Category Archives: GAMEDEC
Gamedec.UKW has been around for three years now. Closing the first full cycle for the cohort enrolled in 2013/2014, we are looking at employability stats. It’s too early to ask about graduates: the first three have just received their gamedec’s licences (BA) on the 14th of July, 10+ more are coming in September. But we started to >monitor careers right when the careers did: long before graduation! On the 1st of July, counting the 2nd and 3rd grade together, game dev employability = 39%. This is only full time employment lasting more than a month; and only the real job market, without grant-funded industry internships organised by the university (these were taken by nearly 100% of both cohorts).
I am pleased to say that Matthew Sanderson, a freelance writer for Vampire the Masquerade, Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu, has kindly agreed to give us a short interview. He is also the author of The Angel of the Abyss, a Cthulhu World War adventure which some gamedecs had the distinct pleasure to experience. You can read a review of The Angel of the Abyss here.
I have taken the liberty of doing some research on Matthew Sanderson, a self-professed Friendly Neighbourhood Cthulhu Cultist. You are a living proof that one does not need to be professionally educated in game development in order to be successful in the field of role-playing games. What is your opinion on comprehensive – although not exhaustive – game dev education available nowadays?
To be honest, until I met Krzysztof a few months ago, it wasn’t something that I was aware that there actually was any formal education programme for. Game design is a very specific niche in education and I am definitely not aware of any courses that there are in the UK or I would have tried to jump on that bandwagon a long time ago. But no, I think it is a great thing. It is an industry that has a wide variety of people coming to it, whether it is people who then go on to mainstream authorship or not. There’s a few writers who started doing role-playing games and now moved on to more fiction realms. And to have a qualification that could get you into the industry and get you writing very specific, very high quality stuff right off the bat can’t be a bad thing.
What skills would you say could help young game designers to achieve some degree of success in the field of role-playing games?
Well, I learn mainly by actually doing things. I started off running games at the local tabletop club and then went on to the convention scene. And it’s actually one of the things that intersect with my day job. I’m actually a credit analyst by profession. I had a course offered by my employer about designing engaging presentations. So having a degree of oratory skill and being able to project that at the game table helps a lot with actually running the game and running games is key to writing them. The two are hand in hand.
I’d say you have to be very good at running games to be able to write them as well, because they are two sides of the same coin. So start learning to walk before you can run in that respect: get behind the table, get some dice and start playing.
The Angel of the Abyss is set around a real-life operation, specifically, Operation Harling. The scenario appears to remain very faithful to reality when it comes to locations and timeline. I daresay – correct me if I am wrong – you are a great believer in historical accuracy and historical determinism. When and under what circumstances – if at all – would you say it is acceptable to modify and misconstruct historical facts for the sake of better game design?
It’s very context-dependent. It depends on the event you are looking at. Now, there is one instance for a project I’m working on – myself, Scott Dorward and Paul Fricker are writing a campaign for Trail of Cthulhu – and one of the chapters in that is set during the El Salvador conflict. Some of the stuff that happened there was pretty grim to say the least. It was a really horrific period in history. In instance when I’m dealing with material like that, I will happily downplay rather than edit and take an artistic licence with what’s happening. But that was part of the setting, not something to focus on directly. A bit like with Operation Harling. I started off originally thinking that I’d be able to set the events around the main attack on the bridge. But a friend of mine, Elina, who is helping me a lot with research and is credited in the book, is Greek and she said that it might not be such a good idea since the people involved in those events are still regarded as national heroes. And that it may not be a touchy subject but also not necessarily something that I’d like to go into and start taking artistic licence with, in case I offend someone.
That’s why with The Angel of the Abyss I took the decision to move the action away from the main focus of what was going on, but still had everything take place, just off screen. It really depends on the nature of the event you’re looking at. If it’s something that has this degree of sensitivity or if it’s a bit too nasty, that’s the point where I’m happy to start changing little bits here and there.
You appear to be an avid observer and oftentimes also a funder of Cthulhu-related Kickstarter projects. Basing on your experience, would you say that crowdfunding is a viable way for young game designers to independently publish their first projects? Do you have any tips on how to get a role-playing project funded?
I have backed something in the region of 210 or probably more projects on Kickstarter. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly going through that site. One of the main things that I’ve seen with role-playing, not even just Cthulhu projects, but all role-playing projects on Kickstarter: they will always overrun. Also, you will always have very vocal backers screaming for their product saying “Where is it? Where’s my update?” and it can get quite hostile with some backers on there. So, number one piece of advice for any project creators: have a thick skin.
Also, we have discussed this with Scott and Paul. If we were to run a project, we would ensure that the manuscript was almost completely finished – if not completely finished – before you actually go to Kickstarter. The main thing that Kickstarter should be used to fund is quick turnaround. So rather than paying your writers, you should be paying your artists, your layout, your distribution costs.
