Sunday, 30 June 2013

Captain's Log...

Nothing important to say really. It's just that I went looking for the gadget that put the list of followers on the page -- so you get some recognition and I don't have to keep hunting for that stat... And while I was looking through the gadgets, I found one that posted a "hot pic of the day" on the page. Is that a thing? Come for the Cairn info, stay for the hot pic? Would I get more traffic if I had a "hot pic of the day" on the page?

They also have a "cute puppy of the day" widget, too. If that's your thing.

Yeah. It's time to step away from the laptop and take a walk.

A Strange Journey

I haven't blogged about Cairn in the last couple of days, but that's not because nothing is going on behind the scenes. I'm going through the text everyday, and meetings have been had about Cairn and Souljar Games. So stuff and things are going on.... In general, I'm going to try to take the weekends off from blogging, just so I can focus on writing and editing and I can give you guys a break. Of course, I'm going to break that rule by blogging on Sunday. I'm a rebel that way.

First, some old business. I've noticed that only three people have become followers of this site. I remind you that this is where you'll get all your Cairn RPG news from now on, not the Kickstarter page. So if you want to know how the game is progressing and what I'm up to, this is the place. Now, it's certainly possible that you don't want to follow the game's progress that closely. Hey, that's cool. But this is also a way to participate in the process. I'm already throwing ideas out there and asking for feedback. I'm reading and listening and considering. This gives me a good sense of what you want, and gives you a good idea of what I'm doing. So become a follower.

Second, I was writing last night and something occurred to me. This has been a strange journey.

Originally, I was just slated to provide a scenario as a stretch goal reward. I expected to be handed a finished text and just write an adventure. Easy-peasy. In fact, I remember telling Mike Nystul that there was no way I could jump on-board with work on Cairn, since I was already working on his Infinite Dungeon (which is now being published by D3 Adventures).

Then, I was asked to write a quick chapter on bartering. Because animals don't understand money and use bartering instead. Mike wanted the animals to have a different value system, instead of just being humans in animal costumes (which I understand is a thing, that I don't understand. But hey, I don't judge). I'm a proponent of capitalism, and not a huge fan of Communism, but I swallowed hard and wrote a justification for animals not using money.... It wasn't easy, but I think Hegel would be proud.

Mike liked the chapter, and asked if I could maybe start helping with writing the species. Now this was the fun part. One of the things I wanted to do was capture the energy of each animal. I wanted to encourage you to sit at the table and act like your animal. If you're a Squirrel, hunch over and gnaw on your Doritos. Suddenly sit up, dart your head around, and freeze. (And now that I think about it, I'd love to come up with a quick mechanic that rewards you for actually acting like your animal. Not your character, YOU). Anyway, I wrote a couple of animals up and sent them off. Then I got more....

This was beginning to look suspiciously like I was working on Cairn....

Meanwhile, Mike was working hard on his end writing his parts of Cairn, and managing Castle Nystul, and writing Axes & Anvils. It was a lot of work and he was beginning to feel overwhelmed. (Boy do I know that feeling. I'm feeling it now....) Would I, he asked, be willing to read over his material and develop it? There was nothing going on with Infinite Dungeon; the work was done and I had nothing else going on. So sure. Send the files.

Now I was definitely working on Cairn. In fact, I was developing it.

What exactly does a line developer do? In many ways, he's like a managing editor. He reads over the material for clarity and consistency. He spots the holes. He keeps track of the tone. You don't want to set out to design an angst-ridden game of vampires and end up with a happy little game of vampires. He says things like "hey, you know, vampires can't see themselves in mirrors in the mythology. You didn't address that in the text. Can our vampires see each other in mirrors? Maybe we should address that...." The line developer (I prefer the title line editor) serves as the canary in the coal mine in a sense. What is the game supposed to do, and is it doing it?

Now, I'm publishing the thing. As I've said elsewhere, I did this because a) I wanted to see my work get published; b) I wanted to see the other writers' work get published; and c) I think you deserve to see the game and saw a way to honor your original commitment to Cairn.

But at 4am, when I'm tweaking the language for Harmony, I remember.... I was just supposed to be writing a scenario.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen...

I give you baby platypi.


Today, I want to talk about zeitgeist. This is a fancy German term for "spirit of the time" or "spirit of the age." Here at the SoulJar offices (the desk in the corner of my bedroom) we use it to mean the spirit of the setting or game.

I think every game should have it's own spirit. It's own feel. Not to sound too preachy, but games have meaning. I think they have something to say, or at least a point of view under which it operates. Call of Cthulhu is a perfect example. That game tries to embrace the nihilism of Lovecraft's work, and the Sanity mechanic provides that zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is the lens through with the game sees itself, and provides the meta-conditions that inform the rules.

Wow, that's pretty heavy for a game about squirrels.

