Category Archives: Video Gaming

Farewell To Overwatch

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I stopped playing Overwatch. For those of you that know me, that was hard. It was my go-to relaxing game, lots of fun, great FPS.

What changed my mind was watching the layoffs at Activision Blizzard. It was unnecessary and it felt like I was somehow supporting that. I thought about how the company could be focusing on making the game better, wondered about how much of management pay should go to employees. It started to make me ask “why am I playing this?”

Then as I watched the Anthem mess and others, I began to realize I really needed to go back to more and more indie games. I needed to support people who were innovating. I needed to support innovation. I needed to ask where my money was going.

Something felt “off” among a lot of big games and big companies lately. Oh sure, I’ll play some AAA games, but I’m going to be more selective. But I’m also going to think about who I’m supporting and where my money and time goes.

After a week or two, I didn’t miss Overwatch. I rediscovered some Early Access Games I’d let slide, and I found new ones. I explored more weirdness and fun at itch.io.

I felt like I appreciated games again. I appreciated the diversity of the many indie games I played. I realized how fun Early Access was to connect with people. It was kind of like if you eat the same thing a lot, you remember what it’s like to taste different things when you change.

I’m sure there will be more experiences to report, but this made me think. I do miss Overwatch, it really is a well done game (that deserves more), but it’s nice to taste diversity again.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Creative Resources 12/28/2018

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Hey all! I collect various creative resources at Seventh Sanctum’s Nexus page, and I figured it’d be worth posting them now and then as I expand them.

This round has a lot of self-publishing resources! Let me know of any other resources you’d like to see so I can keep adding them!

Art Sources

  • Free
    • Pixabay – A source for art that is free as well as royalty-free. There’s a lot here, and much of it is professional.
    • Unsplash – A source for photos that are free as well as royalty-free. The quality is very high.
  • Royalty Free
    • Canstockphoto – A great source for royalty-free art, photos, and more. Has a subscription system and a pay-more-get-more credit system.
    • Shutterstock – The classic source for royalty-free art, photos, and more. Has both monthly and specific purchases available.

Book Covers

  • Premade
    • Go On Write – Premade covers for books – pick one that looks right and the artist will change the title and author appropriately. A great bargain, and even has series of covers at discount! Will do custom work to.
  • Services
    • Paper and Sage – A reliable source of both premade and custom book covers.

Book Reviewers

  • Review Sources
    • Midwest book review – Will review books for free, but it’s a matter of choice.
    • Self Publishing Review – A classic paid review service (where a pool of reviewers is available) for books. Not always a guarantee of the best reviews of course, so you take your risks . .
    • The Indie Review – A large, constantly-updated list of indie book reviewers.

Contact Management

  • Mailing Lists
    • Mailchimp – Mailchimp may have some restrictions, but it’s the go-to for easy mailing list management, which is perfect for authors and artists. It also integrates well with other tools.
  • Professional
    • LinkedIn – The classic business networking site, and pretty unavoidable for most professionals.

Generators

  • Generator Sites
    • Chaotic Shiniy – A diverse source of generators in a variety of styles.
    • Darkest of Nights – Fantasy-oriented generators.
    • Donjon – Generators for a variety of genres and game systems, some of which provide graphics as well!
    • Dropping-the-form – Generators for various settings.
    • Eposic – Generators – among other imaginative efforts.
    • Fantasy Name Generators – And there are a LOT of them here. About anything you could want, and a few you didn’t know you needed.
    • Feath – Generators of various types, conveniently categorized.
    • Generator Blog – Links out to many other generators.
    • Generatorland – Lots of generators and generator tools.
    • Mithril and mages – Generators for a variety of genres.
    • Name Pistol – Band name generators.
    • RanGen – Random generators, from fantasy to helpful writing tools.
    • Serendipity – A generator site with some setting and name generators.
    • Seventh Sanctum – A large collection of custom-build generators.
    • Springhole.net – A site of generators and other creative tools.
    • Squid.org – Home of a complex name generator with many, many options.
    • The Force – A powerful name generator with multiple options.

Graphics

  • Graphic Tools
    • Gimp – Aka The GNU Image Manipulation Program. A free, open source graphic tool that will take care of almost all of your graphic needs (barring a few limits like CYMK conversion and the like).

Helpful Tools

  • Relaxing Backgrounds
    • 4 Ever Transit Authority – Ride the bus through randomly generated art deco cities. A great program to run in the background or on your TV or monitor to relax you while you create.
    • Anomolies – A relaxing background display/artgame that creates surreal spacescapes, often with strange nebulas and sites that resembe anything from devices to lights to disturbing lifeforms.
    • Panoramical – Available on Itch.io And Steam. Panoramical is an audio/visual remixer where you can tweak settings in multiple environments, turning them into audio/visual displays. Find your favorite setting, leave it on, and relax.
    • Station To Station – A simulated train ride through imaginary environments. Run it in the background or through your television while you create to help relax you

Self-Publishing

  • Audiobooks
    • ACX – Amazon’s self-publishing audio platform
    • Audible – Another amazon audiobook publishing platform
    • Findaway – A wide-ranging audiobook distribution service.
  • Cards
    • Drive Thru Cards – Self-publishing for card games, both physical and downloads.
  • eBook
    • Draft2Digital – A service that distributes to multiple eBook platforms.
    • Itch.io – Itch.io doesn’t just do games – it also allows for people to publish books, and is very open-minded.
    • Kobo Writing Life – Distribute your eBook via Kobo
    • Nook Press – Distribute your eBook via Nook
    • Smashwords – A wide-ranging ebook distribution service.
  • Physical And Ebook
    • Ingram Spark – Ingram’s eBook and physical book publishing platform. Wide reach, but may require some setup fees and has some limitations.
    • KDP – Amazon’s full-service print and Kindle publishing service. Warning, the eBook distribution is only through Amazon.
    • Lulu.com – A print and eBook creation and distribution service.
  • RPGs
    • Drive Thru RPG – Self-publishing for RPGs, both downloadable and in print. Also supports related merch like calendars.
  • Video Games
    • Itch.io – Itch.io is a supportive, indie-oriented game store site. It also has a lot of self-published resources for game development, as well as supporting books of all kind.

