The Art of Commissioning Art

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.

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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:

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(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.

 

First Contact – Part Two – A Polyversal Short Story

Recon Team Blue encounters a surprise while trying to ID two unknown signatures. Will they make it back to Checkpoint Omega?

Read Part One here.

First Contact – Part Two

by Maurice Fitzgerald @moefantasci

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.

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Scarab APCs continue to the checkpoint. Model by Microworld Games.

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.

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Nizzlebat Light Grav Tanks firing. Model by Plasmablast Games.

“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.

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Scarab APCs scramble to avoid Nizzlebat Light Grav Tanks. Models by Microworld Games and Plasmablast Games.

“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.

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Dragonfly VTOLs on an attack run. Model by Microworld Games.

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.

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Checkpoint Omega. Models by Microworld Games and Dark Realm Miniatures

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!

 

 

 

 

First Contact – Part One – A Polyversal Short Story

In the story of Polyversal, Battlegroup Prowler is at the forefront, engaging UN forces in a future Colorado. Part One sets the tone for a snowy conflict among beastly walkers and Recon Team Blue.

First Contact – Part One

by Maurice Fitzgerald @moefantasci

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.

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Ares Battle Walkers (Hawk Wargames), Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

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.

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Scarab APCs (Microworld Games) are engaged by patrolling Ares walkers (Hawk Wargames)

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.

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Dragonfly VTOLs (Microworld Games) await a support call as needed

“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.”

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Checkpoint Omega (models by Microworld Games, Dark Realm Miniatures)

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.

Read Part Two Here!

Polyversal on Kickstarter

Polyversal is Funded!

Our latest game, Polyversal, hit its funding goal this week on Kickstarter. This post is just a short reflection on that to summarize why I think the second time around- we were successful.

I’m really excited that my latest game, Polyversal, is now funded on Kickstarter with a week to go!

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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.

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Mercenary Battlegroup. One of five Battlegroups offered in the campaign made up of Miniatures from multiple partners.

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:

If you’d like to check out Polyversal in its final week, head over to the project and let me know what you think!

Polyversal Relaunch – A critical look at the changes

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.

photo-originalAfter 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:

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  • 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.

I hope you’ll agree that our relaunch is much better than the cancelled original campaign. If you agree or disagree with any of these insights, please let me know!

 

The Story of Polyversal

#Polyversal is an open-source tabletop miniatures game with its own backstory that players can help fill in. Learn more about that backstory in this blog post.

Polyversal does not lock you into a particular story or setting. You may generate your own background story, or simply play the game. We do have a story that sets the tone for the conflict we envisioned within Polyversal. It is set between a future, powerful United Nations (UN) that controls the technology required for mass evacuation from a dying Earth, and groups of Opposition Forces (OPFOR) who fight for those who may be left behind.

It is the end of the 21st century and the UN is the omnipotent power, running an all-powerful one world government to which many countries joined freely while others have been coerced and capitulated, forsaking their sovereignty under the guise of harmony and security. But a perilous one world government is not our only problem, for mankind faces an even greater threat.

Once peaceful weather control technologies were developed by the UN to tame Earth’s increasingly violent weather patterns, but, use of the technology leads to an erosion of Earth’s magnetosphere, allowing in massive amounts of extinction-level radiation.

The Earth’s atmosphere is failing after centuries of abuse and with it man’s supremacy, forcing the world’s leaders to look elsewhere for sanctuary and safe harbor for the human race. Time is of the essence and lacking the proper heavy lift capabilities to transport billions of people off planet before the atmosphere completely fails, a harsh plan is put into play by the government.

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UN and OPFOR units standoff on a bridge – licensed stock art

 

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UN Weather Control Station – Original artwork by Byron Collins with Stock Art Background

The UN moves forward with plans to execute the controversial operation known as Polyversal, using scanfabbing as the solution for mass evacuation. Unfortunately, it is used primarily for the powerful and well connected, creating mass chaos among those who will remain to perish.

In the name of “Peacekeeping”, the UN fights to protect and maintain control.

Many former States band together, taking up arms against the UN’s plan, knowing it is their only hope for survival. Opposition Forces (OPFOR) units form as former national enemies unite, mercenary groups seek fortune at the hand of the UN while ragtag militias stand against the heavy-handed military forces of an all-powerful government.

The OPFOR fights against UN oppression, cessation of sovereignty by previously “free” countries, and those who will be left behind in the wake of the impending death of the planet. Survival of citizens who are not chosen is one of the primary OPFOR objectives. Both the UN and OPFOR have access to a wide range of weaponry as well as dedicated soldiers fighting for their respective causes.

