Plaid Hat Tech and Games

Updates and musings about what I'm working on at Plaid Hat Games.

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Summoner Wars Online Beta 0.6.1 Deployed

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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New updates! Now we've got bug updates, and PE/TO updates. 0.6.1-beta.

Bugs:
* Game properly fits on extra wide monitors
* If you are viewing your own loss and click next, it doesn't redirect you to the same game.
* Gulldune is fixed.
* Attacks fixed during Blinding Flare/Wild Strike so that Life Drain etc don't add hits.
* Magic capped at 15
* UI tweaks for Ice Ram, Structural Shift, and Telepathic Command
* UI fixed to show correct active events and Valna card draw at very beginning of turn when connecting to a game.

PE/TO Changes:
* Primal Fury works on all enemy cards
* For Glory 0-cost
* Shonk -1 cost
* Smasher -1 cost, -1 life
* Blinding Flare 1-cost
* Ember Mage in PE starting setup replaced with Ember Archer
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Fri May 7, 2021 11:16 pm
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Fire and Ice

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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(Possibly) for a limited time, try out the Phoenix Elves and Tundra Orcs on Summoner Wars Online!

Besides the usual bugs in our beta, these cards are NOT yet locked in, we'll be watching the plays come in.

Other fixes deployed:
* See your opponent's name on the game screen
* A "go to next game" button
* Carriers get magic when destroying non-units.
* Elut-Bal/Soul Shift bug fixed.
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Wed May 5, 2021 6:52 pm
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Phoenix Elves and Tundra Orcs Preview Incoming

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Welcome back to the Plaid Hat Tech and Games blog!

Beta Update

Just over a week ago, we launched the Summoner Wars Online beta - all 6 master set factions have been available to play, both online and and for single player mode. They certainly weren't perfect - I've deployed a flurry of fixes over the past week, and still have some rules bugs to get to. A lot of great players have been helpful in sending in bugs and we've steadily improved.

The vast majority of games played are single player, but we have had close to 1000 multiplayer games too, yay! So far Savanna Elves are leading the pack in win percentage and Vanguards are in last - but all the win percentages are in a reasonable range, and if we would've been forced to guessed, we would've guessed new players would struggle more against Abua while struggling to figure out Sera, so it may well be temporary.

Meanwhile, yesterday I deployed some under the hood logic changes to the game and it caused a bunch of problems - I quickly got a ton of emails of players who got stuck in the middle of an action, and several new deployments in a row eventually fixed it. The reason for these under the hood deployments were a little surprise for tomorrow...

Phoenix Elves and Tundra Orcs Incoming

I've moved the starter set factions up the priority list, and we're going to launch them in the beta tomorrow. We've got a few more days in which we can adjust the numbers and text, so we've decided to let the beta players get their hands on them and get some real stats to back up how they're doing. Part of this is a split in the data - we mostly FEEL they're balanced, but the Tundra Orcs were coming up short in win percentage. We'd like to take the next few days and figure out who's right, us or the playtest stats.

I don't think this will be the typical process, but our faithful beta players deserve a treat. Look for the Phoenix Elves and Tundra Orcs to appear sometime tomorrow. I'll post here again tomorrow when the beta launches (as well as a couple more rules fixes, plus the much wanted "go to next game" button and opponents' names on the table).

Community Goals

Oh yeah, also, our initial pre-order window closed last week, and we were able to reach the community goal of 1000 full subscribers, meaning we get to add 2 promo mercs to the first printing of the starter set! Yay!

I have seen titles of threads (but haven't read them) comparing our numbers to kickstarter and thinking our numbers are a disappointment. There are a lot of reasons we've never used kickstarter before - how we want to spend our time, what we want to do for our customers, where we want our customers' money to go, our relationship to brick and mortar stores, and more. But it's an easy argument to make that we're marketing games with a hand tied behind our back in order to do what we think is best.

You might be surprised to learn that these 1000 subscribers (plus a few hundred Master Set-only orders) is a fairly normal number of pre-orders for us, in fact very close to our Forgotten Waters pre-orders. But at the same time, every game we've ever had get 1000 pre-orders has been a huge hit after it was released - which you can't at all say about all kickstarters, even those that get 4000 or more backers. So we feel good. Sure, we would've loved 3k+ (I wanted those upgraded dice myself!) but we're used to hustling for attention and we feel great about where the game is at, especially that 1000 of you have told us that you're willing to pick up each expansion as they come out - that's a huge help to keeping the game alive longterm.

