Tag Archives: Raspberry Heaven

Raspberry Heaven, At Last

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).

Raspberry-Heaven-DTRPG

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.)

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Yaruki Zero Podcast #19: Back in Action

If you know me at all, you know that I’m really random about when I get inspired to actually do things, such that I jump from project to project all the time. The other day I got inspired to revive my project to do an iRiff of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which in turn led me to get some better recording gear, which in turn inspired me to get back into podcasting. This first new episode is a recap of what I’ve been up to in terms of my own game design and translation projects. There’s quite a bit to cover. I started using Audacity (which is quite good), and didn’t feel like messing around trying to get the music in this time around, so for better or for worse this episode is an hour of just my voice.

Yaruki Zero Podcast #19 (62 minutes, 16 seconds)

Very awesome caricature of Ewen courtesy of the talented C. Ellis.

Happy Games

Lately there’s been some discussion of some pretty awful stuff that happens in the RPG scene, to the point where I get genuinely tempted to distance myself from the whole thing. I’ve been working on a blog post trying to address some of the awfulness, but it’s long and depressing and given the kinds of discussion that sort of thing can attract I’m not sure I can really handle it at the moment.[1]

Right now I want to blog about something more pleasant. I want to talk about happy, pleasant RPGs. It can be frustrating to try to talk to people about these kinds of things, and I see two major reasons. One is that violence is so ingrained into RPGs that many people just can’t even comprehend how you could have one without it, much less how it could be fun. The other is that I’ve found that any time you propose doing something unconventional in an RPG design, people act as though you’re demanding that the entire hobby should be that way from now on. I’m very big on variety, and while I’ve been involved in some very memorable long-term campaigns, to me the sheer variety of games available is one of the best things about the RPG scene we have today. When I say I want to see heartwarming, non-violent RPGs, I’m saying so from personal experiences that show to me that they can be great, and I mean I want to see them alongside all kinds of other games.

I’ve had direct experience with four such games–Golden Sky Stories, Raspberry Heaven, Clover, and Adventures of the Space Patrol[2]–which is probably a lot more than most people.


Continue reading Happy Games

Raspberry Heaven Practice Test

I made some interesting contacts and it looks like the RPG app project is definitely going to go forward in some form. As I mentioned before, I decided to have my first RPG app also finally realize the Raspberry Heaven project I started some time ago, a game for slice of life stories about high school girls in the vein of Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch. The prior versions never quite worked out, and the RPG app is going to follow my prior intention to restructure the game with some vital inspiration from Fiasco.

Raspberry Heaven Practice Test” is my analog proof of concept for the eventual app version of the game. Because the actual app will take advantage of the ability to automate stuff that would be awkward for people to do, this is necessarily simplified in some places, but shows the basic chassis of the game and how I envision its gameplay working. If you’re interested in this project, please take a look and let me know what you think. To play you’ll want to print up the included reference sheets and have a pack of regular playing cards.

Download Raspberry Heaven Practice Test PDF

2011 in Review

I’m apparently making a yearly review post a regular thing now. Also, I’ve been hugely inspired to blog over the past couple weeks, but then there have genuinely been a lot of exciting things going on.

Actual Gaming
This past year I did a lot of gaming with my Friday group, which has been going through a series of short campaigns for some time. Our longest game was also our best. We started off playing Smallville and then switched over to Primetime Adventures, which wound up working out incredibly well. The game was kind of a Smallville-ish thing, a present-day setting where people with superpowers were emerging (to the chagrin of the Greek gods), without any real DC-inspired elements per se. That was what inspired me to write Entanglements, which got its first test run as part of the setup for our “Ameripunk” Wushu game (my character was a bibliomancer trained by Mark Twain and entrusted with the Amerinomicon). I do still need to make some refinements to Entanglements, but it seems to work pretty well.

For a variety of reasons what had been my “main” group heavily dropped off gaming. We did get in some D&D and had a ton of fun with Gamma World, but we nonetheless went from gaming most weekends to someone maybe getting a bit of something together every other month. I think it has a lot to do with human factors more than anything. With working 40 hours a week, attending another game group, and hanging out with friends most Mondays, I’ve tended to spend the better part of most weekends writing and recuperating from the prior week. It also doesn’t help that our game of choice is D&D4e, which while definitely easier on the DM than 3rd Edition nonetheless takes a fair amount of work to run. I tried to run a Dark Sun game, but I kept ending up having plans slapped together an hour or two before the game started. I’m hoping to rope that group into playing Dragon World, because it’s a fun game I can bullshit my way through running, and because if our D&D games are any indication we can definitely get into the right spirit. We’re also getting back a member who’s been absent for a few years, and I’m hoping that will help reinvigorate our gaming.

