Category Archives: projects

Angel Project

The other day I finally finished Persona 5 (play time: 99 hours 38 minutes), and since I was still jonesing for some JRPG nonsense I decided to play through Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3 for the first time in years. That in turn inspired me to start seriously working on Angel Project, the Yuna-inspired RPG I’ve been wanting to do, while some other projects are waiting on other people.

Galaxy-Fraulein-Yuna-Manual-Front
I can’t even tell you just how 90s anime the contents of this CD-ROM are.

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna is a franchise that spans three games and two OAV series, running from about 1992 to 1998. Designer Mika Akitaka did a series of “MS Girls” illustrations, making cute girl versions of different Gundam robots, and Red Company and Hudson asked him to create a game for the then fairly PC-Engine Super CD-ROM^2. (NEC branded the PC-Engine as the Turbografx-16 in the US.) Akitaka’s concepts evolved into a visual novel with a series of simple one-on-one battles scattered throughout. In the story, Yuna Kagurazaka wins a beauty contest, and then finds out that she is now the Savior of Light, tasked with protecting the galaxy. Over the course of the two PC-Engine games, two OVA series, and the final Saturn/PS1 game,[1] she fights a bunch of enemies who are mostly cute girls, and winds up befriending the majority of them. The English-speakers who know the franchise mainly know it through the anime, and unfortunately the five anime episodes only represent parts three and four out of a five-part story. It has its own distinct aesthetic and sensibility, but it’s a lot like a sillier version of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha or Symphogear, blending epic battles with lessons in friendship.

hibiki
Punching in the name of friendship!

I came up with the idea for Angel Project when I was considering doing some alternate settings for Magical Burst (the other two being a Persona-ish thing called “Zero Hour” and a thing with teenagers with special powers in the vein of A Certain Scientific Railgun called “Helix Academy”). Later I ended up designing and publishing Magical Fury (which has been surprisingly popular), and a reworking of the Magical Fury rules felt like the right way to realize Angel Project. Although it has a lot of sci-fi trappings, Galaxy Fraulein Yuna is essentially a magical girl story (Yuna even has a mascot/mentor that grants her powers and advises her, but it’s a little robot thing named Elner), and although Magical Fury is a darker take on it, it’s very much a magical girl RPG. There are a lot of things I’m reworking for Angel Project, a lot of things that need to strike a different tone, but there weren’t too many rules that I had to entirely cut out. The single biggest change was that I replaced Magic/Trauma/Hope with Friendship/Silly/Despair, which should do a lot to change the overall feel and flow.

One kind of unusual and oddly fun thing in the Yuna games is that you travel to various implausibly themed planets, like the Wind Planet and the Beach Planet, so Angel Project has both rules for traveling places and a setting section that outlines places like the Machine Planet, the Fancy Planet, and the Fandom Planet. It also has more clearly defined enemies, in the form of Dark Angels, robots, Shadows (kinda like the Noise from Symphogear), Machine Generals, and so on. It’s generally going to be a bit more fleshed out than Magical Fury, and I’m enjoying doing more with that framework.

While I’m not opposed to doing darker stuff in RPGs, I definitely feel there’s a greater need for more uplifting, positive games. I want Angel Project to be a game that celebrates friendship and redemption, a game where befriending foes is not only a possible outcome, but a common one.


[1]There are a few other Yuna titles, but they’re various remakes, ports, and retellings of the stories of those five entries in the franchise.

Catching Up

There’s been a bunch of stuff going on that I haven’t quite gotten around to posting about here, so here goes.

Kagegami High

The game is finally out! Well, the PDF is up for sale on DriveThruRPG. Getting the POD versions set up has been unusually difficult, since there have been some weird file conversion issues with CreateSpace, and DTRPG’s system for setting up POD titles is apparently messed up at the moment. Update: But it’s now up on Amazon at least!