I'll use an apophatic example ("apophatic" is a fancy word for knowing God negatively, through what he is not); a game that establishes a zeitgeist and doesn't stick to it. Dark Sun. In Dark Sun, magic is bad. Magic causes ecological devastation. The antagonists in Athas are magic users. If you want to do magical-type stuff, you've got to be a psionicist (which sells The Big Book of Psionics, but ok). So the world sets up its conditions, the lens through which it views itself, and then completely backs off it. Oh wait, there are also "good" magic users who don't cause ecological devastation. When I got to that part, I put the game down.

Now, you can make the case that the bad magic users wanted the quick and powerful way to use magic and made a moral choice, while the good magic users chose the slower, safer way. Ok. I don't agree. I think TSR realized that the guys who liked playing magic users wouldn't play their game, and so they got shoehorned back into the setting. In other words, TSR punted. They watered down a great setting for corporate/sales reasons.

I think a game should stick to its guns.

One of the things I didn't like about the Open Gaming License was that it bled out whatever zeitgeist already existed in a game. Fading Suns worked the way it did for a reason. Call of Cthulhu plays the way it does for a reason. Vampire is Vampire for a reason. The rules are there to tell you how to portray this kind of character or thus-and-such setting. Once every game tried to shoehorn itself into the d20 system, it lost something. Every character you played had feats, saving throws, class abilities.... No matter what game I played, no matter the setting, it felt like I was playing the same damned game. There was no zeitgeist.

Cairn has a zeitgeist. Today, I'm going to try to make that a bit stronger. Or at least, articulate it better. Now some of you might say "just write the last two freaking chapters and be done with it!" However, there are things in the game that don't match the zeitgeist of the game. This is all just a fancy, coffee-house way of saying I'm going to attempt to fix how Drives work in this game.

Drives are pretty important. They're something you pick for your PC that tells you why you go on adventures. While the other hedgehogs sit around harrumphing that someone should do something about the Dire Rats raiding the town, you grab your cudgel and pack. Why? Maybe you want to build something lasting. Maybe you're just curious. However, I think there should be a way to reinforce that; some reward for actually acting according to your Drive. So that Drive isn't just something on your character sheet, but something you actually roleplay.

This is the kind of thing I mean when I say I'm trying to strengthen the zeitgeist.

Does any of this make sense? I feel I'm not making sense.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Putting Out the Call

I don't know who "Armadox" is, but he recently posted something to the Cairn Kickstarter page that was right on. It was to Update #27

"It's all about keeping yourself connected to your fanbase. And yes, the second we tossed money at this, we became your fanbase as much as anything else." 

Man, do I agree with that. I've talked to a few people on the business end of the hobby, and that's something that really stuck out to me. You are fans of Cairn. And you haven't even seen a game yet. That was a big motivator for me to pick this up -- you're fans. You deserve something for all your support. 

"As for the projects lateness, you're so deep in that hole there's no point in taking that into consideration. You have no deadline on getting this out save that the words "as soon as you can" should be put atop the project, Production delay is the 400 lb. gorilla on Ross's back now."

Can I get an "Amen!"? 

"What you didn't do, what would have helped you in a way that would have fixed half your issues and set your goals up correctly, was if you had an issue with the game, you could have came to those who took the time to back you and asked for help. How many of us backing you are artists like myself, scriptwriters, gamers or the ilk who would have been willing to toss a few hours at it to help you out? "

And this is what triggered this blog post. I've gotten some people offering to help me out with this. Bill Bridges, Wolfgang Baur, Caias Ward... I'm really fortunate to have so many friends in the hobby games industry, and what's really great is that we actually do help each other out as much as we can. Sometimes, I think that's easy for people to forget, because this is also a business. 

So, Armadox, whoever you are, I'll take you up on your offer. If anyone knows who he really is, I like the cut of his jib and would love to talk to him. In fact, if you're in the business, how about you leave a comment here so I can start building some kind of brain trust or cabinet or something? Or, as always, you can email me at 

Brand New Day

The past 24-hours have been a whirlwind of activity here. I've read every email I've gotten, been monitoring what's going on over at the Cairn Kickstarter page (even though I can't post, I can read), and been obsessively hitting the "refresh" button on this page. I'm trying to be proactive. 

For the record, right now Souljar Games is just me. I've got friends who are willing to help, but this is my endeavor. I say this because I want to dispel any thoughts that somehow I'm a big game company (or even small game company). This is a garage operation. Or it would be if I had a garage. That doesn't mean to say this is some fly-by-night, shaky operation. I've done this dance many times as the line developer at Last Unicorn Games and Decipher. I know how to put together a schedule and a product, and get it out the door. This is the first time I'm doing it for myself.... 

I want to start a new page for the Cairn RPG. It's a brand new day. So let me start by telling you where things stand with the text. 

One of the things that has been bandied about on the Kickstarter page is the idea that I somehow got involved in the process and complicated it. People keep saying they want their "beer & pretzels" game. That's partially my fault, because in an earlier posting there I said I was adding "crunch." Let's be clear. That was marketing-speak because at the time I was working for Castle Nystul and had to put a happy face on things. What I meant to say was "I am adding the game to the game." 

