I get in arguments with people about stand-up comedy. We debate what is and isn't funny, what wit is, and even stand-up comedy's role within culture. My childhood was filled with comedy and my entire family grew up watching a ton of comedy, particularly British comedy, which was much more accessible to us at the time. As we went to college, we all got very much into stand-up comedy, and frequently discovered we had all independently started listening to one or two of the same comics.

Arguing what is and isn't funny is a waste of time, I've learned. Often, I move on to talking about the role of wit in stand-up comedy, which is a great way to find common ground. But if I ever want to find out whether I have a drastically different world view than someone else, I discuss what I think the role of stand-up comedy is within culture.

On the topic of world views, one of my favorite authors said that to get a pulse on the state of a nation, look to its music. Enormously helpful, yes, but music is often cryptic and can require analysis. A good stand-up, on the other hand, will expose the good and the bad, in its beauty and ugliness.  No holds barred.

This can be jarring. Don't think you're racist? Here's a thought experiment a comic has come up with that will make you rethink that. Think you're being a positive influence in the world? You've probably done or thought this terrible thing this comic has noticed. Ouch. But a great comic can lay all of this out while still making you laugh.

Culture, politics, religion, language, shame, and every other topic we avoid in polite conversation are mainstays of a stand-up routine. Comedians are often progressive and an important part of moving any antiquated ways we think into the present. We can learn about ourselves and the world we inhabit in a way that doesn't depress us. We learn that we're all a little terrible under our public veneer; that those terrible bits are part of being human.

You know who outright disagrees with my thoughts about comedy's role in culture? People who hate Cards Against Humanity. In fact, there are specific phrases they use across both topics:

  • Why do they have to get into areas of culture/politics/religion? It's not polite.
  • Such foul language
  • Very disrespectful
  • Nothing's left to the imagination
  • You only think it's funny because they're being crass

A majority of these complaints are not of the specific activities, but what they think is a breakdown of morals/intellect/respect. In opposition, the lovers of stand-up comedy and Cards Against Humanity hate that discussing culture/politics/religion is forbidden, think that language is only foul if you make it so, think that respect is earned and not deserved, are happy when things are being addressed directly, and feel that being crass is a way to acknowledge a collective ease with sensitive topics.

When I play a game of Cards Against Humanity with my friends and a joke is made via the cards that is terrible, it is precisely our comfort with the topics at hand that allows for it to be funny. Everyone collectively laughs or groans, depending on the cards. When stuff is truly wrong, someone will point it out. It's a mostly nonverbal, sometimes verbal, discussion across a range of uncomfortable topics.

If you've made it this far, and have convinced yourself that you're actually a very progressive human being, and that the problem is the physical game, I don't believe you. But I'll press on.

Some cards are standalone jokes. The cards about Glenn Beck are particularly worthless to try to answer with. To be generous, I would wager that a full quarter of the deck is made up of these type of cards. You know how many cards aren't like that? The rest of the deck.

In Apples to Apples, when you have nothing good to play, you discard something that has nothing to do with the question, it bombs hard, everyone wonders if someone made a mistake, and the game moves on. In Cards Against Humanity, when garbage cards are played, you have a good laugh about it. Once you've played 100 games of Cards Against Humanity, maybe take these out of the deck. But until then, enjoy them. The Glenn Beck cards are hilarious, leave them in.

But, but but... all of these other things! Really? Are all of those other things still variations of the list I posted above? THAT IS FINE. Nothing is wrong with feeling the things you do. You're not a worse person if you're uncomfortable with the safety that polite society affords you. But quit telling people that the only reason they find certain things funny is because the topics or language of the joke is impolite. The person you're explaining this to probably doesn't care about your social norms.

 

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

I was able to playtest Dead End three times at Gen Con. The first time was at the Unpub area behind the Game Salute booth and was at my request but the next two playtests were by request, which was exciting. Each was a very different experience and ultimately led to what I think is a much more streamlined, less confusing, more thematic game.

8/15: Unpub Area

Really early on, it became obvious that the core gameplay is working, is very tight, and provides a clear beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, some of the secondary gameplay was still fidgety and this playtest highlighted those parts very well.

One of the playtesters was a guy I had just met, dressed in a cape and top hat, and he employed a very interesting strategy that can best be described as aggressive losing. He didn't play any cards for their action, instead discarding as much as he could, pouring zombies into the game, in the hope that he would be overwhelmed and be able to flee to protect himself. While doing this, he managed to discard two Molotov Cocktail cards that would have let him remove a ton of zombies and would guarantee his fleeing. After he fled, he refused to take a shelter, which you need to do to win the game.

In fact, the shelters in general didn't work out the way we had planned. Shelters were changed so as to be drawn at any time, but didn't change gameplay until the start of a player's turn. Because of confusion around this card, a brief window where one of the players was off talking to a passerby, Cape Guy's refusal to take shelter, and my having already taken both shelters, the remaining player was able to take an unopposed final turn and won.

But my biggest takeaway from this game was how stressed I was. Cape Guy had been dumping zombies into the game, had played to lose, and had rebuffed all advice the other players offered. It struck me that I had paid little attention to how much the stress of the game can affect the decisions that players make and that if I didn't set expectations, it can be an unexpected emotion that can derail the experience.

8/16: Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott

I took this game out by request. The sheltering/last turn was almost exactly the same level of fidgetiness as my first playtest, so that wasn't good. But I learned a lot more based on this playtest.

Grant Rodiek of Hyperbole Games was part of the playtest and talked with me about it afterward. He asked why I had chosen to do certain things, I explained what had necessitated those things, and he suggested a few different possible alternative solutions.

What was interesting about Grant's feedback is that much of it aligned pretty closely with things players were already trying to do while playing. I wrote up a series of notes covering what had been fidgety about the game and using Grant's ideas as a springboard, came up with solutions I thought best fit the things the players were already trying to do.

New Solutions

When you had more zombies at the end of a turn than you had defenses, you were forced to flee. Removing this rule simplified the turn rules even further, reducing it to just playing cards and drawing. Instead, players may now flee at any time they have more zombies than they can handle. One of the benefits of this is that you can't get ganged up on early in the game between your turns and can instead just flee when you think things are getting too crazy. But this also allows for the flip side, where a player is willing to put themselves in danger because they are confident they can handle the extra zombies their next turn. Basically, it gives players more control over the game, by fleeing strategically and remaining an active player when it benefits them.

Probably the most fidgety part of the game was the Last Fighter card which was added to fix the situation where there's only one Fighting player who would inevitably acquire way more zombies than they could handle. I don't think either Chevee or I were happy with this card, but it had been a good stopgap for this version of the game. To remove this, I've now made it possible that if there's ever only one fighting player, they can immediately take a final turn that wins or loses the game. This should help players be more involved in the game when they're fleeing, as they'll need to make sure they grab a shelter card if possible to prevent this situation.

