I’ve had kind of an odd relationship with television for some time now. Over the course of my lifetime I’ve gone from watching TV on a cheap TV with rabbit ears to digital streaming, which is kind of an amazing difference when you stop to think about it. I actually got into hooking my TV up to my computer before the technology was really there for it, when a video card with an S-video output was a possibility but an oddity, and watched a pretty enormous amount of anime fansubs with that and subsequent upgrades to component video. I used to be a total TV junkie too, and in high school I had plenty of time to watch new episodes of Star Trek (TNG and DS9) and Babylon 5 as they came out. 24 was something of a turning point because it was the first show that I tried to watch during its normal broadcast times and then gave up and binge-watched, then in the form of a DVD boxed set.
2015 was a weird year for me, not that I really know what a “normal” year is supposed to look like anymore. In November of 2014 I got laid off from the job I’d had for nearly 5 years. For the 8 or so months that followed I looked for work, did freelance work for a board game publisher (some of which is going to be getting out to the public relatively soon), and worked more on self-publishing projects, including starting a Patreon. In June I got a contract job as a content moderator at a tech company, and my contract got extended so I’ll most likely be there into the middle of 2016 at least. A couple months ago I also started doing freelance work for a translation agency, which is a really nice source of supplemental income.
2015 wasn’t a great year for me in terms of finding time to actually play games. Thanks to changing circumstances, I basically did occasional playtests and sort of regular D&D. Since I’ve got about half a dozen games ready to playtest and a great pile of games I’d like to play (most notably World Wide Wrestling), I really should try to get a second gaming group up and running.
I ended up playing a decent amount of D&D5e, mainly because one of my groups of friends really wanted to play it. There are things I like about it, and some cases where I legitimately think it improved over 4e (and I’d take it over 3e in a heartbeat), but on the whole I still find it to be an emphatically average RPG, and very deliberately generic D&D. The more interesting things that we’ve discovered about the game in play have been in the designs of some of the various classes, the level of variety the different build options provide (something you don’t really get from the starter set or basic rules), and to a lesser extent in the specifics of certain spells. The publishing schedule on the other hand has been anemic to nonexistent, and by far the most interesting new 5e material has been in the form of the free Unearthed Arcana PDFs that have gone up on the WotC website. The advantage/disadvantage concept remains 5e’s most interesting mechanical innovation by far, and something I’ve seen pop up in a handful of other games to great effect.
On the other hand I ended up playing video games a heck of a lot more, including Persona 3 and 4, Final Fantasy X, and the first two Dragon Age games. (I started on Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the UI bugs me to no end.) I’ve had to cut down a bit since starting a full-time job, but I’m still playing a good amount.
Design and Publishing
Although I’ve calmed down quite a bit from the frantic period of late 2014, I still published a good amount of stuff in 2015.
In January I published Magical Fury, a super-light sister game to Magical Burst, which has become one of my best-selling games. Along with some other games, I set up POD printing for it, and it’s sold quite well that way too. At this point setting books up for POD on CreateSpace and DTRPG has become downright routine for me.
One of the most notable new things I did was to start a Patreon, which has exceeded $200 in pledges from 60 patrons. It’s been hard to find time to properly work on games and especially to playtest, so I’ve only released 3 games through Patreon so far (Fullmetal President, Raspberry Heaven, and America’s Next Top Reality Show), but having some money for each one has at least let me get some art for them. I don’t get a lot of actual feedback from patrons, but they’re sticking around, which counts for something.
I also started selling my own games through Indie Press Revolution. We already sell through them for Star Line Publishing, so asking for Yaruki Zero Games to get listed there was more or less a formality. They took 20 copies each of Schoolgirl RPG and Magical Fury to Gen Con, and sold out pretty quickly, so I’ve made a point to keep them stocked with my books. I’ve generally found them easy to work with, and they in turn get my stuff into game stores. The other day I was in downtown Oakland, and when I stopped by Endgame and found that they had Mascot-tan, Magical Fury, Raspberry Heaven, Golden Sky Stories, and Maid RPG in stock.
Getting Raspberry Heaven out in the world after something like 7 years was one of the more amazing things I did this year. I wrote at very great length about it when it came out, but I’m generally really happy to finally have it finished, and I want to do more with the game and with other games that use some of the same structure.
I feel like I’ve reached a new level in my understanding of RPG design, and in particular I’m finding I really like having the ability to step away from the wargame paradigm of RPG combat that D&D introduced (and relatively few games have substantially deviated from). Wargame-style RPG combat can be fun and effective, but there are any number of other approaches that can work better for other games.
I also put out a “5.0 Alpha” version of Magical Burst, where I basically slapped together a bare minimum of my current draft, just enough to play a session or two. On paper at least I’m very happy with where the game is going, though I haven’t really been able to find time to do the next set of refinements I want to make. Magical Fury was an important turning point in my thought about RPG combat, and the new version of Magical Burst has both Magical Fury style “skirmishes” and more traditional “full battles.” On the other hand I’m also working on Zero Breakers, which treats battles as an exercise in narrating a cool fight rather than a game you play to win.
