I have a confession to make – I am subject to gruesome nightmares, and have been for most of my life. Sometimes, a nightmare is unique, whole unto itself. But I also experience certain themes, that crop up again and again. (Unfortunately for me, one of my most common repeating dreams features excessively large, but highly anatomically correct spiders. Alas.)
Now, while a nightmare is in progress, I do not enjoy it in the slightest. I am terrified, caught up in the horror. But, the next morning, when I think back over my experience (or when my wife wakes me up because I am crying out in my sleep), I consider the nightmares. I have learned to turn these creepy experiences of mine into a useful game design tool.
Many of the most effective levels I constructed for Doom and Quake were based on such nightmares. And for that matter, several of the spells as well as some of the creature designs in Cthulhu Wars are also derived from my nightmares. I guess I am a good example of turning a potential weakness into a strength.
For example, there is a reason that Yellow Sign’s undead are not zombies. I never dream about zombies. One of my common repeating horrors are undead, but they are never zombies – in my nightmares, undead are withered thin brown nasty things, often bandaged or diseased. Occasionally the dream lets me know a particular horror’s origins (not usually though). When this happens, they are typically the animated malignant remains of a wicked occultist or other terrible person. And they are never mindless (more’s the pity – they’d probably be easier to handle for dream-Sandy). So anyway my Yellow Sign undead aren’t zombies, either.
Tsathoggua is pulling himself out of the ground, because another nightmare of mine focuses on the Unknown and Unseen. I picture the Tsathoggua you see in my figure as being a mere tip of the iceberg – with much much more of him still under the ground. I am not sure if the rest of him is an immensely long centipede-like form, or a huge bloated sac, like an unnatural stomach. But for better or worse, that is how my brain envisions this creature.
There are many other examples but these two should suffice to show how my mind generates a lot of its ideas. I have plenty that surge around in my consciousness that have not yet been brought to light. Someday no doubt. Here’s one I haven’t used yet. In this dream. I was somehow exploring, or invading, or perhaps trapped in a large hospital-like structure. While hiding from some of the people working there, I came across some files. I pulled one out and read it. It said, “Subject treatment unsuccessful. Recapitate as Abigail Becker G47”. I have NO idea where my brain came up with the word “recapitate” but wow I want to use it in a game now!
In the last years of his life, Roger Ebert famously said that games were not art (he focused on computer games, but it applies to all). He gave three reasons to back up his opinion:
He had never played a game.
You can win a game.
Art must consist of a single visionary. (This last seems particularly an odd comment for a film reviewer, since films are famously collective projects.)
Penny Arcade skewered Mr. Ebert with a single phrase – “If a hundred artists create art for two years, how is the end product NOT ART?!”
I recently saw the Ant Man movie. I liked it, but doubt I’ll watch it again. That’s 2 hours worth of my interest. But I enjoyed playing the game Vinci for several hundred hours. Eclipse, a game I’ve played far less, has still racked up 20-30 hours for me. In terms of my “interest level”, obviously I’m getting a lot more value out of one of my games than a movie. What makes games more interesting than the movie?
I think it’s because games are about interesting decisions that matter, while movies are necessarily passive entertainment. For one thing, in the form of a real human opponent, you are faced with a foe far more treacherous and evil than any scriptwriter could invent! Let’s examine some game types.
In a tactical game, such as X-Wing or Warhammer, the game is about weapons, targeting, positioning, maneuvering, enemy responses. You get lots of choices that have immediate consequences.
In a puzzle game or co-op game, you must perform a task perfectly. Most choices are True/False. I.e., you make the right choice or the wrong one.
In a strategy game, such as Cthulhu Wars, you are concerned with unit builds, economy, tactics, special powers, strategies. You have deeper choices than a tactical game, but less immediate feedback. You need to plan ahead.
