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2013 and Beyond

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Right now I’ve got four mobile games, two tabletop RPG books, and two nonfiction books at various stages of development, and I’m also trying to keep my promise to myself that I will write more fiction.

With all this going on, I haven’t had time to put together an elegant and well-reasoned thought piece or a vivid and fascinating memory of The Old Days for this update. However, there are a few bits and pieces that might be of interest:

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North is now in its third year, and still going strong. I’m currently helping develop a great new feature that I can’t really talk about, which will be released later in the year. You’ll see some familiar faces, and I think that fans of deeper Arthurian lore will be pleasantly surprised. That’s the intention, anyway.

In other KBN news, the game is ranked #10 by worldwide revenue in App Annie’s 2013 retrospective. A year ago, it was the iTunes Store’s #1 top-grossing app of 2012. And, of course, it’s also available for Android. I’ve been involved with KBN since the very start, and I’m delighted with its continuing success.

Another Kabam title I’ve worked on also did well in 2013, according to App Annie. The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth ranked #8 by revenue in the U.S., #5 in the UK, and #6 in both France and Germany. Over the last year I worked on a narrative campaign feature that allows players to fight the Goblins of the Misty Mountains alongside heroes from the movies – and, in the most recent instalment, lets them take on the dread Necromancer from Mirkwood to Amon Lanc and beyond. Like all of Kabam’s mobile games, this is also available on Android.

Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon has just acquired a great little feature that allows your dragon to go exploring when you’re not using it in battle, and find you all kinds of interesting treasures. I wasn’t involved with that particular feature, but throughout the last year I’ve been working on new dragons, new troops, and various other expansions. More on those when I’m allowed to talk about them. Also on Android.

Beside these three, I’ve been working on localization editing for a whole bunch of games from China that are hoping to build on their success in that booming market and move into the West. Three projects down so far, and two more in progress: more when I can talk about them. There is some good stuff coming out of China, for sure, and many commentators have tagged it as a market to watch. Russia, India, and Brazil are also poised to become significant mobile-games markets in 2014, according to many analysts.

And finally in mobile gaming, I’ve been working on a new fantasy RPG for iOS. I can’t give any details at this stage, but I will say that the setting is interesting and I’ve been having a very good time developing the backstory and advising on some quite intriguing features, both in narrative and gameplay.

The two books I wrote for Osprey Adventures in 2013 have been well received, and I’ve signed up to write two more. Thor: Viking God of Thunder in the Myths and Legends line has been getting good reviews, and the new Templar conspiracy I laid out in Knights Templar: A Secret History has been well reviewed and has inspired both fiction writers and tabletop RPG designers. I’ve been contracted to write two more titles: Theseus and the Minotaur is due to be released in November this year, and I’m just starting work on a yet-to-be-announced Dark Osprey title.

I’ve also been indulging my love for historical fantasy in a few tabletop RPG projects.

Colonial Gothic, the game of horror and conspiracy at the dawn of American history, received a great boost from the release of the Second Edition Rulebook, and that was followed up with the release of the Bestiary in October.

Just open for preorders is Lost Colony, a unique two-period adventure that explores the mystery of Massachusetts’ ill-fated Popham colony in both 1607 and 1776. It is written by award-winning author Jennifer Brozek, whose previous credits for Colonial Gothic include the acclaimed Locations mini-campaigns and the groundbreaking e-book The Ross-Allen Letters, which blurs the lines between adventure and fiction.

I’m working on another Colonial Gothic supplement at the moment. I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s one that has been very long in the planning and it reunites me with a favorite collaborator from my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay days. We haven’t worked together for more than twenty years, and this project promises to be a lot of fun.