Taking a shelter card was always available at any time to fleeing players, but it didn't go into effect until the start of your next turn. I changed the rules so now taking a shelter card takes effect immediately, returning you to active play. Because of this, taking a shelter is a bigger risk than it was before, which is important to stop shelters from coming out all at once. I also decided to remove the 2 shelter maximum. If players can take more than 2 shelters, there's no point only having 2 types of shelters, so each shelter now has unique drawbacks.

You may have noticed that without another addition, the game could theoretically go on forever once all shelter cards have run out because players aren't being forced to flee. To address this, I've added a shelter only available if all other shelters have been exhausted that reintroduces the rule stating you have to flee if you have more zombies than you can handle at the end of your turn. With no shelters remaining, the game will only ever have one round where players are officially eliminated from the game.

Finally, at the request of every playtester ever, I moved the draw card phase to the end of your turn. I added a little section in the rules to switch it back to the start of your turn as a variant.  Once you know what the cards do, this adds back some of the feeling of desperation to the game.

8/17: Unpub Area

Once again, I took the game out by request but this time we played it with the new rules. Explaining the game was easier than it had ever been, with a clear sense of progress between fighting, fleeing, and moving between shelters.

Immediately obvious was how much better players understood fleeing and its role in the game. Eventually, all the shelters were gone, and 2 players remained. The first player was unable to remove enough zombies to withstand them, but the second player had cards in his hand that helped him easily succeed.

It wasn't perfect, and I've made some changes based on this playtest, but it's the first time the solutions to the game's problems don't feel like compromises.

Chevee Weighs In

After running the changes by Chevee, he was immediately worried about the turtling problems allowed by the current rules. These problems had existed before, but are much more obvious and exploitable now. As we've seen from the aforementioned Cape Guy, there's always a player looking to exploit a rule, even when it's not beneficial.

Fortunately, the rule changes broke a couple of existing cards, including one that was originally created so that the last player could bring a fleeing player back into play. Now that there should never be a lone fighting player, this is rather pointless. Giving a player a shelter card is still the main goal of the card, but it works a lot differently. You can now give any player a shelter card, fleeing or not. All shelter cards provide a penalty, some worse than others, so this is a good way to hinder them. What I didn't want was for players to use it to bring players who still had a lot of zombies back into the game and remove the protection of fleeing. So if you use it on a player with fewer zombies than you, you can reduce your zombies until it matches the number they have.

This kills 2 turtles with one stone. By removing shelters from the game, players who refuse to flee will see shelters disappear until the last shelter goes into play that makes their situation impossible to overcome. Players who refuse to reenter the game will also see the shelters disappearing, but are very likely to be brought back into the game when they get their zombies low. By being brought back into the game with this card, they also lose the advantage they would have had if they had grabbed a shelter themselves because now another player has a low number of zombies.

Conclusion

Playtests are just about the best thing to do when you've found a solution to a problem, but you're not happy with it. More often than not, you'll see players trying to solve the same problem in a different way. When a playtester misinterprets a rule, or asks to do something currently disallowed, ask yourself if that's the solution should be in the game. By crafting the rules around things players keep wanting to do, you'll be able to create a more intuitive game. 

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

Were you hoping for a review of The Great Heartland Hauling Company when you visited Drake's Flames this morning?  Too bad, because today Matt is going to tell you what is fun and what is not.

"This game is not fun unless your idea of fun is doing things that boring people do for a living. Of course, there are people who love games where they pretend to be farmers, so there is obviously an audience for this kind of game."

I happen to think this game is fun even though my idea of fun does not involve doing what boring people do for a living. Is driving a truck around the US really not fun? Is it really done by boring people? If these things can't be assumed, the central assumption of this review wouldn't hold up, and everything else written would be a waste of time for me to read. I hope Matt doesn't admit that reading this is a waste of time later on in his review.

"It’s like balancing the checkbook or planning a cross-country drive. You do it because you have to do it. You don’t do it because it’s fun."

While I don't think balancing a checkbook is fun, planning a cross-country drive is awesome. Fun is in the eye of the beholder. In case you missed the weirdly connected thought Matt attempts here, he is saying that: You do some things because you have to therefore you aren't doing them because they're fun. But there are lots of things I still have fun doing even if the initiating reason I am doing them is not because they're fun.

"I know many people are going to enjoy this game. The Great Heartland Hauling Company is the kind of game that lots of people like to play."

Oh, I imagine that if many people are going to enjoy it, and lots of people like to play it, it stands to reason that they are having fun when they play it? 

"If you like to play games where you do what you would do if you go to work, try The Great Heartland Hauling Company. If, on the other hand, you like to do things that are fun, do not."

Nevermind. If you like to do things that are fun, you should not play this game. Got it.

"Ah, hell. Forget it."

The last sentence of the review is an admission that everything you just read was a waste of time. Any good writer will tell you that your thesis statement should appear toward the top of your story. 

 
Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

After Protospiel, Chevee made some changes to Dead End and I got a new deck printed from The Game Crafter. I took the game with me to play with my game group to see if the new changes were a success or not.

Ameritrash

My first mistake was not paying attention to the type of games we had been playing at this particular game group. Lots of Euros, some abstract games, but none within the category of games known as Ameritrash (highly developed theme, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck). Players didn't become active participants in the game, weren't enjoying the swings of the game, were upset by the game's hostility toward them, and really hated some of the randomness in the game.

Gameplay

I've read some articles that imply that a game played by the wrong audience will provide less than ideal feedback. In this case, they would have been wrong. What changes Chevee made worked really well and though players begrudgingly carried them out, they worked really well.

An ideal game of Dead End should ramp up really quickly until you barely have enough defenses to keep your house from being overwhelmed by zombies. In our game, this happened very quickly. Once we reach this point, things should remain the same and get slightly worse each round. During this time, players will be grasping at straws, hoping to find the ideal weapon or action card while other players are adding zombies to them, and taking away their weapons and upgrades. I was very happy with how the game played. 

That said, it went a little long. We had changed the way that turn order works which allowed players to do a little more damage. This will be easily fixed by making cards dole out a few more zombies. 

User Interface

Far and away the biggest takeaway from the playtest was that the way the game was presented could use some tweaks. Chevee added lots of color to the cards, originally to help players identify cards in play from across the table. This introduced some confusion with the cards that were playable when fleeing because, mixed with the iconography, it makes the card appear as if it can only be played when fleeing. Further confusion existed with which cards stayed in play and which cards were usable only once. It was theorized during gameplay that cards with color stayed in play, which would make sense as this is the reason Chevee added color in the first place (but would also be wrong).

