Brandon Rollins and I share a common thread: We’ve both hired James Masino to do artwork for our games. I met Brandon by supporting his War Co.game on Kickstarter, and met James Masino by talking with Brandon afterward. Since then, James has completed a massive amount of artwork for Polyversal and has done an incredible job with each piece. This is a guest post from Brandon with a bit more about commissioning art as well as how that ties into his latest project, Highways & Byways. Thanks, Brandon!
And now, over to Brandon:
Tabletop games are undergoing a renaissance. Every single day, an exciting new project is being launched on Kickstarter. With the exhilaration of rapid growth come the difficulties of a crowded market. One way to stand out is to commission wonderful artwork for your game. In that sense, Byron and I share a unique experience: we’ve both commissioned artwork from the up-and-coming and immensely talented James Masino. My name is Brandon Rollins. I created War Co. and I’m creating Highways & Byways, a board game coming to Kickstarter in late March. It is a casual family board game for 2-4 players and takes 45-60 minutes to play. In it, you take an epic road trip across the United States. The art was done by none other than James Masino.
James’s debut into the tabletop game market was through my first game, War Co., an expandable card game set after the apocalyptic War of 2620. Early in the development of that game, I had no idea how I was going to get artwork. It was a massive project involving 300 unique pieces of art – one for every single card. I eventually found James through our mutual friend Alex. I knew Alex from when I used to play Minecraft, and Alex knew James from when they used to play Club Penguin. (You have to love networking in the gaming world…)
I told him about this absurd project I was taking on and he was so excited by the theme that he had to get involved. He took ownership of it and he left his indelible style in every piece of artwork in the game, to the extent where the game became known for its artwork. I was only able to offer an embarrassingly low wage at the time, but he moved up quickly because War Co. caught the eye of Byron. James later got a sweet gig working on Polyversal.
Many people imagine the creative process as the coalescence of mysterious forces guiding our hands – inspiration. That may be true for some, but when it comes to cranking out games like Byron and I do, there’s a much more pedestrian force at work – collaboration. Both of us come up with detailed technical and functional specs and clearly relay our expectations to our artist. For me, that means James alone and for Byron that means a team of two. Either way, our artwork comes from setting clear boundaries and rough timelines. Once these grounds rules are established, we let the artist(s) do their thing.
There are a lot of ways you can hint at what’s in your mind before turning over your project to an artist. You can write long stories like I did with War Co. for each card. You can send pictures of real life places, postcards, and travel brochures like I did with Highways & Byways. No matter what medium you use to share your ideas with an artist, you – even as a game developer – play a huge role in the artistic process simply by putting ideas into your artist’s head.
War Co. could have very easily been a death march of a project with its massive volume of work, unclear requirements, and low wages. While we both had a lot of fun with War Co., James and I both walked away with experiences that would benefit us going forward. For one, we started with much better technical specs because we knew what it took to get a game printed. I gave him clearer subject matter requirements with Highways & Byways. The project required a lot less art, but the pay was much better.
One thing I’ve come to notice in both War Co. and Highways & Byways is that James likes to accompany his artwork with brief stories. He can tell you about the history of a piece of art, even giving you extra for the lore. Here is an example…
“I imagined that the weakest reverse force field would barely do what it’s intended to do, and as a result, causes a small split in the space time continuum. The event of the attack hitting and the attack being deflected happen almost at the same time. The latter happens late- causing the timeline where the attack hit to be erased a second after the new timeline is written. We see this occurrence in the card. A time continuum tear is a 4D occurrence, so necessarily anything perceived within its lens isn’t specifically in the present – so, is the city in the background a pre-war flashback, or a bright new future?” -James Masino
This is what the creative process looks like. Take a few people who are passionate about ideas, set some ground rules, do the work, and see what happens. This is how Polyversal came to be, and it’s how War Co. and Highways & Byways came to be as well. More than anything else, this is what really drives home the excitement of the tabletop game renaissance for me – creative people sharing ideas (and artists). Thank you for reading!
Commissioning art for games is no easy task. The visual appeal is an important aspect of the overall product. How do people react when they see the art? How does it tell the story of the game? Is the artwork consistent? Generic? Evocative? Does it properly convey the game’s theme? Here are 5 tips on Commissioning artwork.
For Polyversal, I’ve been extremely busy on the artwork side of things. I’ve commissioned over 35 pieces of science fiction artwork (and more to come) from 2 different artists- Bruno Werneck (Tron: Legacy concept artist) and James Masino (War. Co. Card Game, Student, and up-and-coming major talent). Commissioning is no easy task. When you’re creating a game that is set in the future like Polyversal, or any game for that matter, the visual appeal is an important aspect of the overall product. How do people react when they see the images you present? How does it tell the story of the game? Is the artwork consistent? Generic? Evocative? Does it properly convey the game’s theme?
In general, as a publisher or art director, you write narratives for each piece of commissioned work noting the specific size and details of the piece’s vision.
Here are a few tips and an example narrative for designers / publishers working with artists to create imagery for games. This post skips the contractual side of things, which is also important for you and the artist and assumes you have already come to terms for the particular work the artist will do. At the end of this post, you’ll read a Commissioning Narrative for 1 pieces of Polyversal artwork and see the actual final artwork from James Masino- along with his comments.
Tip 1: Be specific. When you write a narrative for a commissioned piece of art, the artist needs to know everything that you have in mind for the piece. If you don’t have a vision for the art, you cannot expect the artist to create their own for you- and if they do- what if it’s not what you had in mind? Be specific and write down every key aspect of the piece that’s important to you as the publisher / designer / art director. It’s helpful to brainstorm a list of points you want to convey in your narrative before you write it.
Tip 2: Be flexible. You’re hiring an artist for their skill in creating the image you want. Each artist will have a certain style and set of strengths that you’ve likely been drawn to when searching for an artist. Work to their strengths and let them shine through. Have some flexibility in the final image and confidence in the artist’s ability to fill in details for you if you don’t describe them. This can include things such as lighting, color, expressions of people, mood, or environmental details. In some narratives, I like to add “___ is up to you” (lighting, time of day, etc.) to specifically note a point of flexibility.