Maybe we can build momentum, and we can eventually sell those upgraded dice on our store. Selfishly, I really want them.
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Tue May 4, 2021 10:54 pm
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Summoner Wars Online Beta 0.5.5 deployed

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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A couple quick fixes deployed today!
* Trampling through something multiple times now only does 1 damage.
* Guarding Spirits no longer affects champions.

The same small list of to-dos from yesterday still stands.

Thanks all, your plays are helping me a ton.
Joe
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Thu Apr 29, 2021 9:43 pm
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Summoner Wars Online Beta 0.5.4 deployed

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Besides my longer Monday updates, this blog will now serve as an informal change log for beta. Here's the updates I just deployed:

Lots of rules fixes!
* More purge options (choose units not adjacent to enemies, choose not to damage)
* Move through the same space twice in one move.
* Trample only triggers if the trampler moves off of the unit (ie if it's destroyed first, it doesn't get to trample)
* Destroy units properly when chant of entangling is discarded
* Give magic for Blast and a couple other destroy effects
* Carriers shouldn't infect structures
* Fixed game crashing when trampler is destroyed while trampling.

Still 2 rules errors I know of that I need to look into:
* Certain combos of starting your turn and undoing allows raising the dead twice
* Remove ability to draw with Valna after taking actions.

Also the highest priority, hopefully before the end of the week:
* Add "next game" button in-game.
* Add name of user you're facing in-game

Please send bugs found to swbugs@plaidhatgames.com.
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Wed Apr 28, 2021 10:18 pm
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Beta ready to go, and a new list

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Well it's 12:30am my time, so I'm a half hour late on my promise to get these blogs out each Monday. Beta update immediate below, with some thoughts on games and worldviews at the bottom.

Beta Update

I'm happy enough with the Summoner Wars Online beta to launch! We'll do so Tuesday morning and send out a newsletter at some point.

It's beta, but it's here! Server resources are still a big question mark, AI isn't doing much "custom" when playing as the other 4 factions, but they're all there. Thanks for bearing with me. I saw a comment regarding Forgotten Waters that we should make it into an online app because clearly we have a good "team" already to do so. Well I'm the only programmer, haha. There is no "team" in that sense although all the staff has helped a ton with audio, graphics, and testing.

Things that are done (or at least in an initial working state):
* 6 factions
* (rough) AI for all 6 factions
* Public matchmaking (will find you a match for your timer length, and not a mirror match)
* Private games
* Timers (games can be 45 minutes per player, or 3 days, or 14 days)
* Email notifications (send them every 10 minutes, so don't rely on them for 45 minute games)

Here's my initial rough list of tasks moving forward, roughly in the order I want to do them:

* Integrate audio for 4 other factions. (Donald has completed the audio, I just need to add it.)
* Make secret state - it's a disappointment to me that this had to get pushed off - the game still can't be played competitively because all the card info is sent to everyone under the hood. But I'm working on it!
* Basic profile and global stats (this is easy but I don't want to put this up until card info is secret, so people aren't motivated to cheat)
* Add Phoenix Elves and Tundra Orcs
* Compact data size of state, open up possibility of saving the entire game in the database instead of just the last turn
* Improved AI
* Add deck building tool for custom games
* Push notifications
* More complex rankings and matchmaking
* Add first single player campaigns
* Ready Windows/Mac Steam version

Those last 2 bullets are a lot more work and will involve a lot of subtasks themselves. All this is, of course, in addition to fixing the myriad of bugs that are about to come my way. I HOPE people are able to create matches without too much trouble - we'll see!

Games and worldviews

I took my 3-year-old son to the playground this evening. We climbed to the top of the playground and decided to play pretend knights. We were in our castle, and would see monsters out and about. We'd go down the slide, grab our swords (sticks), and he'd jump on his horse (his little balance bike). Then we'd go chase down the monster (a dumpster, or light pole, etc) and fight it until it declared (in my best monster voice) that we had won.

I'm troubled by the default American worldview that I myself swim in, which casts those who have as the good guys who deserve nothing but safety and happiness, and those who are outside our circle as the bad guys who probably deserve whatever bad stuff befalls them. The worldview pollutes immigration views, policing views, and many other areas of American life.