Once again, the issue of the dual purpose of the cards became a source of confusion. Each card may be played for its game text or discarded to add zombies to the game. Players would frequently stop dead and say they couldn't play anything, even though they were holding a card that they should discard to add zombies to the game. 

Finally, we had a player that absolutely hated when she had to add zombies to other players. We hadn't considered this to be an issue before, and I'm really glad we ran into it because I think it's going to be a big part in how the game is tweaked moving forward.  

Can It Be Fixed?

It's become obvious that having dual purpose cards is a secondary experience of the game. The fact that players sometimes forget they can discard to add zombies to the game is illustrative of this point. At first, I thought the way we move forward with the design would just involve redesigning the card to make it more obvious, but I think that's short--sighted. We need to add something that makes players more regularly aware that cards have a dual purpose. Whatever the solution is, it also needs to make players more comfortable with the aggressiveness of adding zombies to the game so they feel that the game is adding zombies to the other players, and that it's not explicitly their decision.

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

Meet Chevee

"That game is just garbage... It's not garbage, it just needs something." - Chevee Dodd

The day I discovered the wonderful Twitter account of Cardboard Edison, they retweeted Chevee Dodd's request for help on the rules for his game Paper Route.  I'd just gotten into board game design and, after going through and commenting on that Google Doc, I discovered I really love editing board game rules.

I started chatting with Chevee online about his other board games. Then about life, relationships with our parents, having an obsessive personality, and hundreds of other topics I don't feel like listing out. I playtested the game being discussed in the quote above, Hedeby, and started to read through his blog archives where he discusses his other work. I learned that Chevee thinks most of his games are garbage at one point or another during the design process, and I learned that Chevee likes to make grand, sweeping changes to his in-progress games that may or not be broken. And then I stumbled upon Dead End.

Discovering Dead End

Dead End places you in a house in a cul-de-sac being attacked by zombies. Each card you play is dual purpose, allowing you to follow card text or introduce zombies to the game to attack your opponents. If you do end up with too many zombies attacking, you aren't eliminated but instead spend turns moving zombies away from your house, with chances to return to active play.  

You can get a feel for what he thought about the game by reading his last official post about Dead End:

"I couldn't remember how to play my own game after only a month! It was worse than that. What went horribly wrong during this test is that I wasn't having fun. It was dry and boring. Play a card here, flip a card.... blah blah blah."

Chevee implemented some of the changes discussed in that post, but hadn't uploaded version 7 of the print and play files. I begged him to put up the new rules and cards and, on November 16th, he finally did. We then discussed what he was trying to do with the game and why he thought it wasn't fun. I promised I'd take a look at the game over Thanksgiving.

I Want To Fix It

I loved the game. The major ideas were pitch-perfect. Dual natured cards, the action and weapons phases, having two different types of gameplay, all of it. I could see some flaws with specific cards, but the game itself was solid.

As an app developer, I find myself in a similar situation a lot. Some new feature will need to be developed or customers will call to complain about how they can't figure anything out. I'll give it a once over, diagnose the problems, and explain how in a book or article I read I learned all about how to fix it.

But my solutions never go directly from idea to implementation. At work, we have a team and it usually takes all of us working together to crack the issue. Even then, the solution is usually the combination of several different proposed solutions.

So after giving Dead End a once over, diagnosing the problems, finding the book or article that taught me all about how to fix it, I had a pretty clear vision in my head of how good the game could be. So on December 4th, I said:

"I think I might just make some changes to it myself and see how it plays"

We had a plan. The conversation eventually drifted back to Hedeby, a game he had already reinvented at least one time. I was already worried he was going to do the same thing to Dead End, when he confirmed my suspicions:

"Well, that's my problem with Dead End right now. It needs reinvented"

I knew I had to prove to Chevee that his game didn't need a ton of changes, just some editing. He had already vowed to leave the game alone until March, so he encouraged me to give it a go and see what happens.

Sussing Out Ideas

You see, I'm a romantic when it comes to ideas. I remember Jony Ive, talking at the Steve Jobs tribute discussing what Apple's founder thought about the process of creativity:

"While ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished." 

Unlike Steve and Jony though, my focus is less about creativity and more about the challenge of sussing out ideas. When it comes to board game design, ideas and implementation are very tightly coupled and it's why it's so frustrating when, as a designer, you create something that isn't what you wanted. Dipping back into the realm of software, bad implementations are often created because we didn't do our due diligence. It's why I have a strong belief that getting every little thought written out, identifying problem areas, and wireframing is the key to a good implementation.

I started my process by getting every card into VASSAL so that I could playtest the existing game without having to print anything out.  One big issue stood out from the early playtests and I'll copy just the most interesting notes I made during my first few experiences:

  • Having Zombies! cards is lame - definitely need to get rid of them.
  • Yup, I died with no real way to save myself with 2 Zombies! cards
  • Having the Zombies! cards be more helpful to nearly dead player is important. 

Making Changes

As I made changes to the cards, I kept checking in with Chevee to figure out why he added each card. I didn't want to destroy the spirit of the game, so I made sure that every change I made retained the spirit of the original.

I don't want to gloss over the fact that I spent days putting together an extensive document outlining every aspect of the game. Once I started making modifications, I didn't really have to go back to look at it, and I can't justify every decision I made from things I wrote in that document. Creating an idea outline is simply a way to get a crystal clear picture in your head of what your game is.  Once you have it, you can start relying more on your gut, as long as you make sure you go back and check in on it once in a while. If you decide to implement something that didn't match that document, you need to correct either your document or your implementation by figuring out where you went wrong.

During the process, I learned that the Zombies! card was added by Chevee so that players would be forced to add zombies to the game to push the game forward. But I had hit on something with my notes: the cards that force you to add zombies took up space in your hand during the time you most needed help. The function needed to remain the same - adding zombies to the game - but I could replace it with a card action that was only useful to players that are almost defeated. By doing this, you end up with a very elegant system of feedback where lots of zombies are added to the game when players aren't in trouble, but players have a way to remove zombies from the game as they risk being forced from their house by the zombies. 

This traces all the way back to one of Chevee's original goals for the game: 

 "A quick ramp up, a long climax, and a more controlled ending"

Other small issues existed, and I made little tweaks to most of those cards. I made the weapons more varied, made them objects you would typically find around a house, and made some of them dual purpose (skip or discard for other bonuses). I added some cards that allowed you to remove resources from other players to prevent one player from getting too far ahead. I really tried to tweak the cards, and the probabilities of the dice rolls on each card, to get the game to ramp up as soon as players had some basic weapons and upgrades, then hover around barely keeping the zombies at bay.

