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Dispatches from the Age of Electracy: Tales from Kickstarter, part 2

This week’s Dispatch follows up on last week’s discussion of Kickstarter and board games.

Settlers of Catan Menaced (Tony J Case, cc-licensed)

Settlers of Catan Menaced (Tony J Case, cc-licensed)

In response to the three problems I pointed out last week, we’re starting to see a number of changes in KS habits for board game producers.

Stretch Goal Fever
The companies that do well fighting this problem have learned a couple things.  First, that free or cheap to produce stretch goals are key.  Adding a sheet of stickers?  Great!  Adding another miniature? Bad.  I like the companies that do small runs of KS extras that will be tossed in with the box — both Heroes Wanted and Epic Resort did this, adding little packets of extra stuff that regular buyers of the game wouldn’t be able to get.  On the other hand, sometimes we get extra trinkets that just feel like a waste of money (I’m looking at you, sheet of stickers).

Another response is to avoid stretch goals altogether, or only offer a couple at huge milestones.

Crushed by Success
Limiting specialized stretch goals is a key part of this process — individualized rewards mean tons of extra work in fulfillment, and thus lots of work outside of making the game.  Boo.  Ludicreations is the paramount of restraint here.  Not only do they do NO stretch goals at all, they actually limit the number of games they will issue as rewards so they can be sure to fulfill the game on time.  Here’s what they say:


What You See Is What You Get - this is our doctrine, and we like to run simple, straightforward campaigns. We are aware that offering add-ons and/or introducing stretch goals would increase the funding total. However, we have already thrown everything into this game – a lot of time, effort, and money. We intend to print with the highest quality materials anyway and we will not cut any corners.

We also want to offer the game at the cheapest cost possible – and that is incompatible with stretch goals. We’d have to add “hidden” profit in the pledge levels, that we can then “spend” to give you stretch goals to get excited about. Therefore, raising money beyond our goal does not give us extra money on hand to create stretch goals.

Furthermore, because the games are made in Europe, and because we do small print runs, we do not benefit by economies of scale by producing more copies of the game.

If we do offer additional content, we will lock past pledge levels. That’s it – you do not need to pay more, or like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or be a fan on BGG – although all of those things are nice of you if you do them, we want you to do them if you want to, not because of a carrot we dangle in front of you.

We do not do add-ons (not even our other games), because we want to keep our operations simple, and deliver efficiently. We are in this for the long run, so it does not help us to squeeze a few more dollars from a few backers, if we disappoint *all* backers.

Will it be any good?
Ludicreations has also done a great job soliciting reviews of their games to combat the problem of games that look cool but aren’t fun to play.  As Steven Johnson predicted in Interface Culture, reviewers have become the filter for us, a way to find games that work.  By tapping into this fan culture, KS companies bypass the judgment of game production companies in favor of the wisdom of crowds.

The personal touch
My favorite company producing games through Kickstarter right now is Funto11 games (current KS: Epic PVP: Fantasy).  These folks have a long track record of producing great games and delivering on time.  They also do a great job of offering substantial and interesting stretch goals without going overboard.  I also love the personal touch at the heart of all their projects.  For instance, when they were doing the KS for Castle Dice, one of the stretch goals was bigger dice, but in the last week before the KS ended, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, and the team saw backers withdrawing at about an even rate as new ones were signing up.  They wrote this:

Just when a campaign should be taking off toward the end, we’ve been noticing a very large number of cancellations which is offsetting any new backer momentum. This is totally unlike our previous 2 campaigns and the campaigns that our friends have run in the past. It’s pretty clear to us that this is due to folks hunkering down from the storm on the East Coast.

We love making games and we think even expensive games like Castle Dice are an affordable way for folks to have fun (especially when you compare it to things like going to the movies or having a nice meal out). That said, We don’t want anyone feeling any sort of pressure to open their wallet more than they feel comfortable with to help us reach a stretch goal at a time like this.

As such, we’re taking down the stretch goal and marking it “achieved.” We’ll cover any uncovered costs associated with the upgrade (we have some extra money from MSfG and Flame War – none of us have taken a dime from Fun to 11 to date). And while we’re happy with any support we get in these last 3 days, we’re not announcing any new stretch goals for this product. Instead we will be donating 10% of every dollar raised between now and the end of the campaign to hurricane relief. It just feels like the right thing to do now. We’ve always said that Fun to 11 isn’t in this for the money, so it’s time we put those words into practice.