When I make up games with my kid, these worldviews still permeate the play I improvise. Cops and robbers. Knights protecting the castle from monsters. Harmless on a surface level, but maybe beginning to build those same wrong biases into my kid that I've had to try to rewire in my own brain - about who we cheer for, and what assumptions we make about who is doing good and harm. Really, I don't think any of these games are doing harm to my kid right now, but I want to start aiming for the right stories now rather than later.

So I try to mix it up - after defeating a monster, he became a wise monster that sent us on the quest to defeat a lion statue on the nearby seminary campus. Then after defeating the lion, the lion turned out to just be cranky because he had a thorn in his paw.

Anyway, I wonder the same thing about game design. I've gotten a lot of insight from folks I respect who have challenged me to look at how imperialism, to mention a prominent example, infiltrates so much of board games. So often, we are doing the work of imperialism, from the perspective of the conquerers, when we play board games. Would we not benefit from looking at things from a different angle?

One of Plaid Hat's earliest games did that - City of Remnants by Isaac Vega. Thematically, you're not the conquerers, but the conquered, refugees living on a refugee planet with no hope of overthrowing. It's a bit dark, but you're just doing crime to get the glory you can get. Maybe that's one reason (among others) that the remake, Neon Gods, didn't do great for us - the game is supposed to be drab and sad, not neon and bright.

I've often toyed with the idea of a space empire game from the perspective of a newly discovered planet - how do you interact with, trust, distrust, and explore a large empire that you've been involuntarily made a part of? Do you rise in the ranks? Do you fight for independence? I'd still love to make this game. But am I a person that do that design with insight and tact? Or is it for someone else to do? Or in a partnership?

No conclusions here, just random thoughts tonight. See you all in the beta in the next 12 hours or so.
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Tue Apr 27, 2021 6:08 am
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The Obsidian Dwarves, and Nearing Beta Status

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Welcome back to the Plaid Hat Tech and Games blog! Today I'll update you on the beta as usual, talk about my technical challenges, and let you in on our process for designing new decks.

Summoner Wars Beta Update

All 6 factions coded and tested: DONE
Authentication with PHG.com: DONE
Beta lobby logic: DONE
Creating/joining games: DONE
Matchmaking: DONE
Working game in beta environment: DONE
Turn notifications:
More robust in-game options: DONE
Don't wait on server when not necessary: tried, but there is a bug somewhere
More animations and effect indicators: DONE
Integrate audio for new factions:
AI improvements: HALFWAY DONE
Secret information: DONE
Time limits: DONE
Fix engage/guarding spirits/holy judgment bugs: DONE
Move tutorial to its own space:

We're getting close to the finish line! With AI and a couple performance issues, it feels like one step forward and two steps back. But I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel for both fixing AI bugs AND for reducing the size of the database objects so that things can move faster.

Depending on how all that goes in the next couple days, we could have something up and running for subscribers this week!

Databases and Game State

After thinking through the speed issues and server load as discussed last week, I went back to how my app and boardgame.io packages information. Boardgame.io is not perfect when using turn stages and undo, AND the log doesn't help me much for animating transitions, so I have my own "game state archive" plugin I use for both purposes.

At first, I just stored every game state, for the entire game. One turn in Summoner Wars is often 15+ game states, so we're talking about 200+ game states by the end of a game. This meant the state in the database was over 3 megabytes. (!!) Once more than a couple people were using the app, this was clearly slowing things WAY down as games dragged on.

My temporary solution was to just cut things off at the beginning of a turn. This leaves enough to undo and to watch everything since you last took an action. This helped a lot - took the game state at the end of a turn (when it's longest) to around 300kb.

But, depending on server loads and how long turns are, that is still too big. So over the weekend, I've been experimenting with jsondiffpatch - this lets me take 2 game states, compare them, and create a new, small object that just details the differences between the states. Then I can take the first state, "patch" it with the diff, and get the second state. This was the solution I needed - it took the game state at the end of a long turn down to about 30kb (and I think I can fidget with the jsondiffpatch configuration to make it even smaller).

I do have a bug with undos - somewhere in there I'm not applying jsondiffpatch correctly on an undo, and that's what I'm working on at this moment.

I know that players (and myself!) would love to have the whole game viewable at end of game... Right now I'm not sure if that'll be stored in the database or in your own browser. If I can make the jsondiffpatch process take up even less space, then the server will work fine, so that's my hope.