As much as I love Colonial Gothic, I am occasionally tempted by other tabletop RPG projects. When author and roleplaying luminary Robin D. Laws was recruiting talent for his Hillfolk Kickstarter campaign, I was honored to be one of the people he asked to submit an original setting for this fascinating game. I pitched Pyrates as “Firefly of the Caribbean,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

British publisher Chronicle City ran a Kickstarter campaign for their version of the Steampunk classic Space: 1889 – a favorite of mine from the 80s – and I offered an adventure for a stretch goal that, sadly, was not reached. I still hope to write it someday. Their Kickstarter campaign for Cthulhu Britannica saw me contribute to their intriguing postcard-based adventure generator. I was especially happy to be involved with this project because my first commissioned work for Games Workshop, way back in 1985, came when they were developing A Green and Pleasant Land, the first ever British sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu.

Last year I wrote a couple of articles for Steve Jackson Games’ Pyramid magazine, both about obscure guns. The Puckle Gun, a repeating heavy musket, was covered in issue 3/52 (February), while the fearsome Nock volley gun appeared in issue 3/57. I’m planning to adapt both these weapons for Colonial Gothic in the near future, possibly in an unannounced supplement that I have on the back burner. Meanwhile, I have another article – not gun-related this time – being considered for a future issue of Pyramid.

Finally, 2013 was the year I discovered the Oldhammer movement. It seems that there are a lot of folks out there who remember the Games Workshop products of the 80s with great affection, and several of them asked me to give them interviews or to share my memories of working at GW during what some regard as that golden age. I have a couple more interviews lined up, but here are links to some that have appeared so far.

So that’s what 2013 looked like for me, and what 2014 is looking like so far. As always, I’ll be covering ongoing projects in more detail just as soon as I’m allowed to talk about them. But now I’d better get back to work – there’s plenty to do.

Just in Time for Christmas

December 14, 2012 2 comments

December has been a busy month, but I can’t talk about any of that. Not yet.

Here’s what I can talk about, though: a lot of things are finally seeing the light of day this month, and that’s very exciting.

New Fiction

I’ve already posted about the Aesop-inspired anthology The Lion and the Aardvark, which includes stories from 70 – count ’em, 70 – of the best writers out there. I have a short-short tale in there called “The Lemmings and the Sea,” and I can’t wait to see what my 69 co-writers have come up with.

The Hobbit Social Games

I should have posted before about The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age. I’m very proud to have worked on these two social strategy games tied into Peter Jackson’s new movie. By the bye, Apple has just named Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North as the top-grossing free iOS app of 2012. That was my first project for Kabam, and it’s great to see it doing so well.

I’ve also been involved with two tabletop RPG products that are out just in time for Christmas. Although I don’t work much in that medium these days, I’m proud of both of these new releases, for different reasons.

Colonial Gothic

The Colonial Gothic 2nd Edition Rulebook was released on 12/12/12 at 12:12:12, in reference to the 12 Degrees roleplaying system that powers it. It has been a long, hard labor of love for Colonial Gothic creator Richard Iorio. I’ve offered support and feedback, but the work is all his.

You may not have heard of Colonial Gothic, or of Rogue Games. I first met Richard at GenCon more than a decade ago when we were both working the Hogshead Publishing booth, and we kind of stayed in touch. When I first heard about Colonial Gothic in 2009, I was so impressed by the idea that I offered my services. Since then the Colonial Gothic line has swelled to eight books and a number of e-books, and the game has gathered a small but passionate following.

According to Richard, the Colonial Gothic concept started out as “Cthulhu 1776,” but it has come a long way since then. It now covers the whole history of Colonial America and the War of Independence. The work of H. P. Lovecraft still inspires the growing Colonial Gothic mythology (and I wish I could talk about a new development in that direction), but there’s more: scheming Dan-Brown-style Freemasons, Bigfoot and other cryptids, local legends like the Jersey Devil, Native spirits, and much, much more. If you liked Sleepy Hollow (the story or any of its movie versions), National Treasure, The Last of the Mohicans, The Patriot, or The Brotherhood of the Wolf, you’ll enjoy Colonial Gothic.