Tip 3: Be sure. Nothing will turn off the artists you pay- like changing something mid-course. Before you submit your narrative, read it over- three times- and submit it once. Make sure it makes sense and describes whatever vision you have in your head for the piece completely and that parts not described specifically will fall within the realm of your flexibility. If you aren’t sure you want the piece or aren’t sure on the details, or it isn’t complete, don’t send it. Most importantly, try not to add details or changes based on things not previously described once the piece is submitted for final review. For one, this can cost you money depending on the change policy of the artist, and two, it will cost you time.
Tip 4: Be prompt. This applies to answering the artist’s questions during the creation process, amending contracts as required if something is added or changes, reviewing anything submitted for feedback, and most importantly, paying the artist when it’s complete (within the terms and timeframe of the agreed upon contract).
Tip 5: Be appreciative. Support your artists. Pay them first. Share their work and your appreciation of it. If the art is for a game that is crowdfunded, share the completed pieces (or a selection of them) with backers. And always credit the artist. This helps show appreciation for the good work they’ve done to visually complete your game. It also helps keep them in business as an artist which helps you in the future and helps them now and in the future.
Each piece starts with a vision. Each vision is transcribed into a narrative. Each narrative becomes art.
Here is an example commissioning narrative sent to artist James Masino for one piece that will appear in the rules of Polyversal. This piece helps tell part of the story of the game and is not for an actual game piece. It is important to set a mood of mystery in the game, which I think James nailed here. I hope you’ll agree. Feel free to add your comments.
Narrative: ScanFab Facility, 8.5″x5″ landscape
This piece depicts a structure- the inner workings of a ScanFab facility- secretive and sterile. Mostly white with hints of UN Blue. Or even Orange highlighted stripes and features in the walls and floors similar to Tron: Legacy. It’s a fairly large facility inside with massive power requirements. It’s also fairly bright but there are no windows since it is likely underground. Think of a rather large Subway station with a utopian feel… but for a different kind of transportation…
Regular ‘selected’ citizens (i.e. strong, healthy, fairly young) are lined up and about to go through a ScanFab ‘sending unit’ which I picture as fairly large. Maybe just the entrance to the room is shown…. Again, think sterile. Perhaps all are all dressed the same in some sort of hospital gown like clothing. There are men and women in line, maybe a few are talking. But nothing is forced. They’re selected and eager to be here because of it. However, there are also armed guards similar to a checkpoint at the airport… but only a few. There is a mystery of what occurs on the other side. No one has any belongings with them. Citizens are lined up to be ‘scanned’ for evacuation. But what happens to their bodies here? We won’t reveal that in this piece. We may never reveal it…
The idea of scanfabbing in the storyline is that the UN controls all of the sending and receiving units built for the purpose of evacuation. The receivers are in distant colonies (set up by those pioneers). The scan portion is in the sending process. The person is scanned in full and ‘sent’ to the receiver- scan information transmitted at the speed of radio to the receivers (i.e. just under the speed of light). The receiver portion is the ‘fab’ portion where the scanned subject is ‘built’ or fabricated from the same raw materials found in all humans- 99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. About 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. We may depict a receiving unit on a colony in another piece. An exact copy of the person is created on the receiving end- including the brain and all memories of the scanned subject from the sending unit. It’s like teleportation… but almost plausible?
This is Operation Polyversal- the mass evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people ‘selected’ to continue the human race off-world. They are evacuated only from UN-controlled countries and selected using some criteria that’s top secret. Not everyone can go- there isn’t time to set up enough space and life support off-world, we haven’t found a substitute for Earth yet- and there are just too many people on Earth. Plus… would the UN want them all?
And of course- there is mild protest to this whole process 😉
Here’s the final piece, which was accepted without any changes:
(UN ScanFab facility for Polyversal. Art by James Masino)
James had these comments about the piece:
This one was the most challenging. It’s the first time I’ve tried to depict a crowd of people before! Nonetheless, creating this one was an interesting debate. There were a lot of elements to work with in the description, and for the story’s sake, I emphasized some elements more than others. On one hand, we have people who have been selected to transport- and they’re excited in a more hospital atmosphere built to deceive the ScanFab’s true purpose. On the other hand, this is the mass evacuation of the planet in a militarized society, and there is reasonable mystery behind what the ScanFab facility really is. I wanted the atmosphere to echo that sort of mystery that exists in works like Tron or Star Trek, where the viewer, and both the characters within the painting are questioning the world they’re in. The mystery of what is on the other side is truly the pinnacle of the end result.
Whenever working with mystery in artwork, it always reminds me of the Ted Talk JJ Abrams did about this box of magic tricks his grandfather gave him when he was a kid- and still hasn’t opened since the mystery is more exciting than what’s actually within. Always something to strive for!
Hopefully you’ll find these tips useful- or at least see a bit of the process I go through when working with external artists for my games. Feel free to comment / share.
A brief CEW report from exhibiting at Gen Con in August 2016. The show was excellent. Check out some photos and thoughts about attending as a vendor.
Gen Con 2016 Report
Gen Con was an incredible show with a massive audience of nearly 61,000 attendees. Collins Epic Wargames was there this year for the first time since starting publishing wargames back in 2008. Back then, I attended Gen Con with a single release, Frontline General: Italian Campaign Introduction, and had no clue what I was doing. Since then, I’ve released 4 other games and I’m in production with Polyversal, which is a complete departure from the WWII line of games thus far. With more to show, 2016 was the time to return to where it all started for me.
Gen Con is a hard show to attend logistically (I think)- For me, it requires a drive halfway across the country (Eastern Virginia to Indiana), a lot of planning to go smoothly, and is generally pretty expensive all around when you factor in booth costs, travel expenses, food, insurance for the booth (yes, you have to have it), booth furniture, and more. Luckily, the staff at Gen Con and Fern does an incredible job with making sure everything goes well, which I’m sure is a challenge considering the massive scale of the show. Load in / load out isn’t very fun, but I will say it’s well organized and seems to work even if you have to wait 10-15 minutes for a spot.