Designing New Summoner Wars Factions

Even though I'm laster focused on this beta app, I still find time to think about new Summoner Wars faction designs. Our staff developer Nick has taken over playtesting/development, so when I have design time, I have more of a chance to contribute to new factions.

Colby wrote this really great article detailing how deckbuilding symbols work. The short version is, we've got 12 symbols, and each faction has 2 of them. Each set of 6 decks (including the master set itself) has each symbol represented once, and every deck can thus represent 2 different symbols.

The symbols have a theme and some (flexible) mechanic ideas behind them. So, as important (or more) than deckbuilding, the symbols help us as designers to generate ideas and focus our designs around core ideas - it's really neat, and the whole idea was Colby's.

For example, the Skyspear Avians are an in-progress deck I designed that are Spirt (connection) and Air (movement). The summoner's ability lets you place her adjacent to her commons instead of moving her, and vice versa - in my opinion, a perfect synthesis of the ideas of connection and movement. The rest of the deck fans out from there.

Now for whatever reason I'm drawn to the undesigned Obsidian Dwarves, who will combine fire (precision) with primal (daring). The theme that comes to mind is dwarves with black eyes and no pupils, holding fiery weapons in both hands. Explosions and indiscriminate damage fill the battlefield.

But what does that look like mechanically? I just don't know yet. I've thought and thought and haven't come up with a great summoner ability or a cornerstone event to help get the deck kickstarted. Primal is not Dark - dark is "sacrifice" and can include intentionally damaging your own units for benefit. But Fire-Primal should be more like, powerful effects that MAY harm your own stuff as a side effect.

How does extreme heat translate into the Summoner Wars game system? I'll keep thinking about it and maybe post an idea here when I've got one. But I absolutely love our deck symbol system, which really helps us make each deck unique and thematic.

Hopefully next week, the beta is up and we're talking about how that's going!
Thanks
Joe
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Mon Apr 19, 2021 5:32 pm
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Board Game Turns as Scenes

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Welcome back to my Plaid Hat Games design and tech blog!

Summoner Wars Online Beta Update

Here's where the Summoner Wars beta is at:

All 6 factions coded and tested: DONE
Authentication with PHG.com: DONE
Beta lobby logic: DONE
Creating/joining games: DONE
Matchmaking: DONE
Working game in beta environment: DONE
Turn notifications:
More robust in-game options:
Don't wait on server when not necessary: tried, but there is a bug somewhere
More animations and effect indicators: got more difficult, as moving/forcing/blood summon need some fixes.
Integrate audio for new factions:
AI improvements:
Secret information:
Time limits: DONE
Fix engage/guarding spirits/holy judgment bugs: DONE (but not going to deploy the changes to the demo right now, sorry)

So I've crossed some things out, but a couple items have proved more difficult than expected. It's possible this could launch at the end of the week, but will more than likely be early next week.

Server resources are a big question mark. I'm using Heroku, and it's going to take some trial and error to find the right balance of power per pod versus scaling up pods. Also, how much of a factor is the database resources? This is not my specialty, and hence why I'm using Heroku, which is a platform as a service. It lets me change/scale resources with the click of a button. I've seen it said online that its price scales up and gets too expensive, but I'm not sure it could be more expensive than the staffing cost of doing all this stuff - maybe once we're established and we can contract someone to build it all out with a higher up-front cost but a lower cost per month. Or, maybe it'll turn out to not cost too much per month on Heroku in the end, and we can stick with it.

Scenes of Stories in Games

This find by @bananachangames on Twitter got my mental gears spinning. Basically, it's an excerpt from a screenwriting book, that says every single scene requires a clear emotional arc and a clear conflict. Every. Single. Scene.



The tweet author discusses the idea as it relates to RPGs. I think there are similar parallels to board game design.

In Ashes, I'd think about each round as its own "scene," - it involves a lot of back and forth between the players - and you can see how these scenes parallel watching a movie, as at the end of an Ashes round, we often think about who had the better round. That person has a positive emotional arc, while the other player had a negative one. And the player v. player conflict is obvious.

Summoner Wars is a little less clear cut, because each "scene" is more like one player's turn. So each scene features one player as the protagonist fighting the other player's forces as the antagonist. The conflict is still crystal clear. The emotional arc, though seems to have to do with resolving the unknowns of the scene, and whether they come out in the player's favor. This would be the attack rolls, other die rolls, and also just figuring out the turn as it goes along. Often, even without random effects, your choices lead you somewhere you weren't expecting when the turn began.