When we play a boardgame, we can tell if it’s elegantly designed, well-balanced, and interesting. Every decision you make in Puerto Rico or Cthulhu Wars makes a difference, and affects the other players. I come away from every game of Twilight Imperium with an interesting tale of a betrayal or a clever move that I regret or gloat over. That’s not true every time I see Ant Man.
And there you have it. I try to craft the best game I can, that I would love to play, and try to ensure that the game is filled with interesting decisions that matter. That is my mantra. Oftimes I succeed (I think I keep getting better over the years.)
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing Big. Plenty of folks sprinkle their games with marginal bonuses adding +2% to strength, or +1% to speed, or some other puny difference. Take a hint from Quake – the damage boost in that game doesn’t add +10% to damage, it quadruples it! As a result, the Quad-damage was a major factor in play. When you’re handing the player a boost or a punishment, make it a big one. In Final Fantasy, “transformation” spells such as Petrify hardly ever succeed, to the point that players stop trying to cast them. But in the old Mario RPG, these types of spells almost always succeeded! As a result, such spells were way more fun and got seen more often.
I think I’ve walked the walk here with Cthulhu Wars – the abilities and Spellbooks are powerful and game-changing.
Rule Two – Players Just Want To Have Fun
Many games force the player to earn their fun. The first twenty minutes are wasted on a “learning session” (I’m looking at YOU, Through the Ages), reading lengthy tomes on How To Play, or wandering around aimlessly. Watch a good film (like The Dark Knight) – it hooks you immediately in a critical scene, often before the opening credits. In my opinion, a game should be fun right from the start. If you don’t hook them, only super-fans will have the stomach to actually learn your game. The bargain bins are full of games catering to super-fans.
In Cthulhu Wars, the decisions you make right from the game’s start matter, and affect other player’s decisions.
From the start, I asked for 28mm figures. I knew they’d be expensive, but I really wanted them.
I had to fight like a demon to keep the figures so large. My partners wanted me to shrinky-dink them, but I needed cool giant figures to play with. Now I am the producer of the world’s most complete selection of Lovecraft horrors. If you want a model of Bokrug, or a Wamp, I am the purveyor, for instance. Who else can say that? (Well maybe anyone with a giant lizard model, but you get my drift.) The figures can, obviously, be used in any other game that uses this scale.
Core game – 64 figures including 5 Great Old Ones
playable Faction expansions – 108 figures including 6 more Great Old Ones
Azathoth expansion – 13 figures including Azathoth
Map expansions – 52 figures, including 6 Great Old Ones or Terrors
Gate expansion – 30 figures
Great Old One expansions – 15+ figures (all Great Old Ones)
Campbell expansions – 10 figures (including 4 Great Old Ones)
Turn marker – 1 figure
And on and on.
This total does NOT include the dozen or more figures coming as stretch goals. PLUS as every backer should be aware, there is a terrific playable game inside it all. It’s not just a set of fabulous figures.
This set has made my dreams come true of having affordable awesome figures of Lovecraft monsters. Yes it is not cheap, but we now have hundreds of figures available, of which many are so large they’d cost $15-35 bought singly. Even just buying the core game at full price ($199) gives you 64 figures, far more than you could get at retail. Plus even the “smaller” ones would be several bucks apiece. Let us make your Lovecraftian nightmares come true, too!
What is the Design Corner aspect of this post? That from the beginning I envisioned not just a board game, but a set of great figures and toys to play with, that would be available to every Lovecraft fan. 35 years ago I invented Lovecraft gaming with Call of Cthulhu. Now I have made it visual and tactile with Cthulhu Wars. Let’s go on this journey together.
When I was a child, my favorite toys were plastic dinosaurs, man I loved them. I could say “stegosaurus” at the age of 3, and knew what it meant. At the age of 8, I read Lovecraft for the first time and it blew me away (no I didn’t understand all I read). And from that time I wanted cool plastic figures of Lovecraft monsters, just like my dinosaurs. It took me over 50 years, but now I have them, and you can too!