Conventions and Whatnot
This year also saw the first time I ran a convention booth by myself, first at a tiny anime convention called Kin-Yoobi Con, and then at the Alternative Press Expo. Both were interesting learning experiences, though by the end of APE I was ready to swear of cons for a while. Anime fans are definitely more receptive to RPGs than indie comics fans though. Neko Machi had kind of a rough second year too, and we’re hoping to reinvent it somewhat (with a format change and such) and relaunch in early 2012.

Game Projects
I only did two Kyawaii RPG things this year, and one of them I started and finished yesterday. I still have like half a dozen unfinished ones that I’d like to work on and haven’t touched.

The anime series Madoka Magica was a massive thing in 2011. For me personally it was the dark deconstruction of the magical girl genre I’d been wanting for years, and it inspired me to design an RPG that I titled “Magical Burst.” I have far too many works in progress, but this is easily the most promising and most popular. I put the rough drafts of the game online just for people to read, and it totally took off, becoming a standard of the 4chan /tg/ crowd. I keep coming across threads where people suggest it, and in one case I came across an unfinished Black Rock Shooter game where the creators had thrown up their hands and said, “Just use Magical Burst.” I don’t know how much is my accomplishment as a designer (there are parts of it that make me wince) and how much is other factors, but it’s helping motivate me to actually get the game done for a change.

Dragon World is the other new game I started on, and it proved very fun to both work on and to play (when we did a 3-session playtest). The idea came from when I finally got around to reading the Dragon Half manga, and this “90s comedy fantasy anime” game also draws inspiration from Slayers and a host of other titles. It’s based on the Apocalypse World rules, though of course with plenty of changes for the game’s very different genre. I’m planning to put a “Dragon World Hack” PDF up for free once I get some more things done.

Golden Sky Stories is of course the Japanese RPG I translated and that we’re gearing up to do a Kickstarter to publish. I’ve posted a good amount about it already, but I’m really excited to finally get it out into the world. I’m also working on putting together an original replay that’ll be a free preview of the game in English. I have the rough manuscript and artwork all ready in fact, so I’m just waiting for a friend to tackle the editing and layout. For the game itself, Clay is still working on the layout, and for the Kickstarter I basically just need to wait for my friend to finish up tweaking the video and fill out stuff on the Kickstarter backend for the launch.

Gamer Culture and New Stuff
I’ve made a habit of lurking in the grognards.txt thread on Something Awful. It’s a collection of the most terrible things said by grognards, and is up to about 1500 pages now. It’s kind of therapeutic at times, and it’s helped me get a better perspective on how D&D has changed over time. Probably the biggest lesson from grognards.txt however is simply: people are at their best when they’re actually doing stuff they like instead of bitching about things they don’t like. There are OSR blogs that come off as obnoxious and curmudgeony (at best) when talking about RPGs published less than 20 years ago, and yet when they’re earnestly expressing their passion for old-school swords and sorcery I want to cheer[1]. I’m also contemplating doing a “grognards.mp3” podcast episode with dramatic readings, though with everything going on it’s been really damn hard to find time for podcasting. I have a whole solo episode recorded that I haven’t had time to edit.

For a while now I’ve been interested in trying to expand the medium of RPGs in new directions, particularly in terms of components and presentation. I’ve talked before about looking into using board game components (and I still want an RPG that makes good use of a spinner!), and I love how (for example) Jake Richmond is making good use of comics to teach people how to play his newer games. In December I hit on the idea of making an RPG in the form of a smartphone app and designing it around that medium as much as possible, an idea that won the “Brain Full of Games” contest, which consequently has me starting on a design document for Raspberry Heaven (my Azumanga Daioh inspired slice of life schoolgirl game) as an “RPG app.” I’m already talking to some programmers, so things stand to get really exciting on that front in 2012.

