Thursday, 30 October 2014

[Guest Post] Marker Jones - What I Learned Developing Worlds of Rage

Hello World,

A few weeks ago I was got the chance to talk with Marker Jones, Creator of the Worlds of Rage RPG. In our discussions I got to learn about Marker’s experience in publishing and his development process. I really wanted to pass on this information with you all and figured who better to share the games development story than the author himself. Marker jumped on the offer to share his story, and hastily sent me in a monolith of a story, about every step of this 5 year publishing story. What follows is what he sent me, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As with all things, we begin with a first step.

Hello, my name is Marker Jones. I am the writer of "Worlds of Rage," a brand new role-playing experience from United Sight studios, and the lead developer of the task resolution mechanic the game uses (likely the same dice mechanic all our games will use).

It's been a long time coming, as you, aspiring game designers, are about to find out. I began this project with a partner who left on good terms resting the whole thing squarely in my lap. Admittedly it sat there a few years collecting dust while I flirted with the idea of writing a novel or screenplay or anything that would get my name out in the world. In this time, I was running games, countless games; Battlestar Galactica, Vampire the Masquerade, Mage the Ascension, TMNT, Rifts, Beyond the Supernatural, Dragonlance, anything to give me that good game high I had experienced so many times before.

Creating my own RPG, I knew a few things before I even started typing. This would be science fiction, but it would have nothing to do with any previous IP with the word "Star" in the title; I went so far as to avoid the word for my title. It would have some of the usual trappings of an RPG such as some system of magic, but it could not be like anything ever seen before in game or movie. Finally, since I was very heavily playing every RPG I could get my hands on those days, it had to have something no other RPG ever had, and there had to be a solid story reason for this creation.

"Worlds of Rage" began as a street with two clubs and two competing crime lords. In an attempt to make it original, I dealt primarily street level storylines involving crime, treachery, extortion. Other planets were mentioned but rarely visited. We had an ongoing storyline of two competing criminals and the people caught in the struggle. It was fun, but limited. I had to expand more.

Enter the religions. I couldn't bring myself to have any kind of Judeo Christian religion in a world I had already said had no connection to the world those type religions had come from. The end result was a mix of Christian, Jewish and Jehovah's Witnesses belief systems but done in such a way to make sense in the back story of the game. It was a simple story of an omnipotent creator based on my upbringing in the Catholic faith, but I wanted a mixed connection/opposition between religion and science believing that would add drama. This gave me the antagonist I needed to keep religion on its toes.

While I was writing and creating (and recreating), I was keeping an eye open for a publisher. I knew I didn't want to sell to one of the established companies as I wanted to own my work. The best way for me to retain ownership of the property I had struggled to get into print, I soon found, was the print on demand market.

Print on demand is a new kind of creature, but yet it seems tailor made for the role-playing industry. We are creative people to begin with, and more than likely computer savvy. Print on demand services allow us to showcase our abilities a number of ways; writing, graphic design, desktop publishing, web design, etc. It's as if the digital world reached out to us, invited us into a tight embrace and asked what it can do to help. There I was with arms extended looking for my chance to etch my name in the stone of RPG history.

I soon discovered how valuable a tool constant research was. Not only was I looking up various publication channels, but I was also doing research on technology to get a sound idea where the advanced tech of my world(s) would be. Most important, it had to look right, it had to look plausible, it had to seem like these people would have naturally gravitated towards this tech. To do this, I studied a lot about where technology came from and how it evolved in our world.

History gave me more ideas than almost anything else. When designing your own world from scratch, why not research on our home planet and what happened in each stage of evolution? This got me looking at the races involved in my game. I suddenly had a model to work with, a way to decide where each race came from. The Limthrakk, the orange skinned nobles, see themselves as the Creator's chosen, the one the others should look up to. Their culture was based on Asian culture and history. The Groon are seen as savage and brutal by the other races, but they are nothing of the sort, they just don't think those that look down on them need to know just how beautiful their culture really is. They were heavily based on Native American tribes. This process continued with the other races.

I spent the most time deciding what classes would go into my game. I started out with classes whose sole defining characteristic was summed up in a few words, often the name of the class. It soon came to me that these class names were looking more like skills; thief, assassin, fighter with bladed weaponry, mystic, etc. I own the fact that a lot of "Worlds of Rage" is inspired by fantasy RPG's, but I could not see a place in my high technology science-fiction worlds for a healer or an arena fighter. However, a soldier who was only ever good at fighting and decided to increase his already wondrous skills with the addition of cybernetics to the point of facing a growing addiction to cybernetic implants? That had promise.