I’ve attended and exhibited at shows 1/10th the size of Gen Con and had nothing but trouble- either receiving a badge that should have been ready, logistics with loading / unloading, security, or otherwise- so Kudos to Gen Con for their organization, on-point staff, and for making things simple and enjoyable for attendees and vendors. While exhausting as a vendor, it’s worth it to attend if you can get in. That said, there is a lot of competition for attention. Many people who are there will never come by your booth and many more who do will simply pass by in a ‘zombie state’ because there’s just so much to see.
To draw people into your booth is always a challenge- they must be interested at a glance, curious, and inquiring enough to ask about whatever it is you’re showing. Make it easy for them. And one tip as a vendor- Anyone who stops by should walk away with something- not a lot of gimmicky freebies- but- a business card with your website or a flyer about your latest product. That stuff is useful. I love free pens as much as anyone, but really, when was the last time you bought a product because the name was on a free pen you received? Give people information and knowledge about your company and what you do- they can then choose to use it to explore more about you if interested- or not. Either way, it’s professional, useful, and inexpensive.
My line of Spearpoint 1943 games was shown, demonstrated, and sold, but I also focused heavily on Polyversal. Those who stopped by included backers of the recent Polyversal kickstarter, many people new to CEW, and some who had heard of Polyversal but missed the kickstarter. It was nice to meet all who stopped by in person and show you the prototype, take you through some command and control demos, and run you through a combat example or two. I also featured two newly 3D-printed skyscraper master molds from The Phalanx Consortium, who is currently running their Terrain Kickstarter for these, which made our demo table look amazing. Here are a few photos from the event including a mix of booth pics, Polyversal pics, and Spearpoint 1943 demos. The line actually got longer for those attendees picking up badges on Wednesday- it wrapped outside and around the corner of the building. Amazing. I’m just glad I didn’t have to stand in it ;).
San Isabel National Forest December 16, 2130 Sector 29 – Coalition Area of Operations outside of Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Battlegroup Prowler 1954 (GMT)
Continuing their move to Checkpoint Omega, Blue Three’s vehicle commander, Corporal Stefan Gangestad was trying to discern the signatures of the other two contacts they had picked up right before engaging the Ares.
Feverishly working his onboard systems, he could not get a fix on what or where they were. They were as good as ghosts. A call from his driver broke his silent contemplation, “Nizzlebats one o’clock!”
He didn’t need to find those ghosts, they found him. Mercs, providing security for the complex?
Corporal Gangestad looked through the front viewport of his Scarab and confirmed the sighting; two Nizzlebat light grav-tanks had crested a low hill and were angled towards his position to cut him off. A spread of snow and soil rooster tailed out from the sides and rear of each craft, kicked up by the turbulence as both tanks hurtled at a high rate of speed toward them. The deafening bass thrum of the anti-grav drives at full power shook the Scarabs and everyone inside with their approach.
The Nizzlebats swung in his direction lining up their Light Plasma Cannons on his vehicle, they know I’m the jammer so they’re trying to hit us first, thought Gangestad.
“Blue, engage right!” Gangestad yelled into his mic. The three Scarabs faced to the right, presenting a smaller profile while simultaneously bringing their guns to bear. As he let off a quick snapshot, Gangestad feverishly sent off another brief contact report. “Blue Three engaging two Nizzlebats to the southwest. One Ares hit and disengaged, the second is still out there, position unknown at this time, out.”
All three Scarabs rippled several volleys at the tanks but the outcome was concealed by the berm that came rushing up to Gangestad’s front. Blue Three’s driver in his haste to get them under cover had rammed the vehicle into a deep berm, the blunt nose of the Scarab digging into the hard packed soil of the frozen ground.
“Driver back up”, Gangestad commanded while trying to track the closest Nizzlebat. As his driver reversed the vehicle a quick scan out of his viewport showed the other two APCs of his group spread out to the sides of the onrushing Nizzlebats, sandwiching them in from the flanks. Blue One had taken some damage from at least one plasma blast but the damage looked minor, nothing that would limit its effectiveness in the fight.
Both Nizzlebats appeared unscathed as they continued their move towards his vehicle, rapidly closing the distance. Depressing the trigger on his control yoke, Gangestad fired off another salvo of shots and then reactivated his EW suite. Knowing he could not outrun the faster grav-tank, Gangestad ordered his driver forward back into the berm they had just come out of. “Driver forward, get us back into that berm, now!”
His shots hit the rear Nizzlebat but the craft just shrugged off the damage and continued unimpeded at him with reckless abandon, each firing as it came. Both Nizzlebat shots impacted as the Scarab moved into cover, sending a powerful tremor through the vehicle as armor crunched under the assault. A quick glance at his damage schematic showed the front drivetrain was impaired and more concerning, missing armor near the turret. Another hit there would prove fatal.
Magnusson saw the Scarabs were in trouble and called in air support to assist Blue while he moved the rest of the battlegroup to cover their fall back. “Red One this is Gray Six, you’re cleared hot to assist Blue, expedite! We’re still seeing multiple signatures out there but can’t ID them yet, so don’t linger, over.”
“Roger that Gray, Red is Oscar Mike, out.” McNulty responded as he led his pair of Dragonfly VTOLs on their run. Both VTOLs screamed across the sky, their resonance permeating the air as the craft gained altitude and speed on their course to Blue’s position. McNulty planned to buy the Scarabs some time while keeping his craft safe from ground attack. The only real threat to them would be enemy air.
The ground slipped beneath them in a blur; a tapestry of colors rolled past beneath the VTOLs as they made their way above the snow covered forest. McNulty kept his eyes dancing around inside his visor watching his real-time readouts and scope, continually scanning for enemy contacts. His IFF squawked showing positive idents for Blue’s Scarabs; vectoring his view from there he was able to get a solid fix on the two Nizzlebat grav-tanks that were his targets.