I’ve come to be a bit irritated at gamers, at least as represented on online forums, for how they can come across as having desperately narrow tastes in RPGs. For my part there are things that don’t interest me (board games, horror, zombies… I could go on), but there’s almost nothing in the way of RPGs I wouldn’t be willing to play if a friend really wanted to run it. And yet, if you propose any slight deviation from the books and (standard) dice formula you’ll get a chorus of naysayers. But on the other hand I’ve realized that there are a lot of potential design elements that are uncommon in RPGs in part because they’re difficult to use well. I think part of why resource-based diceless games are rare (for example) is that they only really work when you depart at least somewhat from the traditional paradigm of rolling for success and failure. An RPG that’s totally ordinary except for having players spend points instead of rolling dice for action checks is creating a bunch of perverse incentives and substantially changing the basic flow of things in an awkward way. On the other hand Golden Sky Stories works as a resource based game mainly because the tone of it is so non-competitive.

When all is said and done my desire to mess around with the medium is driven not so much by a desire to find a blue ocean strategy that’ll be a giant success or something, but rather the tantalizing creative challenges. I’ve lost some sleep over ideas for the Raspberry Heaven app, in part because there are so many things I can do differently from an analog RPG that I find just fascinating. I’ve also just started reading up a bit on interface design and such for mobile apps, and given that these days I rarely have my iPhone more than a few feet away from me for any length of time, taking a closer look at this thing that’s so ubiquitous in my everyday life would be really interesting even if I weren’t looking to design an app. I’m hoping that if I can get the Raspberry Heaven app off the ground it’ll at the very least merit making more attempts at this newish kind of game.

At this point 2012 is looking to be a really exciting year of making stuff happen. It’s hard to say what stuff specifically, though I sure has hell want Golden Sky Stories to be out the door and into people’s hands.

[1]On the other hand any discussions of sexism anywhere near the context of gaming seems all but guaranteed to produce posts that are maddening or just depressing depending on how tired I am.

RPG App Brainstorming: Raspberry Heaven

The “How Not to Run a Game Business” blog by Gau/Fugaros from the Something Awful forum has been an interesting and controversial thing. I don’t agree with everything he says of course[1], but from what I know about things I agree with him more than not. Earlier this month he put on a “Brain Full of Games” contest, asking people to submit 250-word synopses of game ideas that could be game-changers. That’s a tall order no matter what, but I submitted my “RPG in an app” idea (outlined in greater but messier detail in an earlier blog post) to the contest. I was pretty confident that I was on to something with the idea, but I was still pleasantly surprised that I was one of the two co-winners. After checking out this blog he went as far as to put up another post and say of me “He likes good games and makes good games. That’s not strictly relevant, but it makes me happy.” and call me a “good-game broseph.” There’s going to be a $10 prize (woo), but the real prize will be actually doing something with this idea.

All of which has me much more inspired to work on the project for real even though I have way too many projects going on. (And as a consequence I’m writing this blog post of about 1400 words and throwing it out onto the internet, cuz that’s how I roll.) I initially had lots of ideas about what to do in terms of the format, but was totally drawing a blank about the subject matter of a game. When I sat down and brainstormed some ideas, Raspberry Heaven jumped to the top of the list. If you haven’t been following this blog, like, forever, it’s a game I’ve been failing to design for years now, inspired by slice of life schoolgirl anime like Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch. (And it’s one of the reasons I have such a ginormous collection of 4-koma manga.) Twice I built a complete game and decided that it was completely wrong, though for different reasons each time. It’s probably not the most marketable possible RPG app subject matter,[2] but it’s what excites me to the point where ideas for how to make it work are making it hard to sleep, so it’s where I want to be creatively at least.

The game will have a cast of pre-made characters, which aim to be very distinct and iconic in their personalities and looks. I’m thinking 5 or 6 schoolgirls, though I may make them American instead of Japanese for more accessibility and such. My current list of archetypes goes tsundere, space cadet, jock, beauty (I’m thinking of Miyuki from Lucky Star and maybe Hiro from Hidamari Sketch), quiet girl (something like Tooru from A Channel), and spazzy fangirl. The game would have a little “encyclopedia” thing with brief, digestible info about the characters and such that you can bring up at any time, and if you have the app but you’re not the one running the main game you can take advantage of the encyclopedia should you get lost.

When you start playing, each player picks a character and enters their own name for future reference (so if Mike is playing Rose[3], Mike’s name will show up next to her icon to help you remember). If you’re not sure what to pick there’ll be a Random button to let the game pick randomly for you, which will be a thing through most of the choices the game presents. When that’s done, you do the setup for the episode, picking out or randomly determining the general situation you’ll be dealing with. The app could also use the phone’s calendar and weather report to help decide, suggesting nearby holidays as well as characters’ birthdays and such.