Playtesting

My next solo playtest was already much more interesting. I tried to document some of the new interesting interactions created by the Zombies! replacement cards:

  • Awesome moment: Used Help! to force player with Chainsaw to help (could have gained them 5 zombies) 
  • Played a Zombies! replacement card because I didn't need the effects. Felt good to have the choice rather than being forced.
  • Stupid decision: Was really funny playing Quick Shot with Machete. Machete removed no zombies and Quick Shot penalty added 5 zombies. 

I was pretty happy with the game. A couple weeks later, I bought a set of 100 zombie miniatures and a deck from The Game Crafter.  Friends stopped by the house and we had a really great time playing it. After the game, I had lots of tweaks to make, but the changes I made were working the way I had hoped.

One thing happened during this playtest that really caused me to screw things up. My friends, though great people, try to take advantage of any ambiguity in the card text. So I worked feverishly to remove anything that could be misinterpreted. What I ended up creating were cards with dense text that tried to do too much. 

Why It Worked

 I got a final deck printed before Protospiel Milwaukee, where I would be meeting Chevee after working on the game for almost 4 months. At this point, I had made a lot of changes to the game, and I wanted to be able to explain why the changes I made mattered. On my dining room table, I spread out all the cards and started categorizing them.

I was very happy with the result: 

  • Weapons: 8 types, 16 cards
  • Mechanic Alteration: 4 types, 16 cards
  • Player-Controlled Balance: 7 types, 17 cards
  • Zombie Addition/Near Death: 5 types, 12 cards
  • Death Wishes: 2 types, 6 cards
  • Events: 2 types, 5 cards

Four categories exist with an almost equal number of cards. Chevee's vision was to have a game that ramps up quickly with players spending most of the game hovering around being overwhelmed by zombies. Seeing it split up like this helped me understand why the implementation was matching up so well with the idea.

Zombie addition made the game ramp up quickly. At the beginning of the game, the Zombies! replacement cards are designed to have almost no upside, so they're played to add zombies. But as the game progresses, these cards help you kill or avoid zombies. Combine this card with some of the player-controlled balance cards - which let you do things like manipulate the total number of zombies in the game and move zombies between houses - and that state of tension is even more pronounced.

Both weapons and the mechanic alterations give players a leg up in the game. Other player-controlled balance cards let you take these cards away, often at a small cost, so no player is able to shoot ahead, but not used flippantly. There's also a limit to the effectiveness of weapons and mechanic alterations so once a player is suitably equipped, a lot more zombies move into the game.

If You Love Something Set It Free

I was really happy with the game going into my trip to Protospiel Milwaukee. More than anything, I felt like I was going to be able to prove to Chevee that his game was good, not because I changed it, but because it was the implementation of the game he had originally dreamed up. It also got me thinking about how important it is to open your ideas up to other people. 

After Protospiel Milwaukee, things started moving in the other direction. Chevee was now asking me why I made the decisions I did, and we've been brainstorming ways to make the cards even better. When I first started, I was taking Chevee's cards and trying figure out how I could improve them, and now Chevee is taking my cards and seeing how he could improve them. It's an interesting experience to see your ideas communicated better by someone else. I've watched some of the cards that I thought were just amazingly clever *cough*All Hands*cough* turn into a card that's blown my mind. I'm excited to play the game that we're creating.

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

Most of my time is spend working full-time as a programmer, so the lens through which I view many of the tools I use is software design. Fortunately, I think this perspective creates a really useful way to understand how VASSAL can be leveraged to create dynamic, controlled experiences.

Object Oriented

You may be surprised for me to suggest that programming in VASSAL works a lot like an object-oriented language. In fact, it works a lot like an object-oriented language that supports multiple inheritance and where class instances have both a public and private view. How it gets about this is not necessarily straightforward, but it's impressive nonetheless.

Under the main Module type is the Game Piece Prototype Definitions type. Within the Game Piece Prototype Definitions type, you may add Definition entries. Definition entries created here will contain variables and methods that are useful to share between subclasses and instances.

There are a number of locations where you will implement instances of these Definition entries. I'll look just at the Card type in this article to simply things, but there are several others. Card types appear in the Deck type and is free to override and add variables and methods.

When in comes to inheritance, the Definition type and Card type both support multiple inheritance. This is done by adding the Prototype trait to the entry. The way that the inheritance works is by mixin - meaning that all traits from the specified entry will be mixed in at the location the Prototype trait was added. This will happen when the module runs, not when the trait is added.

Default Variables

When you create a Card type, you'll see the BasicPiece trait has been automatically added. This trait automatically adds and manages variables to each instance when the game is run that provides information about the game state. I'll copy some of these variables from the documentation so that we can have a look at them before moving on:

  • BasicName returns the name of Basic Piece trait, as specified in the properties
  • playerSide returns the side of the current player, as specified in the Definition of Player Sides
  • CurrentMap returns the name of the current Map Window
  • CurrentBoard returns the name of the current Board
  • CurrentZone returns the name of the current Zone
  • CurrentX returns the current map X co-ordinate
  • CurrentY returns the current map Y co-ordinate
  • DeckName returns the name of the Deck if the piece is currently stacked in one
  • Selected returns true when the piece has been selected with the mouse

Methods

While VASSAL doesn't let you go in and write the code for your methods yourself, it provides a number of prewritten methods in the form of traits. Not every trait acts like a method, many traits exist to change the appearance of a card. An easy way to spot a trait that acts like a method is to look for a trait that contains an input for a Keyboard Command.

Understanding keyboard commands is key to understanding interactivity in VASSAL. Instead of thinking of a keyboard command as something like Ctrl + A, think of them as method names. It's a bit of a chore to enter a string of characters in VASSAL, but I find pressing Ctrl + A twice and then typing is the easiest way.

Let's look at an easy example: the Delete trait. When you select the Delete trait and press "Add -> " you'll see that it has an input for a keyboard command. Think of the Delete trait as a method that will delete the card from the board. Many traits also add themselves to the right-click menu of the card, which is why the Command name input is there. If you leave the command name blank, it won't show up in the right-click menu. Enter a keyboard command to name the method. By entering a method name such as oneTimeUse, we can now call this method to delete the card.

More complicated methods exist, and you can think of most of the inputs they offer as a set of default arguments to the method. Don't forget, our cards have variables as well, and these can also be passed into many trait methods.

Calling Methods

All method calls will be initially triggered by some sort of player action. A number of inputs exist to initiate method calls but I'll be looking at one of the easiest to understand: the Trigger Action trait. Trigger Action is very versatile and I'll be looking into just the part of this trait that is initiated by the right-click menu on a card.

You specify the text you want in the right-click menu by filling in the Menu Command input. You also want to specify a keyboard command (its method name) even though you won't be calling it directly. Let's call the right-click command Use Card and the method name onUseCard.

Now, when the user triggers this method call through the right-click menu, we can tell it to call any number of other methods. For example, if we had another method that triggered a dice roll then called the oneTimeUse method we talked about above that deleted the card, we would enter roll2d6 in the first line of Perform these Keystrokes and oneTimeUse in the second line.

