Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Interview for HOP-hereticwerks

I wrote a series of articles about designing better games for House of Paincakes over the past 2 months or so. While I was working on the process and developing material for the series, I conducted a good number of interviews with various people across the internet, as well as some real life folks.

This interview was almost entirely due to a conversation I had with Porky. It was  one of those serendipitous situations where one comment brought thought to another; and ideas tumbled forth unbound; all to my surprise. 

Long time since we last talked! I am writing today because I am writing a series about Intelligent Game design for a blog network (HouseofPaincakes.com). In the series, I am talking about the aspects of design that are crucial, and among these is art. 

I am interviewing various folks in the hobby scene who are creating fun and new artistic visions - among the interviewees is Porky. Porky has mentioned your work very prominently in the replies I've gotten, and I'd like to request permission to feature a piece or two in the article to come. 

This article will be published  at HouseofPaincakes, and I fully plan to credit and link to your work, should I gain your permission for usage. I'm looking specifically at your Riskail blog, and would like to feature Robota1aREDUX.png and very likely another piece which I've yet to pick. 

Please let me know if you would permit such usage.

There have been technical issues with the old Netherwerks account, so we're transitioning away from it...and we have dropped the 'Netherwerks' name, and have begun again as 'Hereticwerks,' the explanation is up at the blogs.

Riskail has been allowed to sit for a little bit, so we could assess where it all goes from here. We've been focusing on our work at Hereticwerks mostly. Our plan is to revise and revamp the Riskail blog in the coming New Year. The focus remains on the setting, and the fiction, and maybe someday we'll have a system to plug underneath it all, but for right now, we have not found a pre-existing RPG system that suits the setting, and we've little time to dedicate to building such a thing. That might change down the road, of course, but we'd rather spend our time creating stuff like we have been and not get bogged down in yet another simulation of how much damage is incurred from falling off a cliff, etc.

Ha, so very true. TheDude (my husband) has designed well over 10 systems and the minutia always drives him batty. He wants to get to the 'meat of the matter' and leave the other stuff to chance. Just as an aside, have you looked into Greg Christopher's work? His systems are elegant and thoughtful, with a lot of room to breathe. http://www.chubbyfunster.com/blog/

Greg Christopher. He does interesting stuff. His PDFs are awesome and are probably some of the best-produced out there...and they're free. His work comes close in some ways and is quite impressive...but it's not quite what we're after. Maybe we can talk to him sometime. We'd prefer to get out from under the OGL, but if it can be made to work in a way that doesn't screw-up our rights or future interests, we'd be open to doing something along the lines of what he did with Synapse, possibly, but we're still sorting out the trivia and minutiae. Thanks for the suggestion! We'll see if we can strike up a conversation sometime, maybe he'd have some advice for us.

Attached is a reduced version of the artwork you inquired about. You have our permission to use it in your article. A link to the Riskail blog would be nice, as would a link to Hereticwerks if that works for you. If you decide that you'd like another piece of our artwork for the article, please do let us know and we'll get you a decent copy. If the attached image needs to be bigger or in another format, let us know and we'll get that to you right away.

We'd like to know more about this series you are doing. House of Paincakes focuses primarily on 40K, right? We're not sure how well our stuff fits-in with that, as we have a very different aesthetic and approach, but we are curious/interested in learning more about 40K from all that Porky has mentioned regarding it in our communications. 

House of Paincakes primarily focuses on table-top gaming, with most of the audience skewed towards 40K. However, there is a broad and deep reach to other systems including Warmachine, Hordes, Flames of War, Infinity, Desperado and more. Heck, there's even a good nod to MtG!

There has always been a small portion of readers and members who play, write and run RPG material. This small group had been largely seen as an "aside" by the core audience, but the Network owner and two key members of staff are HUGE RPG fans. They worked very hard to develop a welcoming attitude towards all geeky folks, and recruited an incredibly gifted writer to address RPGs and the constructs that go with playing said games once a week. 

There are 6 or 7 of us that write at HOP, and all of us have a different "focus", if you will. We have a tactics writer, an RPG writer, a comedian, the owners (who write about a wide variety of topics) and myself. I write about being a game store owner. 

My intent behind the series I am currently working on is examining what makes a game well designed and challenging readers to examine how to get better games inside the game stores so they can buy them. Instead of trying to sell a specific game, I am trying to bring thoughts and ideas to fruition that result in better quality games for the reader to buy. 