The basic structure of the game I’m envisioning is kind of like Fiasco, where players take turns framing scenes in which you mainly do freeform role-play. The game suggests scene elements based on the episode setup, the characters, and what elements have been in prior scenes. I’m thinking it would be neat to have something or other that the scene framer could trigger once per scene or some such, though I don’t yet have any idea what that would be. At the end of a scene you pass the phone on to the next person (determined by volunteer or at random, and someone who hasn’t gone in the current round of scenes) and they evaluate your scene’s outcome for your character. They do this by moving around a couple of sliders (that say between things like “Fun” and “Annoying”) that the game puts in semi-randomly based on the scene’s subject matter and the character.

I’m thinking a standard Raspberry Heaven session would consist of 4 acts, with each player doing one brief scene in the first three acts, and then the aftermath is the third act. That may be too much, and I may take advantage of software and behind the scene calculations to smooth out how you apportion scene framing and evaluations (and perhaps have the app ask for additional evaluations where necessary). That way it can do a much better job of scaling the experience to the amount of time you actually have to play, which is kind of awesome when I think about it. In the final evaluation the game will take the scene evaluations and put them together, with each character having different evaluations weighted differently depending on their personalities, and then you do a short conclusion. I’d like to give the game something to help encourage multi-session play too, but right now I’m not sure how to go about it. Apps can store new data of course, but I worry about how to go about giving players the ability to satisfactorily back up/recreate said data.

The big question is how to go about designing, prototyping, and testing the game from here, since the software aspect invokes new complications I have little to no experience with. I have two friends who are programmers, but neither of them has any experience making mobile apps, and neither of them currently has a Mac for that matter.[4]. I’m probably going to have to get a very simple prototype done as a basic Windows program so I can test it to make sure the actual game design is sound. From there we have the issues of interface design and artwork. I’ll want to have artwork of the characters for a splash screen, for character profiles, and icons to use liberally to keep the images of the characters in the players’ minds. As for the interface design, I happen to know a great graphic designer in Clay Gardner, but I think I’ll have to read up on the subject all the same.

What’s really interesting to me about all this is how easy it is to think of things where letting a computer handle things lets the game be complicated behind the scenes in ways that would be difficult to handle elegantly using paper, dice, and human brains. I’ve got all these ideas for stuff based on random numbers (which always wouldn’t come from number ranges that fit into neat die types), big tables of story elements, dynamically adjusting probabilities, and so on less than 24 hours after seriously starting brainstorming for this project. That’s partly because the period of my life when I was trying (and miserably failing) to learn programming and the more recent time when I’ve started to kinda sorta understand game design have no overlap whatsoever. It presents a whole new set of freedoms and limitations, which I find just fascinating.

[1]This is especially true of the “Stop. Making. Games.” post, though I would agree with a milder version along the lines of “Stop making games that have already been made many times over.”

[2]“He also likes anime. A lot. A very, very lot.” –Gau (Guilty as charged.) On the other hand once the app is done it should be fairly easy to adapt the same framework to other subject matter. I’d like to do something more in the style of an American sitcom (one of the more clever ones like How I Met Your Mother or Community that is), and something with a very strong genre fiction element of some kind. I’ve been wanting to do something about the everyday lives of students at a magic school or magic shop for a while now, for example. OTOH I do want to try designing an RPG app with some kind of combat involved.

[3]I have a character I’ve been wanting to use in something for ages named Rose Valentine, a brave and good-natured heroine type character (who happens to have four older brothers who all but live in a karate dojo). Not sure if she’ll actually make it into this game though. Were you thinking of Rose Lalonde from Homestuck? A Homestuck-ish reality-bending pixel art thing is on my list of other possible RPG app ideas.

[4]I do want to do an Android version (though I don’t have any access to an Android phone at the moment), and possibly some kind of web app. Where we’d actually start will heavily depend on what’s most feasible.

Magical Burst Development Update 2

Matt Sanchez’s recent blog post on Adventure Planning Service‘s Saikoro Fiction[1] system got me inspired to finally sit down and read the rules of Shinobigami, which had been sitting on my bookshelf for way too damn long. It’s a really neat game, and the design of it makes me wonder how much is American indie RPG influence and how much is Kawashima just being that brilliant by himself. The rules are pretty short too–something like 70 pages including stats for NPC enemies and setting info–and about 2/3 of the book is taken up by a replay.

