkness Arrives (Part 1)

I mentioned in my last blog that I had the unpleasant experience of purchasing a 3rd party product this past weekend. My friends and I have been having trouble sustaining a game of late due primarily to the shifting of life, the coming and going of players plus stuff going on in my personal life which I’ll not bore you with. The pace of life was slower back when I started gaming in the 1980s. Sustaining player interest seems harder today, due in part to technology (computer games, cell phones, etc.). Then again player interest isn't really the issue either. My friends and family are all interested in playing. However, they don't have time to "study" a game system and so it has been my job to teach them how to play as well as the habits of good players vs. bad players. I enjoy teaching, so that's not much of a worry. I take it far easier on them than I would more experienced players (although it took me a while to take it down to the right notch). Distractions are sometimes a problem too and I mention this because it comes into play with this product.

I decided that I would try something new and riff off player preferences to create a stronger bond between the characters and the adventure material. The only trouble is that my players don't seem to have strong preferences one way or another. I think they'll pretty much play anything I run as long as it stays in the fantasy realm. However, my cousin loves dark elves, so much so that I let her play a character of the race named Malice. She has read the Forgotten Realms novels which explain her preferences. Riffing on that seemed a natural choice and since the other players are quite amenable I thought it would help.

Now unless you live in a cave and/or never receive gaming sales material, you've probably heard of the rather exorbitantly priced "Rise of the Drow" hardcover book and the related Kickstarter. I knew up front that I would never consider investing $80-100 for the 500 page hardcover book much less $40 for the electronic version, at least not without doing a little research. I should also mention that I don't really care for Adventure Paths because they're just too much of a commitment, too much of a strait jacket if I decide to change direction and get off the rail. The sandbox parts of an Adventure Path are more agreeable to me. I’m not sure this will come into play or not, but I want to establish my preferences.

"Rise of the Drow" itself is intended for levels 6-20. I was looking to start at the ground floor since I enjoy running from 1st level and watching the characters really develop. I discovered that “Rise of the Drow” has a prelude adventure called "The Darkness Arrives," intended for levels 1-6. This is exactly what I was looking for.
I want to mention that I also had a look at "Throne of Night," but I didn't want to force my players to either play all drow, while simultaneously having myself forced to run an evil campaign, or force my players to play all dwarves. The product reviews also said that this dualistic adventure is lopsided in favor of the dwarves. I decided against this product because I didn't want to wade through two versions of the adventure written in parallel paragraph by paragraph. I also find this sort of thing to be rather gimmicky. One of the issues I have with almost everything Pathfinder is its textual verbosity. Another is the lack of real play testing. I strongly feel that only Paizo does real play testing and the smaller the publisher, the less likely play testing was actually done (or was done so lightly as to be ineffective). Quite frankly, making a Facebook group and begging for play testers is not play testing. Yes, I have seen this done. No, it is not effective. It is merely justification for claiming that play testing was done.

To continue, I looked through the reviews on Paizo for "The Darkness Arrives." I was dissatisfied with the reviews for several reasons not the least of which is reviewer lopsidedness. There is only one lengthy review and it's pretty much glowing. I mentioned last time that I know how reviews in the industry work. I'm familiar with the schmoozing that goes on to get good reviews. I have internal experience with it. I don’t know the reviewer. However, I have read a lot of his reviews. I don't trust them, not because he is untrustworthy, but because of severe industry bias, the self-delusional kind I mentioned in my prior post. No one wants to point out industry warts because no one wants to hurt anyone's bottom line. Yes, there are bad reviews and customer complains but these are minimal.

I've decided to become immune to this effect by no longer participating in it, as I mentioned in my prior post. I know longer care about hurting anyone's bottom line. As a matter of philosophy, I believe products should stand on their merit and that industry politics have no place in product development. This will be the guiding philosophy for Chaotic Noodle. I will let bad reviews stand.

I decided to look for another view point and found a forum post, not of a review, but of a customer who was dissatisfied and censored by the publisher. I wish I’d saved the text, but didn’t expect to be blogging about this topic. I only recall that the customer was shocked at having been so censored. At this point I could look for more reviews or risk spending $17 to view the work myself, which I decided to do. I should have read the adventure before continuing any further, but I also discovered a Player’s Guide ($4) and Hero Lab files ($10). However, I refused to pay for the Player’s Guide and as loath as I am to pirate anything game related I was incensed to find a charge for the guide at all. I found it quite readily and read it first. It’s utter crap.

First of all, the campaign setting introduced in the player’s guide, called Aventyr (a gimmicky rename of the word “adventure”), is created only by its mention. I went to the web site and could only find crunchy junk and no campaign map or any real information. The player’s guide contains sad, unoriginal, and unnecessary rewrites of the core races with “campaign setting” renames. Humans are called Klavekians and so on. Kevorkians would have been far more interesting and pronounceable. Haha!