House of Paincakes. We re-examined this network--it looks like fun, so we've applied. We have produced a bunch of paper minis and will be doing terrain tiles, fold-up papercraft, geomorphs, maps, and other stuff that can cross genres, rules-systems, editions, and into skirmish or wargaming real easy. Once we get up to speed a bit more, we'll be bringing out cheap PDFs via RPGnow/DriveThruRPG and we'll see where that leads us. 

We'll be bringing out a bunch of stuff for Terminal Space, Rogue Space, and Mutant Future shortly. We also have things in the works for Swords & Wizardry (White Box), and of course Labyrinth Lord...but we're still looking for systems to develop content for that are open to fresh ideas and such. We're also looking for a decent set of miniature rules that we can expand/adapt/revise to encompass a bunch of our weird critters and such. We're thinking that we might be able to adapt one of the Public Domain systems and build our stuff on top of it. A skirmish-style game would be easier to get going than a full-out RPG, and would showcase our tiles, papercraft, etc.

With all of that discussion, I'd love to interview you as well, if at all possible. 

Riskail has never quite found its audience, at least not quite yet. We have been advised that our posts tend to be too long, and too dense. We'd appreciate some insight as to how we could make Riskail more accessible, more appealing, more useful, if you were so inclined to offer-up some suggestions.

I'll have to admit that Riskail has always been on the periphery of things "I want to check out" but have yet to explore. I'd be happy to look it over more thoroughly in the next couple weeks and get back with a more thought out reply, if you'd so desire. I will say that the art has been very lovely, from what I have seen. 

Riskail...well...that has been a really strange project. We're hard at work revising and re-tooling the fiction we've been building and are looking for a decent market or three. We are very likely going to produce our own eBook(s) for some of the stuff. That allows us to do the lay-out, use our illustrations, etc. A lot of people have missed it, overlooked it, or just plain not dived into it for any number of reasons. That is what we're working on fixing. We need to make it more engaging, more accessible, and more fun to get lost within...hence our interest in feedback as to how we might get things right and make it really work. There is a lot of older art that we were considering replacing, but right now we're leaning towards simply updating it all to just drop the out-dated 'netherwerks' branding since that is defunct. As it is, the blog is a strange kind of journal that chronicles the evolution of the aesthetic as much as the core-content. It is a nice artifact, but how we can move forwards from that is the real question. It's nice to have those archives in-place as a landmark in terms of the development of this stuff, but we need to move onward and we're still a bit unclear as to how to proceed. We are stuck on just how can we make Riskail more accessible, more engaging, more readable. something that snares readers and not befuddles or drives them off...so any feedback you care to toss at us regarding Riskail would be welcome and appreciated.

One plan we've been considering is to begin at the beginning, and re-post revised versions of the earlier posts, only broken-out into multiple inter-linked posts. That'd give things a bit more air, revive the old stuff that's been buried, and renew the overall blog.

I've never been a big fan of link-filled articles, as the exploration and understanding of the links takes far more time than simply reading all the material in one place (for me). 

Ouch. You hit a major nail on the head right there. We've been re-assessing our previously link-o-mania approach at Riskail and Old School Heretic and have realized that it just is a good way to bleed readers out to whatever you linked to and a great way to get people to not read your stuff. We need to put the links at the end of the piece and maybe there's another way to handle this sort of thing that we'll be testing out this coming week and on into the rest of the New Year. So, you've reinforced something that we've been suspecting was the case, and validating the advice of another writer we've worked with and who has been challenging all the conventional wisdom of how to blog. We'll switch over to something other than Kool-Aid now...and get our links out of the way of reading our stuff.

Jody here. Jim is the creator for Hereticwerks, Riskail, and the related blogs. I currently do proofing, editing and some play-testing. I also handle some of the business-type stuff, help with some research, and generally help-out as best I can when and how I can. To answer your first question, I'm lucky to work with Jim. It's very cool to see his creative process first-hand.

First, I must ask:

What's it like working with your spouse in a field that's so personal? Do you ever have differing visions? If so, how do you handle that?

Jim: Writing, creating art, whether it's for gaming or any other venue, is deeply personal stuff. It often exposes you to some rather unpleasant interactions. Egos and so on are the least of the obstacles and hazards encountered along the path--having a friend you can really, truly trust who has your back always is a godsend. When everything is looking nasty, crappy or just plain screwed--which can happen at any moment--it's good to have someone alongside you who helps pull things together and to sort things out. Jody helps me to get things moving, and to get them back on-track when it runs off the rails or I get distracted by non-priorities. We certainly have differing visions, but we value one another's perspective and insights. When we run into disagreements, we decide what to do based on what would make us most happy, what would be the most healthy and worthwhile solution...then we get busy. The number one reaction/response we tend towards when things get strange or difficult is to get more productive. For the most part, we have a pretty good rapport, usually. When that breaks down, it's time to re-assess and re-evaluate, because that's always a serious indicator that we're drifting the wrong way.