“Red Two, take the bandit I tagged for you. Egress to the northwest and see if we can’t pick up any more targets on the way out. Then we’ll swing back and provide cover for Blue.”
Each Dragonfly climbed to 2,500 feet, allowing an extra few seconds to get a solid lock on their targets to increase their chances of hitting. “Fox one!” called McNulty as he depressed his firing trigger, a second later he heard the same thing repeated by his wingman as both craft loosed their Ripper direct-fire missiles on the targets below.
Gangestad saw the UN Nizzlebats charging at him on his scope, rock and dirt raining down on his Scarab as the berm he hid behind took a constant pounding. The mercenary gunners must be thinking they could force their shots through the ground but the odds of hitting through this heavy cover were minimal. Blues One and Two called out hits on the Nizzlebats repeatedly, which targets they were he couldn’t tell from his vantage point. Just then the sky overhead went black momentarily and he felt a massive impact onto the top rear of the vehicle. Gangestad checked, fearing it was the Ares he had forgotten about but the scope was clear of all but the two grav-tanks engaging him. PFC Irwin Pratt, Gangestad’s young driver was the first to realize what had happened. “We got run over!”
Pratt’s assertion was correct; the second Nizzlebat had landed on top of the Scarab as it crossed the berm. Slowed down by the damage it had already taken, it didn’t have the momentum to carry it over the length of his vehicle. The impact proved fatal to the already heavily damaged grav-tank as it spun wildly out of control into a cluster of boulders, coming to a violent end in a sickening shriek of metal and ceramic. Seconds later the craft exploded in an intense fireball, melting the surrounding ice and snow while spewing armor wildly across the field. At the same time the other Nizzlebat seemingly exploded on its own, the reason was made clear as his radio crackled to life.
“Scope’s clear Blue, get to Omega ASAP, over.” Red’s team leader McNulty barked. His attack run had finished off the last Nizzlebat and Gangestad could tell that he was quite pleased with himself.
Gangestad felt a surge of relief and silently took back all the bad things he had ever said about the ‘fly-fly’ boys.
“You heard the man gents, let’s get to Omega, out.” Gangestad called to his team. Switching to the air freq Gangestad called up to Red One, “Bravo Zulu Red, thanks and we owe you one.”
“Damned skippy on that Blue, you do owe us one.” McNulty further taunted in an imitation Irish brogue, “one case of Jameson my lad, oh and we do look forward to that, aye, we do.”
Turning off the levity, McNulty finished, “we’ll swing back around and cover your move to Omega Blue, you’re welcome. Out.”
The three Scarabs formed up and made their way at cruising speed, the best that Gangestad’s vehicle could muster due to its damage, in the direction of Checkpoint Omega.
Keying up his radio, Gangestad called up to Battlegroup commander Magnusson. “Gray Six this is Blue Three, heading to Omega, ETA 10 mikes. Two Nizzlebats destroyed, one Ares damaged, one other out there status unknown, over.”
The radio chirped as Magnusson’s response came back, “Roger that Blue, good work, although you did have a little help. I sent Red over to assist, sounds like they arrived just in time. Forget the Jameson, get them a case of Porsbrännvin instead.” The Major was always teasing McNulty about the merits of Swedish vodka over Irish whiskey, “See you at the checkpoint Blue, out.”
Gangestad thought about what his CO had just said and figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea. He could pay back the pilots for saving his bacon and at the same time have a little fun with Captain McNulty, giving him a case of Swedish vodka in place of his beloved Jameson Irish whiskey.
PFC Pratt broke him from his silent reverie, “give me a case of good German beer any day over whiskey or vodka. Swedish, Irish, it’s all nasty. Nothing can compare to the golden nectar of a good German brew.” Pratt spoke as if he were some sort of liquor connoisseur, yet didn’t appear old enough to shave, let alone drink. The words were almost comical coming from his mouth.
“Easy there Cochise, let’s get back to the rest of the Battlegroup and get this baby repaired before we start thinking of celebrating.”
“Roger that, I’m just glad we got through that Corporal, it got a bit hairy there.”
“That it did, that it did. You did well for your first taste of combat, though we might need to work on those driving skills of yours a bit”, Gangestad teased.
Color rose in the cheeks of young Pratt, a feeble “sorry Corporal” was all he could manage in response. He knew he’d never hear the end of it from the others in the group but he was glad he’d be able to take that ribbing; it meant he was still alive.
Replaying the scene in his mind he had to chuckle at it himself, that chuckle was infectious and grew to a raucous laughter from the both of them. Amazingly through all of this, Pratt was able to keep his vehicle in formation with the others of the section. Both men were coming down from the adrenaline high that combat produces, giddy at the realization that they were still alive and able to fight another day. The wheels of the three Scarabs crunched through the snow, ice and rock of the Colorado countryside as they made their way to the safety of the rest of the Battlegroup at Checkpoint Omega.
With his recon element safely on their way to Checkpoint Omega, Magnusson mulled over the recon team’s discovery in the compartment of his Growler. Nizzlebats meant private military contractors, mercs. Is money really a motivator to fight anymore? Inwardly he shrugged; determining the motivations of others is best left to the head shrinkers.
With the element of surprise now gone, a foot recon team could no longer be inserted into the complex undetected to gather the proof they needed. Instead of a stealth approach, they’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and force their way inside. Not an easy task with this facility, but it’s not the same fortification it was more than a century ago. After much geological shifting brought on by the UN’s weather modifications, there were two known weak points that could be exploited to get a team inside. Can they do it before the government recognizes the threat is real and destroys the proof they’re after?
Magnusson decided to move the timetable up on the alternate plan, Infinite Nighthawk will succeed. It must succeed!
San Isabel National Forest December 16, 2130 Sector 29 – Coalition Area of Operations, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Battlegroup Prowler 1941 (GMT)
“Blue Three, contact north, engaging!” came the call over the battlegroup frequency, shattering the previous silence. The group’s recon team, “Blue”, had found the UN force and was engaging the enemy. Operation Infinite Nighthawk had begun.