For any competitive game, the conflict is between the players and to some degree the environment. But players who dislike "multiplayer solitaire" games aren't immersed by the player vs environment factor. And the emotional arc is the resolutions of the unknowns at the beginning of a round or scene - once again, it doesn't have to be random effects, it could just be the sense of discovery filled out as you make choices during your turn.

And it DEFINITELY doesn't have to be a narrative game. I think of the tile area filling up and finally being auctioned off in Ra - almost always, my group discusses whether the person got a good deal or not after the auction - that's the scene resolution. If we disagree, even better! As long as we each have a clear picture of what happened.

Ironically, this is all very natural in a competitive game and not something a designer needs to plan for. It's in a cooperative or semi-cooperative narrative game where this takes more intention from the designer.

Where games have built-in story, it's a direct parallel to movies, like the intro and endings and key story points of Forgotten Waters.

Where it's tricky is in "emergent" storytelling - like a lot of the individual moments in Forgotten Waters, and almost everything in a game like Dead of Winter. Dead of Winter is a great example because it has actual scenes written onto Crossroad Cards. In that case, it's not just the written scenes, it's how the player's external motivations and needs intersect with those written scenes that creates the conflict and emotional arc. So in these cases, there's no easy formula to make it - you just have to attempt to make those factors intersect well, and the only way to figure it out is trial and error. When your player's motivations intersect well with the mechanics of the game, emergent narrative happens.

Anyway, those aren't the most organized thoughts, but maybe it got you thinking too.

Thanks for reading again! You can follow me @joepinion on twitter or discuss here and I will try to respond.
Joe
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Mon Apr 12, 2021 3:55 pm
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Technical challenges, and... the art!

Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Welcome back to another week of Plaid Hat Tech and Games! Here's what I've been working on, where the Summoner Wars Online project is, and what I've been thinking about this week.

Spoiler: It's all Summoner Wars, Summoner Wars, Summoner Wars. As a few review copies of the physical game started trickling out and I enjoyed seeing some media people tweet about the game, I worked on Summoner Wars online almost exclusively last week. I also have some thoughts below 9n the reception of the art. Here's where we're at:

All 6 factions coded and tested: DONE
Authentication with PHG.com: DONE
Beta lobby logic: DONE
Creating/joining games: DONE, except matchmaking
Working game in beta environment: DONE
Turn notifications:
More robust in-game options:
Don't wait on server when not necessary:
More animations and effect indicators:
Integrate audio for new factions:
AI improvements:
Secret information:
Time limits:

The multiplayer authentication/authorization system was built, as well as lobby logic and the ability to create and join private games. This is actually ALL I planned to do with the game originally, subject to getting a crazy amount of subscribers. But as we've moved closer, turn notifications and matchmaking and single player stuff and time limits has seemed easier, while some of the core challenges have remained difficult. Here's a couple technical challenges I'm working through this week:

(Warning, this week will be a very technical discussion - it won't always be like this. Scroll down for art discussion if that's all you're interested in.)

Tracking turns

Boardgame.io is the open source library I use for Summoner Wars Online, and it's great at the things it aims to do. However, as of now there are no features directly supporting asynchronous play - i.e. letting you go away and then notifying you when it's your turn. Some of this I've already taken care of - if you open a game at the beginning of your turn, it automatically remembers and plays the animations for your opponent's last turn. But the other thing we need is turn notifications - email, push notifications, and more.

I'm storing some separate game metadata in a different database which handles user authentication, as part of our main django site. (While boardgame.io runs on a nodejs server.) That way I can look at who's turn it is and whether the game is over very quickly compared to parsing through the game state json objects stored in my boardgame.io database. The question is, how best to keep these 2 things synced?

One strategy would be a boardgame.io plugin that only runs on the server, which posts the info to an endpoint I create. Boardgame.io has a nice little plugin system I've used effectively for tracking animations, so this would be straightforward to code. It would also offer near-instantaneous results. But it has downsides on the reliability and resource standpoint. What if a post request fails? Getting messages about games out of sync sounds like quite a headache. I might need the server to check on this any time someone accesses the game, and if it's out of sync, hit the endpoint again. Also: this process scales up 1:1 with the number of games happening.

