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Dead Meat - Game Design and Publishing Journal

Started by unodiablo, November 20, 2001, 06:10:00 PM

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Wow. My very own Game Designer's journal. Never thought I'd be writing one of these back when I started checking out GO every day...

11/19/2001 Start the Journal...

The initial things I needed to work through were:
Do I really want to paper publish this game, or do I just want to sell it as a .pdf ?

- My eventual answer was yes, I really did want to publish the game. I really like .pdf games, but I'm also really into being able to present someone with a finished artistic project. Other things that led me to want to publish include wanting to do a 'real' Zombie Movie game. AFMBE is too D&D- or GURPS- like, and all the other ones are tactical board games, not RPG's. I felt I had a stong and unique Premise for the game, and the knowledge of the subject to effectively create something 'more', by my own standards. (More focused, more true to the genre) And it doesn't hurt that zombie games are fairly popular right now, and the genre has a lot of fans. I don't feel that Dead Meat is strictly a role-playing game (the rules are short and easy to understand, and it's more of a 'storytelling' game now), so perhaps I can get a few sales to zombie / horror movie fans as well.

How much work am I willing to do? What are my criteria for 'success'?
- I asked John Wick to take a look at it @ GenCon, and sent an e-mail to James Wallis of Hogshead, and kinda mentioned it to Ron, but this didn't generated any interest. I was hoping I could avoid the printing and distribution angle of designing and writing the game, but there's a limited amount of people / companies I'm willing to work with.
- I also know that I'm not interested in the distribution aspect of the game industry. So I had to plan and budget for a project that I may print as few as 500 copies of. I will attempt to distribute it, (via Ron's agent and maybe Wizard's Attic, etc.) but if the final game is too 'intense' or 'adult' for game distributors, I will sell copies from a website and eBay. I'm good at doing my own mailorder (have done as many as 100 orders/week in the past), and have a P.O. Box.
- My criteria for success fall far below what most publishers would accept; I simply want an eye-gouger of a book, with great art and a solid game. I am perfectly OK with printing this as a vanity project. If I print 500 and I end up with 400 left after GenCon, so be it. If the game becomes an indie hit, that's just icing on the cake.

The first answer adds a huge amount of work to the project - instead of  simply updating that game, adding a couple pieces of self-drawn art, distilling a .pdf, and popping it out to a web page with a paypal button, I now need to co-ordinate with artists, do a much more eye-catching design, make the game better, longer and more detailed. I had to make it worth buying, in my own mind. Major changes were needed.

First and foremost, I knew Dead Meat's (DM from here on) resolution system needed to be refined. The big pile o' dice method worked OK, and combined with the three stats the game used, did do what I wanted it to, but it was slow and clunky and slowed down the progress of the game's narration.  For a game that was supposed to only last 90 minutes, that's not a good thing.

So I piddled with this variant and that variant, and eventually just shelved it to come back to later. Then I read part of InNomine, and the basic SAGA (Dragonlance: 5th Age and Marvel Adventure game used this) system, and in the dark recesses of my mind, two things popped out: I really liked the d666 mechanic of InNomine (just the name really, not how it works in IN), and I like the 'players roll, not the GM' from SAGA.

Those two things evolved in my noggin until I came upon an idea; cut the dice down to three, so I can use the hellish d666, and only have the players roll for outcome. I had written a section on how the responsibilities of narrations shifted between Players and the GoreMaster, and this fit in perfectly with the way the new system worked.

Second, a published game needs to LOOK good. Real Good. I've got the design chops to turn out an eye-torturing game, but after working on drawings for an updated freeware version, I chucked the idea of doing my own art. So I contacted several artist friends, and one game industry professional. I'm a bit lucky in the first instance, I have a lot of friends who used to work in the comics industry, or work in the video game design industry, not to mention several friends who have been trying to break into publishing for a while. They all agreed to do art for the game. Payment? They all opted to be paid in my homebrewed beer. That's lesson NUMBER ONE in indie-punk projects: use friendship, trades, and visibility instead of money whenever you can!

The second instance turned out better than I ever thought it would... I love the artwork of Dan Smith (aka SMIT, from InNomine, GURPS Undead, AFMBE), and knowing he's great at Zombie Art, I contacted him via e-mail (funny thing was I ran across his e-mail reading a review of a card game he happened to write). I explained UP FRONT that this was my first project, and that is a total indie-punk publication. A lesser artist would have written me back and said "no thanks, cheapskate", but Dan wrote back and sounded pretty damn enthused about the project. We worked out an agreement that suited both of us; I would get a cover that I could pay for, within my budget, and Dan would not only get cash, but would also get to share in the homebrewed ale. I would call this LESSON TWO; be friendly and direct when dealing with people. Don't try telling someone that you've got the greatest RPG of all time, blah, blah, blah. They've heard it before. What they're looking for is the facts, Jack.

I also did the rough thumbnails for the book at this time. I tend to approach projects from a design angle, so I've done this despite the fact that all of the text isn't written yet. It helps me brainstorm ideas for additional material, and I do it to the extent that I get a detailed outline out of the deal for free.

