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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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