And soon other classes were inspired. An offshoot of one of the terrorist organizations that pledged a life of nonviolent social demonstrations focused on corporate espionage and activism. Priests that had to train heavily in combat with bladed weapons as they were going to do missionary work in some of the most dangerous places in the galaxy. Bodyguards who would self-administer poisons to build up an immunity and get a taste for them so that they could not only survive the effects but identify the substances in an employer's food (which also had the added benefit of making them quite adept at administering poisons themselves). These were the kind of morally ambiguous classes I was going for.

Alignment became a thing of the past. If you are creating characters that normally act outside the line on an average business day, why incorporate a system of alignment that would penalize them for doing the very thing they were buying skill points to do? Ridding myself of an alignment system got me looking at other mechanics of RPGs we have grown accustomed to.

I discovered a growing disdain for experience points. How is an encounter judged in such a way that one encounter is a higher threat than another? A large stampeding monster could be reduced to a blathering idiot if dice rolls were not going your way, and a low level pickpocket could ruin your day if he took your knife out of your pocket and stabbed you with it before robbing you and walking off, all in a time span of about 15 seconds with an amazing roll. So "Encounters" no longer had a numerical value, rather the skills that you roll increase themselves through repeated successful use. This not only rewarded the soldiers in combat, but also the engineers who repaired the ship, the technician that fixed the equipment, the ambassador that was able to use words to avoid a fight.

I am in no way an artist, and any RPG is judged on the quality of its art. Since I was self-financing this, I wanted to save the lion's share of the money for publication, so sacrifices had to be made. It took me 7 years to find an artist that could produce good art for a price I could afford. Anyone near to me was offering comic book quality artwork but for well over $100 per illustration. Thanks to researching options online I found a good quality artist at a more reasonable rate (thumbtack.com helped out wonderfully here). For the front cover, I tapped the friend of a friend who was a local tattoo artist and very interested in the project. This same artist is still producing content for me and negotiating a contract to work on future titles.

I had found my publisher in the form of CreateSpace, a publishing house owned by Amazon. I jumped at the chance to work with them, not only for brand recognition but also because this meant my RPG would be available on the Kindle. I've seen a good amount of digital role players as of late; you know them, the gamers that have either their laptop or tablet at the table. Technology has allowed us the chance to carry dozens of books to the gaming table in only one hand. I wanted to be a part of this, and was able to do so, thankfully, and not just with the Kindle but also drivethrurpg, which is another amazing resource for aspiring designers.

Ah, marketing. The total dominance of the internet has made marketing a double-edged sword; you would think it is easy given how accessible the entire world is now, but be careful for you can accidentally use these resources incorrectly and alienate potential customers. I did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), created social media pages, a wordpress site, a twitter account, a Google+ page, had friends talk me up on social media, etc. It helped a bit. I got a lot more traction once I learned to use Roll20 and Skype. The online role playing community - and this includes online gaming conventions such as Virtuacon and Aethercon - allowed me to get my name out there and to introduce people in other state and other countries to my work. Once players saw it in action, they were more inclined to look it over.

My wordpress site has a beta test copy of the rules available. I would suggest this to any designer. The professional designers make their SRDs (system reference documents) available to consumers online, and your beta test rules can be the same thing. Also, it serves as a text for possible play testing, which is important, but also more honest if you can get people to play test it in your absence, and to find play testers who are not related to you. We all start running our games for our friends, but it's when people who do not know you try your game for the first time that the real issues start to show themselves. 

Don't settle for online, get out in the world and play it also. Your local gaming store is a good start, but absolutely go to conventions; go to a lot of conventions, go out of your way to go to conventions, go to each one you can find and afford to go to. Get the word out there. Let people you have never met before know about your game. Do demos wherever you can. Post demos online and let strangers find them on YouTube at 3 o'clock in the morning.

This has been a labor of love for me, and that is the complete truth. I have gone at this mostly on my own - not out of choice, out of circumstance. I was, however, fortunate to be able to realize this goal without having to Kickstart it (I never thought it would be beneficial to be a married gamer, but I was proven wrong on this).

Good luck, designers. I hope to see your products soon on the shelves of my local bookstore.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I would like to thank Marker for his post, and if you you would like to learn more about Worlds of Rage you can check out Markers Wordpress, or you can find the game on Amazon and Drive Through RPG.

before I end off this article I would like to make a quick announcement to all of my readers! I want to hear from you, use the contact form to the right of this article and let me know what you want to see in future posts. I love writing this blog, and with your help we can make it something great.

And as always, thanks for reading,

-Patrick