Conditional Code

What good is a programming language without conditional code? Many times, we will want to only call a method if some condition is met. VASSAL is definitely not the king of conditional code but it does let you deal with the most common condition: an if-then. Trigger Action is once again the trait we want to employ. It has an input labeled Trigger when properties match where you can use a combination of the BasicPiece variables that contain information about game play and other variables that have been added by you to the instance or superclass of the card. It has a little pop up that I always use to enter expressions.

Be careful about adding this expression to traits that will show up in the right-click menu. If the expression doesn't match when the right-clicks, it will have that menu item grayed out. If, instead, you want one method to be called if an expression is true and another method to be called if an expression is false, you'll need 3 Trigger Action traits. The one that shows up in the right-click menu will simply call the 2 other traits. One of those traits will call one method if an expression matches and the other will call a different method if another expression matches. The two expressions could be as simple as power > 2 and power <= 2.

Instance Variables

We add variables to our classes and instances through the Dynamic Property trait. The Name input is the variable name and the Value input is its default value. You may think that changing the value of this variable would be done through another trait, but it's done immediately below in the Key Commands area.

When you click New, it adds a row that lets you change the value through setting a specific value, adding to (or subtracting from) a value, or prompting the user. These changes can be triggered once again through the right-click menu but right now we're more interested in using a key command (method name). 

Masking

The final piece of the puzzle - and perhaps the most confusing - is the Mask trait. Each card should only have one mask in its inheritance tree as the mask is what separates the front of the card (its public view) from the back of the card (its private view). Everything below the mask applies to the back of the card and everything above it applies to the front of the card.

If you add a Prototype trait where the referenced definition contains a mask, you'll need to keep this in mind. Some traits don't care about whether the card is public or private, but others will only work on one side of the card.

Globally

Everything I've discussed up until now involves taking action within a single instance. But we all know how important it is for object instances to communicate with one another and with global properties and methods. VASSAL allows for all of these methods of communication.

Locating Other Instances

What does it mean to locate an object instance in a board game? Well, we want to narrow down our cards by what board they're on, what deck they're in, what player hand they're in, and even by instance variables you've added.

This is achieved using the Global Key Command trait. Once again, you add the trait and give it a method name using a keyboard command. When triggered, this method will look through every instance of the game and check to see if your expression matches that card. Matching cards will have a method called that you specify with the Global Key Command input.

It's messy but it works!

Global Methods

Unlike instance methods that are added in the form of traits, global methods are added in the form of new entities. Most of these new entities are things that would appear in the main window of your game as buttons in your top bar. Some of them you do want to appear in the top bar, but you are free to make them invisible by leaving their icon and button text blank.

One such global method is the Action Button entity which, among other things, can play a sound. When you add it to your module, you may give it a method name using the Hotkey input.

To call a global method, use the Global Hotkey trait and enter the method name you specified in the Hotkey input. If you gave your Action Button global method the name playDing, you'd be calling the playDing global method using this trait.

Global Properties

This time, there's actually a Global Properties type under the main Module type. Here you can add a Global Property entity, name it, and give it a default value.

To set a global property, you use the Set Global Property trait. It is extremely similar to the Dynamic Property trait and you be able to manipulate the global property in a similar way.

Automatic Draw

What can you do with all of this? I'd like to provide you an example that I think illustrates these different pieces all working together.

In VASSAL, you can create special windows using the Player Hand type and give them names matching each player side. Within that window, I can create a game piece with a deal icon and use the Action Button trait to make it call a method when clicked.

The method that gets called will be the Global Key Command trait and it will look for a card checking to see if its DeckName property is DrawPile (a card in a deck named DrawPile). There is a way with this trait to limit the number of cards found and I'll limit the number of cards to 1.

We'll tell it to call the sendToPlayer method on that card. The sendToPlayer method is something I've added to the superclass of every card and is the Send to Location trait. This trait lets me specify a map to send the card to using an expression. The expression I use will contain the PlayerSide property (the currently active player) so that the card is sent to the current player's hand.

Let's say the active player is on the "Red" side. Clicking the draw button calls the sendToPlayer method on 1 card in the draw pile which sends the card to the "Red" map which is the player's hand.

While we're at it, we should stop the draw button from working once the player has their maximum hand size of 4 cards. After defining a global property named handSize, we'll use the Set Global Property trait to define a method that sets handSize to 0 every time the draw button is clicked. We can now use the Global Key Command trait to call a method named inHand on all cards in the map of the current PlayerSide that we've created by adding a Set Global Property trait to the superclass of every card that increases the value of handSize by 1.

Now, before triggering the method that will send a card from the discard deck to the player's hand, we route it through a Trigger Action trait that will only execute if the global property handSize is less than 4.

All Done

You'll really have to mess with VASSAL to get a better idea of how this all plays out. Just remember that you have to work within the limitations of the entities and traits VASSAL provides. Start thinking about key commands less as actual things the user will type on the keyboard and more as method names. Use Global Key Command to send messages to other cards. And finally, make sure to name everything sensibly. When you really get the hang of it, you'll be able to build a large game with a minimum of repetition and a lot of interactivity.

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

I got an invite to the Little Bird beta last night and the first thing I did was to run a report on board game design. To do so, I seeded the report with the Twitter accounts of the board game design community I follow which is mostly centered around @CardboardEdison. What it spits back is a list of other Twitter handles that make up this larger community who all talk to each other.

It does some really interesting things and I think the easiest way to explain it is that John Moller, at the top of the list, is followed by 60 of the people on this list and Tory Niemann, bringing up the rear, is followed by 20 of the people on the list. So everyone on the list is followed by at least 20 other people on the list, a good gauge that this is definitely a community.

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts

This builds on my previous tutorial that introduces the basics of VASSAL's module editor and creating card templates. I will be expanding on the project I created in that tutorial to complete the design of the card. My final card design will require several more text labels, including a multiline text label. Iconography will also be used to indicate some of the capabilities of the card.

Before I get too involved with adding these new design features, I need to do some housekeeping. I created two cards in the last tutorial: Axe and Shotgun. In the final game, these cards will appear more than once, and I don't want to have to change each one in multiple places. I'll be achieving this by hoisting each of the cards we created into a prototype.

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts
CategoriesVASSAL

Chevee Dodd pointed me at VASSAL last week. It's a game engine that allows you to design and play tabletop games. My first step was to download the documentation for module editing, which I would advice you against doing unless you are interested in a reference manual. After giving up on that, I took at look at the Card Game Tutorial, which takes a step in the right direction and at least allowed me to get started.