Writing Tools

  • Ebook Creation
    • Calibre – A free ebook creation tool.
    • Jutoh – Not only converts your book to various ebook formats, it’s a powerful enough tool that you could even write books in it.
  • Word Processing
    • LibreOffice – A full, free, open source office suite. Beyond the free price, it’s fantastic ad using ODT format and creating PDFs.
  • Writing
    • Scriviner – A writing tool that combines note taking, tracking, and writing into one application.
  • Writing Checking
    • Grammarly – A pricey but powerful service and software for checking grammar, spelling, and even plagarism if you need. There are free, limited options.
    • Hemmingway – A grammar checking tool with both web and desktop versions.
    • Pro Writing Aid – A subscription-based writing checker service/tool.

Star Traders: Frontiers – A Game That Works

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I know I rarely plug things here unless they’re cool – and because I’ve been playing an incredibly cool game, it’s time to not just plug it, but talk about what we can learn from it.

The game is Star Traders: Frontiers by Trese Brothers.  They’ve been building games in their own, detailed universe for awhile, and this is a successor to a mindbending mobile game from years back.  It’s an open-galaxy space adventure, but the description doesn’t quite do it justice.

What they’ve basically created is a Space Opera simulator.  Even in Early Access, it’s an impressive job.  I wanted to go over just why it succeeds so well at it’s goal.

The game starts with you picking (or creating) a template for your captain, their contacts, traits, and faction.  Depending on your setting the game will set things up for you, or you can extensively customize your starting crew.  This is the first sign the game is more than it seems – if you dive in with both feet, you’ll realize there’s a lot here as you ask about profession levels, skills, and even personality traits (each crew member has a unique personality).

The game itself has distinct mechanics that, separately, aren’t overly complicated.

  • Characters in the game are a mix of professions or a profession (which provide bonuses to common abilities and skills over time), talents (unlocked by the professions), and personality traits (which can get pretty wild).  Nothing is overly complex, but these factors intereact . . .
  • Your ship is basically a pile of equipment.  Most of this is also straightforward – torpedoes with certain ranges, equipment gives you bonuses to finding things while exploring, and so on.  It’s just there’s a lot of it, and it can affect your characters, or their skills, or cargo capacity, or . . .
  • You can trade.  The trade engine is wonderfully clear and straightforward – certain kinds of worlds produce or want certain things, and with a keen eye and a bit of planning, you can make a tidy profit in a short time.  Though various skills and events may affect this . . .
  • You can explore planets, spy on worlds, patrol for trouble, and blockade an enemy.  These all use a simple card game where you get a hand of five cards, can use some skills to modify them, and one is randomly chosen as a result.  Nice and simple, though results vary with skills and location . . .
  • You of course have space battles.  Skills from characters, equipment on your ship, all come together to give you options in battle.  This is made easy to manage because you have three things you can do in battle at the same time – move, fire certain weapons, and use one crew skill.  The basics are easy, but as I said there are options . . .
  • You might even get into close combat.  There’s a simple party-of-four battle engine.  Equipment for characters is upgraded automatically unless you get a hold of specialist gear (buy a better weapons locker for your ship, everyone gets new gear).  There’s plenty of skills though, and many combat classes, so though it’s easy to play you have many options . . .
  • There’s also contacts – each of which is also unique.  You can get missions from them, get help, and even meet new people.  Much like your crew, most are randomly generated – and you don’t always know about them.  I had at least two cases where I later found out a valuable contact was a traitor . . .
  • Finally, there’s politics.  Each faction has unique abilities and as you play the factions ally, fight, and more – which can affect your game.  You can manage reputations with factions, and even get things like permits and ranks.  Their interactions add a richness to the game:  a simple trade during a trade war can destroy your reputation, an alliance may give you great opportunities.  Your contacts might send you on a mission that ends up starting a war.
  • All of this takes place in a well-designed universe.  These various parts mean something.

None of these systems is overly complicated – the ship building part is the most complicated and in the end a lot of that is “swapping stuff”.  But as you noticed they all interact, making a game that feels like it’s in a living setting.  This interaction is what makes the game truly work because any one element can affect – and be affected, by all the others.

I think this is a good lesson for game design.  Individual mechanics need to be clear and spelled out, and not too complex.  However the complexity of their interactions brings life to the game.  As almost any factor in the game can affect any other factor, but the individual parts must be clear and identifiable.

I’d also note that some of the in-game mechanics aren’t exactly what you’d expect in games.  The contact portion is more of LinkedIn in space.  The card game for various common actions is a nice way to simulate space adventure without getting too complex, but the card mechanism isn’t used elsehwere in the game.  It’s a bit like the mechanics are best-of-breed ideas – all working together.

The end result of all of this is that Star Traders: Frontiers is one of the most compelling games I’ve seen in a long time.  Every action is it’s own adventure.  Every choice alters the game.  Each little thing is easy to understand, but you have to consider it in part of the whole.

I’ll probably be learning even more as I play it – it’s Early Access, so I’m expecting there to be more lessons . . .

-Steven Savage