Thanks for all of your support folks and to all of you on the wrecked coast, hang tough,

Luke, Jay, Kai, Dave, and Rob

How cool is that?

All of this, of course, points to both the pleasures and the dangers of electracy.  On the plus side, we get to know game developers in ways we couldn’t before.  On the down side, we don’t have the smarts of the marketplace protecting us from flashy amateurs who don’t actually have the experience to get the game to market.  And having to use our own judgment to filter those folks means that sometimes we’ll get screwed.


21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology

21st Century Dead21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology
Edited by Christopher Golden

Each year, I pick a different anthology of zombie stories to read with my Zombies in Popular Media class.  This year’s collection was pretty good.  A few highlights:

  • “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-so Horror Story” by Chelsea Cain.  Written with the feel of a classic folk tale, this story captures some of the drudgery of parenting.
  • “How We Escaped Our Certain Fate” by Dan Chaon throbs with a dark melancholy of a ho-hum zombie world, where the undead can be dangerous, but they’re more a nuisance like racoons.
  • Kurt Sutter’s “Tic Boom: A Slice of Love” and John McIlveen’s “A Mother’s Love” play on similar themes with very different writing styles, but both are great twists on the zombie genre.
  • Amber Benson, of Buffy fame, includes a story only tangentially about zombies, but chock-full of interesting twists on the future-dystopian capitalist nightmare.  “Antiparallelogram” isn’t all that great as a zombie story, but as an SF tale, it has some chops.
  • “Tender as Teeth” by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski is the best story in the collection, for my money.  It follows a former zombie who has been recovered through a technological intervention of some kind, but who is plagued by the public record of her deeds during her zombie days.

Check out my reviews of previous zombie class story anthologies: 2014- Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!; 2013 – The Best New Zombie Tales; 2012 – The New Dead2011 – The Living Dead 2; 2010 – The Undead: Zombie Anthology; 2009 – The Living Dead

Tweets from 2015-02-01 to 2015-02-07

On modern humor

A few observations without a conclusion.

1. “College Kids Can’t Take A Joke” by Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune (link)
Clarence Page writes about how Chris Rock doesn’t perform for college audiences any more because they’re too sensitive. Page writes:

I marvel at comedians as varied as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Freddie Prinze and Joan Rivers who manage to make us laugh about race, gender, religion, ethnicity and politics while dancing on the edges of our touchiness.

But Rock detects a new uptightness in today’s campus audiences. He blames a social culture that has taken hypersensitivity overboard as we try to protect kids from insults and other painful realities of life — like race relations.

This reminds me of some essay I read a few days ago and can’t find in which a comedian explains how he doesn’t resent having to be more careful about what audiences will tolerate, as often the intolerance comes at the expense of lazy humor aimed at othering people.  I suspect it’s a bit of both.  But I think at the heart of his disdain for ‘over-sensitivity’ is the failure to recognize that sensitivity is a good thing — it’s often tied to empathy.  There’s a difference, of course, between being sensitive to how people feel and being unwilling to discuss difficult things.  I hope it’s the latter Rock is discussing.

2. Clarence Page part 2 – Bill Maher protests

There’s another part of Page’s essay that drives me crazy.  Page connects Rock’s lament about over-sensitive college students to this:

…the issue came up when Rock was asked about a protest that tried to cancel HBO host Bill Maher’s December commencement speech at the University of California at Berkeley.

More than 4,000 people signed an online petition to cancel as a protest against his views on Islam, which, among other indignities, he has called “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will (expletive) kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.”

I strongly disagree with Maher’s smearing of an entire religion for the crimes of its radical fringes. But I also disagree with those who think silencing him would be a sensible response.

As Maher put it, “Whoever told you you only had to hear what didn’t upset you?”

Page calls this censorship, to which I say “Bullshit.”  The proper response to speech we don’t like is more speech.  Among that speech can be “Hey Institution I Like, please don’t pay someone saying odious things to come say them to my face at an event celebrating me.”   One of the results of saying controversial things is that some people will tell you to fuck off, as these 4,000 protesters did.  They aren’t saying “Bill Maher should not be allowed to write or be on tv anymore,” they’re just saying they don’t want to be there when he does it.

As to the snarky reply about hearing things that don’t upset you — they clearly already heard those things, have assessed their value in the give and take of conversation, and told Maher to shove off.