Battles are waged on the land, across the sea and in the air, as free people band together and fight to survive and flee a dying planet, and with it, oppression. It is a time of total war, a time of chaos.

As the creators of Polyversal, we’ve always wanted to create a story framework that you can pull from and use in your games as you see fit. We also want to see (and will ask) players help us flesh out the story using a wiki-type site that encourages your creativity. The possibilities are endless. Below, we share a small piece of our story, an address to the Peoples of the United Nations as given by Secretary General Kagiso Tendaji on April 21, 2094.

Polyversal Story Teaser – UN Address

“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed, for our safety, to its security and peace. Preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and the love we give our fragile craft.” Adlai Stevenson, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Address to ECOSOC, Geneva, Switzerland July 9, 1965

As the 21st century draws to a close, we survey our wrecked spaceship earth, and look to its nearest neighbors for salvation. The hope and optimism of the 2070s and 80s are over. The technologies that were to liberate us from nature itself have failed. The seas have sought their revenge. The atmosphere, once thought to be under our control, has thinned to a useless whisper, no longer protecting those who survive here from the sun’s brutal radiation. It is time to leave.

Although our reach in the solar system has expanded beyond the asteroid belt to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, there remain over 10 billion people here on Earth. Even with the full-time efforts of our military fleets and every corporate and private vessel capable of flight, we will be unable evacuate everyone before the complete failure of our atmosphere. It is for this reason that, effective today, the United Nations ban on the transmission and fabrication of human matrices has been lifted by votes winning broad support in both the General and Parliamentary Assemblies. It will remain forbidden to fabricate a human matrix on Earth. However, matrices may be transmitted by Tayanur, for fabrication off-world.

The controversy surrounding the fabrication of human matrices has not ended. Nor will today’s historic vote affect the deeply held convictions of those who oppose scanfabbing human beings. We cannot know the depths of the human soul, if, as many believe, such a thing truly exists. The brightest minds of our generation have debated these matters at great length. Their debate will no-doubt continue, as it has since the dawn of debate itself.

However, in the face of the sudden destruction of our planet’s surface, the question of what is right must take a back seat to what will work.

Before today, transporting people beyond Earth’s orbit required an enormous ship, expensive fuel, and precious time. Tayanur transmission occurs faster than the speed of light, using our existing communications networks set up by our pioneers. Use of this technology is the only way to maximize our chance of survival as a species.

Because of this, I have been authorized by the Security Council to reveal Operation Polyversal: the United Nations Humanevac Operation for the Peoples of Earth.

In anticipation of today’s historic decision, scanfab centers have been constructed in undisclosed locations in and around the key population centers of Earth. Our goal is to use the system to transmit as many people off of the planet as possible, within the limitations of the infrastructure set up to accept them off-world.

Polyversal has been designed to ensure fairness and to optimize efficiency in the selection, scanning, and transmission of those fortunate enough to be selected for the operation. I say, “selected,” because, those who will participate have been selected by computer. We will be unable to scan everyone before it is too late. Accordingly, a sophisticated computer algorithm has chosen the ideal participants, factoring for traits necessary for the survival of the species. Naturally, the algorithm has selected people from across the globe, with abilities in every field of human endeavor. The algorithm was impartially programmed by top UN scientists, and has access to the entire UN ID database, which includes the genetic information of every UN-registered citizen on the planet.

On May 1, all participants will be notified. If you receive the official notification, you will be given specific instructions on how to participate, and when and where you must report. Follow them closely. If selected, you must keep the knowledge of your participation a secret, for your own safety. The Security Council expects, and is prepared for, mass public protest, lawlessness, and general unrest. We urge all citizens to cooperate with uniformed UN peacekeepers, and to remain peaceful and orderly at this time. Fighting your neighbors will not save anyone, and may jeopardize the very goal of Operation Polyversal.

Mankind has survived on this planet for millions of years. We have expanded our habitat from a few caves and patches of fertile ground to every corner of the world. We have lived in the deserts, underground, underwater, on the polar ice, in the clouds, in the vacuum of space, and on a dozen other inhospitable rocks in our solar system. The time has come to say goodbye to the place of our birth. In a decade or two, perhaps, we may be able to return, perhaps able to repair the damage we have done. Perhaps that return will have to await our children, or our children’s children. It is too soon to tell.

All we know for now is that we must go.

Over one hundred years ago, philosopher Marshall McLuhan observed “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” As her crew, we have done our best to save our precious spaceship earth. There is no more that we can offer her. It is time to abandon ship. The functions of government will continue off-world, and here on Earth for as long as conditions will allow. It is an honor to lead the Peoples of the United Nations, and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.

May peace be with us as we take our last steps on Spaceship Earth.

