Game Design

The camera angle as an expressive resource and narrative booster in video games - by Nadia Orenes

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:38am
A few thoughts on the way we use camera angles on video games, and what we can learn from other media that make a more sophisticated use of them.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

I Am Overburdened, recap and numbers - by Tamás Karsai

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:37am
It has been a little over two months since I released I Am Overburdened, my silly indie roguelike. Here's an in-depth analysis how the overall production and final numbers turned out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Why you Should Keep all Game Ideas to Yourself - by Michael Smith

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:37am
Why you need to be protective of your game ideas as a developer
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Creating target movies with Unity - by Maciej Szczesnik

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:36am
With the new Timeline feature and the help of the Cinemachine plugin creating target movies in Unity seems not only possible, but actually quite fun.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

PlayerProfile & ItemDatabase: offline games, server syncing and not getting murdered by the Game Designers - by Yanko Oliveira

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:36am
In this 2nd Blood Runs Cold tech postmortem post, I talk about the solutions we built for continuous server syncing of our game's player data and the data-driven balancing toolset that allowed us to juggle 400+ ScriptableObjects and have 0 merge conflicts
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Game Development: Where To Start - by Connor Addis

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:35am
If you are an avid video game player, a game developer is probably your dream job. Whenever you choose the desired icon, put on your headphones, and click “play”, a journey into a new world begins. But doesn’t it look awfully complicated?
Categories: Game Theory & Design

​Freedom of expression: A case study of the dialogue systems implemented in The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 - by Preslav Petrov

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 15 January 2018 - 8:33am
In this blog post I examine the conversation systems in The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4, comparing them and analysing the design and cultural contexts of the systems, and their successes and failures.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Review and Giveaway: Harlem Unbound

Gnome Stew - 15 January 2018 - 3:01am

I recently came across Chris Spivey’s  Harlem Unbound and reached out to see if Chris wanted to provide a digital review copy. He sent us a copy from DriveThruRPG and I dug through it over the weekend. Check out the full review below and drop a comment below (on the blog comments) to be entered in the giveaway. We’ll randomly select a winner from the commenters.

What is Harlem Unbound?

Harlem Unbound is a Cthulhu Mythos game set in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to 1940s. It is primarily a setting book, with character creation and rules integration with Call of Cthulhu 7th edition and Gumshoe. The book clocks in at 276 pages and has setting information, the gumshoe rules, character creation info for both systems, and a plethora of scenarios in both CoC 7th edition and Gumshoe.  Harlem Unbound is also a frank and open discussion about issues of race within the world and within gaming. It directly addresses many of the issues that will come up at a table running the game, and within the context of the cultures that create those issues.

The Meat Of The Book

Harlem Unbound starts out with a small introduction and history of the real world setting of the Harlem Renaissance. It then moves into setting information for the game world and character creation and rules modifications for the two systems. The full rules for Gumshoe are presented here, making the game a standalone entry for Gumshoe. For Call of Cthulhu, references to necessary sections found in other CoC books are contained within the character creation section. The storytelling section includes everything you’d expect to be in a “how to run this game” section, while also opening with a frank and open discussion about some of the challenges that will come running the game the interconnected discussion about race that will come up. The storytelling section ends with a few Cthulhu Mythos entities and creatures that can be used, and these are crafted to fit directly into the cultural mythologies that existed in 1920s Harlem.

After the sections that are relevant to running the game, the 2nd part of the book is comprised of scenarios and scenario generators. Throughout the entire book are hooks for turning any piece of information into a potential plot, and that makes the whole thing an excellent resource for running any Cthulhu Mythos game. The last section is a few appendices that include period slang, a bibliography of historical and mythos works to help bring the setting to life, and a timeline of Harlem from pre-human era to the 1940s. If the book were merely a historical fiction piece, these elements alone would be a great reference for any game or piece set in the Harlem Renaissance setting.

 

Character Creation and Mechanics

The character creation section includes both Call of Cthulhu and Gumshoe options, and as mentioned above, has full Gumshoe rules and relevant CoC references. The character creation section is my only complaint with this game. I’m not super familiar with either rule set, and the CC section combines the character creation into one list. If I were more familiar with each system, it might be easier to delineate which parts were needed for which system “at a glance”, but determining how to untangle the two in that section was a bit harder and took more time.

One distinct cheat sheet of CoC character creation and one distinct cheat sheet of Gumshoe character creation would have made it easier on someone like me coming to the rules with less experienced eyes. That being said, putting together a character wasn’t hard once I took a few minutes to read through Gumshoe character creation rules and detangle which sections related to which systems.

Moving past character creation, the back to back nature of the systems throughout the rest of the book is good and makes it very easy to read the flavor text for a mythos entity and then fork into whatever system you are running.

The scenarios are well organized, with the stat blocks and asides for Gumshoe easily delineated by red text. Each scenario in the book is  excellently built to enable grabbing and re-positioning elements as needed within the adventure, or to snag the details of characters and mechanics to use in other games.