I received a number of files in late December. They consisted of a central mechanic, some notes on things like Drives and Traits, and some notes on classes. I think I have the original files I was sent somewhere. I think they consist of some 5,000 words or thereabouts. So your "beer & pretzels" game was "roll 1d12 and beat a target number" and some notes. Go play. How do the stats on your character sheet affect the roll? No idea. How do I improve my rolls through experience. No clue. What stuff do I get from my profession? Uh, hang on... 

So I had to take those notes and turn them into a polished product. I put the actual game in the game. That's what I was doing for two months. Actually writing the "beer & pretzels" game. 

Which brings me to my next point. I'm not sure what you expected from a "beer & pretzels" game. To me, that says you expected a simple game of killing monsters and taking their stuff. Some kind of "Mouseguard Lite." In fact, I'd love to discuss what your expectations were for Cairn. What did you hope to see from this game? When you saw the art and read the Kickstarter, what did you imagine in your head? 

As it stands, much of the game is written as Pathfinder for Animals with simpler mechanics (actually, not that simple. Magic item creation is a mess, for example). Some of it is written as a simple storytelling game. It's a game that's a bit schizophrenic at this stage. So part of what I'm doing is picking a direction and focus for the game (a zeitgeist, if you will), and making it a unified whole. Maybe it should be Pathfinder for Animals. Maybe it should be more. Personally, I'm aiming for something that captures the whimsy of Jeff Laubenstein's artwork. When I read Mike Nystul's short story (I don't recall, did you guys see that?), my heart felt joy. I want a game that instills whimsy and joy, while also giving you guys something to fight for. 

Where does the text itself stand? Some of the professions don't work. The central Harmony mechanic can be expanded to other areas of the rules (thus actually making it central). The text needs a "voice." Magic items and monsters need to be completely re-written. The central concept of being Dire needs to be better explained and codified. I have a list of tweaks and changes that have to be made to make this an effective game. 

I'm opening up this process and letting you in on my thoughts. I'm inviting you to participate. Showing you what's going on behind the curtain. I want to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. 

Review: Light-bot for iPhone and iPad

Light-bot by Danny Yaroslavski is a simple programming puzzle. It has cute graphics and a decent interface (apart from a couple of quirks), but I'm not convinced about the quality of the puzzles.
The underlying idea is not new and has been done several times in the past. You indirectly control a robot, by writing a program composed of basic commands like "walk", "turn right", and so on. The goal is to lit up all the blue tiles by using the "light" command over them.
Subroutines are quickly introduced; you can write up to two of them, and have the corresponding commands to call them. You can create infinite loops by using the "call" command at the end of a subroutine. The game calls this "recursion", but it's misleading to use that name since there is no concept of a call stack, and when the "return" statement is introduced, it actually goes back to the FIRST call to the subroutine.
You have a limited number of slots for your commands, so most puzzles require you to take advantage of repeating patterns in order to make your program short enough. The game often forces you to use subroutines exclusively, by leaving only one slot available in the main program buffer.
Overloading is an interesting addition. The "light" command works differently depending on which tile the robot is on, e.g. it will operate elevators or change the robot's color.
Conditional commands are introduced in later levels. You can assign a color to some commands, meaning that they will be executed only if the robot is of that color. This feature isn't versatile enough to make interesting programs, because you can change the robot's color only when it's on a special tile.
My main gripe with this game is that many of the puzzles tend to be tedious more than challenging. Part of the problem is that it's difficult to edit the program if you make a mistake: you can only delete commands, not insert new ones, so if you need to insert a command in the middle of the program you have to rewrite everything after it.
All in all, the feeling when playing through the levels (which must be solved strictly in order) is that there's a lot of repetition and you are just using the same technique over and over which nothing more to discover.

There's a free version too if you want to give it a try.

Another similar game worth checking out is Robozzle, which appears to have deeper gameplay thanks to the different way in which it handles conditionals.


Logical Reasoning★★★☆☆
User Interface★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★☆☆
Saves Partial Progress
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©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Cairn Companion

I've been looking at the stats for this page, and many of you are going to the main announcement, and seem to be passing up the other post. This is the place where you will receive all Cairn RPG information from now on. If you have a question about the Kickstarter (miniatures, plushies, blah blah blah) then talk to Mike over there. If you have a question about the actual game, this is your place. I urge you to become a follower so you get email updates when I post here. I want you guys to be a part of the process.

First, I want to thank all of you for your expressions of support in your emails. It's very gracious of you, and I want to thank you for your continued support. 

Second, I've been getting tons of questions about shipping costs. As I said in the original announcement, the game is 70-80 percent done. So I'd like to finish the writing and design work before we get to the shipping. When we get closer to shipping, you'll get emails (which is why I'm collecting email addresses) and I'll post something here. 

Finally, I want to get to the #1 question I've gotten so far. One that's a huge surprise to me, since I didn't think it was on anyone's radar. What about the Cairn Companion? 

Now, call me goofy, but I'm not sure why people are worried about the second book in the line when the first one hasn't come out yet. But if you're asking about it, then it's on your collective minds, and I'm answering it. 