Battlegroup commander Major Torvald Magnusson brought up his CAIRO (Computer Aided Imaging Ranging and Optics) feed from Blue’s vehicle vids to get a better feel for the situation. Bouncing off of provisional satellites placed in low orbit above their area of operations, the data was transmitted with a 1.2 second delay. Not much, but enough to be slightly behind the curve and Magnusson hated being a second behind the action.
Muddy images initially flashed on his helmet visor in the commander’s HUD before the media filter washed them through multiple algorithms allowing them to auto-correct. Magnusson tweaked the white balance slightly to gain some brightness and what he saw got his pulse racing with the familiar feel of pre-combat adrenaline. A pair of UN Ares Heavy Walkers were unloading with their single rail guns, each firing as quickly as they could cycle in an attempt to eliminate the more maneuverable but lighter armored three Scarab APCs of the Blue recon team. Geysers of frozen soil, rock and vapor from superheated ice jetted into the air from errant bolt impacts forced by the Scarab’s well-practiced contact drills. The Ares pilots were persistent and aggressive, maintaining contact with the Scarabs whose return fire was sporadic and ineffective.
Battlegroup Prowler’s recon team was earning its due today, just hopefully not with its own blood, Magnusson thought to himself. Continuing to watch the video feed, Magnusson switched over to the battlegroup frequency on the secure data link; he had to send a situation report up the chain. Keying the comm he heard a whisper like chirp in his ears signaling the link was open, “Gold Six this is Prowler Six sitrep over.” A faint trace of Swedish accent could be heard in his voice as he spoke.
He didn’t have to wait more than a couple of seconds before hearing the response, “send it.”
“Blue element in contact to the North with a pair, repeat, two Ares walkers. Appears to be a small security patrol, will continue to advise, over.”
“Roger that, good hunting, out.”
The firefight continued to unfold before Magnusson’s eyes, visible in a miniature window of the HUD projected on the visor of his helmet. While the CAIRO in the cupola of his Command Growler Infantry Fighting Vehicle gave him a complete picture of the battlespace, the helmet visor allowed him to receive key data and video feeds from any external source, allowing him to focus on individual units in the battlegroup.
He saw that the Ares Walkers were continuing to engage the Scarabs rather than laying back and calling for assistance. This indicated to him that their intel was likely correct, this was a soft spot and a perfect insertion point for their reconnaissance squad. But the initiative was now lost as a Quick Reaction Force was surely alerted by now. If it wasn’t for this chance encounter with the Ares, they could have gotten a better look at the inner security perimeter of their main target, Cheyenne Mountain.
Cheyenne Mountain, what was once NORAD was now home to one of the UN’s main ScanFab Research and Recycle facilities. Compounds like these that “don’t’ exist” are where the governing body takes the genetic remnants of people who’ve been ‘fabbed, or scanned and transmitted off-world, and repurposes them as cannon fodder, to whittle away at opposition forces across the globe. With their minds wiped, these “blanks” only know war. A ghastly way to wage it, but that was the way of the New Order.
Infinite Nighthawk was launched to breach the facility and gather hard proof of the misuse of repurposed ‘fabs by the UN, which to this point had only been rumor. If proof of these atrocities could be brought to The Hague, maybe there was still a chance to stop the madness that has enveloped the world and find another way. A better way.
With only two Rail Guns against three speedier targets, there wasn’t much hope of the walkers cashing in and scoring damage while Blue Three actively jammed the Ares’ targeting with its electronic warfare suite. Luckily, Magnusson thought, they hadn’t massed their fire on that critical vehicle, but it was only a matter of time until their luck ran out. There was troublesome terrain ahead for the Scarab’s that would allow the walkers a chance to close the range and increase their hit probability. They needed to buy some space and time, fast!
As if reading their commanders mind, the three APC’s skidded to a stop and trained their guns on the pair of oncoming UN walkers. Raising their Immolator Plasma Guns, Blue fired a linked double-volley on the lead Ares. Fire belched from the guns as paired triplets of directed energy streaked across the expanse and converged on their lone target, the lead walker.
As soon as the shots were sent down range, the Scarabs were back in the throttle and on their evasive pattern before the walkers had the sense to react. Half of the shots impacted upon the front armor of the lead 25 ton Ares near the cockpit, rattling the pilot hard against his harness. The onslaught caused the giant machine to falter for several seconds while the walker’s computer and pilot worked feverishly to avoid going to the ground.
Inwardly Magnusson cheered, ‘take that ya blue bonnet bastard’, referencing the UN’s traditional headgear. The second Ares raced past its dazed partner, in unrelenting pursuit of its fleeing quarry.
Magnusson keyed up the Battlegroup’s air team to see if they had a better perspective from their vantage point. “Red One, this is Gray Six. Do you have a visual on Blue over?”
Captain Shane McNulty, the Red Flight team leader had been monitoring both the traffic and his tac-map updates while he hovered on-station several kilometers to the rear of the formation. His pair of Dragonfly VTOL’s were ready to pounce the minute the call for support came from Blue.
“Gray Six, Red One. Negative visual on Blue at this time, over.”
“Copy that Red. Be ready when the call comes, pedal fast and hit hard on your run, out.”
At the tacops console of Magnusson’s Growler, Lt. William Daniels kept scanning through the CAIRO’s frequencies. “There are other indistinguishable signatures out there sir, they’re at very long range and extremely weak, likely the QRF. Trying to work up positive idents now.”
“Understood, get everyone’s weapons spun up and hot, we’re moving out.” Magnusson ordered the crew.
“Yes sir, Weapons are hot and good to go, all systems appear in their nominal ranges” responded Collins, the vehicles gunner. Daniels continued to monitor the computers, trying to build a better overall tactical picture for his commander that suddenly seemed more fluid than expected.
“Find me those other bogies, I know they’re out there. Switching over to the battlegroup freq now.” Magnusson left Daniels to his job, having full confidence in his young lieutenant as he prepared to order the main body to move.