Secretary General Kagiso Tendaji

Address to the Peoples of the United Nations

April 21, 2094

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Have you seen our Story Teaser video? Check it out here.

The Concept of Polyversal

#Polyversal is our latest game. This blog post takes you through what Polyversal is, how I discovered it from the designer, and the very different approach we have taken regarding the included miniatures.

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Polyversal Box Art. Credit: Bruno Werneck.

I’ve been a guest on several podcasts to talk about Polyversal (official site link) and how I first discovered and decided to publish it- it was a big decision for me since I was for the first time branching out to publish an external design. It was also quite different and new. A science-fiction based tabletop miniatures game. Up until PolyV (for short), my 5 published games were all historical WWII-based card wargames such as Spearpoint 1943 and the ensuing series. So branching into the world of tabletop miniatures was a bit overwhelming. There are so many great products out there. How would Polyversal be different? How would we compete? What would we bring to the tabletop?

What attracted me to Polyversal, as noted when I guest blogged here on Mark H. Walker’s Over da Edge blog, was honestly Mr. Teleporter. This is much like any product- the visual was striking- if not a bit odd- and it got my attention. This was part of a convention game that the designer, Ken Whitehurst, decided to run at a local game convention, Williamsburg Muster. The guys at WM were just starting up and needed events- they reached out to Ken and he agreed to run his ‘homebrew’ set he called “Multiversal” at the time.

I was there exhibiting my games but walked around and spotted Mr. Teleporter. This caught my eye, as it did for all who saw it. It was a kit-bashed Mr. Coffee maker that Ken used in the game. He replaced the decanter with a ‘glowing science orb’ which drew me in like a moth to light, scratched through “Coffee” and renamed it “Teleporter”, keeping the “Mr.” of the well-known brand. I wanted to know more about this craziness. I watched as several gamers enjoyed themselves and picked the intuitive mechanics right up. Ken, as the Game Master, was guiding them along, but in general he got to sit back and watch them play, stepping in as required. Yet, this was a homebrew set of rules. The players picked it up as if they’d known and played it for years. So, beyond Mr. Teleporter, that caught my eye as well as a publisher, designer, and gamer.

I met up with Ken later after sending him a brief message to see if he’d be interested in having his game published. He was interested. So, Ken and I set a time to play the game at a local store, Atlantis Comics and Games in Norfolk, VA in 2011. After playing the game for myself, seeing the amount of work that went into it, understanding the concept and flexibility that’s different than most other games (it’s a universal rules set that can be used with any miniatures)… I was sold. We entered into a publishing agreement. My first one ever.

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Here’s a photo from that playtest game in 2011 (that’s me measuring)

Step into Mr. Teleporter. Over the next 5 years (yes, it’s taken a while), Ken and I worked together to not only develop the game, but, establish a strategy for what we’d do with such a system, all while I designed, developed, and published 3 additional games in the Spearpoint 1943 line. Now, most miniatures games companies are out there to sell you their miniatures– but- I didn’t want to make miniatures. There’s too many competitors and too many good products already out there. Plus, I had heard that sculpting and casting is another passion project– it’s expensive- and requires a lot of money, time, and dedication (kind of like Publishing, but, pick your poison)!

The basic concept with Polyversal is to adapt to whatever people already have. There’s a design system built in that lets the gamer take an existing model, determine for themselves how well that model performs (which affects its points cost and a variety of other things). Ken talks briefly about that in this short video:

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Short video on how to “stat out” a miniature

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The end result. An “Encegon” Main Battle Tank. Miniature by Plasmablast Games. Artwork credit: Bruno Werneck. Tile Graphic Design: Byron Collins

So yes, we had a game at this point. One that worked quite well. But, it relied on players to bring their own models in to play and design stats for them to make useful game pieces. Not everyone (who may otherwise play) is going to do that design step- it appeals to a certain audience. The game was fully-customizable, but, ultimately at this point- just a cool set of universal rules. We could have stopped there. We could have settled to release the game as a PDF product. The problem with that is it only appeals to people who are already miniatures gamers- a niche audience looking for a different set of rules- a group of people who have maybe moved on to other games but kept all their old 6mm scale stuff. These are what I call the “alpha” 6mm gamers. We decided to take a different approach to attract a wider audience. We asked ourselves a few things:

What if people aren’t already miniatures gamers? What if people see these massive companies and established rules and have no idea how to “get in” even if they are attracted to it? What “starter set” is really available in 6mm today? What if people don’t have miniatures and don’t know what’s out there?

These questions burned us up. But, with a lot of critical thinking and brainstorming, we figured it out.