Not to sound like a money-hungry businessman, but I wouldn't have taken over the Cairn RPG if I didn't see room for growth. I have a list of Cairn supplements I'd like to see produced. I plan on doing a Cairn Companion. It will be a separate book, and the first expansion. Obviously, at this stage, I cannot say when that will occur. 

The big question seems to hinge on its relationship to the Cairn Kickstarter. You paid for it, and you want it. That's completely understandable. 

I cannot say at this time if I'm going to be able to give away another god-knows-how-many books. I don't want to give you an unqualified "yes" only to find out that I can't afford it. I don't want to make promises I can't keep. 

I will tell you this: If I can make it happen, I will. I hope that suffices for now. 

What Took So Long?!

One of the things you'll learn about me, if you didn't know this already, is that I like to write and I like to talk. Mostly, I like to talk about writing. So you can expect frequent updates from me here while the design process is on-going. I'm going to talk about the design process here, and my experiences with building a game company, and even come to you with questions...

As I said in a comment, I am unable to post to the Cairn Kickstarter backer page simply because I wasn't a backer. So if you want to talk Cairn RPG, or SoulJAR Games, or just generally ask questions, this is the place to do it.

It occurs to me that one of the questions you may have is "what took you so long?!"

That's a valid question. Mike Nystul and I have been talking about my acquiring the rights to Cairn for some two months. Two months with no real news (which drove you backers crazy, I know).

Believe it or not, starting a game company isn't all that easy. First of all, in order to acquire the rights for the Cairn IP, I had to do a lot of due diligence. This spanned not only gathering information about the Cairn RPG itself, but also the Cairn Kickstarter. How much to miniatures cost? What goes into making them? Where do I print books? How much does that cost? I had to figure out what I was getting into, and what I could take on.

Secondly, I had to get my ducks in a row. I had to talk to talk to people about actually founding a company. It does me no good to take on something of this magnitude without, say, having people to go to for layout. What graphic designers are out there? How much do they cost? When do they have time to actually get to doing the graphic design? I had to figure out how I was going to get this done.

Lastly, I had to go through all the legal rigamarole of actually transferring the rights.

This is what's taken me so long, and why you had to wait for news. I didn't want news to you backers to trickle out. And if I couldn't pull it all together, I didn't want to see you all disappointed. I wanted to make sure I could deliver.

A Message to all Backers of the Cairn RPG

Dear Cairn Backers,

Real, substantial news has been a long time coming. I hope here to clear up a little of the confusion around the Cairn Kickstarter, let you know what’s going on, and what’s coming up next.

First, this is not Mike from Castle Nystul. I am Ross A. Isaacs; some of you may remember me from a previous update. I have freelanced for Chaosium Inc., Holistic Game Design, White Wolf, and AEG, and I’ve been employed as a full-time employee at Last Unicorn Games and Decipher. I am a seasoned professional with a proven track record for producing quality game products.

My involvement with Cairn, up until this point, was as a freelance writer and editor. I joined the project in 2012 because I truly felt it was a wonderful game in a unique setting, and brought something new, fresh, and charming to the tabletop gaming world.

When Castle Nystul announced that all of the capital from their three Kickstarters (Axes & Anvils, Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon, and Cairn) had been exhausted, I was as surprised as you. All three projects were effectively on hold, waiting on whatever solution Castle Nystul could craft, which could mean potentially months (or even years) until new funding could be secured.

Mike was looking for a solution. I decided to step up and do something. Which is why I’m writing to you today.

Cairn is a wonderful title with a great deal of potential, into which the writers and contributors have poured a great deal of themselves. It’s a truly delightful family-oriented game. It’s a game that you’ll be happy to play with your kids.

You want the game. I believe it deserves to be out there. So I’m going to make that happen.

When it became clear that the Cairn rights were available, I approached Mike about transferring the intellectual property -- the writing, artwork, and any future Cairn projects. He agreed, and we’ve negotiated a settlement. The Cairn title is in capable hands and hopefully my industry pedigree reassures you in that regard.

I am forming a small, independent game publishing company with help from a few of my friends.

The Bad News
You might have read a few things in various places, or been told the status of the project outright. I’d like to draw a line in the sand and look forward, not backwards.

We had a version Mike was considering publishing in his rush to get something out. But the work stopped when the money ran out and the net result is not something I am comfortable bringing to market. Moreover, key elements were left on the cutting room floor and two chapters have yet to be written. The book is not finished nor is it in layout.

All of the funds raised by Castle Nystul’s three Kickstarters is gone. Getting Cairn into print will be at my own expense. As I am sure you will agree, this is quite the financial undertaking. I hope you will understand that any promises made by Castle Nystul during the crowd-funding process remain with Castle Nystul. This means that no other perks can come from my company. I simply do not have the money to cover the production costs for the plushies, the miniatures, the storybook, the hardcover Cairn rules, and so on.

I am taking on the Cairn IP and future publishing rights. I am not taking on the responsibilities of the Cairn Kickstarter.