If you want to cut out distribution, which is a major headache for a lot of projects – case in point: the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter, where the postage alone cost pretty much as much as the project funded for – consider print-on-demand through sites such as Lulu as a way to cut out the distribution method and put the shipping costs on the printer. So you’d potentially be looking at giving your backers discount codes for print-on-demand sites. But you would have to make it upfront that a. they would be paying shipping later on and b. it is a print-on-demand book. That would cut out a lot of the headaches. Then all you’d be looking at is layout and paying your artists.
Artwork is a key part of most of the RPG publications. There is only one RPG book I can think of with no artwork at all and that hasn’t even come out yet. It’s the Bible edition of Kult: Divinity Lost. That was actually one of the selling points: no artwork, but it is like a Bible, so nice, wholesome material there.
To publish commercially or not to publish at all – that is the question. Should young game designers publish their work online under Creative Commons and can it truly help to launch their career later on?
This is a question similar to one that was posed by the then White Wolf Publishing. They gave a very long presentation at a gaming convention that I went to in the States, where they showed how traditional gaming stores in the US were on a downward exponential curve and were closing very, very quickly year on year. Which is why a lot of their products went on to print-on-demand and digital formats. Also, they said that in ten to fifteen years the printed medium would be a thing of the past. There seems to be a degree of that happening as game stores are still closing, but then you go to conventions and find out that attendance is going up and up.
I’d say there is a disparity between the two schools. More visibly, traditional publishing is the best route to go. And if you get your product into a store, you’ve got more likelihood of it being picked up on a larger scale. Going and selling purely online limits your audience but still gives you an income.
I’d suggest going small first and starting with that online base. Get a reputation and slowly start building to the point where if you put a larger project on Kickstarter, part of those funds would be used to get out into the mainstream and onto a wider distribution network.
And now, for a harder question: what, in your opinion, makes a Cthulhu scenario marketable? Certainly, classic 90s adventures will always enjoy great popularity, but what, would you say, a modern Cthulhu enthusiast yearns for in a scenario?
That’s a tough one. You know, if you ask Scott that question, you will get a very different answer. I suppose there’s a conception amongst a lot of the traditional set-ups that a lot of scenarios follow the onion plot, the onion structure. You gradually peel back one layer and then there’s another and you reveal more and more of the plot. But I’d say that this is something that was more in line with the 6th Edition and previous.
The material that is being produced for the 7th Edition by myself, Scott, Paul, Alan Bligh and a couple of others out there, well, it seems we’re moving into an almost new format. It’s not ignoring everything that has come beforehand, but it’s taking scenario structures in a slightly different direction, like touching on certain themes that previously would have been anathema to Call of Cthulhu. It’s always had an almost PG-13 rating and no warning light to it unlike other games such as Kult, where you have to be 18+ to play. These days, it’s dealing with things like abortion and generally more adult material that in the old days.
But if you’re looking at the more traditional spectrum, I’d say you should write something that follows the onion structure, where it’s a very traditional A to B to C, maybe set in the 20s, because it’s the environment that everyone classifies as the classic Cthulhu. And maybe use some traditional, recognizable gods, rather than choosing something that is obscure and hasn’t seen the light of day since a particular publication 20 years ago.
Thank you very much.
Author: Urszula Chmielewska
Here you can read an interview with Matthew Sanderson, the author of The Angel of the Abyss.
World War Cthulhu has enjoyed no small popularity since the very announcement of its pending publication. This Call of Cthulhu setting can boast some truly amazing projects, many of which are still in development. It is hard to predict how far and in what direction will the line expand in the future.
For now, let us take a look at the first scenario book for World War Cthulhu, Europe Ablaze and, more specifically, at the adventure which enabled it to launch with a considerable degree of success: The Angel of the Abyss by Matthew Sanderson, offered as a free sample to mark the pre-release of the supplement itself.
Europe Ablaze comprises six complete adventures set in the Second World War. All of them are firmly rooted in the reality of war some taking inspiration from actual historical events and operations. The Angel of the Abyss is one of the latter, being based around Operation Harling, a major sabotage act by British Special Operations Executive carried out in cooperation with the Greek Resistance Movement.
It must be mentioned that in its entirety World War Cthulhu appears to have side-stepped the obvious approach that one might take when mixing Cthulhu Mythos and World War II, unlike the concurrent Cthulhu expansion Achtung! Cthulhu. In doing so, it has remained highly respectful towards its historical background. Taking into account the relative recency of the events in question as well as their socio-cultural impact, it surely seems to be the most appropriate approach. Furthermore, some players tend to experience trouble when faced with Mythos-imbued Nazi forces. That is why World War Cthulhu makes an effort not to merge the all too real human evil with supernatural threats. The whole issue is handled with great delicacy and resolved by supporting plots that are dual in nature: the official mission given to the Investigators tends to be wholly anchored in the political and military spheres while the supernatural is relegated to a secondary underlying plot layer.