Maybe it would be better to have the nodejs server access the metadata database DIRECTLY and update those tables. That would be more reliable, but would still scale up resources 1:1 with games played. But yeah, that's probably a better option.

The less resource intensive option is to make a separate process that runs through the database directly, constantly, and checks each running game one by one looking for a turn change and/or a game end. In that case, it updates the database and sends out notifications. The nice thing, even if we have 100x more games, this process can still run at its own pace. The downside, is that we lose any sense of instantaneousness.

I suppose the ULTIMATE solution ​is to put #2 and #3 together. Of course, the answer is always to double the amount of work I have to do.

Keeping users up to date

Even when I have the metadata up to date on the server, there's still a scary question haunting me, which is, how do I keep the user's lobby page up-to-date with the server? This authentication and game info runs on a django server, which is not really designed for a socket.io connection or long polling or anything like that. So my options are either to send a request to the server every 5 seconds or so asking for an update on the user's games, OR to run a whole other process for keeping the client up to date. crycrycry Either option will be a good bit of work, and is a big question mark as far as resource cost goes.

We'll see.

A couple thoughts on art

If you hang around any Summoner Wars discussion, you will know that our new art style by the amazing Martin Abel and Madison Johnson is divisive. I don't know anyone NEW to the game who dislikes it, but some longtime fans miss the old art.

Art is, at the end of the day, subjective. But all of us, every one of us, involved in creating the game, prefer the new art by an order of magnitude. We think it's better in quality and also prefer the feel and atmosphere it provides. But someone who likes the old art also is free to have their own opinion.

Here's the problem, whenever a creator and a fan disagree on on an artistic choice - the creator, if they have artistic integrity, is OBLIGATED to do what THEY as the creator thinks is the best choice. If they do what a fan wants JUST because a fan wants it even though they disagree, they are pandering in the worst way and that will be obvious in the end result - bad for everyone.

We faced some of this in playtesting - playtesters wanted us to move the game design or deck designs in certain directions - but we can't just do that because they want us to, we have to do what we think is best. Our playtest process was long and allowed us time to argue with playtesters and come around on a lot of aspects to their point of view. But art doesn't lend itself to the same kind of compromise and partnership.

So what I would ask of longtime players who liked the old art is, even if you dislike it, please recognize that we made artistic choices about the world that we wanted to build - we're not just a mindless corporation spitting out things designed to please customers, and you wouldn't want that either - the end result would be a gross, pandering mess. Plaid Hat Games' most outstanding strength has always been its wonderful worldbuilding, so please stick with us and trust the plan - maybe things will grow on you.

Thanks for reading

Apologies that there's not much game development or more general content in this post - I am laser focused on getting this beta up as soon as possible this month, and am focused on the essentials right now, which can sometimes be overly technical and not that exciting. This blog today has really helped me think through the solutions in front of me, so I appreciate the forum to do so.
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Mon Apr 5, 2021 3:50 pm
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Summoner Wars, and This Blog, Set Sail

Joseph Arthur Ellis
United States
Ashland
Ohio
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Microbadge: Summoner Wars fanMicrobadge: Defcon StatusMicrobadge: RaxxonMicrobadge: Ra fanMicrobadge: Star Wars: Rebellion fan
Hiya! I'm Joe Ellis (sometimes characterized J. Arthur Ellis). I've worked full-time for Plaid Hat Games, then Asmodee, then Plaid Hat Games again, since 2015. I've done everything from create and manage websites, marketing writing and strategy, general IT manager stuff, playtest administration, game development, game design (Raxxon, Crystal Clans, Forgotten Waters), and I'm currently adding video game design to my portfolio.

Basically, I've done everything in games except art, game production and sales. I wanted to start a blog for a few reasons. One, to update people on the progress of our Summoner Wars digital game and what progress there is on that. Two, to have a place to pontificate on games. Three, to be informative for people curious about what indy game companies are up to.

Each Monday, I'll let you know what I've been working on, where (publicly known) projects are at, and if there's something on my mind, some general thoughts about games.

During the week, I'll come back here and answer questions if anyone leaves them.