3. Leslie Hall (link)

I like Leslie Hall a lot, particularly for her powerful comedic and musical performances that both revel in and define stereotypes about her body.  I mentioned yesterday liking the song “Tight Pants / Body Rolls,” which is both a powerful claiming of herself as a musician and a self-depreciating look at her own imperfections.  Clearly much of the humor comes from Hall’s stage persona, a cuddly 80s-quaffed power diva, but her self-assured song style (as in “This is How We Go Out”) elevates her act far beyond a gimmick, even as she lovingly infuses many songs with nerdcore aptitudes (as with “Craft Talk”).

4. Jokes about Race

As the issue about Rock brought up, one of the touchiest spaces in modern comedy is in thinking about race.  The “post race” moment we find ourselves in results in an odd experience — the comedic angle that “we’re not racist so we can all laugh together at this racist joke, right?”  It’s this attitude that pushed me away from tosh.0 and makes it less fun than I’d like to play Cards Against Humanity.  I always end up with a hand full of cards playing on race stereotypes because I don’t think they’re funny.

I wonder if Chris Rock would lump me in with those over-sensitive college students he doesn’t want to perform for anymore.


January Music Roundup: The Tossers, Leslie Hall, Rodeo Ruby Love

I review my music playlist for each month, compiled from albums that drift across my transom and tunes I download from eMusic.

Burger Records Sampler
An enjoyable, if not particularly striking to me, mix of contemporary pop and rock songs.  Several of my favorites feel like songs from a different era, recalling pop songs from the 50s and 60s. Highlights include: “Oh Cody,” which is an enjoyable classic sounding pop song that made me think of “Where the Hell is Bill” every single time it played, because the opening chords are either similar or identical; “Send Me Your Love” by Fletcher C. Johnson also has that classic 60s feel; “You Need a Big Man” by Memories is pretty cool, evoking They Might Be Giants just a bit. “Dolphin Patrol” by The Pizzaz is pretty good too.

Rodeo Ruby Love: Your Love Has Made Everything Beautiful
These Indiana alt-rockers continue writing evocative, harmony-driven songs.  I like this album a lot.  “Boys vs. Girls” is a lovely example of the kind of song this band does best.  We have a return of “A Small House in the City,” which is a great song, still.  “Boyfriend” parts 1 and 2 make a nice two tracks, though I think Part 2 is better.

Leslie Hall: Songs in the Key of Gold
Andrew sent me this album to highlight Hall’s “Zombie Killer,” and this kind of dance music isn’t usually on my radar.  But Hall brings nerd culture to the genre, which gives me the rabbit hole into it.  And letting the album play, I’d say it’s pretty great.  Highlights include “Tight Pants Body Rolls,” “How We Go Out,” and “Shake Your Hips.”  “Zombie Killer” is pretty great too.  Recommended!  Check out these lyrics from “How We Go Out”:

Cuz this dance challenge is harder than it looks
J. K. Rowlings (sic) writes very thick books
Never did I say you could rest your body
If your heart rate slows, then you do karate

The Tossers: Purgatory
I’ve wanted to download albums from this band for a while, so I was happy to find them suddenly available on eMusic.  They don’t disappoint.  This fast-paced punk/folk celtic music is right in my wheelhouse, sitting comfortably near Flogging Molly, the Pogues, the Dropkick Murphys, and so on.  The Tossers are closest to The Pogues in feel, with not too much in the way of electric guitar, and quite a few ballads or calm songs.  Highlights from this album: “Monday Morning,” “Chicago,” which includes an epic rant about gentrification, and “The Squall,” which continues the old folk tradition of advocating for causes.

February 4th, IN HISTORY

This year, for the “Wednesday photos” feature, I will be including photos that reference the date of the post in their description or when they were taken.

Congress Street Panorama, Austin

Congress Street Panorama, Austin (SMU Central Library, cc-licensed)

Miami Beach Having a Good Time

Miami Beach Having a Good Time (floridamemory cc-licensed)

Dispatches from the Age of Electracy: Tales from Kickstarter

"Die Zehn" by David Eccles

“Die Zehn” by David Eccles (cc-licensed)

If you follow this blog much, you know I enjoy a good kickstarter campaign — particularly for board games, which are relatively cheap in terms of development (mostly costing the developers time and energy and potentially little else), but can be very expensive in terms of production.  Thus, Kickstarter can be an excellent way to fund the production of a game — it allows for the producer to get pre-orders before committing to produce anything, and to moderate the print run as a project becomes a success.