 

 

Setting

Harlem Unbound has incredible attention to detail in representing the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. As a historical fiction game, it is phenomenally well researched and presented. Easily digestible historical elements are self contained in sections, enabling the storyteller to grab a location, person, or element and present it fairly accurately. The culture of 1920s Harlem is unfurled through the locations, and cultural context clues are presented in asides to help people convey the setting as an alive thing. As a mythos game, it is beautiful and strange in its rendition. Wrapping in the pre-human history of the area as underwater and home to the creatures of strange aeons, Harlem Unbound builds a beautiful tapestry of what came before and how it affects what is there now. The historical thread provides rich soil for cults and connections to previous eras, while showing how those bear fruit within the current time.

The in-depth descriptions of Harlem locations and figures of note make it easy to fill in the gaps when the players move to unexpected areas for the scenario. A nicely done map of the neighborhood shows enough detail to give the area depth while pointing out important landmarks. The map itself would be a great resource to print and use, and feels evocative of both historical city-planning maps and tourist-attraction maps, which enables it to fulfill multiple purposes at the gaming table.

Writing

The writing is well done and dense, with a lot of content. The book comes in at 276 pages and each section has a hearty amount of content. Despite large chunks of text, the book is very easy to read, with large margins, asides, and a good break up of sections making everything easily digestible and quick to parse. This is a book made for running great games, and it focuses on what you need to run your game effectively and easily.

The content conveying the game mechanics is straight to the point and provides what you need to understand what the mechanics of the game require. The non-mechanics writing style drops in bits of the author’s personality, making it feel like conversational at times. The writing tone is almost a syncopated mix of lyrical snippets, but delivered directly and forcefully. Almost emulates the musical style of  jazz in the 20s, and I can’t help but presume that was a conscious choice during the writing. The little historical asides and hooks throughout the sections are great, and they give context for the setting and areas to easily extend any scene in your game into mythos fueled action.

The White Elephant In The Room

This is a book about race. With a setting of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, there is no way for it not to be. The characters are assumed to be people of color, and the book frankly addresses this.  It’s a conversation that needs to be had in order to run or play this game, and in some ways this game is that conversation itself. Sprinkled throughout the book are notes talking about the cultural context and realities of the situations of 1920s Harlem, such as the fact that many famous locales catered to white audiences and were unaffordable for black residents living right next door. Harlem Unbound does not pull punches when talking about race, and that’s a necessary component of the game.

The tabletop roleplaying game scene is predominately white, and as a cultural reality, that crafts how a game like this enters the scene. It has to talk about the realities that exist and has to a do a kindness to the storytellers and players and teach them how to run the game. Harlem Unbound does just this, with the start of the storytelling section being a direct discussion about racism. It doesn’t just focus on the racism in the game setting, but in the context of running a game with your group. A nice little checklist of don’ts, and a frank discussion of potential implications and issues that come up with dealing with race, are at the beginning of the section to help eliminate some ambiguity for anyone tackling the role of storyteller.

 “This may lead to a more difficult gaming challenge: to look at the past for what it really was. Harlem Unbound does not gloss over racism in the name of gameplay. Racism is part of the world and part of the game. – Harlem Unbound Intro”

This is a game about playing non-white characters in Harlem in the 1920s, and a majority of gaming groups are mostly white. The author understands this reality and wrote this section to pull everything out into the open and to get the discussions started. The book talks about how to have discussions about the racial issues that exist and tries to provide some guidelines to get people over their (often unknown) biases.

Look, we don’t get to control the conditions that create us, and we will never live in conditions which provide absolute equality. We get shaped by those conditions, and we absorb ideas and stereotypes. We don’t necessarily choose what covert ideas get thrust into our subconscious, but being able to deal with them means bringing these conversations into the open. If you are a white storyteller running for an all white group playing black players, it talks about that. If you are a white storyteller running for a group of different skin-color and cultures, this talks about that. If you are a black storyteller running for a mixed group, this addresses that.

Long story short, in our gaming culture as it currently is, there is going to be some discomfort running a game like this, or even talking about this game. Get used to it. It’s okay. This is uncomfortable stuff because there is a power dynamic that disadvantages minority groups, and running a game that deals with that makes it hard to ignore, but there is an overwhelming amount of benefit in getting to a baseline where you can be uncomfortable with the discussion, but keep going. That alone, divorced form the excellent setting and game, makes this book worthwhile for every gamer to read.

Art

The artistic style makes strong use of silhouettes and negative space, often using red or black as a background color with strong white lines or characters depicted in negative space with black outlines. The use of negative space and color switching creates a very iconic style, and it calls back to posters of the time.

When images are pure B&W or greyscale, they often have a small amount of spot color in deep red to accentuate and give a kind of horrid warmth to the scene, perfectly fitting in with the mythos tone.