However, what is truly bizarre is the mention of 2 new base classes, 3 prestige classes, 4 archetypes, and a monster class (is there such a thing). These are not contained in the guide at all, not that I care. The game doesn’t need this mess anyway. Oh, and that was the customer’s complaint¬–now I remember! I also recall that the excuse used for removing the review was that, “everyone worked so hard.” That has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of a product. If I build a train and it derails, I seriously doubt that, “they worked so hard” will cover the investigation. I call bullshit.

The guide goes on to contain contains a crappy village map (the buildings appear to have motion lines around them), a cartoony picture of the village (with a cathedral in the distance which can’t possibly match the map presented in the adventure), crappy village details (yawn), and a bunch of boring drivel about current events no one will ever use during play. I was bored to tears reading it. The rest is garbage, just filler composed of equipment from the core rules and more drivel about caves that we already know from every system from 2E to Pathfinder plus science itself. Thankfully, no attempt was made to present new feats.

That pretty much covers the shitty player’s guide. Next up, I will talk about the adventure itself, at least so far, the Hero Lab files and the issues I encountered with those.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Breaking Free

Over the weekend I had the unpleasant experience of purchasing a 3rd party product for Pathfinder and being utterly disappointed with it. We buy adventures to save us time and labor and so it rather pisses me off that this product failed on both counts. However, this post isn't about that product. We'll come back to that in another post shortly.

No, this post is about my gaming and publishing future in light of this as well as the coming out of 5E and the unfortunate gullibility of the gaming community at large. By that I mean the gaming public's willingness to trust companies like Wizards of the Coast with yet another publishing campaign to pry money from your wallet. Game system is irrelevant. They are in the book business. It's that simple. These events have led me to make some personal decisions about my gaming and publishing future.

First, note the lack of diplomacy in the prior paragraph. That explains my first decision. I have held my opinions on a multitude of gaming topics, and products specifically, for quite some time simply because I have done work for a few 3PPs and wanted to continue to do so. I'm done with that idea too. I'm done trying to break into an industry that is clearly diseased. I will just stick with my far more lucrative career in IT. Any writing I will do in the future will be done under my own label, on my own terms, and without the assistance of the industry. I will be writing under the brand Chaotic Noodle. I certainly won't write the same old drek other 3PPs are spewing. I won't be writing shitty splat books containing feats you'll never use which are a detriment to the game. I'm burning the ships here and I hope you can appreciate that.

One of the things I did before I made my purchase this weekend was read the reviews. I should have known better. I know how reviews work in the industry and they are generally unreliable for various reasons not the least of which are uncertain degrees of "schmoozing" and "pruning." Reviews should be unbiased and reviewers should not be "buddies" with the publisher. This is the schmoozing aspect. I mentioned that I'd read the reviews for my product purchase, but I also saw a complaint wherein the publisher deleted unfavorable reviews from their forums. I should have taken that as a sign as well. There's the pruning.

What does this all mean? It means that if I buy a product in the future I will be telling the absolute truth about it here. I have no desire to be a reviewer, but when I do write a review it will be unbiased and raw. I mentioned that the industry is diseased? That disease is mostly mental. In clinical terms, the industry is delusional. It ignores things that have clearly gone off the rails in favor of sustaining its own self-delusion, like a demented, stumbling, multicellular giant suffering from body rot. One of the reasons I'm no longer doing 3PP work is because that giant wants free labor too. And then there are the giant Kickstarters that produce massive unregistered, unaccounted for profit. The money from Kickstarters goes into pockets and doesn't go to the those actually working the project, I can assure you. Only a small percentage goes to the actual project.

Anyway there are no rewards, not even an improved reputation for the purpose of obtaining future work, credit, or even pillow mints. Publishers pretty much slurp down play testing, software testing, and biased reviews with one mouth and say nothing with the other and in this way the industry has become a two-faced, self-interested and cold monster. That monster also defecates some pretty awful smelling product.

Finally, I will be receding back into the shadows and enjoying my hobby again. I won't ever switch game systems. Why buy the same thing again with new words, new art, and new spin? It makes no real sense. Folks online claim we're supporting the industry and I suppose that's true. The rotting giant is pretty damned hungry I would imagine, but there are better ways to support the industry than to simply throw money down it's maw.

One way is to be more discerning and use your dollars to vote so that the piles of steaming product produced by some 3PPs goes untouched, thus improving the industry's health. Unfortunately, I think many gamers confuse gaming with collecting (comic book mentality) and buy shit they'll never use. I know one company that makes base classes that I've never seen anyone play.