There are some companies that go a bit crazy with “stretch goal fever,” offering too much without having thought through the consequences.  Exemplar case study, the foundering-but-still-might-eventually-get-produced Teramyyd: Earthsphere, a game of steampunk blimp piracy.  They went absolutely bonkers with their stretch goals, and being a relatively new game company, they drastically under-estimated the cost involved in producing these things.

Others founder under the pressure of their own success.  Queen games has, for instance, run into fulfillment issues because their orders were far larger than they’d planned for, and their production and fulfillment facilities are small houses. [UPDATE 2/3 5PM: When I arrived home today, Escape from the Temple, which was supposed to ship last October, had arrived.] Thus, while the production of their games should have been pretty straightforward (since they used all pre-made assets), the delivery of those games has been, well, slow.  This was also the issue with Greg Rucka et al’s very successful run on their graphic novel, Lady Sabre and the really long title, which apparently took forever to mail out (I know Rucka was still posting mailing updates six months after I’d received my copy).

Last, one worry with kickstarter games is that they just won’t be that good.  So far, I’ve had a lot of luck.  All the kickstarter games I’ve gotten have been pretty fun — I haven’t had one yet where I was disappointed in it.  In fact, one of them (A Study in Emerald) is among my favorite games in my collection.  Dork Tower has done a great job talking about the finances of KS, the dangers of KS, and the need for a place where people have already played the games.

Next week, I’ll write a bit about the changes I’ve seen in the KS game community that respond to these challenges.

The Thing (2011)

The Thing 2011Having just seen John Carpenter’s original The Thing in January, I sought out the recent prequel, also confusingly titled The Thing.  It’s a weird prequel/remake, with an almost identical story structure to that of the original film.  In the 1982 film, we find out that a Norwegian research station had already been gutted by the monster, as McReady’s trip reveals the horrors that occurred there.  The Thing 2011 tells the tale of that Norwegian station and their travails.  A few thoughts:

  • The film clearly isn’t a remake, as the tale involves different characters and locations, and sets itself up as a prequel.  But its plot is so similar to the original film that it feels like a remake.  As such, it’s good but a bit too derivative to be great.
  • The filmmakers do a great job with the effects, mixing practical monstrosities with CGI to give the film a real, meaty feel.  It works great.  The creature effects in the film admirably continue the tradition of the original.  The best moment will make you re-think helping an injured pal walk by putting his arm around your soldier.
  • It was nice to introduce a couple female characters, including a woman who, in the tradition of Ripley, is no shrinking violet.
  • The acting in the film is great, with stellar paranoia and mania.  I particularly like the Norwegians they used in the film, robust, bold men all.  It was also fun to see Joel Edgerton there.  I was reminded that he played the young Owen Lars in SW Ep 3. ( Can somebody make a list of people who have played characters in both deserts and ice-scapes? )
  • The best part of The Thing 2011 is the “reverse forensics” of the film, the establishment of the moments that create the settings MacReady finds when he visits the Norwegian camp in the John Carpenter movie.  The payoffs that establish the axe in the door or the burned lab are excellent.

The Thing 2011 isn’t great, but it’s a pretty enjoyable follow up to the amazing 1982 original.

I was going to post some pictures from the movie, but it’s damn gross, so here’s a fluffy kitten from Martjin Berendse.

Fluffy Kitten Martjin Berendse

Tweets from 2015-01-25 to 2015-01-31

Comics Roundup: Judge Dredd 3 & 4, Two-Step, Grindhouse

Judge Dredd, Volume 3 Judge Dredd, Volume 4 Two Step by Ellis and Conner Grindhouse, Vol 1

Judge Dredd, Volumes 3 and Volume 4 by Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel
Volume 3 finds Dredd in the wastelands, trying to track down criminals to save Mega-City one from “The Big Fail.”  Think of it as “Dredd visits The Hills Have Eyes.”  It’s a delightful, if goofy, adventure for everyone’s favorite Clint Eastwood doppelganger.  Dredd’s celebratory return to Mega City 1 is hampered somewhat, by the return of a villain from a previous storyline, and the murder of oodles and oodles of judges.  The tale continues to be enjoyable for its basic elements mixed up in new combinations.  The short story one shots included in Volume 4 were particularly good.

Two Step by Warren Ellis and Amanda Conner
When a mercenary gangster and a bored “camera girl” accidentally bump into one another on the streets of a futuristic London, all chaos breaks loose for a romping ride through the city.  While the comic teems with funny ideas (as with the part of Chinatown where dudes in suits are shooting at one another all the time amid flocks of doves), the characters and the story never really come together for me.  I also found the depiction of Rosi Blades, the girl who makes her living streaming her life and adventures 24hours a day, too exploitative without compensating for it with an interesting character.