The second edition rulebook will be vital to the line’s future growth: previous editions were plagued by typos and minor inconsistencies, and Richard has taken the time to go through and fix everything. The rules have been reorganized so that information is easier to find; typos and inconsistencies have been fixed; and Richard has done wonders with the layout. It’s also 100% backward-compatible with the entire Colonial Gothic line. Richard has worked incredibly hard on this and the hard work shows.

The third instalment of the acclaimed Flames of Freedom campaign is planned for 2013, along with a couple of other things that, frustratingly, I can’t talk about yet. Keep an eye on Rogue Dispatches for announcements.

The Enemy Within, Again

Many months ago, Fantasy Flight Games caused an enormous stir when they announced a new campaign for 3rd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It was the title that got people excited: The Enemy Within. The new Enemy Within is not an adaptation or an updating of the original, but a whole new campaign that explores the same themes through new adventures. The entry I wrote about it back in March remains the most-viewed entry on this whole blog.

After the frenzy that greeted the announcement, there was a long, long silence. Based at least in part on my feedback when I saw the galleys, The Enemy Within went through a lot of editing and development. Now, at last, it has been released.

When I started writing my part of the campaign, I worried about how I would top the completely unforeseen success of the original Enemy Within. I came to the conclusion that nothing could ever top the fond memories that many people have for the original adventures, memories that are tied up with where they were in their lives when they first played them. It’s impossible to recreate that; I just took my two chapter briefs and wrote the best adventure I could.

Since the new Enemy Within was announced, a few people have asked me about running it with 1st or 2nd edition WFRP, and also about running a mash-up of the old and new campaigns. I think both are possible. Although the three editions of WFRP have different rules, the setting and the cast of monsters are the same: with a little work on the GM’s part, stats can be massaged into the preferred edition. When I was writing, I made a conscious effort to write a good WFRP adventure, rather than focusing on the 3rd edition rules.

A mash-up “Total Enemy Within” campaign is equally possible. The new campaign has a strong structure, and if I were running an Enemy Within mashup I would use that as the main plot. The original adventures, up to and including Power Behind the Throne, can be added as side-plots and complications: Death on the Reik, in particular, could flesh out some of the travel sections, which are somewhat abstract in the new campaign. I can even see ways to add Something Rotten in Kislev and Empire in Flames, but going into any detail would involve spoilers so I’ll refrain for now.

Reaction to WFRP 3rd edition has been mixed. In its own way, the WFRP community is riven by an edition war as savage as anything D&D/d20 has seen. I expect at least a few people will eviscerate me online because the new Enemy Within doesn’t live up to their long-held memories of the original, because it’s 3rd edition, because of any number of things. I hope that a lot of people will like it, or at least find something they like in it. I will say that it looks good, and I will be excited to hold it in my hands.

E3 2012: Triple-A Dinosaurs and Indie Mammals

June 9, 2012 4 comments

I didn’t go to E3, but I’ve been reading a lot of the recaps on Gamasutra and elsewhere, and they paint an interesting picture.

More than one commentator thinks that the show is out of touch with reality. AAA games are being marketed, according to one writer, through “unabashed pandering to the lowest common denominator” – which is to say, killshots and boobs. Regardless of the gameplay in this years triple-A offerings, detailed killshots and bountiful cleavage are the marketing bullet points. This shows very clearly how the AAA studios see their core market. More tellingly, perhaps, it also reflects their opinion of their customers, which seems anything but complimentary.

A lot of the real creativity right now seems to be coming from the indie developers, with small budgets and big ideas. It seems to be a law of nature that when a certain budget threshold is crossed, fear overcomes everything else and a deep creative conservatism kicks in. The result is me-too products (“We need to mitigate risk by sticking to tried and true formulae”) whose only innovations are brighter colors, more detailed kill animations – and more boobs.