What I am going to set out to do with this tutorial is to show you the simplest version of what you will want to do to create a card deck. I'm going to attempt to explain the basics of windows and boards, decks, prototypes, and cards. We'll be using Chevee's in-development project, Dead End, a zombie apocalypse card game, as inspiration.

Posted
AuthorNeil Roberts
CategoriesVASSAL

This whole train of thought began a long time ago with a post by Ze Frank, who ran a Kickstarter campaign to bring his show back.

"I am surprised by the number of campaigns that offer higher value physical goods at low reward tiers. This is basically a pre-order strategy, which although potentially effective, might mask supporters’ genuine interest in just helping out. I would strongly recommend... thinking about personalized virtual and physical goods that are lower in cost but greater in love." - Ze Frank

Greater In Love

It is this point that I'd like to extend way beyond where I probably should. My bias here is that I frequently fund projects for less than the cost of the physical good simply because I like the project and want to stay updated on it. Ze Frank would say I am a supporter with a "genuine interest in just helping out." But I rarely am able to choose a reward because my behavior is unlikely to be considered when planning reward tiers.

Three things really stick out in my mind as methods of offering rewards that are greater in love and I want to spend some time on each one. They are:

  • Early-Bird Offers
  • Pledges of Future Sales
  • Lines of Communication

Early-Bird Offers

    Backers who find your project early will be ardent supporters. Especially in America, the desire to be in on something before it grows to be popular is intoxicating. Browse a few projects and you'll see that a common strategy to serve this audience is through offering a limited number of price-reduced rewards.

    I'm going to kick myself if this catches on because right now I've saved quite a bit of money on early-bird offers, but I really think that price-reduction is the wrong strategy. Many potential backers that find your page early would probably be willing to pay full price. Instead, why not offer your early-birds something personal?

    Do something that comes through the mail. A letter of thanks or a name on a website is fine for those $1 tiers, but having something to hold, that you know was created just for you, is a great feeling. When board game projects offer pieces of the original game art and prototypes, I'm always tempted. Even a personal letter of thanks for those that helped you out early can be extremely meaningful. While I'm at it, don't offer so many early-bird rewards; keep them special.

    Pledges of Future Sales

    Project authors have many ways to convey the idea that being part of a project on Kickstarter is a special experience. But rarely do I see them accommodating potential backers that aren't yet ready to drop money on physical goods.

    Many valid reasons exist for people's aversion to give you money. A big one is the unknown potential for failure but an even bigger one, I'd argue, is that the physical good is a deferred gratification.

    Find a way to help these people give you some money. A great way to do so is to have a pledge level at around the $5 mark that gives them access as many of the Kickstarter exclusives as possible, even after the project is funded.

    For the most part, this access will be the ability to get the physical good you're offering before the general public. If I'm skeptical about your project, but really want the physical good you're offering, this is my dream come true. When backers start to receive their rewards and love them, I can rest  assured knowing that I'll be one of the first to receive my order from the official orders.

    If you can, allow these backers to also get access to the Kickstarter-exclusive version of the product. One of the common exclusives projects offer is that their product is available in green only on Kickstarter.

    Finally, it's worth noting that you should bear in mind that these users may up their pledges before the project is over. If it doesn't look like your project is going to meet its funding goal, having users waiting in the wings at these low pledge levels is an easy way to get new funding.

    Feedback Rewards

    Your most invested backers want nothing more than to have their voice heard. Why not make it part of your rewards?

    Many projects have prototypes, digital items, and other bits that need to be reviewed and tested before the physical good is finalized. You know who would be a great tester? People who paid extra for and selected a tier that would let them do this.

    If you're not totally done with development and you could still use some new ideas, or are trying to choose between various options, you can get some quality feedback without being overwhelmed. Kickstarter lets you send messages based on reward level, so this type of communication is already baked in.

    It doesn't stop there, many projects will want to test to make sure their products ship safely, how long it takes for them to be received, and gain feedback on the unboxing experience. People will pay dearly to help you. Keep that in mind.

    What Do I Know?

    Please don't follow these ideas to the letter. I don't know what will actually work for you. But I think these lines of thought are great places to start. Offer rewards that are lower in cost but greater in love.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    "Backers told me that they enjoyed projects that had interesting updates throughout the campaign that conveyed the aforementioned passion. But after a few weeks, backers started to focus on a different side of communication: post-Kickstarter updates... Time after time, backers told me that all they really wanted were regular updates (once every few weeks) that gave them a behind-the-scenes look into what was happening and provided honest insights into the progress, whether it was good or bad. I have the feeling that many of these backers had been scarred by some negative experiences where they didn’t hear from a creator for long stretches of time during delayed projects. That’s just a guess. But this was the advice that I heard the most often, by far, so it’s something I will pay particular attention to in the coming weeks." - Jamey Stegmaier

    I don't really care about sourcing my opinions, but I really felt that I couldn't write this article until I had a little bit of information to back this up. I've seen far too much debate on other sites about whether backers want the product or the experience to share an unsubstantiated opinion and open myself up to a pointless argument.

    As Kickstarter matures, as there will be higher profile failures made public, as people become better educated, they will continue to add more and more indicators of potential success to their mental checklist. One of them is the frequency and quality of updates.

    What's an Update?

    Each Kickstarter project has a blog where the project own can let everyone know what's going on. Project owners have two options: public updates and backer-only updates. Both types of updates should be used with almost equal frequency.

    Public updates will give potential backers a flavor of what to expect from the backer-only updates. Use updates to provide reassurance, openness, and responsiveness. If a potential backer visits your page and is on the fence, seeing that there 1) there are updates and 2) the updates indicate a a high level of dedication from the project owner, they are likely to be swayed.

    Backer-only updates create a community, a feeling of getting your money's worth, and can help prevent buyer's remorse. It's the best place to provide calls to action, enlisting an army of backers to get more people involved. On top of all this goodness, potential backers will see that these posts in the feed as backer-only updates but won't be able to read the content. It's yet another way to bait potential backers into becoming part of your project.

    Stick With It

    Maybe I need to provide an extreme example of the importance of project updates. Republique, a Kickstarter project attempting to make a reference-quality video game for mobile devices struggled for almost the entire duration of the project. Their updates revealed new information about the project, they shared videos of meetings where they discussed compromises they may have to make to get the project funded, they called on the help of their backers to get the word out. It really looked like their funding was going to fail until it suddenly picked up toward the very end of the project.

    Kickstarter projects are work because you can't depend on your product selling itself. Were that true, you wouldn't need Kickstarter. You are marketing, community building, and documenting all at once.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    I backed a pretty cool project on Kickstarter a while ago that promised a toy car that was propelled using only magnets and a lever. Then I got an email that they had canceled their project. I kept a tab open in my browser to the company's web site to see what direction they were heading in now that they had ditched Kickstarter. To my delight, they posted a long, rambling, conspiracy-theory-filled rant.