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Vol 1 by Alex De Campi et al
“Bee Vixens from Mars” and “Prison Ship Antares” are both great schlocky titles, and the stories that accompany them are delightfully bloody and awful, in the way grindhouse movies were (and that Tarantino and Rodriguez captured so well in their double-feature).  Alas, De Campi and the artists working the stories spent a lot of time on naked ladies as well, which detracted, for me, from the stories they were trying to tell.  I suppose this is to be expected in a comic drawing on exploitation films, but I think the stories would have been more enjoyable if that aspect of the genre had been kept in check a bit more.


January 28th, IN HISTORY

This year, for the “Wednesday photos” feature, I will be including photos that reference the date of the post in their description or when they were taken.


written by Ben Bova; narrated by Stephan Rudnicki

On the far side of the moon, a new observatory is building the biggest telescopes ever crafted by Man.  These massive instruments, combined with the Moon’s airless surface, and the far-side’s shelter from the brightness of the Earth, give its scientists the ability to see things much more clearly than ever we have before.  Alas, amid the excitement of the project, trouble is brewing.  And in the vacuum of space, even a small problem can become a big problem quickly.  A few thoughts:

  • This is only the second Bova book I’ve read, and it seems to be in the middle of his “Grand Tour” series.  As such, there’s some context I’m missing, but generally it’s readable on its own.  The characters are believable, even if they’re drawn a bit quickly, and their emotional lives take a stronger center stage than in most SF novels.
  • Bova’s hard SF angle works really well here, as the entire structure seems cogent and potential.  Of course, it’s infused with current worries, but at least thinks through the potentials of the next century or so.  I also didn’t catch any years listed in the dates, which will help keep it relevant longer.
  • I particularly liked the depth of the characters as the novel progresses.  Often, quickly drawn characters prove to be two dimensional, lacking believability or depth that’s part of the human experience.  As the novel goes along, the characters become more complex, and more interesting, and it works well.
  • Aside from thinking through the Moon stuff, the use of Nanotechnology plays a big role in this book.  I like the discussion very much, and think it would make a nice entry into the field.  A reader who finds this idea interesting should next explore The Diamond Age.
  • Stephan Rudnicki’s reading is excellent, and his voice is awesomely deep.

A good read – enjoyable and quick, with cool ideas and a strong story.

Tweets from 2015-01-18 to 2015-01-24

Thoughts on next year’s zombie class

Dead Snow

Dead Snow would fit as Nazi, Fast, Humor, Meta, and Cabin in the Woods

I’m wondering how the course would work if I re-worked it next year as a series of Zombie subgenres (Hollywood, Vodou, Cyborg, Alien-slug, Fast/Virus, Philosophical, Nazi) and we approached the material from that perspective.  This would make the experience of the course way different from what it is now, and give me some variety in film selection and approaches.  Other kinds of zombie films to think about:

  • Cabins in the woods
  • Splatterhorror
  • Meta
  • Humor

I think I will probably re-organize the class under this new structure next year, to get a bit of variety into the experience for myself, and try out a different order of films, etc.  Plus, then we can include the Thing.

Unholy Night

Unholy Night

Unholy Night
by Seth Grahame-Smith

What if the Three Wise Men of the nativity story weren’t, in fact, scholars, but were rather disguised thieves on the run from Herod?  And what if they happened upon a young woman and her husband and the baby they said was destined for great things?  And what if there were a bunch of swordplay and adventure?  Seth Grahame-Smith answers all these questions.

A few thoughts:

  • As with his past outings (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Grahame-Smith’s expertise lies in crafting stories that live in the gaps of other famous stories.  Unholy Night could fit entirely within the Biblical nativity story, using the gaps (such as “where did the wise men come from”) as opportunities for creativity and excitement.  He shows a lot of reverence toward his source material, even as he turns it from a religious tale into an adventure story.
  • Balthazaar, the protagonist through whom we see the tale unfold, is a deep character, with well-founded motivation and a believable backstory.  Very entertaining.
  • The story walks a fine balance, too, in its evocation of the supernatural.  The Biblical God is certainly present in the tale as the unseen actor, but it isn’t too heavy-handed.

As with Grahame-Smith’s other books, well worth the read, though not likely to warrant multiple reads.