Kagegami-High-Cover

The last push took a lot of energy, and I’m still kind of marveling at having written a 168-page book that’s so dense with references and setting info. I haven’t done all that much with setting in my games (though Dragon World is going to have the setting of Easteros in it), but this book is bursting with details about the school, and has 72 NPCs. My only regret is that I didn’t put more Utena-inspired stuff in.

Also the custom Weird Dice (and Spooky Dice for Spooktacular) are now available from IPR. Getting custom dice made through Chessex was pretty fun and easy, and definitely something I’ll do more in the future when I can find good excuses for it.

dice

Kickstarters

I have not one but two Kickstarters in the works.

Golden Sky Stories: Twilight Tales is the title we finally settled on for Mononoke Koyake, the first Japanese GSS supplement. We’re going to be properly publishing it in English and getting a print run of physical books, plus doing some nifty stretch goal stuff, albeit not nearly as much as last time (three books’ worth and then some was a bit much, not to mention the battle to get all the physical stuff printed and shipped). I was originally planning to do the Dragon World KS first, but Twilight Tales is closer to being ready, but really we’ll see how it all shakes out.

MK Cover.png

Dragon World is also going to be Kickstarting. I need to nail down some final planning stuff, and I’m waiting on the finished cover art (which is going to be elaborate, pretty, and very anime) before I launch. We also have quite a few stretch goals lined up, including some pretty cool stuff I’m looking forward to.

dragon world art sample

For both we’re going to be including wall scrolls from CustomWallScrolls.com among the rewards. We did that for GSS, and we were generally really happy with the quality and service.

DriveThruRPG Stuff

DTRPG has a thing where you get awarded a certain amount of Publisher Promotion Points, and I noticed that both the Yaruki Zero and Star Line accounts had accumulated kind of a lot, so I decided to make an effort to try using them. In addition to getting featured product impressions, I’ve tried having Golden Sky Stories, Kagegami High, and Maid RPG as Deals of the Day. The amount of sales that resulted wasn’t world-shattering, but it was substantially more than those games got without that extra promotion behind them, especially for Kagegami High (which hasn’t already gotten into the hands of quite so much of its potential audience).

Combined with the GM’s Day Sale, this is already one of the best months for RPG sales I’ve had in a while, so I’m thinking more about how to promote my stuff and reach more people, even though it’s potentially kind of a lot of work.

Other Randomness

  • I got inspired to check out the Savage Worlds version of Rifts. While I’m not really a fan of Savage Worlds, I was nonetheless really impressed and ended up buying all three books. (Though if I play an actual game with them I’ll probably use FAE or Strike! or something.) They managed to create a take on the world of Rifts that’s oriented towards having exciting adventures in that setting, where Palladium’s own books too often felt like an assortment of random stuff, which was cool but didn’t really cohere into a basis for stories. Each archetype is super-enthusiastic, and sells you on it being awesome to play, and in many cases makes changes that make it way more interesting.
  • A while back I designed Duel Questers, a mini-RPG thing for Millennium Blades, and it’s now available in the MB artbook. MB has a wonderfully bonkers setting, and it was a lot of fun to play around with it.
  • Jessica Price (PM at Paizo) has been posting some fascinating and insightful stuff about geek culture on her Twitter. Here’s a storify, and here’s another thread of note.
  • Nekomimi Land, a messed-up dystopian novel I’ve been working on for way too long, is nearly ready for publication, once my editor finishes with it. It’s raw and weird and imperfect, but I want to finally get it out into the world. It’ll also be my first self-published work of fiction, and I want to do more, albeit something a bit lighter next time.

Kagegami High Underpinnings

pain-girlIt still needs a little more work, but I finished the first draft of Kagegami High and did some playtesting. Along the way I’ve wound up thinking a lot about the thematic and artistic underpinnings of it. I didn’t set out to create Kagegami High with a specific set of themes in mind, but I think I’ve figured out what themes I want it to have over the course of writing it.