But There’s Good News…
I’ve got a large personal investment in this that is about to get even larger. I have good friends and family who have invested in the project. You paid Castle Nystul for a copy of Cairn. I want to make that happen. Call me “old fashioned” but I believe this is just the right thing to do.

I am therefore offering all of Castle Nystul’s backers a FREE copy of Cairn from the first print run. I will have to ask you for shipping, but I assure you that it will be for whatever I have to pay to get the book in your hands. And I’ll be offering pickup of your copy from future conventions where Cairn has a presence (wherever possible). More details on this to come.

I understand that you might not be happy with this. You’ve already paid money, and gotten nothing for it. All I can do is get you the roleplaying game you were promised. It’s the best I can do.

If you want your FREE copy of Cairn, please email

What Happens Now?
To the beginning of August, I will be finalizing Cairn writing and artwork. Layout is slated to begin on the third week of August.

In mid-September, the layout should be done. I will provide you with a PDF at this time. The book goes to the printer.

Printing should be done by the third week in October.

Any Cairn backer who wishes to get a FREE copy (plus shipping & handling) will be sent their book at the end of October.

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will address your concerns as openly and honestly as I can. From now on, please visit further updates and information on the Cairn RPG. Thank you.

Ross A. Isaacs

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Painted Leviathan Crusader Nearing Completion

A  while back I was searching for a painter that could handle the Leviathan Crusader and Mortis as well as a few Eisenkern Stromtroopers. My search lead me to Poland, arguably some of the most talented painters in the world.

I was searching for a painter that could take the large open surfaces and give them a nice shaded worn and weathered look, someone who could bridge the gap between historic vehicles and Sci-fi. I stumbled on Przemyslaw Szymczyk, an extremely talented painter who had all the qualities I was looking for, and to my good fortune, an opening in his schedule. 

You can see what he did with the Stormtroopers here
Here you can see some W.I.P. pics of the Crusader. I think you will agree that his work is simply AMAZING! Przemyslaw has expressed an interest in painting the Leviathan Mortis and I am more than happy to oblige.

 I hope that I have the opportunity to work with him on future projects as well, he is a fantastic artist.
 Lol.. NUTCRACKER and hello Kitty on the guns ;), this is all Przemyslaw

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Review: Stickets for iPhone and iPad

Match 3 puzzle games are a dime a dozen on the App Store. I don't find them particularly interesting, and usually stay well clear of them.
Stickets, however, is pretty darn good. It is highly original, exceptionally polished, and bloody hard.
Stickets is the lastest game released by the Australian developer Wanderlands. One of their earlier creations is the brilliant Impasse, which is currently only available as a Flash game. Sadly, it is so good that it has been unofficially ported multiple times to iPhone, and I even reviewed one of those copycats a few weeks ago, not knowing that it wasn't an original game (don't look for that review now, I've removed it).

But let's go back to Stickets. You play on a 5x5 board. It starts out nicely empty, but that won't last for long. At the bottom of the screen there are four L trominoes, each one using a random permutation of three colors. Every move consists of picking one of the tromionoes, and placing it in a free place on the board. When you do so, the tromino is replaced by another one with the same shape but different color permutation, and your score increases by 1.
When you put the pieces on the board, you need to try creating areas of the same color. When an area contains at least three tiles, you can tap on it to make it disappear. You can make larger areas if you like, but that won't give you more points.

When the board is full and you can't make any more moves, it's game over.

Playing this game is surprisingly challenging and interesting. Even if the rules are very simple, the random permutation of the colors makes every move different from the previous one. The game keeps you on the edge of your seat all the time, because even a single mistake can be fatal. You don't know in advance which pieces you'll be served next, so you need to take into account the four pieces that you can see, and develop a strategy to keep different options open.

When the game ends, the imprudent player will blame misfortune, because they didn't receive the pieces they were waiting for. The wise player will know that they made a mistake, which prevented them from taking advantage of the pieces they had available.

In principle, if you didn't make mistakes, you could play forever. Thankfully, the game will save the board state when you quit, and allow you to resume from where you left. I can imagine that some dedicated players will achieve very high scores over the course of weeks or months.

Here are a couple of tips to help you going:
- try to prefer L shaped matches. Avoid I shaped matches because after you remove them, you can't fill the space with a new piece.
- avoid creating checkerboard patters, which would be hard to remove. Try to ensure that every time you put down a piece, at least two of its tiles match the color of neighboring tiles.

Of course, that's easier said than done.
For more help, see the Strategy Guide that I wrote.

So far, I've only talked about Space mode, which is the game's primary mode. But there's more. Score 50 points in Space mode (which might seem impossible at first, but it's quite doable after you develop a decent strategy) and you'll unlock Time mode.

Time mode keeps the basic mechanics, but turns the game on its head. While Space moves at a deliberate pace and encourages careful, thorough thinking, Time forces you to think on your feet and move as quickly as possible. Every piece you put on the board turns into a time bomb, which will explode after a few seconds.
You have 12 lives at the beginning, you lose a life every time a bomb explodes. When you lose all lives, it's game over. In this mode, you can't get stuck: even if you do, eventually some tiles will explode and free more space. You earn more lives by making matches of 4 or more tiles, so it's necessary to develop a strategy less focused on precise placement of the pieces and more on creating large groups of matching tiles. And doing it quickly.