This is the point I'm at now. I talk to Dan tonite about my cover concept, and get together with the artists next week to discuss the rest of the art details. I have the new rules written and working, two sections on Zombie Movies in rough draft, some design elements chosen. I will also contact a few printers next week to get a handle on my printing budget.

I spoke with Dan Smith last night and everything went well. Putting together a package with a few movies and some photocopies to provide him with inspiration. Seems like he's going to be very easy to work with.

Spoke with Jason, another artist, as well. Now here's where this gets interesting... I'm sure it will work out in the end, but while talking to Jason I mentioned that I could pay him some money as well as his share of beer, and his reply was something along the lines of "well, if this is something you're going to be publishing, we should have a contract". Now that's all well and good, I know you need to have pre-arranged agreements. But he's the sole unpublished artist I'm working with, and the only one to mention a contract.

We're getting together Wednesday to talk about art and for me to look at some samples, but one thing is clear in my mind; If he's the least bit hesitant, or demanding, he won't be working on the game. LESSON THREE - Be careful when dealing with amateurs. Don't even consider working with someone who feels you're shortchanging them, in any way. Those situations will NEVER work out, and very often create problems down the way. Chances are Jason just wants an agreement about copyrights on the art or something like that, but there are too many people who are going to have inflated expectations. (Ron has mentioned this before... "I'd LOVE to do art for you!!!" turns to "Oh, that's all I'm going to get paid?" in the blink of an eye).
Home of 2 Page Action Movie RPG & the freeware version of Dead Meat: Ultima Carneficina Dello Zombi!

Ron Edwards

Hey Sean,

What physical design do you have in mind? I have to say that of all the games I own, Stuper Powers' design just blows me away. It's comic-book sized, with 32 pages and nice, stiff color covers, stapled. The paper is good quality and there's a lot of B&W art inside. I waved it at everyone who'd listen for days after I bought it, saying "This is what an RPG should be!"

Given the size of Dead Meat, is this more or less what you had in mind? Or am I totally off the mark?



Hi Ron,

I've decided to go with the full 8.5 x 11 format. I considered cutting it down to comic size, or just a narrower format, but I like the size of the page best at the full 8.5 x 11 for artwork, graphics, etc. Probably just because I'm most used to seeing and designing for that size.

It'll look like a low budget version of one of Hogsheads' New Style games. 32 pages, Black, White & Red stiff cover, stapled, with a lot of interior art.

I'll post again later this week, but my to-do list for the week includes:
-getting all my notes into Word
-putting nice color posters up in FLGS for playtesters
-sending out copies to non-local playtesters / designers
-finishing up packages and/or movie dubs for artists
-calling printers for initial quotes (more for budgeting than for a final quote).
Home of 2 Page Action Movie RPG & the freeware version of Dead Meat: Ultima Carneficina Dello Zombi!

Ron Edwards

Hey Sean,

Don't forget Patterson Printing. They do real nice work.

Contact Pam Thames at 800-848-8826 ext 542.




Thank God you threw that phone number out.  Not that I'll need it any time soon, but I forgot to get it from you when you last mentioned it.

Hey Sean,

Just for fun, give us the Wipfli top ten pics for inspirational viewing.

- Scott


These are going in the Top Ten section:
1) Night of the Living Dead (Old & Color versions)
2) Dawn of the Dead
3) Day of the Dead
4) Lucio Fulci Trilogy - The Beyond / City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell) / Zombie
5) Demons
6) Mutant
7) Bio-Zombie
8 ) Dead Alive
9) Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (aka The Living Dead in the Manchester Morgue aka Don't Look Out The Window)

Sorry if you've heard of all of them Scott! :smile:

There's also going to be a section on using Dead Meat to play Giallo scenarios (and I even have ways to use the rules for playing Giallo!), and other types of 'Overwhelming Horror' (like Aliens, Gremlins, Critters, etc...).

[ This Message was edited by: unodiablo on 2001-11-26 16:35 ]
Home of 2 Page Action Movie RPG & the freeware version of Dead Meat: Ultima Carneficina Dello Zombi!


Yeah, I know and love all of those films (although Biozombie was a fairly recent addition to my library).  What about House By The Cemetary (I actually thought that was part of the Fulci continuum, along with The Beyond, and City of the Living Dead)?

You know me...I'm up for the giallo thing.  I'm interested in seeing the rules for that - how do you go about establishing the right tone for a good Italian horror flick (other than lots of eye gougings, of course).

You got rules for coeds in the jungle type films, like Cannibal Ferox?  I imagine it wouldn't be much of a departure from the standard rules; rainforest cannibals are really just fast zombies in those movies.

- Scott


I have to get out and buy that one...

The basic theme of Giallo is Fear, and Helplessness in the face of fear. When you play using the Giallo guidelines, the players are effectively helpless. Needless to say, you need a certain kind of group to play this way. :smile: Can you say 'gluttons for punishment'?

Cannibals, sure... The new rules turn it into a game where the players can face any kind of 'overwhelming horror' whether it's defeatable or not; Aliens, Zombies, Critters, Cannibals, Republicans, Rabid Dogs, etc... on up to Cthulhu or Supernatural Entities.
Home of 2 Page Action Movie RPG & the freeware version of Dead Meat: Ultima Carneficina Dello Zombi!