    "Cancelling[sic] a project is never an easy thing to do, and it leaves everyone with a sour taste, but sometimes it is necessary. In this case we believe it was necessary for the reasons above. That said, we also believe we have gotten out of a dead-end bad situation just prior to is[sic] becoming detrimental to our morale and more importantly for the sake of our product and our thousands of fans waiting for one, as Kickstarter had already expended too much of our time."

    Read it. It's really funny and has all sorts of gripes both real and imagined about Kickstarter. It's fascinating to say the least.

    It's an odd feeling to be grateful that a Kickstarter project has been canceled. I don't worry about many of the things that Jeff ranted about, but I do worry whether the companies I choose to give money to are run by crazies.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    One of the things I want to do through this site is give solicited feedback to Kickstarter project owners, hopefully before they launch their projects. Travis Vengroff reached out to the Funding the Dream with Kickstarter LinkedIn group I follow asking for feedback on his project, Liberty: A Comic Book Series. Below is what I sent Travis and his response:

    My Feedback

    At the beginning, I love to hear the professions of the creators. Tell your potential backers who you actually are, what city you live in, what your current job is right now (not what you aspire to). It piques my interest when I hear about someone with a full time job aspire to the type of project they are currently pitching. It means there's a story and we all like stories.

    I didn't much care about seeing a picture of your partner. I still want to know a little about him, but you're the focus of the video and it's easier for me to get emotionally invested in the story of one person.

    You state the number of issues without touching on why it matters. Later in the video, you explain that you have to do all 15 issues to be able to release monthly. I think you can just leave it out and say that it's a "series".

    You say you were working on it for the last couple of years without any context. Adding something simple like "This has been a passion project of ours for the past couple of years." would help a ton.

    Your list of "this is for you" things didn't resonate with me, but I still like the overall idea of the video. Be careful about saying things that people can use to put your idea into a box. It's better to appear new and original, which I think your story is.

    I would have stopped watching at the 1 minute mark. I would have stopped because I didn't know where the video was going and I wasn't invested in watching it.

    You introduced the video by saying "So what's it about?" rather than introducing it. Say "I'd like to show you a quick video introducing the world of the comic book series along with some of the drawings we've done so far. After that, I'd like to tell you more about our journey so far and what rewards we're offering." I'll sit through a video if I know the project author will be back to explain their passion.

    My thoughts about the story introduction:

    "Too afraid of uniting the rioters and anarchists that have become concerned with infighting..." Do you mean integrating? I think locking them all out would unite them. And do you mean just normal fighting instead of infighting? Infighting implies they are fighting amongst themselves, so why would the city be worried?

    Why did you add the bit about technology becoming foreign? It seems like they'd forget their Earth-based roots just because it's been so long.

    There are a few jumps in the explanation that assumes we're going to be okay with huge plot introductions. You say that they're "stuck inside a giant web of government control" instead of saying "The government has resorted to control and propaganda which the citizens find themselves stuck in". You also say that "still feel that they are better off than the savage cannibals" without explaining that the area outside of the city has devolved into cannibalism.

    I would add "Our story focuses on the population of the inner city". There is a lot of focus early on about those locked out of the city and I had assumed they'd be a focus of the story as well.

    After the Video:

    There was no break between the comic introduction and going back into the story of the project. It would help to see you back on camera at least for a few seconds so that I can switch my brain over to a new type of content.

    Overall:

    I would say that the thing you need to be careful of is when things are unequivocally stated. Just pay attention for statements that don't build on previous thoughts and try to either transition into them or leave them out.

    His Response

    First, thank you. This is absolutely fantastic! 

    I was starting to lose faith when another person who messaged me started to explain that I shouldn't ask people for money I needed to complete the project. :p

    After revising my page a bunch of times I started to lose the a fresh perspective on what i'd written, so I'm going to make most (if not all) of your suggested revisions once I get to my editing computer in an hour or so because I think your comments are spot on. It also gives me an excuse to re-record some of the guitar parts for the music track. If you're able to, please respond sooner than later as i'm going to start work on this shortly.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    Alex Hillman:

    Here’s the fun part, and where Kickstarter’s stats start to lend credence to a different dynamic.
    By bringing your supporters into the project, they can share in the beliefs that you believe and know and so that they can realize that they are a part of the world that you have access to, without having to use the bombastic claims.
    And then when the superlatives come, it’s from your fans, not you.
    They want what you want, just as much as you do (or more).

    I was going to write this, and now I don't have to

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    Of all the things you could possibly do to create a backer revolt, the worst would be to sell your product, with exactly the same price and benefits, outside of Kickstarter without telling your backers. The topic of exclusivity is a great tool in understanding a lot of the emotional underpinnings Kickstarter creates.

    Exclusivity has been something I've wanted to write about for a while. I just posted an article on how trailers should be used in Kickstarter projects and this topic pairs really well with it. Before I forge ahead, there are a few things that, if you're doing, you probably don't need to care about this stuff. If you have a polished trailer or a product that can be produced without the help of Kickstarter, most people have the expectation that they're simply pre-ordering. That's a whole other mess of problems I'll get to later.

    Kickstarter is a club. You could also call it a tribe, as Seth Godin calls these types of communities. Breaking it down even further, each project has its own tribe, its own community, and its own whims. It grants its backers feelings that are hard to quantify but are basically the same ones that underly any community with a shared goal.

    What you need to be mindful of is how fragile these emotions are. Many of the things that led a backer to buy in to your dream are projections of the things they want (apart from your project). 

    One of these projections is a desire for discovery. Take a look at the attitudes of hipsters who insist they liked everything before it was cool or claim that the latest band that signed on a major label "sold out". Ever have a friend that recommended a book to you a few months after you recommended it to them?

    If you want to really ramp up this feeling, consider being way  more aggressive with early bird offers. Reward those that find your project at the beginning as these people are probably huge fans of yours or the type of people who spend their leisure time seeking out interesting projects on Kickstarter.

    Ensure that these feelings remain with these backers on Kickstarter. There is a temptation, especially with projects that could use the extra money, to try to attract sales outside of Kickstarter, or to open up a sales presence after Kickstarter ends. Not that there's anything wrong with driving as much funding to a project, you just need to be careful how you do it.

    Be totally honest with your backers, you've (hopefully) already told them how important extra funds would be to your project. Inform them of how much worse the deal is going to be for those not on Kickstarter. Reiterate all the things they're getting that other aren't and how much sooner they're getting it.

    You owe your backers. If you could have just gone out and put up a store, why didn't you do that? At worst, you're cashing in on the popularity your backers helped create. Just less than worse, you're behaving as if you didn't even need to come to Kickstarter in the first place. Either way, you could come across as if you didn't need your backers and didn't need Kickstarter.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    You've done a lot of work and have a great demo or trailer of your product. Maybe you even hired a professional to put your trailer together. Everyone in the world should know about the wonderful work you've done!