So to recap, here are my plans for my gaming future:
  • No more unpaid or poorly paid industry work.
  • Write my own material under the Chaotic Noodle brand.
  • Focus on making my hobby fun again by ignoring the industry hype and distractions.
  • Play Pathfinder to the grave.
  • Write unbiased, unabashed, unapologetic reviews.
Now to review the shit I bought this weekend by Adventure a Week (AAW), the very same publisher that also pruned a customer's honest review.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

This is a Pathfinder Blog

This is a Pathfinder Blog. I sometimes see folks in the online forums who are having trouble finding Pathfinder blogs so I thought I'd mention it. Anyway if you or your friends are looking for such a beast tell them to head on over.

In the future, this will be a no holes barred blog. I'll explain that in a later post I've been working on. However, in short, I've been mulling some things over and have come to some sweeping decisions about my own gaming future. I'll be sharing those thoughts here pretty soon. However, one of those decisions is, and I say this without exaggeration, to stay with Pathfinder for the remainder of my days on Earth, warts and all.

I happen to think that people who re-buy the same shit over and over with new words, new art, and new logos are nothing short of stupid. I'm sick of being diplomatic about the directions the hobby is going and I'm just going to be blunt from now on. I think buying 5E is pretty much akin to staying in an abusive relationship. People who buy the new thing are a bit like crows collecting shiny things. At the same time, I really don't care what they do.

Haha! I guess what I should really say is that this is a raw Pathfinder Blog. I won't be sugar coating anything. I'm no longer holding my tongue about shit that's wrong with the gaming industry either and there's a ton wrong. That's all for now. Stay tuned.


Friday, August 15, 2014

GenCon Envy

So many posts about GenCon on Facebook that I thought I'd blogificate about it. This might help with any GenCon envy you might be experiencing too.

I liked my 1st GenCon, although it was of course too expensive. A coach flight alone for just one person is around $400-500. The hotel is the next most expensive thing followed by parking then food. Forget getting a nearby hotel unless you start booking next year right after GenCon.

My 2nd GenCon was just as expensive and it was downhill from the 1st. It was a walk-a-thon in the summer heat from faraway parking land. Don't wear wizard robes made from micro suede either. After this one, it became clear that going to GenCon is a bit like going to an amusement park where you wait in line at a ride for an hour for 5 minutes of actual fun.

The high point was getting to run an adventure I wrote for groups of fellow nerds and bringing my daughter along. And hey, the bonus is that there were no underground explosions. I wasn't at all surprised to see this bit of news about this year's GenCon.

I probably won't go again because Indianapolis is kind of a shit hole, which really surprised me. There are lots of abandoned buildings and churches every 50 feet. The city almost seemed apocalyptic. It reminded me of Half-Life 2. I kept looking for fast zombies to come scrambling over a rooftops. I figured the racing gig would help them build a better city. I've since watched a documentary on the Indianapolis homicide department and its detectives. Talented heroes. They have their work cut out for them, let me tell you. The city really does need the money though.

I plan to go to smaller cons in the future because, bang for the buck, GenCon just isn't worth the expence and aggravation. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kickstarter: Campaign Calendar Interfaces

I was just putting this blog together, pasting in the Kickstarter embed code at left and noticed that the pledge amount went up another $10! Yay! One more backer and I'll actually be able to see backer names on Kickstarter. Why they hide them until you get 10, I don't know.

Anyway I talked about my Kickstarter yesterday and since I still have 8 days left in the campaign, I thought I would further share my interface designs for the calendar portion here, rather than in Kickstarter form.

I say further share, because I've already put them out on Twitter and Facebook. I also tried Reddit but didn't have enough "karma points," so I have my work cut out for me there. Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of the Kickstarter platform is that updates are almost an afterthought. For example, you can tweet the short link from the project's main page, but you can't tweet the short link from an update page, which is important since Twitter has a short character limit.

Quite frankly, the updates for my project are actually where the juice for the project is located. In any case, below are the seven interface designs so far. I'll be working up the weather generator interfaces and trying to get the word out about those later on, so these aren't the only interface designs. I'm also including a link to update #15 from Kickstarter and some other links that will help tell my story as a gamer and as a guy that just wants to build cool apps for gamers.

Facebook: AWizardInDallas (Richard A. Hunt)
Facebook: Cartography Portfolio
Facebook: Bibliography (Stuff I designed and/or wrote)
Twitter: AWizardInDallas (Richard A. Hunt)
Kickstarter Update #15

The Months Interface

The Seasons Interface

The Moons Interface

The Calendar Interface

The Campaign Journal Interface

The Events Interface

The Moon Activity Interface

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why My Kickstarter is Tanking

Preface: I'm rebooting my blog. I had an encouraging visitor tonight and sometimes that's all you need to keep going...