The world at large is weird about Japanese schoolgirls. Japanese schoolgirls are, you know, human beings (of a particular age, gender, and nationality) with their own individual thoughts and agency, and they have perhaps unusually fertile and creative subcultures. (Though there are others that are less celebrated, like the wonderfully gonzo fashion subcultures of Africa.) Japanese schoolgirls are a pretty major market demographic in Japan too, and a lot of companies are trying to reach them as trendsetters and consumers. On the other hand they’re the subject of a mystique and a worrisome bundle of fetishes, and they get used as a motif as well. There’s a lot of anime and related media that deals with schoolgirls in various ways, and while there are women who create anime and manga about schoolgirls and draw on their own experiences (Naoko Takeuchi and Aoki Ume come to mind), a lot of it is by and for men. Fine art that touches on Japanese schoolgirl subject matter is often like surrealism’s treatment of women in that it’s often more about the idea of women from a male perspective.

antler-girlAlthough I’m necessarily coming at this from the perspective of a white guy, I think an important (if somewhat subtle) part of Kagegami High is looking at the dissonance between Japanese high school girls as human beings and Japanese high school girls as an artistic concept and motif. The cartoonish surveillance state of the school isn’t just a reflection of the intrusive surveillance of society, but a metaphor for the eyes directed at Japanese schoolgirls, in both reality and fantasies. Or as one entry in the school announcements table puts it:

You are being watched, curiously, intently, lazily, lustily. You can feel the eyes on you, the alien eyes from another reality, the eyes that belong to those for whom your existence is an ideal beyond reach, but never out of mind. There’s something disgusting about them, something disturbing.

I think a lot of the game’s content is about living in a world with massive forces that make the individual feel small. That’s something we all experience, but as a group that’s fetishized and commodified and so on, Japanese schoolgirls seem like an ideal lens to explore those themes. Conspiracy theorists deal with that feeling by adopting the belief that they’re unusually capable people who’ve managed to see through to the truths that evade the great mass of sheeple. Kagegami High students deal with these things in a variety of different ways, but especially by way of joining clubs like the Illuminati Club, Conspiracy Club, Genetically Modified Organisms Club, or the Kagegami High Troubleshooting Protagonists Club. There’s also the part about how the game makes players engage this fictional world through a female character, albeit a pretty weird one more often than not.

sheeple-24
David Dees is a fascinating artist, albeit a worrisome one.

Kagegami High is also decidedly surreal. A lot of that is a result of simply going where the inspiration of Maid RPG, Sayounara Zetsubou-sensei, and Welcome to Night Vale took me, but I have been consciously exploring surreal art, both in terms of the specific art movement of the 1920s and in general. Surrealism makes statements about the human experience through absurd, impossible, yet realistically-rendered imagery that carries a certain dreamlike quality. As in the game’s source material, Kagegami High’s ridiculous microcosm of society reflects reality through a funhouse mirror to highlight just how strange the world we live in really is. Some of the content of Kagegami High is inevitably going to be random for the sake of randomness (and thus maybe a bit Dadaist), but a lot of it makes statements about the world in various ways. Students have to navigate all kinds of nonsensical rules, are expected to treat the rich girls among them as though they were inherently better even if they’re in the middle of proving otherwise, and have civics classes where they learn all about bribery and intimidation.

I also tried to give it a core of kindness and compassion. The students of Kagegami High are in a strange, paranoid world, but they form friendships and find a kind of belonging. Much like in Night Vale, there are those parts when that one melancholy Disparition song plays, and everyone reflects on what they’ve made it through together. Along with the power-hungry maniacs, your Kagegami High classmates include the cloyingly sincere, good-natured friends who, despite being weirdos themselves, try to help you all make it through things together.

Anyway. Kagegami High clocks in at 168 pages, 63,000 words, and over 200 graphical elements, and it’s going to be my most ambitious original game thing so far. I’m not even sure what it is that I’ve made, but I hope you all enjoy it.

More on Kagegami High

Since it’s about the only thing I’ve made any real progress on lately, I might as well post a bit more about Kagegami High.

Early on I laid out a bunch of tables and other stuff to built out the setting and the game, and the lion’s share of the additional writing I need to do is simply completing the tasks I’ve set for myself, like writing up the 36 classmates and 18 faculty members, and filling out a bunch of random event tables for different general situations.