There would be a third game mode, called Puzzle. It sounds intriguing, and from what I could see peeking into the game's package, it features interesting challenges like:
- fill the whole grid
- lose in 4 moves (place 4 pieces so that there is no more room for another one)
- create a symmetrical pattern in exactly 5 moves
and my favorite:
- prove that Stickets in Space mode is infinite.

Unfortunately I can't yet talk about Puzzle mode because, despite my best efforts, I'm nowhere near the score of 50 in Time mode that would be needed to unlock it.

I think this is a major flaw in the game design, for multiple reasons. It's arbitrary, it's annoying, and it's just too hard for most players. Indeed, looking at the Game Center leaderboards (which, oddly, can't be accessed from inside the game) there are many people that have scored more than 50 points in Space mode, but few did the same in Time mode.

Maybe if I trained really hard I might be able to get that score, but the point is that I don't want to. I like relaxed thinking and I don't want to be forced to play with a clock ticking against me. So for the time being my optimal strategy to beat Time mode is just... waiting for a game update to be released :-)

I'm also going to mention that the user interface features three different themes, which affect both the color palette and the sound. Sound is very well done, and changes significantly depending on the game mode and the theme.

The creative mind behind this game is a talented 20 years old, Harry Lee. There's an interesting article about him on Kotaku. I'm sure he'll make great things. He'll just need to tune the difficulty of his games bearing in mind that most people in the world are a lot less intelligent than him :-)

Stickets is definitely one of the most interesting puzzle games released this year. It just needs to be fixed to allow playing Puzzle mode without being forced through Time mode, and then it'll be a winner.

Update 21th June 2013: version 1.1.2 has just been released, addressing the above problem. Thumbs up!


Logical Reasoning★★★★☆
User Interface★★★★☆
Loading Time★★★★★
Saves Partial Progress
Status Bar

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Price of Entertainment

Pricing games…

I have no idea how much to sell a game for.  And this is fascinating to me.

On the Xbox Live Indie Games market, it’s pretty clear that that selling a game for more than 80MSP ($1) is suicide.  Even bumping it up to 240MSP ($3) will reduce your sales be MORE than three times.  I think this is pretty well documented by people who have changed the price of their game.

Now, I’ve ported Hidden in Plain Sight over to the Ouya, and I left the minimum price at a dollar.  That only seems fair, right?  Why should it cost more on one system than another?  It’s the same product, it should cost the same.

However, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the players themselves that this is too cheap, and they’d gladly pay more. 

What I ended up doing was adding the option to pay any number of choices: $1, $3, $5, $10, $15, or $50.  And this has worked out really well.  About 40% of the people spend $1, and 55% spend $3 or $5, and then there’s the occasional $10 and $15.  What this indicates to me is that I was really leaving money on the table before.

Another thing that is strange to consider is that most people wouldn’t hesitate to spend $10 to go out and see a movie.  In fact, four friends could easily drop $50 collectively for a two hour experience, if you included a drink and some candy or something.  So why is it so difficult to even consider spending $5 or $10 on something that (according to some people) offers more entertainment value?

I’m not casting aspersions… I have a hard time spending even a few dollars on a quality iPad app, so I’m guilty of the same thing.  It’s just weird.

Anyways, based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I’m going to add a “donation” product to the game.  I figure if people want to give me extra money, I should make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

And finally, I’d like to go on record again and say that I’m not doing this for the money.  It’s a nice side effect, but I’d much rather get a nice email or tweet from someone than a dollar.  In other words, the happy feeling I get from making a game that has brought some family and friends closer together is worth more to me than a dollar.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

June 10-June 16

We did not have any new releases on the Purple Duck Games side of the business this week but we were able to get out a number of things on our 4 Winds Fantasy Games side of the business including:

This is our first card product to be released using the card options at Rpgnow. They are not listed on DriveThruCards because OBS wants DriveThruCards to only list stand-alone type card games and not card supplements for roleplaying games. I think it is going to be very hard to get these cards into consumers hands because as a print-only product there is no way for reviewers to get them. 

Back of the cards
Front of the Cards
If you want to get a set of review drop me an email and I'll see what I can do about getting a set printed and mailed to you.

Admittedly, I could send out the PDF used to make the cards to reviewers but I want the reviewer to have the cards in their hands and both Perry and I feel the physical cards are worth the small cost for making them a 
                                                                physical product.

So far there have been no sales of the cards beyond the set I ordered for Perry and myself.

2) Deus ex Historica continued this week with The Second Chance Squad and The Watchful Gaze.

Going Forward
With summer holidays quickly approaching for Perry and I, I am hoping that we will be able to kick things into higher gear and help clear up some of the backlog of products that have piled up behind me during January through June. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Quick Look: Gua-Le-Ni for iPhone and iPad

Gua-Le-Ni by the Italian developer Double Jungle is not the kind of puzzle game that I usually review (or play!) because it's more a game of speed and memory than of logic. However it is so bizarre and artistic that I thought it deserved a mention.
Originally released in 2011 for iPad only, it has recently been updated to support iPhone as well.
If you are wondering what Gua-Le-Ni actually means, it's just the name of the game's designer, Stefano Gualeni.