I'm starting a new company called Chaotic Noodle, LLC. I've been a freelancer for a number of years and gaining talent recognition has been an exercise in futility.

I have a lot of diverse talents and I know my capabilities, even if others fail to recognize talent when they see it. Everyone wants a five-minute elevator sales pitch. No thanks. Hollywood business practice can go to hell.

Anyway very few people are capable of writing an adventure, doing page layout, monster stats, new magic items, and spells, as well as all of the cartography. You'd think that level of major talent working in harmony would be industry gold? Nope.

I have those skills. I'm a highly intelligent old school gamer and I've been trying in vain for a long time to get away from a dull career in IT.  Search this blog and you'll read about how I even interviewed with TSR back in the day. I know exactly what's holding me back and it's an unwillingness to compromise my standards and an old-fashioned belief in selling by the merits of a products over  pimping shoddy splat books no one will actually use. These appeal to game system collectors for some ungodly reason. I want to make art, not crap.

I have a BFA in English. There are things I wrote in print. I'm also definitely an idea man, but the sad fact of the matter is, the industry doesn't pay for talent. What's worse, is the willingness of some to waste time and energy on pimping, begging for good reviews, or stacking the deck under the table rather than producing a product that has natural merit, not to mention working on projects that die before they even get going yet you've already done the work.

I've also worked on projects for folks which will never see the light of day and on others where the proceeds of rather sizable Kickstarters go in their pockets rather than shared with the people doing the actual real, creative work. I can assure you that only a small percentage of money from a Kickstarter actually goes into the product. The rest is pure profit.

I'm tired of standing in the shadow of pimps. Most of all, I'm sick to death of "volunteering" my skills for peanuts. Those in the industry will tell you that this is just the way it is and that you should just keep plugging away until someday there's a ray of light. Well, fuck that. This is that day. I refuse to go to my grave waiting for others to pull their head out of their ass.

My company name came as the result of a verbal oops. I was explaining alignments to a group one night when chaotic neutral became Chaotic Noodle. One of my players even drew a cute picture of a noodle rock band, which I'll have to dig up at some point and post. I tried in vain to get help with a logo, but ended up doing it myself.

What was next? The next thing was to get some things ready for print, but I decided that it would take a really long time to build up speed that way. I also knew that someone else would scrape 20-30% of my work into their pockets. Homey don't play that either. So I was a bit stuck for time and money. I'm recently divorced from a lazy, dysfunctional family and adrift in financial hell and that doesn't help.

Then some dumbshit made potato salad. I figured maybe I should give it a try, as annoying as I had found Kickstarters in the past. So, I dusted off an idea I blogged about in 2008, a calendar app, and decided to see if I could get decent reception. I even charged $700 for help with crowd funding. I seriously doubt it made any difference.

I hate Twitter. I hate the short attention span nature of it, but I dusted of my evil account and started tweeting. If you want to find out what it's like to talk to a brick wall, try posting your good ideas on Kickstarter amongst the din of other Kickstarters to your Facebook friends and your followers on Twitter. In their defense, there is a massive glut of the stuff traveling the web.

My Kickstarter is tanking and after doing some reading I know exactly why. It is impossible to get anything funded without the help of your friends and their friends and so on, like the old shampoo commercial. One article I read described the process as sneezing on someone so they'll sneeze on someone else so that every one gets sick. I have a large number of friends on Facebook, but few willing to even just tell their friends much less kick in just a $1. As a matter of fact I remember thinking that there had to be 75,000 individuals who liked my idea and would kick in just $1? Oddly no. I read that people think just $1 is an insult.

My Kickstarter is tanking because I applied logic to the problem rather than emotion and all modern advertising is based on emotion. In other words, describing the merits of a product doesn't sell shit. My idea is really good, if a little niche. However, people are so screwed up in their thinking that you can point out features and benefits all day long and they'll still give it a pass. Tell them that the product will make them feel better about themselves and they eat it up like chum. So the pimps win this one and I'm sure they'll have a good laugh over my probable failure. I say probable because I still have 8 days left and I plan to use every damned one of them. Anyway no one ever died from being laughed at.

The good news is that I'm still winning. I got started and my logo is now out there. I'll also know how to launch a better Kickstarter next time. I'll eventually put up my shingle and start hawking my wares regardless, along side everyone else. I'll sell my products on their merit too, not by having "Christmas in July" sales and by begging reviewers for good reviews.

My Kickstarter would have made it easier of course, but then I've been trying for so long now that self publishing seems like the easier way now. Besides, I'll have the kind of customers I can feel good about.