Magnusson addressed his team first. “Five, go active ECM, everyone else make sure you stay in that cover. We have contact ahead and we don’t need any other surprises. – break – all Prowler elements this is Gray Six, Blue is in contact to the north and we are moving to Checkpoint Omega. Go weapons hot, watch your intervals, keep comms clear except for essential traffic, good hunting.”
Like a well-trained machine, the primary armor group joined in an arrow formation to stay within the protective confines of Gray Five’s electronic counter-measures.
“Gray Six this is White One, moving to overwatch, out.” Lt. Ivanna Gregorovich announced as her Warthog fire support group headed on the way to their designated position for Omega, the fallback point for the recon group.
The Warthog’s of Gregorovich’s team housed paired Quad Bolt Guns which should help dissuade any attempts by the enemy to close with the main body. Things were about to get very hot in the cold Colorado forest.
Polyversal has been a huge undertaking that designer Ken Whitehurst and I began working on together years ago. The premise is that it’s a universal miniatures system with an integrated design tool that lets you bring in any miniatures you want to use in the game. So any old miniatures from games of the past like Mechwarrior and others- get reborn in Polyversal. Kit-bashing, design, creativity… all encouraged.
And something else we’re doing that’s been really unique is creating boxed games of Polyversal for those new the miniatures scene- and to do so- we brought together 6 manufacturers. SIX. I have contracts with each of them to supply various aspects of the game- primarily miniatures. These companies are all small like mine and have been excellent to work with. The purpose of working with external companies instead of designing and casting miniatures on our own is fully described in my previous post The Concept of Polyversal.
Polyversal was a relaunched campaign. I cancelled the first campaign earlier this year and took a hard look at our strategy and presentation. I think some keys to being successful the second time around are:
Kickstarter Reward Shipping – Changing how we ship and being more friendly to more major zones worldwide using Jamey’s excellent shipping advice is a key difference. I tweaked it a little in that shipping will be completely invoiced and handled separately from the campaign. This means that $0 of the $32k we’re currently at goes toward shipping product later.
Presentation is everything. Our second presentation was much better and clearer. For more on this, check out this blog by Jamey.
In this post, I discuss some of the process I use and make a case with some current stats- to make those project videos very short. I also share some outtakes from making our latest Kickstarter video for Polyversal.
Kickstarter project videos are no easy task to create or edit.
I personally edit my own vids in Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS 5.5, which I find takes about 3-4 hours, sometimes more, to edit a single minute of good footage for a video. I make videos for everything- especially gameplay tutorials- some of which use Adobe’s After Effects to animate cards, dice, and so forth. This saves me time in the long run vs. explaining rules in forums and by e-mail. The rules already point to the videos which serve as examples.
For any video, it’s not easy on the front-end to capture good footage. For that, I personally use a Canon Vixia HF M30, which is a decent HD camcorder, and mount it on a tripod (please do that). There is definitely an art to video editing. As mentioned, I use Adobe’s products and I’m no pro at it by any means, but I have a general sense of what stuff to cut out. This post shares our latest Kickstarter Project Video, which is a follow-on blog to this previous post about improving length and content: Kickstarter Video Length and Content
The project video for Polyversal’s relaunch overall is 1:51 long. If features an intro by Ken and I and a flyover of the game in play while we continue to pitch the game. Even with that short of a video, current stats on our active kickstarter report that only 37% of over 1000 plays were actually completed! That’s not a terrible stat- but remember- 63% started to watch it and clicked away before the 1:51 was up. So remember, make it short. People generally do not have 2 minutes. Think about it- how many Kickstarter video plays have you completed?
Here is another reason to keep it short… Let’s say you spend 3-4 hours per final edited minute of film that ends up running 10 minutes overall… If 63% of people who click play stop watching less than 2 minutes into it– you’d have wasted about 48 hours of work editing film that no one is watching- because again, MOST people who click play will not finish watching the video. 2 minutes max.
“While fun to film, making a project video is never easy.”
So let’s have some fun. Here’s some of what was CUT out of my latest video. Join Ken and I (and yes, Benny in a cameo) in this collection of outtakes from our Project Video. We pre-planned the video, shot 30 minutes of film, and then I edited for about 12 hours to get less than 2 usable minutes! Watch our main video on the Kickstarter Page to see the final (good) edited version.
Polyversal is back on Kickstarter for a relaunched campaign. Read this blog post for a critical look at what we did wrong in the initial campaign and how we addressed it for the relaunch.
After a lot of hard work, I relaunched the Kickstarter project for Polyversal, a science fiction miniatures game I’m publishing from designer Ken Whitehurst. I’ve tried to implement my own advice and the advice of others for the relaunch, incorporating a ton of feedback from fans and other publishers. Jamey’s blog helped reshape the relaunch in particular, and I believe the second time around, Polyversal will be successful. After less than a week, we’re already in less than $9k away from funding a $30k goal, and we’re about to reveal the first stretch goal.
“I know we’ve got a great game, that’s not the issue- the issue boils down to how well we presented it.”
So why did Polyversal require cancellation when originally launched in January? I know we’ve got a great game, that’s not the issue- the issue boils down to how well we presented it. Here are some thoughts in hindsight that could have contributed to an unsuccessful initial campaign:
Issue 1: We needed a lower goal. $80k was the initial goal and was very kitchen-sink based. In other words, we put everything into the campaign we wanted to see for the game- that included a web-based design tool which is expensive to do, a set of terrain for which we were paying for the molds, and a production estimate of 1000 units minimum, which was too much to start.
Answer 1: We scaled back production estimates, broke the terrain out into its own Kickstarter, and for now, eliminated the web-based tool opting for templates instead which will accomplish the same thing. In addition, shipping is not included in the Kickstarter pledges, removing unpredictability, a buffer for that unpredictability, and allowing a lesser goal that would be the shipping portion of the campaign- which is ultimately a guess. This allowed the goal to be further reduced since it is all going to the product, not shipping and fulfilment. Notice the 4 shipping icons in the project image above.