What inspires you (personally and collectively)? Can you describe your creative process? What challenges do you (again personally and collectively) face when working on a piece? 

Jim: Our daughter. First and foremost, I am inspired by our daughter. I could name a long list of names like Jack Katz, Andre Breton, Goya or Odilon Redon or even David Hargrave...but really it's not so much what anyone else has done before that motivates me, personally, so much as seeing just what I can do myself, on my own terms, with the tools and resources available to me here and now. Of course that is also something that can be fairly daunting, at least until you break yourself of the habit of comparing things and you realize that it's all one big dialogue, not a foot-race. We're only competing with ourselves, always trying to do things better, or to try out a different approach, always experimenting. Like Breton said: 'Always For The First Time.' 

Creative process...hmmm...get up. Start writing or drawing or working in Photoshop or Artweaver. Eventually get some coffee. Work away until it's time to go do something else. When an idea shows up, even at 3AM, I get up- and write it down, sketch it out or go to work on the computer. Ideas and the imagination tend to keep odd hours, so I try to be accommodating as much as possible. I really do make a lot of use of the method Breton prescribed: http://riskail.blogspot.com/p/note-on-method.html and not just at Riskail. I have also adopted this for some of the artwork and other materials generated for Hereticwerks, but sometimes there are things that take a little bit more time or need a bit more work to come out right.

As for challenges...my health has been poor for a long time, my eye-sight has gotten worse (need to get bifocals now), and there's never enough time to get it all done. It is time that is the real challenge.

Jody: Inspiration--Jim and our daughter. My creative process is to be as present as possible and smile alot.  :)  Challenges--Time constraints.

What role do you feel art has in games and game design? Why do you feel this? 

Jim: A well-defined aesthetic can provide a lot of imaginative momentum, look at Warhammer and 40K. Art has whatever role in a particular game or design of a game that the people involved decide to give it. Whether the art comes at the end of the process and is getting picked to better market the designer's golden prose, or the art is right up-front and even driving the design process, or whatever variation is involved, art is intrinsic to the overall game-design process. Art can't save a crappy system or a badly designed game. Art won't sell game books nearly as well as some people have hoped. Art can take a designer's vision and carry it forward, expand it and make it more accessible--that whole 'picture is worth a thousand words' thing really can be true, when the art is in synch with the text. When it's just slapped into place to fill a spot or to break-up glaciers of verbiage, well, it's probably not going to save things.

For us, art is part and parcel of what we do and it is intimately integrated into the work from the very start. We focus on settings that extend into fiction and gaming, we've been getting more involved in producing paper miniatures, maps, and other graphical elements that can cross-over from one system to another, we aim to develop resources that are less about any particular system and more about fun. 

Jody: Creating good games and game design is art. Not everyone has the ability to "pull things from the aether" so to speak. Artists create. That's what makes an artist. Creation.  :)

What's the difference between art and design, to you?

Jim: Ask me again in another few months and I might say something completely different. The more I do one or the other, the less I really know about either. I'm always learning, always looking for that indefinable surprise something that escapes words and defies logic, the kind of thing that comes out of an otherwise simple enough technique that delivers incredible unforeseen complexity.

Right now, I would say that I have the impression that Art is something that can happen despite your best intentions or rational attempts to interfere in the creative process. Design is a deliberate, conscious effort to communicate effectively. Art is an irrational event we all too often try to analyze after the fact, design is a rational process for getting results that we generally don't examine fully up front. You could say that they are two sides of the same coin, but that's a bit hackneyed.


  1. Bugger me, that's a deep interview. I like it though, and I like the extent to which they've grasped that production values can't make a bad game good, but that they are integral to making a decent game good or better, if that makes any sense.

    Also, y'rsayin'nicefingsaboutme, thankyou.

  2. Deep's a good word. There's a lot going on in what they do. They're steeped in the history, and they treat it well and build on it, but they go their very own way.

  3. You really caught us at an interesting time. Your series over at HoP was--and still is--quite a fascinating read. We've lost more than a few hours reading up on all sorts of stuff we never knew anything about before by way of House of Paincakes. And we've enjoyed every minute of it.