The entire layout is beautifully well done, breaking up the text well and interspersing header elements and a few runic embellishments around the asides that appear frequently to section the visual display nicely. The art used for characters and other non-decorative uses is well done and gives each character a visual personality, supplementing the descriptions and providing a good baseline for description.

 

Final Take

You should be checking out Harlem Unbound. It often feels like three intricately interwoven works that form a beautiful tapestry of 1920s Harlem and what lies beneath. The first part is a historical Harlem game that is detailed and alive, the second part is a Cthulhu Mythos game that has a rich and detailed setting to interplay against, and the third part is a frank discussion on race in games and the gaming industry. Each of these three parts supports each other and brings a unique perspective to the table. I’m going to upgrade what I said earlier. You NEED to check out Harlem Unbound – it’s a brilliant game and a brilliant discussion about running games.

We want you to check out Harlem Unbound, so we’re going to be giving away a hardcover copy of the book. All you have to do to be entered is to leave a comment below with a valid email address (so we can contact you) between now and January 21st. You can sign up for an account on the site to make it easier. We’ll randomly choose a winner (by dice roll), and as always all of our Patreon patrons are automatically entered into our giveaways. Please review our comment policy before commenting.

 

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Fuzzy Thinking: Fuzzy Contact

RPGNet - 15 January 2018 - 12:00am
Fuzzy training
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Deep Cuts: Getting Over Desert Golf's Loot Boxes

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 14 January 2018 - 7:55pm

The latest Video Game Deep Cuts looks at how Bennett Foddy Got Over It, the crazy new(ish) ending for Desert Golf, and some (slightly) nicer loot box implementations. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video Game Deep Cuts: Getting Over Desert Golf's Loot Boxes - by Simon Carless

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 14 January 2018 - 7:50am
The latest Video Game Deep Cuts looks at how Bennett Foddy Got Over It, the crazy new(ish) ending for Desert Golf, and some (slightly) nicer loot box implementations.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Review Roundup

Tabletop Gaming News - 13 January 2018 - 11:00am
It’s Saturday. And not just any type of Saturday, but Saturday of a 3-day weekend. I can’t think of a much better sort of Saturday… Well, maybe Saturday of Gen Con. But that’s a pretty damn busy Saturday. But for “above average” Saturdays, I’d say that 3-day weekend Saturday is a pretty good Saturday. Do […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Calliope Games Running The Mansky Caper Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 3:00pm
No honor among thieves. When a mob boss goes on vacation, it’s a free-for-all as rival mobs descend upon their house in order to grab whatever’s not bolted down… and maybe a few things that are. But Al Mansky isn’t a fool. He knew that others would be looking to grab his loot, and so […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Dog Might Games Running Countdown: Action Edition Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 2:00pm
I’ve got my 80s playlist going on Pandora here today. Oingo Boingo. The Police. Oasis. It’s all good stuff. And a perfectly fitting soundtrack for this story. Dog Might Games has launched their Kickstarter campaign for Countdown: Action Edition. It’s a game that brings all the thrill of 80s action movies and puts you right […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Punga Miniatures Announces Kickstarter Launch Date

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 1:00pm
The American Football season is getting close to an end. The Super Bowl will be happening in the next month. But it’s never too early to start thinking about next season. Maybe you want to switch up your team a bit. Get something a bit different. Well, if you want some new Orcs (and a […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Horizon Zero Dawn and PUBG among top 2018 D.I.C.E. Award noms

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 12 January 2018 - 1:00pm

All in all, 68 games have been nominated for this year's event including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Gorogoa, and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

River Horse Launches Highlander Board Game Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 12:30pm
You’ve seen the various previews, now it’s time to grab your sword and swing for the fences. River Horse has launched their Kickstarter campaign for The Highlander board game. Take on the role of an immortal from the series, train hard, and face your foes in an ultimate battle where there can be only one. […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

AEG Announces Edge of Darkness Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 12:00pm
Along with all the Kickstarter that are launching this week, there’s also several that we’re excited to tell you about that are coming up. In this case, it’s AEG. They’re going all out for this one. They’re saying that it’s their most ambitious board game project ever. It’s got a bit of everything. If you […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Friday Snippets

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 11:00am
The weekend is almost upon us! I’m already getting my gaming on today. I’ll be playing some of the Munchkin CCG, as well as perhaps some of the Fallout board game. That’s before I go over to a friend’s place tomorrow to deliver some late Christmas presents (ok, really late)… they’re games. So hopefully we’ll […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Osprey Publishing Posts Preview For A New Expansion for Dracula’s America: Shadows of the West

Tabletop Gaming News - 12 January 2018 - 10:00am
The world in Osprey’s Dracula’s America is one where all the dark creatures that lurk in the shadows from various fairy tales are not only real, but they’re in charge of things! As such, werewolves, mystics, shamans, and other such are not only hanging around, but they can be the core of your army. The […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

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