Issue 2: The project video was too long. Even at 5 minutes, we included a story portion which was good and still useful, but, we never really pitched what the game is or does for players. It needed to be 2 minutes and include a pitch.
Answer 2: The project video was re-done completely, shortened to less than 2 minutes, and focused entirely on the pitch. The story video was embedded elsewhere in the page, but, the project video was not the place for it. Here’s a detailed blog post on the video changes.
Issue 3: The miniatures we presented in our boxed games are from 5 different manufacturers. We used their images to present those miniatures, which led to less cohesion in the overall presentation. Each company had their own photographic background and their own paint scheme for these miniatures, so, it looked like a hodgepodge.
Answer 3: Ken Whitehurst, the designer, painted all of the miniatures we needed in several distinct patterns for a much better presentation. I then photographed them very carefully to present them as “battlegroups” which better communicated their cohesion and purpose in the game. Here is an example of 1 of 4 battlegroup images:
Issue 4: The pledge levels were all over the place. Too many pledge levels were presented, they were unnecessarily confusing, adjusted after the project start, and provided too many options.
Answer 4: Less is more. Pledges in the new campaign were simplified to just a handful of the most important options for the game. Since shipping is handled externally from the pledges (post-KS invoicing for actual shipping costs), this allowed simple pledge options applicable to everyone regardless of location. Breaking out the terrain eliminated all of the terrain-based bundles.
Issue 5: We made a lot of adjustments and additions after the original campaign started. This is a problem because we should have had some of our embedded videos, explanations, and strategies for the game presented initially, not through updates mid-campaign. How many people were turned off at first glance due to too little information to never return for a second look after the information was added?
Answer 5: Gameplay videos, print-and-play demos, story elements, reviews, well-thought-out shipping strategies, all pledge options, and fully-explained game contents were all presented up front from day 1 in the new campaign. This ensures all of the information is there at the beginning, not added piecemeal throughout the campaign. It’s important. It’s all there. And it eliminates a lot of stressful work once the campaign is active- responding to questions, confusion, and adding content that should have been there to begin with.
This post talks about the perhaps overlooked concept that every Kickstarter Project itself is a work of art. This work of art will be judged, perceived differently by different people, and be spoken of in any number of ways from high regard to low regard to not at all. In this post, I explore 4 parallels of a Kickstarter Project to an actual work of art.
I can’t tell you all of the opinions people in general have about Kickstarter. I use Kickstarter as a tool, as many creators do, to present a new creative work to the masses and hopefully raise enough money to make it a reality. The creative works in my case are games. But, they can be anything. This post talks about the perhaps overlooked concept that every Kickstarter Project itself is a work of art. This work of art will be judged, perceived differently by different people, and be spoken of in any number of ways from high regard to low regard to not at all. In this post, I explore 4 parallels of a Kickstarter Project to an actual work of art.
My art background dates back to when I was 8 years old. I showed an interest in drawing as many do at that age, but, my parents offered that I could take art lessons from a local artist living in my hometown, Barbara Capps. From my first lesson at age 8, I progressed through 14 years of formal training from Barbara in multiple mediums. As a game publisher and designer, I routinely draw on that background to both commission and approve works of art from other artists, to do a bit of layout work and graphic design, and to explore through game design different ways incorporate those years of lessons. I’m mentioning this background to simply note that I have had formal training in the creation of artwork, and I’ll pull from that a bit as I make parallels between art and any Kickstarter project page.
We’ll cover 4 parallels of art to kickstarter projects: Art ignites emotion, “Good” art is well thought out, Any piece of art has a limited time to make an impression, and Every piece of art invites judgment. Keep in mind we’re just talking about the presentation of the project- not the product itself.
Art ignites emotion
I think a good piece of art doesn’t just have a good composition or is just visually pleasing, which are both important, but, it also triggers an emotional response- whatever that emotion may be. In art, the emotion the artist is trying to trigger could be anything- sadness, love, empathy, excitement, peace, wonder, etc. The point is- that piece of art causes an emotional response.
Any Kickstarter project page (not the product, again, just how it is presented) should try and do the same thing, but, with a focused goal for that emotional response. For creators, you should come across with passion in your project videos or write-ups, otherwise, who will back you if you’re glum and un-interested in what you’re presenting? For backers, can you think of a project that just made you feel the excitement shared by the creator?
Buying, or backing in the case of Kickstarter pledges, is quite often an emotional response by the backer wanting to support the creator whose interests line up with their own. This can be for a game, a movie, a photographic collection, or any creative work that meets some need of the backer. And the need may simply be to support the creator and his or her passion for what they are doing.
Present that project with passion and you’ve got a much better chance of garnering support.
“Good” art is well thought out
I’m more of a realist with respect to art but I appreciate many forms of it. I’d say most works of art that I’d call “good in my opinion” are pretty well thought out. Think of the old masters. Did Michelangelo tackle the Sistine Chapel without a plan or a set of sketches? Probably not. And neither should a project creator.
Think hard about a well thought out project you’ve supported. How much of that motivation to click “Pledge” was because the page was well organized, covered every question you had before you thought of it, and generally seemed presented as if the creator had put a lot of time into the process?
Before I pledge, I expect creators to have taken their time to craft a well thought out plan, to cover the main points of crowdfunding anything- including why I should support it. It’s obvious when I view a project page whether or not it was rushed. Did the creator think everything through? Does the project make sense? Is it too good to be true? Does the creator have a plan for production and delivery?
Present these aspects well and you’ll grab my attention- because I know at that point you’ve done your homework as a creator.
Any piece of art has a limited time to make an impression
I’ve visited a lot of big name galleries- most recently The Met and The Guggenheim in NYC- and seen countless works of art by artists across many centuries in many different styles. But, I can honestly say I probably spent no more than 1 minute on each piece of art, if that. If you’ve ever walked around at any art gallery, think about how much time you spent looking at each work? Was it 1 minute? 5 minutes? Hours? Some of these artists spent years creating whatever you’re looking at for 1 minute. But, that’s the reality of how much time we give those works of art. In that limited time, did that work make an impression on you?