Aesthetics

I’ve ended up spending a lot of time adding visual elements to Kagegami High, and far more of them than for pretty much anything I’ve done before. Despite that, at least for now I haven’t commissioned any original artwork and probably won’t unless I decide I want to crowdfund an updated/deluxe version of the game. The game’s source material includes a lot of titles that tend to express things in ways other than illustrations, and what visuals there are for Welcome to Night Vale tend to be the sort that allude and imply things rather than showing them outright. The purple Night Vale logo with a crescent moon inside of an eye really sets the mood for the audio content, and in a way it makes sense to do something like that for a certain kind of role-playing game.

I’ve been using the Noun Project a lot in my various games and such (to the point where the $9.99 a month for a pro subscription has been well worth it for me), and the black and while symbols for things have been incredibly useful for Kagegami High, both as-is and as raw materials for creating the things I actually want. While it was a simple matter to get an icon of a soccer ball to be the symbol of the school’s soccer club, for the “Popular Girls Club” I used two existing icons to build the one I wanted:

popular

The other thing I’ve been able to do is make weird schoolgirl silhouettes to scatter throughout the book. It took me a little while to figure out the right process for this, and now I may have gone a little overboard.

  1. I start with stock art, usually from DLSite or one of the many sites offering stock art for RPG Maker. In both cases the key search term to know is 絵素材 (esozai) literally “picture materials,” but basically “stock art.” Not all of these are at print resolution, but that’s one of the benefits of making them into silhouettes and vectorizing them.
  2. In Photoshop, press Ctrl-U to get the Hue/Saturation adjustment dialog, and drag the Lightness slider all the way to the left to make the entire thing black. (Though you may need to use a paintbrush to fill in any white spots left over.)
  3. Open the image in Illustrator (or paste it in).
  4. Click on Image Trace to create a vector version. Maybe tweak the settings a little to get it how you want. Click Expand, then use the Ungroup command to separate the new vector object from the original raster image. Get rid of any extraneous stuff left over from the conversion.
  5. Once I have the vectorized silhouette, it’s pretty easy to take some Noun Project elements and turn it into something especially weird. The Noun Project’s app for macOS lets you drag and drop, making that step super easy, but it’s not too big a deal to download the SVG file instead. Regardless, the Live Paint tool is invaluable here since it lets you easily fill in parts of objects, much like the paint bucket tool in Photoshop. In the example below, I started with this eye icon, and filled the pupil with black and the white with, you know, white, so that it didn’t totally disappear when placed on top of the silhouette. Thus we have a gangly schoolgirl with one vividly visible eye, and in a form that can print smoothly at any scale.
  6. Since I’m still doing layouts in Word for some reason, I save it as an EPS file, which I can then embed into the Word doc.

untitled-1So yeah. Between icons and silhouettes and a few other things, the book will probably have a few hundred visual elements (in addition to some shenanigans with fonts and Unicode characters and such). It’s something that fits this particular game really well and wouldn’t work most of the time, but I’ve been very pleased with the results, and not just because it’s inexpensive.

Rules Stuff

The rules are another thing that I’ve given more attention that I expected to. Early on in the process I started by literally copying and pasting the rules section from Schoolgirl RPG as a starting point, which is to say I began with the lightest possible implementation of the Maid RPG rules, and from there I got inspired to make some important changes.

The biggest thing was that the Ghostbusters RPG and Spooktacular made such an impression on me that I decided to graft a variant of that dice system onto M.A.I.D. Engine chassis. Rolling a bunch of dice has smoother probabilities and is just more viscerally fun than rolling a single die, and the Ghost Die (which becomes the “Weird Die” in Kagegami High) generally adds a lot of fun. While the notion of something hilariously screwing you over doesn’t fit as well, having a die trigger something weird (which can just be a random event if all else fails) works nicely. (It also gives me an excuse to get custom Weird Dice made!) This also consequently meant that the scale for stats needed to be a little wider (1-6 instead of 0-4), and generally led to some tweaks elsewhere in the game.