Kraken's Eye

10 days ago, we launched our first Forgotten Waters DLC, The Kraken's Eye. It's a new scenario, plus 100+ generic entries that could show up in any scenario. All fully voice acted by Chris Sabat, Ricco Fajardo, and more talented people, and the first Forgotten Waters story our team has built without the help of Isaac Vega. It's interesting how different people's involvement creates a different flavor - if we tried to write exactly what Isaac would do, it would come off as fake. So Bistro and I, who conceived of this story together, made a Bistro and Joe story. So it's different than the first 5 scenarios - I would say, more high concept? But I don't want to spoil it. We gave it our all! Donald and Niki also contributed to the story and gameplay, and Donald wrote all the generics.

Sales have been encouraging (as much as we can tell, since we've never done this before) and the only feedback on the story I've heard has been positive. (I don't go looking for reviews anymore.) I hope that if the pace keeps up, we'll be able to begin work on more content, but we'll have to look at the numbers after a couple months. The idea with DLC is to diversify our revenue a bit and have revenue streams when there are general problems with distribution, etc, which, of course, there were over the past year.

Summoner Wars Online

On March 1, we launched our Summoner Wars pre-order and that included an online demo of the enforced rules web app I've been working on. Besides nerves for how the game itself is received (Colby and I have been working so hard on it the past year) and sales, I was anxious about how the demo would work. It's just an alpha, but it seems to be working well and people have had a ton of fun with it! In our quest as an indy publisher looking for places to punch through, since the pre-order launched we've strategized about how to craft the app into a better product - not too long ago it was just an experiment I was doing, but between functionality, graphics, and sound, it's gotten to feel more like a real video game.

Our hope is that when we launch 1.0 late in the summer, we can also launch on Steam for Windows and Mac the same day. (With all purchases from the PHG store flowing over there as well, so no double-purchasing necessary.) With or without that, though, we've gone from thinking "maybe" on a lot of features to for sure trying to do them: Game timers, matchmatking, more AI improvements, and a single player story campaign are all things we're actively working on right now.

The beta will be available soon to those who have signed up for a full or digital subscription. Each week I'll track my progress toward the beta launch:

All 6 factions coded and tested: DONE
Authentication with PHG.com:
Beta lobby logic:
Creating/joining games:
Working game in beta environment:
Turn notifications:
More robust in-game options:
Don't wait on server when not necessary:
More animations and effect indicators:
Integrate audio for new factions:
AI improvements:

That's what I have left to do to launch the beta. We'll see how many items I've crossed off the list by next Monday!

What's a Game

Matthew Legault on twitter asked for opinions on what qualifies as a game. I'm resolute in my belief that anything that a kid would call a game, is a game. "Game" is one of the first 200 words a kid learns. It's an innate human activity. A game is simply: people collaborating on an imaginary environment in order to have fun. Fun could be wacky fun, or competition, or serious thinking, but you get my drift. It doesn't require win/loss conditions. It doesn't require an opponent. When my todder wants to play "the red game," which is just pointing out things that are red, that's a game. Any other exclusivity beyond that, in my opinion, has to do with games as products - useful, but not the most important definition of "game."

Are more specific categories useful? Like tabletop games, strategy games, etc? Sure. I like most strategy games. I don't like most RPGs. But from a designer's perspective, restricting the definition of a game to something with strict, written rules and win/loss conditions, or even a challenge to overcome, is missing the point. The point is, we as humans are energized and connected by collaborating on an imaginary environment designed for fun. (Even with solo games, I'd argue you're collaborating with the designer(s).) So that's all a game is - collaborating on a fun imaginary environment. The environment may be abstract, like the Red Game mentioned above or checkers or basketball, or immersive, like an RPG. They're all games.

Even delineating between RPGs and other tabletop games is trickier than most people realize, and more a matter of designer intention and product development than anything. The reason Forgotten Waters is a board game, and not an RPG, is because we meant to make a board game, and we're a board game publisher. That's really the only difference. Otherwise, it has all the trappings of an RPG, and coming from a different company, it might be called that. More guided than most, but still. There have been some negative comments that have said Forgotten Waters is "just" interactive fiction, not a "game." I think there's a lot about the game design going over those people's heads, but even there wasn't, it wouldn't make Forgotten Waters any less of a game - it's just not the kind of game they're interested in.

Alright, time to work like crazy on the Summoner Wars beta this week. I hope to have checked off a lot of that list by next Monday. We'll see! If anyone leaves a comment below, I'll come back later this week and respond.
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 3:43 pm
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