The same is true with any Kickstarter project. Someone who clicks a link to your project page has no idea how much time went into that presentation, that work of art, but, they know within 30 seconds if they are interested enough to read more or watch your video. The project image is likely the first thing they’ll see. Next, the pledge goal, amount pledged so far, and time remaining. Next, either they’ll watch the video and read more about the project or they’ll close their browser and move on. You have, like a piece of fine art in a gallery, 15-30 seconds to make an impression.
Every piece of art invites judgment
I participated in numerous art shows when I was younger. I’d enter a work in an event, sometimes paying a fee, show up at the event, and see the results of judgment by others. In general, all art is judged. At gallery events, prizes like Best in Show or 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places, sometimes corresponding with cash awards, are given by the judges based on their very subjective opinions. Artists have no problem competing for those prizes and presenting their works for judgment. With art, everyone has an opinion- and they’re all correct.
With Kickstarter, as a creator, you must understand that people will judge your project. Not just the product, but the project. Some will pick it apart- others will withhold a pledge because you may not have done it the way they wanted it done or maybe they thought your asking price was too high. Be prepared that others will judge your work of art, your project page, and they’ll most likely openly criticize anything they see fault in, hopefully in a constructive and non-toxic way. As a creator, listen to that judgment and learn from it, possibly even adjust what you’re doing while the project is active (if within reason to do so).
With Kickstarter, everyone has an opinion- and they’re all correct.
In conclusion, if you are a project creator, treat your page as a blank canvas upon which you’ll paint your story and why that story should receive support from hundreds or thousands of people you may have never met. Understand that you have 15-30 seconds to make an impression and ignite emotion in potential backers to learn more about what you’re doing. Think out everything. Spend a lot of time on this so that you aren’t constantly answering questions or adjusting things when the project is live. Understand that your project will be judged. The prize is not best in show- but- perhaps successful funding and whatever that may bring for you and your backers.
When I first started using Kickstarter in 2012 to raise production funding for my games, I made a misstep on the all-important project video. Read some insights from experience on Project Video Length that applies to any #Crowdfunding project.
When I first started using Kickstarter in 2012 to raise production funding for my games, I made a misstep on the all-important project video. The initial video for Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943 Map Expansion was way too long. It was so long I can’t even remember how long exactly. Kickstarter’s insights showed that only a handful of people played it through (roughly 8-10% IIRC). I updated the video after launch and cut it down quite a bit, but, it really was still too long. What if the pitch or some really important point was ONLY provided at the end of that video? What if the main project page did not contain or reiterate that information? The result- missed backers or as a minimum, poor communication and lack of interest.
As my projects progressed, the videos became shorter and shorter, which is hard to do because you’re excited to finally present your project to the masses. My videos always had a story element or series of stock videos put to music to give a sense of setting. I’m now convinced that even that is too much. You just don’t have time. The first launch of Polyversal included a roughly 5-minute project video. Half of it was story information and the other half background from the designer with a fly-through of the game in our cityscape setting (Polyversal is a miniatures game). I received some good feedback after the project from Grant (@hyperboleGrant):
“the video is too long and you never pitched the game.” -Grant
He was right.Tip: Always ask for and trust blunt and honest feedback. That is what helps you the most as a designer / publisher / creator. Grant is good at providing that.
This is also discussed in the Stonemaier Games blog with a recommendation to “limit videos to about 2 minutes total.” Save detailed information like gameplay or product use, campaign details, etc., for supplemental videos embedded in the project page. That’s great advice and something I’ll be doing with the Polyversal re-launch. We had some embedded videos already, and those were well received, but, the project video was just too long for those still in ‘browsing mode’. Shorter videos appeal to our shorter attention spans as modern-day humans. And, it needs to pitch and pitch quickly by presenting the purpose of the project, why anyone should support you, what makes it unique, and when to pledge (now). It should also point them where to learn more, which should be written out in the project page.
You can watch the original Polyversal project video here on the cancelled project for reference (Don’t worry, I’m not pitching anything- the video lacks a pitch, really!, and the project is done).
Here are some changes I’m making to the Polyversal project video for re-launch:
The story portion will be removed and remain in its own video.
The pitch (what Polyversal is and why people should back it) will be given UP FRONT by Ken and I. This will present what the game is, why it’s unique, and why people should support it now.
The designer’s commentary by Ken is still good and brief enough to be used. This also shows the game in action as Ken speaks and has interesting visuals.
Everything else will be cut out. The buildings are now going to be their own project, so the end part with The Phalanx Consortium will not be necessary for this video.
I will refer to other embedded videos for more detail on story, gameplay, and unit design.
I think with these changes, the new video will:
Have a greater chance of full plays.
Be brief and clear enough to grab people’s attention if they are the target audience.
Force us to focus on the pitch and most important points to make about the project up front.
Help us come across as more organized and focused on our message.
Require less editing time. Editing 1 minute of video takes me approximately 2 hours in Premier Pro. If I only have to edit 2 minutes of final video, I should be able to wrap up that work in much less time.
Cut project videos down to 2 minutes maximum. In those 2 minutes, be sure the project is actually pitched. If it’s longer than 2 minutes, you may think you need that extra time, but, you don’t. It’s not effective, so why include it? Make your main points and be done.
Ask people to back the project NOW for one or two specific reasons.
Don’t drag out the project video with information on rewards, stretch goals, shipping, gameplay, product use, or other details not related to a pitch or general overview. In other words, don’t present everything about the product in this single video.
Point potential backers to supplemental videos embedded in the project page for additional information (Gameplay, Function, Reviews, and Storyline as appropriate).
Remember, a very low percentage of people who actually click on the video will finish it if it’s more than a couple minutes. The longer it is, the lower the percentage of full plays. Pique backer’s interest in the first 15 seconds or you risk losing them.
Once the Polyversal re-launch is previewed, I’ll link to it here so you can see the updated video and how it differs from the original. Let me know if you agree with these points and as always, please comment with any feedback, and like, share, and follow the blog.