Such is the case with The Angel of the Abyss. The Investigators are given a mission to support two disparate resistance groups on the eve of the attack on the Gorgopotamos Bridge. It is worth to mention that the author chose to adhere to historical determinism – it seems that whatever the players do, the attack will succeed. Such an approach enhances the realism of the adventure and affirms the feeling of the scale and scope of the setting.
One cannot help but admire the sheer amount of research that must have gone into the scenario, especially when it comes to creating a complete picture of the area. Although, it must be said that not all of the facts provided within the scenario will necessarily come into use. It appears to depend on the level of interest and capability for absorbing information exhibited by the individual groups of players. Still, based on a trial run conducted for the purposes of this review, historically-minded Secret Keepers will truly enjoy the multitude of details included in the adventure.
Despite its obvious quality, it is not the research that constitutes the main value of the scenario. The real strength of The Angel of the Abyss lies within the creation of non-player characters. Make no mistake – most Secret Keepers will be hard pressed to do justice to the vibrant images of the Greek Resistance fighters and certainly none will manage without sufficient preparation. Simply memorising all the fighters is already a challenge.
Fortunately, the author provides tips for playing each of the non-player characters, which relieves the Secret Keeper of having to come up with so many acting styles. At the same time, those Secret Keepers who normally do not rely on acting all that much will feel obliged to at least try. And that is truly a good thing, for one must admit that showing the conflict between ELAS and EDES – two politically divergent Greek Resistance movements – makes for the most engaging scenes and ones that seems to be greatly appreciated by the players.
The text of the adventure proper is organized chronologically, which is at least partly due to the non-negotiable timeline determined by historical events. The significance of the passage of time generates additional tension and furtherly provides the game with realism. The text is generously embedded with clear instructions as to how to use the game mechanics in order to move to plot forward. It is much appreciated as some of the rolls will be made for actions rarely seen in other Cthulhu settings.
The secondary layer of the plot ties itself seamlessly into the primary one and there is little that could be improved when it comes to the latter. The only quibble is the way that the sermon plays out like a cutscene. True, since the Investigators act under orders which require them to preserve their cover, they should not react. However it all depends on how much any given player understands the setting. For example, some character-driven players will claim that their Investigators would not stand and look helplessly at a priest being beaten, special training or no. But such occurrences are in no way a fault of the scenario itself.
The Angel of the Abyss is a great adventure for showing all the intensity and gritty realism that may be achieved within the given setting. Moreover, it shows perfectly how should the duality of the plot inherent to SOE-centric missions play out. Yet at the same time its entry threshold is not low. I daresay that it is much higher for the players as Secret Keepers capable of processing the amount of information provided within the scenario will be unable to help but buy into its atmosphere. Players, on the other hand, will need to either be already familiar with World War Cthulhu, have some basic historical knowledge or be thoroughly briefed in advance. In a nutshell, The Angel of the Abyss is a highly playable scenario which fulfills its role admirably.
Many thanks are owed to my players: Natalia Białopiotrowicz, Sylwia ‘Nefariel’ Bogdańska, Ewa Kieferling and Anna ‘Merrik’ Kwapiszewska, who graciously came and played what proved to be a very enjoyable RPG session indeed.
Author: Urszula Chmielewska
Gamedec.UKW Curriculum prezi from Central and Eastern European Game Studies conference, 21-24th October 2015 in Kraków, Poland. Expanded with answers to questions asked by the audience.
In June 2016, Gamedec.UKW will release its first graduates: licenced gamedecs. They all have been thoroughly trained and gained hands-on job experience. Some have already started making money in the industry; actually, some did that as sophomores or even juniors. See Employment for more info.
We have staff for gamedev – testers, interns, project teams, authors of diploma projects, soon we’ll have graduates ready for full-time employment. Our ranks in this semester (Oct 2015 – Feb 2016):
Level 5 (seniors): 15 gamedecs in digital games diploma projects, 10 gamedeków in non-digital ones. They all have completed training in: video game design (UDK / UE4 with designers from Vivid Games), board games, RPG/LARP, gamification. Currently, they are learning how to create urban games and interactive fiction. Next semester, they will face the design of educational games. For the industry: you can commission or use a BA diploma project.
Level 3 (sophomores): 25 gamedecs starting their video games lab (Unity with a programmer from Vivid Games) and gamification. They have completed training in the design of board games and RPG/LARP. For the industry: teams of 4-5 do three 5-week-long game projects in a semester. Moreover, ongoing collaboration with partners outside of the industry is mandatory.
Most of them have already selected projects and partners. The industry is not asleep, and nor are we. But we are always open for new proposals for collaboration. Besides, we also have:
Level 1: ~60 wannabe gamedecs, who haven’t yet picked a specialisation track, are currently learning to design interactive fiction. Next term (Feb 2016), they will start design labs in board games, tabletop RPG and LARP, plus – for the industry – team projects of their own choice.