Essentially, the game consists of looking at monstrous creatures, composed of parts of various animals, and reconstruct their names by rotating and reordering the dice at the bottom of the screen.
For example, this creature has the head of a Rabbit and the body of a Condor, hence it is called a Rab-Dor.
Creatures can be up to 4 parts long. Here's a 3 parts one, a Lob-Rus-Hog.

There are three game modes: in the two main ones, you need to compose the name of the creatures while they walk across the screen; if they walk out before you've finished, it's game over. There are also complications like feeding the creatures with their preferred food in order to slow them down.

The third game mode is totally different. It is called "Poetry", and it is accompanied by verses and illustrations of an odd poem. This mode requires memory rather than speed. Some creatures walk across the screen, and after the last one has left you have to compose the names of all of them. When you have to remember 3 creatures, each one 3 parts long, this starts getting difficult. Definitely a good training for memory.

Where the game really shines is presentation. Most of the user interface revolves around a book with realistically flipping pages and gorgeous hand drawn graphics. Sound is equally good, and the humorous voice acting fits the mood.

A selling point of the game is that biometrics were used to finely balance the difficulty curve, optimising its effect on the players. There's an article by Stefano Gualeni on Gamastura talking about this, and other articles can be found on his personal site.

If you are looking for a diversion from logic puzzles, this is surely a worthy one to look at.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Update: Fields 1.0.4

Fields by Kevin Langdon has just been updated and it addressed the criticism I made in my previous review.
In its first release the game showed a lot of potential: the flower theme fits perfectly the mechanics of the puzzles. Unfortunately, I was disappointed that some puzzles didn't have a unique solution. I'm happy to see that this issue has been fully fixed in the update.
There are 100 new puzzles to solve, and two extra packs of 100 puzzles of size 4x5 and 5x6 that can be unlocked through in-app purchases. Hopefully more packs at larger sizes will be available in a future update.
Now that the puzzles have a unique solution, they are a joy to solve. I wish the user interface were just a bit smoother in the transitions, but apart from that the game is strongly recommended.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

May 27th - June 9th

Thankfully we are out of May and finally into June. I'm coming up to my annual holidays in a couple of weeks and with then be able to devote almost full-time effort to Purple Duck Games and 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming products.

4 Winds Fantasy Gaming
It has been quite on the 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming from the last couple of weeks as I've been working on finishing up Purple Mountain IV: The Magmadome and on a number of day job projects that have been completely consuming my spare time. That will change this week however because we are back to work on 4WFG stuff and should be releasing three things this week.

First off there will be two new Deus ex Historica releases featuring two superhero teams of the silver age--The Second Chance Squad and The Watchful Gaze.

The Second Chance Squad
Secondly, we have finally made some movement on getting Bestiary II - Monster Knowledge Cards produced. What is even more awesome is that the cards will actually be cards through the DriveThruCards program. Because of number of monsters in the bestiary, the cards will be sold in manageable and affordable sets. The first will be out this week and contain 54 cards from (Achaierai to Centipede, Titan). The knowledge items were written by Perry and follow the pattern established by 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming.

Purple Duck Games
It may seem like a quiet week for the Purple Duck Games side of things but that is only because we just finished up Purple Mountain IV: The Magmadome.

Now turning our attention back to DCC for a little while. Daniel Bishop is creating a series of short adventures for Dungeon Crawl Classics. He describes the series as:

Any role-playing game session can take a left turn at Albuquerque, leaving the poor Game Master wondering what to do next.  This is even more true for the dedicated Dungeon Crawl Classics judge, who discovers that patron quests, divine disapproval, and the requests of gods to pay back divine favor can make the game take incredible new turns with the roll of a few dice.  Add to this the advice urging players to “Quest For It” when they want something unusual for their players, and you have a potent stew for gaming, but also a situation in which the judge may want strong DCC elements with a minimum of preparation required.

The Campaign Element (CE) series attempts to address these specific areas.  Now, when your wizard is looking for a spell, your cleric is sent on a mission from her deity, or your thief simply wants to find a location where stealth and a cunning mind are paramount, you will have an answer at your fingertips.  Weave these campaign elements into your world, mesh them into other modules and areas of your own creation, and watch the “Appendix N” vibe of your games grow.

In addition, for various reasons sometimes only a few players were available for a night’s gaming.  Each Campaign Element is short enough to be played through by most groups in only a single session.  That doesn’t mean that the value of the area is limited to a single session – each adventure includes notes on “squeezing it dry”…effectively getting the maximum re-use from your investment.