I also added Principles and GM Moves, descended from the principles and MC moves of Apocalypse World. These are essentially a distillation of the techniques I’ve worked out for playing/running Maid RPG, adjusted for how I envision Kagegami High working. The GM moves are a little different from AW’s MC moves in that some of them fall into the realm of actual mechanics, presenting stuff like calling for random events and assigning Awesome Points into that clear format.

The most recent–and most experimental–addition is the concept of “invoking a trait,” which lets players spend Awesome Points to leverage a Special Quality or other trait into making something happen in the fiction. It’s tricky because unlike Fate (where the idea came from, of course) Maid RPG wasn’t designed from the ground up with that sort of thing in mind, but I definitely do like the idea of having a procedure for making Special Qualities and such come into the game in an interesting way.

There’s still plenty left to do, but I’m definitely looking forward to playtesting and eventually publishing this one.

Spooktacular

My deluge of freelance work has evened out a little, so I’ve had some time to seriously work on Spooktacular, to the point where I’m starting the first playtest. The core idea of it is simply to make an updated and streamlined serial-numbers-filed-off version of the 1986 West End Games Ghostbusters RPG, but it’s been a really fun and interesting project to work on so far. (Also, Amy Veeres is contributing some writing.) As things stand it’s most likely going to be a PDF/POD Yaruki Zero Games release. Most of my printed self-published stuff has been in 6″x9″ format so far, but I’ve been trying out and generally liking 7″x10″ lately. Part of it is just that it’s big enough that my habit of including a bunch of tables doesn’t require too much squeezing. Anyway.

I think I would sum up my overall approach as taking the core mechanics from the original RPG and more or less doing the rest by way of my own ideas and inspirations, creating a take on busting ghosts that’s uniquely mine, based on the related media and games I like and my own ideas about the whole thing. Stuff like InSpectres, Buffy, and Mob Psycho 100 (a currently airing anime series) played into the themes, and games like Apocalypse World, Maid RPG, PDQ, and Risus influenced the design.

ecto

Themes and Stuff

Coming at this as an adult fan has let me more seriously examine the themes behind Ghostbusters and write about my own take on it. The original movie was more about running a business, while the remake is more about science and skepticism, and I find both pretty interesting. The appeal of the overall franchise I think is in that where horror movies tell us that the unknown is deadly and only barely survivable, here the paranormal is not only something people can defeat, but something that can become another job. While there are serious challenges and the possible end of the world to consider, Ghostbusters also deal with a lot of ghosts with all the nonchalance of an exterminator spraying for termites.

I’ve realized that while the characters can and probably should be a bit weird and quirky, it’s like Fiasco in terms of being something that works best with relatively normal characters rather than cartoons. A lot of the appeal and humor comes from the juxtaposition of supernatural horrors with that mundane aspect. Ghosts as a verifiable phenomenon and the busting thereof are things that the premise superimposes on an otherwise pretty ordinary world, and it’s really interesting to think about what those ripples result in. (To me that’s one place where Ghostbusters II kind of fell down, since it tried too hard to “reset” the characters back to being nobodies who had to start from square one.)

One of my favorite parts of the book so far (and the one Amy is contributing to) is the “Interesting Places to Hunt Ghosts” section, which profiles various cities in terms of what it’s like to be a paranormal investigator there. I started with places I’m familiar with–San Francisco, Albuquerque, and Washington D.C.–and Amy is adding Philadelphia, Kyoto, and London. While I have nothing against New York, I’ve never been (I’d like to some time), and for me the personalized specificity of SF or Washington is much more interesting to me personally. I can imagine busting ghosts on Capitol Hill or a Google bus plodding down Market Street much more vividly than the streets of New York, and bringing that kind of personal experience to the table helps it feel more grounded.

Game Mechanics

While I kept most of the very core conceits of the original game, I am making some changes, a mixture of personal preference and general attempts to improve it.