    Where they don't need to see it is in your project video. What I mean to say is that your demo or trailer should not appear in its entirety when you're introducing your project. Do you think your trailer speaks for itself? Do you think your demo explains your project? It explains your product maybe, whatever it is you're selling, but not your project.

    Your product is definitely a huge part of your project, but there are so many other things that contribute to a potential backer's decision to give you money. Don't give people time to forget about these other motivations, they may stop watching your video.

    If you have a great demo, split it up and explain it as you go. If you have an awesome trailer, talk it, how much work it was, who helped you with it. Put the full trailer elsewhere on your project page and let people know it's there. Even though your potential backers may not be expecting a trailer when they visit your project page, it may be a great resource for them to get others excited.

    An example of the type of projects that do this well are board games. Because of the length of a good demo video, it has no place in a project video. It's common for board game projects to show bits and pieces of gameplay, even from the demo video, then provide a full demo video below.

    What if you don't have a demo or trailer? If you're trying to kickstart the development of a product, you can still do a lot. Highlight the work you've done toward your product and demo it as if it's the product itself. Sketches you've done, notes you've written, and the connections you've made are like crack to potential backers.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    Kickstarter recently redesigned their project page. Putting the "blurb" (the short description of the project) on the project page is my favorite addition. I've always loved reading these little 140 character descriptions of projects, but it seems like most project creators don't spend a lot of time working on them.

    Search results, project discovery, and the widgets all display the blurb. For these reasons, you should be clear and concise in describing your project as these are some very common ways people  find your project. Really, though, do you not have a 140 character summary of your project? If you don't, you're going to have a hard time pitching your project anywhere, not just on Kickstarter.

    When you fill out your project page, Kickstarter provides the helpful text:

    " If you had to describe your project in one tweet, how would you do it?"

    Very few projects seem to follow Kickstarter's helpful advice. Check out @kickblurbs, where blurbs are taken out of context to show how meaningless, trite, or silly they can be.

    "Hey everyone! please help"

    Think of it this way: Someone may visit your project page, decide to share it with their friends, and look for a quick summary of your project to copy and paste. I am this sort of person and I share a lot of Kickstarter projects with my friends. Some projects provide me with not a single sentence that describes what they are doing or only do so in their project video.

    It should be obvious by what's been said that you shouldn't write your blurbs in the first-person, using pronouns like I or we. Let me state it anyway: Write your blurb in a way that people can copy and paste it without having to change pronouns.

    I forge ahead and write my own summary of the project, but many people will give up because they can't be bothered. They may love what you're doing, be overjoyed they're participating, but not care a bit if their friends miss out on it.

    More

    "You could have the most amazing idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate what it is to me (and your potential backers), then it’s going to be a hard sell." - Jonathan Liu
    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    Our fondest memories are usually stored away behind something that represents the memory. We typically call these representations "icons" of which some are intentional and others are not. Advertising agencies are well aware of this and you probably can look at a Coca-Cola or McDonald's logo right now that will trigger the recollection of a ton of great stories.

    What you want to do with your Kickstarter video is to provide your backers a neat little icon they can direct their emotion toward. In some projects, the icon is the actual product. But the backbone of Kickstarter is projects that are still dreams, that are hard to visualize and think on. Yet these are the projects that most create feelings of hope, community, and passion.

    I'm going to argue that the best icon you can present to people is yourself. If you sell yourself honestly, they will see themselves in you and sympathize with what you're doing. Your dream will become their dream and they will assume that the things they hope for are the things you hope for.

    You can easily screw this up, though. To address one of the more common problems, some people simply don't want to appear on camera. Don't even waste a second worrying about this; get someone else to appear on video in your place. Have them be your advocate, don't explain why they're the ones presenting (and you're not), and make sure you educate them on your passion for the project so they can communicate it for you. Think about your most likable friend explaining "He loves working on this project so much, I came over one night to find him asleep next to one of his prototypes".

    Another sure way to get things derailed is to divide the attention of your backers. Giving someone too many outlets for their emotion is a sure way to minimize its impact. Entire teams sometimes appear on Kickstarter videos, with each person getting equal screen time. Even jumping back and forth between two people can create confusion where there doesn't need to be any. An easy way to get around this (if you have to) is to have everyone in the same shot. You can still lose your potential backers again if you jump back and forth between people, so make sure there's a primary spokesperson at the center.

    Finally, the hardest obstacle of all is when you're an unlikable person. Unfortunately, people tend to trust people they like. And Kickstarter has quite a bit to do with trust. If there's any doubt at all, get your most likable friend to be your advocate, as I outlined above for those afraid to appear on camera.

    Think this whole thing is stifling your project? Don't forget that you can post as many videos as you want elsewhere on your project page. Just make sure you label them so that people have clear expectations about what they're getting themselves in to. If they want to meet the whole team, post a video that is clearly about meeting the whole team. If you are going to highlight your unlikable project owner, have fun with how you present it. Use self-deprecating adjectives, appear uncomfortable with the whole thing. A video titled "Grumpy Karl Finally Speaks" can make your character flaws endearing rather than abrasive.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter

    I look through a lot of Kickstarter projects each day. Being a programmer has allowed me to write a fun little script that writes out a neat list of projects that overcome some minimum criteria. Each project that shows up in this list is merely a title, a video, and the project blurb.

    More often than not, after reading the blurb, I don't even watch the video. You can find a million articles on how to write a good tweet, and you should use those resources when crafting your blurb. What I want to talk about is the video.

    If I'm really dedicated, I will wait 30 seconds to a minute for the actual project overview to be presented. Even then, a lot of it depends on how entertaining your filler is. Too many splash screens, title screens, "funny" editing mistakes and I'm out.

    You need to appear on screen as quickly as you can, tell potential backers who you are, and tell them why they should keep watching.

    Of that small list, the most important of all is to tell them who you are. Tell your potential backers who you actually are, what city you live in, what your current job is right now. Don't list the job you aspire to as if it's your actual job, it's disingenuous.

    You're a plumber from Detroit? That's cool. I'm a programmer in Des Moines, I don't do anything fancy either. But you're presenting an art project? Interesting, I wonder what chain of events caused this plumber to decide to become an artist.

    Now that I have a feeling for who you are and I'm curious about what brought you to Kickstarter, fill me in a little on what's going to happen. If you'll be showing a demo, let me know, I may stick around for that. Even if you're just going to do a single shot and talk the whole time, at least I know what to expect. But get this stuff out of the way quickly. You need to assure your potential backers that their time is valuable and this is a great way to do it.

    Posted
    AuthorNeil Roberts
    CategoriesKickstarter