Sunday, October 29, 2017

Painting The 7th Continent

I have quite a backlog of ideas I want to blog about, but I've been a bit stressed with other things lately. These stresses also got me into a bit of a painting funk. The full story starts at the end of August or beginning of September---right around the start of the semester---when I received my copy of The 7th Continent. I was quite excited about this Kickstarter project, in part because it explores a modern, narrative-rich variation on classic "Choose Your Own Adventure" gameplay, similar to some of my recent work.

The game comes in a beautiful and well-designed box.

One of the reasons for backing the Kickstarter was to get the exclusive plastic figures, whereas the standard game comes with cardboard standees. I was eager to see how the miniatures look for painting, and I was a bit surprised to see how very miniature they really were.

That's Eliot Pendleton from The 7th Continent next to a standard reference Runebound Master Thorn. Wow, that's miniature. It took some of the excitement out of the whole package for me, but I was still eager to play, so my wife and I did our first foray into the wilderness with the standees. We followed the suggested starting curse and must have been very near the end of that story when we lost. With one completed play under our belts, we were able to look a little more carefully at the characters and pick two that seemed they would work well together. We had barely used the special abilities of our chosen characters during our first play. Our second trip to The 7th Continent would be with painted miniatures, which surely would change our luck.

I started by painting the four campfire miniatures:

This was fairly standard stuff, but I had been in a little painting lull before working on these, too. Believe it or not, I painted them upside-down to start with: newbie mistake, putting red on the bottom. Fortunately it was an easy repaint, after a little self-deprecation on Facebook. I did try something different here: using a little dark gray on the ends of the fire to imply soot. I saw this in someone's fire paintings, I cannot remember where, and I thought it would be fun to try. It's OK, but I'm not sure if I didn't give it the attention it needed or if it's not for me. Honestly, the whole bonfire probably could have had more gradation, now that I look at it: more white and yellow at the bottom, more orange up top.

Above are the two characters my wife and I chose for our second adventure: Eliot Pendleton and Dimitri Gorchkov. I let her choose the curse for them, so she picked one based on its interesting fiction. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that she chose the one that's basically a locked box, and you have to try to open it. However, unlike the first curse, there was no map or clues or anything. This made the curse a bit uninspiring: it would make a good second curse perhaps, but there's not much reason to go forward into the jungle if all you have is a locked box. We haven't actually picked up the game since. I got base coats on two other figures around that time, but then I went a few weeks without feeling the call to sit at the painting table. I finally broke out of the funk two days ago and got the rest of this set completed.

And so, here they are!

The colors are taken more or less from the cardboard standees. They were all primed by brush with Vallejo gray, basecoated, washed, and then highlighted. It's a fine tabletop quality for the tiny miniatures that they are, many of which will likely never hit the table anyway. Still, you know it's nice to have a completed set.

As I was painting, I found myself wondering how they compared to some of the smaller miniatures I've painted before, such as halflings. I happened to have my Descent heroes nearby, so I set up a quick shot for scale.

Yeah, they're small. Note that they fit nicely on the game map at this scale, so they are certainly fit for purpose.

You know, if you have a set of adventurers and some bonfires, it's tempting to set them up in a circle around a bonfire. Then, you might notice that it looks like one of them has just had enough of creepy H. P. Lovecraft there and tells him to get lost,

so then you take another photo from a low, dramatic angle of poor Howard going off to meet his accursed fate.

A few more words about the game are in order. My wife and I really enjoyed playing it as a two-player game while the eldest son was tinkering on the laptop. There was tension and excitement as we explored and got to understand the systems and the world we were exploring. The second visit lost some of the glitter since we very quickly ended up on the same little island that we were on before, so that felt more rote. I think it would be fun to set it on the shelf for a little while and come back to it in some months, or even years, when one or two of our sons might join in and we've forgotten some of the details. Even writing this, I want to go check out what those other two core set curses are and see if one looks like it would draw us in more dramatically.

It felt good to break out of my painting rut. I have some responsibilities this week that, hopefully, I'll be blogging about soon---though as I said above, I have a backlog of ideas I want to write about and a shortage of working hours to do so. The good news is that I have an ace team recruited for Spring's immersive learning Game Production Studio, and all my Fall responsibilities do seem to be falling into place. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 13, 2017

A novice game designer's self-assessment instrument

Yesterday's meeting of my game design colloquium was where the students and I developed a schedule and expectations for the remainder of the semester. We have finished the foundational material of the first half of the semester, and we are shifting into final project mode. I might write more about that meeting later, but for now, I want to share a small piece of the meeting. Most of these students have no prior game design experience, and some seemed a bit nervous about the final project. Of course, I think the source of their nervousness was grades and not quality of outcome, but let's leave that alone for now.

One of the students posed a question to me that I don't remember being asked before. They wondered if I had some kind of self-assessment that they could use to determine if they are "moving in the right direction." I believe that was the phrasing, although it may have been "doing the right thing." In either case, there was a clear assumption that there is a right way to move forward in game design and, furthermore, that I could grant this.

My instinctual reaction was "No," but then I immediately thought, "Why not?" The students have spent most of their time reading Ian Schreiber's Game Design Concepts, along with some other of my favorite readings as listed on the course schedule. We have talked about design as a cyclic process—a feedback loop where testing results inform design modifications. However, in the student's defense, we have talked about a lot of things. It's easy to see how a novice could feel lost.

Here's what I came up with as a suggestion for a self-assessment the student could apply:

  • Is the goal clear?
  • Is there conflict that prevents you from meeting that goal?
  • Are the decisions meaningful?
I don't think that's too bad for an off-the-cuff response. A couple of things were floating through my head as I articulated this. One was the very first exercise I gave them, which was the 15-minute game design challenge from Schreiber Level 1. The challenge walks you through making a simple race-to-the-end board game, and he walks you through four steps: draw a path; come up with a theme or objective; define movement rules; add conflict. Another was Sid Meier's famous quotation, "Games are a series of interesting decisions," tempered with Keith Burgun's assertion that these decisions must be endogenously meaningful.

I offer this as a thought-piece and the draft of a tool. If you try using it in, let me know how it works out. 

What questions would you put onto a self-assessment for novice game designers?