There are a ton of things I could gush about with regard to Shinobigami (especially where the combat system is concerned), but Matt’s planning to cover all of the Saikoro Fiction games in depth, so you can tune into his blog for more detail in the future. The big thing from Shinobigami that has me all inspired to work on Magical Burst after taking a bit of a break from it is the way it breaks the action into scenes. I’ve realized that on paper at least my problem with the current version of Magical Burst is that the rules do very little to guide the action. There are important bits of the narrative (like how the magical girls actually find the youma) that are pretty much handwaved. I know for a fact that the folks who’ve been playing the game have been able to work with that, but personally coming at the game I’m not sure I could actually do that good a job of running it.

Shinobigami is about modern-day ninjas, and while it’s possible to have the PCs all work together, the default assumption is that they end up in two competing factions[2]. With conflicting goals and secrets (established by the GM giving out Handouts[3]), the players basically take turns setting up scenes where they pursue information, relationships, etc. that can get them closer to their goal. You can also attack another PC on your turn, but you have to first figure out where they are. After a certain number of rounds of player-led scenes (usually 3), they arrive at the Climax Phase, which is typically an epic battle.

I think something similarly player-led is about what I’m looking for to make Magical Burst more like what I want. There can be other variations, not to mention a distinct possibility of failure or just ignoring the threat, but the base Magical Burst story is about the magical girls finding and defeating a youma and what it costs them to do so, so the kind of structure that Shinobigami uses makes a lot of sense for it. That’s going to affect how I approach a bunch of other things (especially relationship scenes), but we’ll see how it goes.

Aside from that, the things I’m looking at in this stage are going to be relatively small until deeper analysis and/or playtesting suggest otherwise.

  • I’m planning to make youma stats scale with the number of magical girls. It’s become a thing for me with both design and actual play that finding the right balance in terms of opponents that can challenge an entire group of foes while not being burdensome for the GM to keep track of is a big deal. On top of that, in Magical Burst a youma is (in D&D4e terms) normally a solo, and even the guys at WotC have had a hard time getting those right. This is mirroring some of the stuff I’ve been working on for Slime Quest, and I think “solo” type monsters need to scale not only stats but capabilities in order to keep up with a growing number of PCs.
  • In general I need to do a more rigorous analysis of the math to keep things on track. Luckily today a fan pointed me to AnyDice.com, which I think will become a very useful tool for that kind of thing.
  • Obviously, the Change tables need some work. Since I made the decision to switch from Magic uniquely producing Mutations to all three kinds of Overcharge producing Changes, I want to have three full d66 tables instead of one giant table and two half-size ones. I’ve tried to make the Heart and Fury ones be more derangements, but I’m thinking I’ll let them get more into the realm of mutations. Plus, I can prune the Magic Change table considerably, since I’m sure there are results in there that are at the far end of what I got from wracking my brains.
  • The magical girl creation tables were one of those “stumbling across the finish line” kind of things, and I do need to revise them some. The costume table in particular has a bunch of elements that belong (or are duplicated) in the weapons table. Plus I think “Key” is in there twice. (Did anyone catch on to how the names table is mostly taken from names of magical girls and other anime heroines?)

A Couple Other Things
Jake Richmond is going to be on the Yaruki Zero Podcast at some point to talk about the new Cel*Style games and such, but in the meantime you can listen to him on the Found in the Alley podcast. Jake and the podcast hosts are really entertaining, and I got really inspired listening to him talk about the new games. There’s also the full Panty Explosion head-punching story (amongst others), and it seems Jake is even worse than me for having his eyes glaze over from long rulebooks.

I’ve also been brainstorming for a new iteration of Raspberry Heaven, my heartwarming slice of life Japanese schoolgirls game. There will definitely be some other things at play, but it seems like it’s going to look a lot like a cute, happy version of Fiasco that uses playing cards. I really like Fiasco’s subtlety, and I think the trust it puts in the players is one of the things that Raspberry Heaven really needed. I have half a page of notes so far, but I’ll have to get into things to get a better idea what’s what.

Also, Raspberry Heaven is another project where I’d want the final product to have manga rather than anime style art.

[1]“Saikoro” means “dice,” and the logo on the back of the books abbreviates the name to “Sai-Fi.”

[2]The book also offers Battle Royal as a scenario setup (but warns it can be time-consuming) and hybrids of the various types.

[3]It’s an increasingly common thing in Japanese TRPGs that the GM gives players “handouts” that set up where their respective PCs fit into the story. I’m sure it would get mixed reactions from Western gamers, but it also seems like it’s one of the things that would make Shinobigami sing in actual play.