Does this reflect the true state of the industry? I doubt it. Heck, I sincerely hope not. E3 is out of touch with reality, says at least one industry figure. At best, the blood-and-boobs obsession reflects what the marketing folks are thinking, rather than what the developers are dreaming. Given the recession, sales are shaky, and I guess a lot of marketers are fighting over the safe, reliable core market: a market that, according to Gamasutra’s Kris Graft, marketers see as “Bloodthirsty, sex-starved teen males who’ll high-five at a headshot and a free T-shirt.”

Thanks a lot, AAA developers. It’s nice to know that you hold gamers in such high regard.

But while the dinosaurs are roaring and stomping, I think the real story is down among the mammals: the indie developers whose low budgets give them more creative freedom. Arkedo co-founder Camille Guermonprez likes the analogy as much as I do: he said “When you’re small you move faster, so when the situation is changing, you better be some kind of high-running little lemur than a big dinosaur, because you’re going to get a tree on your head, otherwise.”

E3 is big and expensive, and no indie developer has anything like the cash needed to get noticed in that bright, noisy jungle. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Angry Birds has made ridiculous amounts of money, and there’s a huge scramble for the mobile and handheld market right now.

At last year’s GDC, Nintento chief Satoru Iwata urged game developers to ignore smartphones. I wrote about it in one of the earliest entries on this blog. This year, Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said that small games and indie developers are vital. He didn’t rush to embrace smartphones, though, because Sony is pushing the Playstation Vita. Sony is still trying to be in the device business and the games business at the same time, facing itself with the same dilemma that prompted Iwata-san to rail against smartphones.

We’ll see how that works out for Sony: meanwhile Nintendo’s Eshop is averaging a mighty 4.7 lifetime (so far) sales per customer in the 3DS games category. I’d love to see how that stacks up against iOS and Android apps, but I haven’t been able to find any corresponding figures. Let’s just say it seems on the low side to me. But then, if you ring-fence your apps and your device together, you’re denying youself any additional app sales that might come from ports to other devices. With device sales, it’s trickier to judge: do people really buy a device because it’s the only way to play a certain game? That used to be the case in the days of the Console Wars, but today I’m less certain.

So there we have it. E3: full of sound and fury as always, but apparently signifying little more than a depressing race to the bottom as far as marketing is concerned. Meanwhile, the mammals are busily harvesting nuts and berries from the iOS and Android bushes, and not worrying about comets. A couple of dinosaurs have gotten smart enough to harvest nuts and berries, but they insist on designing, building, and marketing their own bushes that grow nuts and berries only they can eat.

Okay, enough. I know when I’m straining a metaphor. But you get the idea.

As snapshots of the industry go, the above may not be that accurate. It’s just what I gleaned from reading various articles that themselves were condensed through the lenses of the reports who wrote them. But it’s a picture, of sorts, and if anyone out there has a different view, then hey – write a comment and set me straight.

Crisis in Europe

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

No, that’s not a news headline. It’s the title of my second iOS project for Kabam, which has just entered beta. Based on the popular Global Warfare social strategy game for Web and Facebook, it moves the action to a Europe where states have crumbled and players must try to rebuild amid threats from terrorists and warlords. But some disturbing truths emerge as the four-part storyline unfolds.

Right now the beta test version is only available through the App Store in Canada, and it requires iOS 4.3 or later. The beta test will be going worldwide shortly.

Already available worldwide is Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North, another iOS game in which Arthur sends the players to deal with a Pictish invasion that threatens his half-sister Morgause. As they battle Drust Mac Erp and his Pictish hordes, they may discover that not everything is as it seems.

I’m working on a couple more mobile titles for Kabam right now, and I’ll let you know more about them as soon as information becomes available.

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North now in open beta

December 21, 2011 4 comments

Here’s one of the five online games I’ve been working on since July. It’s got added Picts and a twisting plot involving Morgause, Lot of Lothian, and Drust mac Erp.