I asked Ken, “Who makes 6mm miniatures now?” He gave me a long list of manufacturers already sculpting and casting sci-fi miniatures- great companies with great products spread all over the world. I began talking to them. I reached out with a few e-mails that were generally met with “huh?” And then, as the e-mail trails grew, things began to click for the manufacturers. Over the course of quite a long time- when gamers who followed our progress wondered if we had just stopped working- I built business relationships with these manufacturers. That takes time. And then, I hired the concept artist from Tron: Legacy, Bruno Werneck. His talent is incredible and fit exactly what we were looking for regarding the box art. The box was commissioned and real money was spent for the first time.

Brigade Models, Plasmablast Games, Microworld Games, Steel Crown Productions (now unfortunately out of business), Dark Realm Miniatures, Hawk Wargames, and the Phalanx Consortium are all of our current partners:

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The basic idea is this: We make a boxed set of Polyversal with two factions for players to get into the game and rules, counters, tokens, dice, etc. We include miniatures from multiple manufacturers in the same box, which exposes the gamer to 5 different lines of models. They’re all the same scale (except the walkers from Hawk) and they all look good together. We develop artwork based on the likeness of each miniature for our Combatant Tiles (stat tiles) that we include. Then, we let the manufacturer use the artwork if they want (it’s based on their models). We get a nice discount for a bulk order and special casting run for each model we select- and we encourage the gamers who buy Polyversal to go buy the rest of those lines from these companies- expanding the game on their own using the design system mentioned above.

What’s in it for the manufacturers?

  • We are promoting their miniatures and exposing their products to a wide audience through a ‘starter set’ that includes them. Never heard of Plasmablast Games? Now you have!
  • We commission professional artwork by Bruno Werneck (the concept artist from Tron: Legacy, Thor, and Star Trek: Into Darkness) and share it with the manufacturers. Portfolio here.
  • We provide them with several free copies and discounts if they’d like to promote and sell the games on their own (at conventions, online, etc.).
  • We don’t compete with them by adding yet another miniatures line to 6mm. We partner and work with them.
  • We place a very large order for the miniatures to support game production.

What’s in it for us (the publisher)?

  • We don’t have to sculpt, commission, cast, 3D print, or otherwise make miniatures for our game.
  • It helps us have a boxed product for sale. This is very important for the conventions I attend. Had we wanted to just sell rules, we could have stopped there and put them up on a webstore. The problem with that: Obscurity. The only people who will buy that are existing miniatures gamers.
  • We get a nice discount that we can pass on to supporters of the game. This adds value for our product.
  • We benefit from blog posts, news items, and other promotions of Polyversal by the manufacturers we work with- instead of competing with us- they work with us.

What’s in it for you (the gamer)?

  • We expose you to miniatures lines from small businesses worldwide in a single box- those miniatures are yours to now explore- and if you like what you see- you can add more without waiting on us for expansions.
  • Boxed sets include Combatant Tiles with pro artwork (die-cut, pro printed, etc.) designed by us to be balanced and out-of-the-box playable for two factions. This helps get you into playing the game without spending a lot of time up front designing Combatant Tiles.
  • You get to support 6-7 small companies (7 because you may or may not choose to buy terrain) in a single product.
  • If you’ve never tried 6mm, or never tried a miniatures game, it fills the void of this niche area with a boxed ‘starter set’.
  • It’s a great game. Really. It’s been in development for nearly a decade and it works well because of Ken’s endless pursuit of ‘elegant’ and my demand for it.

What about a backstory?

Ken has had a backstory brewing for years. When I get him talking about it, various colored laser beams shoot out of his eyes and he becomes this mad-scientist-author-lawyer. In other words, he gets excited, which is inspiring for me. For the KS project video (which, in hindsight, should not have been part of the project video- it should have been its own broken out video), I put together a brief “story intro” video you can watch here if you’d like:

In addition, we hinted at more of the story in a Kickstarter update.

One important note is Polyversal has its own backstory that you can explore and use in your games- or- if it doesn’t suit you- come up with your own. Regarding the PolyV story, if you’re an amateur or professional author, you’ll be able to contribute to it by filling in gaps on a wiki-type site. We’re looking forward to community-driven campaigns, stories, scenarios, and more, and we’ll facilitate all of that.

We’re not quite there yet!

Step back into Mr. Teleporter and go to January 2016. We finally launched a Kickstarter project for PolyV (no longer active, but you can check it out). Unfortunately, we had to cancel it and regroup due to a number of things that needed to be honed or changed. We took in a LOT of feedback from our hundreds of backers and we’re applying most of it. I’ll be blogging about that in another post. There was much to learn, even though it was my 5th Kickstarter. It was best to cancel it, regroup, and re-launch, which we’re in the process of preparing for now…