I also finished and launched Faerie Skies for Golden Sky Stories, and while Fantasy Friends didn’t quite make it out before the end of the year, it’s very close to finished. I’m still in awe of how pretty the combination of Clove’s art and Clay’s layout made Faerie Skies. I’m also quite happy with how Fantasy Friends is looking.
I currently have as works in progress Saving Throw, Melancholy Kaiju, Assassin’s Kittens, Tsundere Sharks RPG, Zero Breakers, Pix, Kagegami High, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some. 2016 promises to be busy and generally game-tastic.
One of the many odd things about me is that I don’t generally sort entertainment into “good” and “bad” so much as “good” and “stuff I don’t care about.” It’s relatively rare for something to viscerally bother me enough that I feel the need to complain (Cloverfield comes to mind, but let’s not go there). It does hurt my ability to critically analyze things, but it also helps me stay reasonably relaxed about entertainment. It probably helps that I’m so much into RPGs, a medium for which there isn’t really an edifice of journalism, and the inherent subjectivity of reviews is even more blatant than elsewhere. There’s also the fact that when I was young, my family was poor enough that I didn’t have all that many entertainment choices. I could decide which VHS tape to put on, but not which ones we bought.
Over the past year or so I’ve gotten back into video games in a big way, and as a result I’ve been reading more video game media than I have in years. In the process I’ve realized that I personally don’t have much use for reviews. I respect the work that critics do, and I genuinely think it’s important, especially when that criticism goes into deeper analysis, but when it comes to making buying decisions, reviews just aren’t all that useful to me. Movie trailers can be misleading, so if I’m on the fence about a movie I’ll check the Rotten Tomatoes score to see if there’s an actual good movie or just a highly polished turd (like the recent Fantastic Four movie), but I don’t generally bother with the individual reviews unless there’s some terrible movie and I want to see just how they rip into it. Continue reading Reviews
The other day I finished playing Undertale. If you’re not familiar, it’s a pretty incredible PC game that’s… hard to properly explain without spoilers. The trailer calls it “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die.” It takes place in a world where, following a war between humans and monsters, the monsters were sealed underground. You play a human child who finds themselves in the lands of the monsters, trying to find their way. You wind up in a lot of fights, but you have the option to try to deal with them in a peaceful way (though it’s not always easy). It has a pretty distinctively quirky style to it. In some ways it reminds me of Homestuck, but then the creator of Undertale also composed music for Homestuck.
Undertale definitely seems to have struck a chord, and is a huge success in terms of both raw sales and inspiring tons of fanart and cosplay. I think that like Homestuck it speaks to subcultures and experiences that pop culture doesn’t really cover, but where Homestuck is a sprawling work of incredible scale (the creator once mentioned that if they do in fact put the whole thing out in book form it’ll be something like 40 volumes), Undertale is a relatively short experience, though certainly a memorable one. It has a lot to say about violence in video games (not unlike how The Stanley Parable is a commentary on choice and plot in video games), some interesting worldbuilding, and lots of charming and memorable characters.
Very much like how Madoka Magica helped crystallize what I wanted to do in a dark magical girl RPG and paved the way for Magical Burst, Undertale helped bring a vague soup of ideas together into the idea for a game that I’m tentatively calling “Pix.” (Or that may just be the name of the setting if I can come up with a better name for the game itself.) I’ve been wanting to do something with the inspirations that titles like Homestuck, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Cucumber Quest have been putting in front of me for several years now, and Undertale was what led me to the spark of an idea. Just as Magical Burst isn’t quite a Madoka RPG, Pix isn’t going to be an Undertale RPG per se, but its own animal, albeit with a healthy dose of Undertale inspiration.
Pix is the name of the land where the game takes place. The inhabitants are a little vague on the details, but its origins involve a tormented child finding escape in a video game, until her tormentor comes into the game world, and then some kind of cataclysm happens. Pix is a fragile mishmash of different kinds of reality, tethered to the human world by the Rainbow Spire. It has definite aspects of video games in its basic reality, but it’s rather like what happens with the NPCs when the player’s character isn’t around. The inhabitants of Pix try to live peaceful lives and help each other, partly because they know they need to in order to survive. They do receive information and artifacts from the human world, so they tend to get a bit fixated on pop culture. The aim of the game is to foster weird but gentle stories with a touch of pathos and (nonviolent) adventure.
So far the game is looking to be sort of a hybrid of Golden Sky Stories and Apocalypse World, with the twist that PCs are made by combining a Type (the general sort of creature they are) and a Job (what they do). This is kind of like what I was thinking of doing for the possible Adventure Time-inspired GSS setting, though I’m planning to change the basic structure a little more, and have AW-style stuff for naming and describing characters. I haven’t gotten too far into writing up the Jobs and Types (because I need to nail down more of what mechanics there are for Powers and Weaknesses to play with), but I do like how (for example) the Nerd job (which can variously be a super-scientist or just a huge dork) has a “Shipping” power that helps other people become friends.