The biggest change I made to character creation was simply adding a bunch of optional d66 tables for the various things you have to come up with. This is a technique I first came up with for Magical Burst (inspired by Maid RPG), and it’s served me well in a bunch of other games since. It’s a way to present a bunch of examples, provide a quick out for anyone who’s stumped, and gently shape the tone of the game, so it’s something I’ve wound up using a lot in my various games. I’m also inordinately happy with adding “Ate a Telephone Once” to the table of Quirks as a nod to the GBRPG rulebook’s penchant for using eating a telephone as an example.

The second biggest change is the addition of Archetypes, which give you a broad character type (Charlatan, Parapsychologist, Esper, etc.) and a special ability that you can use by spending Awesome Points (which are Brownie Points under a different name). While I do like the addition to the game, it’s becoming clear that I need good reference materials to keep it from becoming a drag on character creation.

In 1989, WEG put out a second edition of the RPG called Ghostbusters International, but fans by and large found that it overcomplicated the game. I’ve tried to implement a handful of ideas from it while streamlining it as much as possible. One of the major things that GBI does that looks like it would pointlessly slow down play is to use margins of success a lot. While you have the option to just treat it as a binary pass/fail, the game encourages you to subtract the target number from the roll result and compare it to a chart to see how much the character succeeded by, which is kind of a lot of extra math to pack into every single roll in what it supposed to be a pretty freewheeling game. We’ll see if it survives playtesting, but I came up with the concept of Exceptional Success and Ridiculous Success for when you succeed by 10 or 20 points (respectively), which I’m hoping will make it easy to do something with crazy rolls without excessive math involved. Likewise, I added the concept of damage to stats from GBI (with a little inspiration from Risus and PDQ), but tried to simplify it as much as possible.

I did away with any semblance of initiative or movement rules (not that the original game had a whole lot of that), and instead basically wrote a couple paragraphs about doing it the way Apocalypse World does (which also happens to be more or less how Maid RPG does it).

Anyway

I’m hoping this will be a fun game, and my own unique take on something that was a defining part of my childhood. (an obsession that the new movie actually rekindled stronger than ever). It’s generally been really fun to work on, and I’ve already commissioned James Workman (who did the illustrations for Fantasy Friends) to do some artwork for it.

Kagegami High

I haven’t written about it all that much here, but lately I’ve been working pretty intently on Kagegami High. Of my self-published games, Schoolgirl RPG is the most spontaneous and also one of the most successful. I ended up making quite a bit of material for it, put together a Complete Edition (with a POD version available), and then giving it a rest. When I decided to come back to the game, I had the idea to create a book that presents a premade setting, a high school with explanations of places, students, teachers, etc. I’d barely gotten started on brainstorming for that when the idea for Kagegami High took over.

Kagegami High Cover_

Continue reading Kagegami High

Channel A Reprint

Asmadi Games launched the Kickstarter for Channel A in early 2013, and since then the game’s been enough of a success to sell out its entire first printing. I’ve had a lot of people say some very nice things about it, and one game designer said they played it at his wedding even. There are also multiple YouTube videos of people playing it, including one featuring ladies in bikinis that I don’t really know how to react to.

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot of people asking where they can actually get the game. For a while there were still some copies floating around some retailers, but that’s pretty much dried up for now, leaving only the barebones PNP version for people who want to try it out. I’ve been talking to Chris at Asmadi Games about it for a while, and we finally figured out how to handle things.

Asmadi is now holding a preorder drive for the reprint. We need 500 preorders into order to launch the reprint. On the plus side, for $32 you will get not only the game, but the new A-Soft expansion (which lets you play the game as a contest to pitch weird video games, and which will probably go for $10 when sold separately) as well, with shipping included. If you’re interested, you can put your preorder at the Asmadi Games store.

banner_ChannelA

I’m still working on the Chaos Edition that I’ve discussed a bit before, which will be a standalone expansion that adds some nifty new twists to the gameplay, but those new twists mean that I have to do more playtesting. In the meantime your help getting the reprint and A-Soft off the ground would be hugely appreciated.