While I am working away at DCC and finishing up the 4WFG releases for this week, please stop by Endzeitgeist's site and read the review of Josh McCrowell's Heroes of the Fenian Triarchy

Lands of Porphyra logo by Michael Scotta
Heroes of the Fenian Triarchy is the first book to really start to explore the Lands of Porphyra Setting. We have big plans for Porphyra and have been slower revealing more and more details about this unique setting through releases like Gods of Porphyra, Fehr's Ethnology, Legendary Classes: Covenant Magic, as well as our Legendary Treasures line that first made mention of some of the lands. 

Each of the Heroes of... books will feature options for players and gamemasters to base their adventures in one region of this expansive setting. The full setting overview should be available in the fall (map/art/revisions) permitting. 

So far Heroes of the Fenian Triarchy is 50% paid for and its starting to garner some notice. In addition, it will be the first product that Purple Duck Games will have available through distribution channels. 

Okay, I better get going I have some DCC to do then more Paths of Power, Deus ex Historica and then perhaps its time to finish up Legendary Classes: Rune Magic. Its kind of nice to have too much to do. I can't wait until July to really start digging into some of Purple Duck Games and 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming's backlog.

Oh, and Purple Duck Games has been invited to the Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous in the fall. I've accepted the invite and will be heading to Montana in October for the convention. This will be my first gaming convention as a publisher or a player.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: Bloom Box for iPhone and iPad

Bloom Box took me by surprise. Seeing that it was advertised on the home page of Touch Arcade, I expected it to be entirely targeted at casual gamers, but its mechanics are actually quite good.

What intrigued me was the last sentence of the app description: "In collaboration with Pyrosphere".
Pyrosphere is the developer of the excellent Lazors, so that was certainly a good start.
Indeed, after some research, it turns out that this release by Nexx Studio is a remake, with better graphics, of a game with the same title that Pyrosphere released in 2011. The original game is no longer available on the App Store.
The playing area is an 8x8 grid representing a garden. In the garden there are a few boxes, most of which can be moved around. One of the boxes cannot be moved and is connected by a white line to a button at the bottom of the screen. When you tap the button, a drop will be shot toward the box, and the box will explode, shooting more drops on nearby tiles. If those drops hit other boxes, they'll explode too, causing a chain reaction.
To solve a puzzle you just need to hit all the boxes, but to solve it properly you also need to hit three stars. There can be multiple ways to do it.
Note also that there are holes in the garden. You can't put a box over those tiles.
The labels on the boxes indicate which tiles they hit when they explode. Initially you play with blue and red boxes, which shoot orthogonally and diagonally.
Later, green boxes appear, which shoot orthogonally but 2 tiles away. Helpfully, when you drag a box the tiles targeted by it are highlighted.
Further into the game, you find purple boxes, which shoot like the Knight moves in chess.
I haven't solved all puzzles yet so there might be even more box types to see.

The puzzles are well designed and even with a small number of boxes, the solution can be counterintuitive and elusive. Logic helps a lot in weeding out impossible arrangements and isolate the solution.

There are currently 120 puzzles, split across three "gardens" plus a "Star Garden". The levels in the three gardens are unlocked in sequence, and the ones in the Star Garden are unlocked one by one when you earn enough stars. The Star Garden puzzles are apparently supposed to be slightly harder than the others.

The puzzles in this game aren't very difficult, but they aren't trivial either, and I found them to be very fun. It's definitely worth a try; there is also a free version available.


Logical Reasoning★★★★☆
User Interface★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★★★
Saves Partial Progress
Status Bar

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Hiring: Gameplay Programmer / Designer

Frictional Games is once again looking for someone to join our ranks! This time we are looking for a Gameplay Programmer / Designer to employ full-time.

We are currently working on a new, currently super secret, horror game where we aim to take what we learned from Amnesia to the next level. This is what you will be a part of creating.

A core feature of our games are atmospheric and immersive game worlds. You will be crafting these in collaboration with other members of the team, making sure that gameplay is smooth, that narrative works  and that the right themes are evoked.  It is very creative work, but it also require someone who is not afraid to tweak and test a lot.

Instead of building everything around a fun core mechanic, our games derive most of their engagement from interaction with the world. Every scene is a sort of mini-game. This requires you to be at home with both programming and design. We do not require any extremely deep programming knowledge, but need you to feel comfortable at implementing a variety of gameplay in a 3D game.

More specific tasks include:
  • Implementing world events and activities based on a basic design document.
  • Adding and updating core gameplay features.
  • Code basic AI behavior for the creatures encountered,
  • To help out with the basic world and narrative design.
Of great importance is that fact that you will be working from home. Frictional Games does not have an office, so it is crucial that you are able to plan your day, and work without strict guidance.

Apart from this we also require the following:
  • That you live in Europe or able to move here.
  • Fluent in  English.
  • Have played a major role in completing at least one game.
  • Are well-versed in C++, C#, Java or similar.
  • Have worked on a game taking place in 3D.
  • Have a fast and stable internet connection.
Additional but non-essential requirements:
  • You are interested in design, especially for immersive/narrative focused games.
  • Have interest in sci-fi and horror.
  • Skills in 3D modelling.
  • Used to working in Unreal editor or similar.
If this sounds like something for you, send your CV to now!