Although I’ve now created two setting hacks for GSS, I haven’t done all that much tinkering with the actual engine before. Pix thusfar sticks fairly closely to GSS on several points, but parts ways in many others, and I’m trying to simplify certain parts (like connections). On the other hand I want to try for something kind of like Undertale’s Act commands, giving some degree of mechanical support for coaxing and befriending creatures you encounter.
I don’t start a project with a big manifesto in mind, but while Pix started with a burst of random inspiration, I think I want it first and foremost to be a heartwarming game that says “you belong.” The PCs are going to mostly be good-natured weirdos who are kind of broken inside, but need each other. Even when they’re lizards or sentient patches of fire, they’re people with their own feelings, hopes, and value.
Anyway, I have way, way more than enough stuff to take care of just now, but I wanted to do a bit of a brain-dump on this, since I’m finding it so exciting.
I decided to try taking a more incremental approach to what will hopefully be the last leg of the development of Magical Burst, starting with an “alpha” that will have the bare minimum necessary to play and then filling out more and more elements of the game as I go along, hopefully better informed about how the game really works at the table while I do so. For previous drafts I put in a whole lot of work on things that ultimately wound up being wasted as the game changed, so this time around I’m going to get it out there before I get too far, and not worry too much about stuff like formatting.
I wrote quite a bit about what I’d been working on with the game in a previous blog post, but basically I drew a lot of ideas from Apocalypse World, Magical Fury, and Strike!, and simplified and refined the core system quite a bit with the aim of making everything faster and more flavorful. In any case, here it is:
The other day I realized that I’ve been trying to make Raspberry Heaven off and on since 2007. Magical Burst has been a greater source of frustration, but Raspberry Heaven has regularly left me with no idea how to proceed, to the point where I’ve basically made about four or five games under that name. That journey is finally complete with the release of a new version that comes as a set of 6″x6″ cards, available through DriveThruRPG (and an 8.5″x11″ PDF version too).
I was into Azumanga Daioh when it first came out as an anime in 2002. The manga was one of the very first I read in Japanese, with a Japanese-English dictionary and a kanji dictionary on hand, and I picked up a lot of vocabulary from it. At a time when anime, at least the anime that American fans were watching, was full of the most fantastical sci-fi and fantasy elements, Azumanga Daioh was a refreshingly everyday kind of funny. It seems to have started something of a trend, and I later got into the genre in a big way, with titles like Hidamari Sketch, A Channel, Uraban!, Suzunari, Sketchbook, Ichiroh, S.S. Astro, Yuru Yuri, etc. (Also the creator went on to do the really excellent Yotsuba&!, which in turn inspired Ben Lehman’s game Clover.)
A lot of people have written a lot of words about what went down with DriveThruRPG recently. (Of particular note are Jessica Price and Tracy Hurley‘s pieces about it.) To recap, the publisher of the Black Tokyo line of hentai d20 supplements released a scenario called “Tournament of Rapists,” and many people quite naturally objected to it being on a site for elfgames. It didn’t help that it got released without the “Adult” tag, and with the Pathfinder tag, putting it in front of a lot of people who probably would’ve missed it otherwise. OBS took their time to work out what they wanted to do about the situation, but they finally did bring out a full blog post, outlining a new “Offensive Content Policy” that they would be implementing. Where companies like Amazon and Apple can afford to employ a staff of people who approve product submissions to their online storefronts, DTRPG is too small for that, so up until now they’ve had an approval process for publishers, but not for products per se. Their plan is to implement a reporting feature, and reports will in turn go to the senior staff for review. If they decide a product is a problem they’ll suspend it and work with the publisher, but otherwise it will not be affected by reports. Spamming a title you don’t like won’t do anything other than annoy the DTRPG guys, and won’t get anything automatically removed.
Over the past few months I’ve been working as a content moderator at a big tech company. My manager takes free speech very seriously, and we often have to stop and discuss things to figure out where the dividing line is based on our moderation policies, which themselves have gotten some revisions even in the short time I’ve been there. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m well aware that figuring this stuff out isn’t easy, and sometimes it can be agonizingly hard. On a purely legal level, OBS can allow or disallow whatever products they want, but obviously we want to talk about what’s morally right for them to do. In my view a company in their position–where they own a huge portion of a market–has an obligation to find the happy middle between permissiveness and responsibility. There’s a point at which even people who are relatively pro-censorship would find pulling products unfair and immoral (hypothetically, imagine them disallowing a product that satirized DTRPG), but also a point where something pushes boundaries to the point where we can legitimately make a case that it’s harmful and something they don’t want to be associated with.