With the impending publication of Silent Fury I’m starting a series of posts so you can follow our progress as we work to take the game from where it is now to the ‘finished pre-publication game’ that gets handed to the publisher.
So after discussing things with said publisher, Silent Fury’s initial release is going to have a massive amount of content – way more than I thought it was going to have.
My brother and I have our work cut out for us. In just a few months we need to deliver the full and finished version of Silent Fury to Ad Astra Games for publication.
That delivery will consist of: Rules, Factions and Fiction, Ships, Scenarios, Art Assets, and Play Aids.
For each of them, I’ll talk about where we are now and what we intend to deliver, and our plan for bridging the gap between the two.
Silent Fury’s rules are in the best shape of all our deliverables. I think they’re well written and they have seen a lot of playtesting – not only from my gaming group, but from multiple groups of new players at conventions and two separate groups of blind playtesters (which I wholeheartedly recommend to any game designer). Mechanically, the game system is solid – it’s fun, it’s fast, and while the whole of it is a moderate-complexity game, each moving part is as simple and straightforward as I could make it.
It’s still not perfect of course. I know that lurking in the realms of possibility is an even better way to do mechanic X and a clearer way to write rule Y that I just haven’t found yet. We’ve reached the point where I have to acknowledge that it can never be perfect, but it is good enough – which is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to internalize.
Right now, the rules document contains the game rules, along with several diagrams and visual aids as well as a hefty amount of examples and a few design notes.
For the finished rules I need to revise the introduction, and we plan on adding even more visual aids and examples than currently exist to make things as clear as possible. I also plan on adding more design notes, and we’ll include a short ‘strategy guide’ section. I also need to remove some rules that will not be making it into the initial box game, both because they increase our already hefty component requirements and they haven’t seen enough playtesting. At least some of those will likely return later in expansions, which gives us more time to playtest them. We also need to add a table of contents and I would like to add a glossary as well.
There’s one little rules experiment with shields I want to try that could potentially affect the nature of a component, so that needs to happen soon, but that aside I’m done changing the rules (unless we find some serious issue through playtesting that needs to be fixed).
And finally, the rules need proofreading. The publisher will be taking care of editing and formatting the rules, but that’s no excuse for not finding as many typos, mistakes, and unclear or ambiguous wording or incorrect examples as I possibly can before I send them out.
So the plan for the rules is to get them mechanically complete ASAP so I have the definitive version I can give to playtesters. That needs to come first because when we’re testing ships and scenarios we need to be testing it with the final rule set, since if we change the mechanics then we could invalidate previous scenario playtests. Once I have the ‘master mechanics’ rules done we can slow down and take our time adding visual examples, design notes and so on.
When it comes to proofreading, I plan to sit down at least once every other week and read the whole thing again, from start to finish, treating typos and errors like elusive Pokemon. Gotta catch ’em all.
Factions and Fiction
While developing the game I prioritized function over form – I had a loose idea for the ‘Silent Universe’ this all takes place in and didn’t really expand on that, in part because since Silent Fury isn’t set in an existing setting, I was free to implement whatever game mechanics best served to make for an epic space battle, and I could go back and justify how that’s supposed to work in the fiction afterwards.
What that means is that for the fiction I’m starting from scratch. I now have a firm (and different from my original) idea of what the Silent Universe is like, and that’s about it so far.
As far as factions go, I’ve got the names of two, and Nathan and I are discussing the others.
The end goal is a whopping five factions – three of them Human, two of them Alien. The fiction in the game will be entirely separate from the rulebook – as a game system you can use Silent Fury to fight battles in other sci-fi settings, so the fiction that comes in the box will be in two places – one will be the associated stories and accounts that go along with the scenarios in the scenario book, and the other will be a set of class histories for the ship designs in the ship book. We’ll also talk about the factions themselves, and I think that’ll probably best be placed in the ship book since it’s a good place to talk about that faction’s ship design philosophy and offer some faction-specific tactical advice.
The fiction is something I’ll be trying to write in tandem with designing the ships and developing the scenarios, and sending to Nathan and playtesters for review and criticism.
There are a few additional mechanics we are planning on adding to give Factions some flavor beyond just different ship designs – right now we have ‘Battlesuits’ as a combat-focused special crew type, but I plan on giving each faction their own unique special unit. One faction will get the Battlesuit as theirs, and the others will each get something else. One thing I’d love to do would be to give the Aliens their own variant on the ‘Crew’ card so that their race behaves differently from Human crew, but that will depend on whether or not the extra cards required increase production costs too much (and on how well playtesting new mechanics like that goes – I will not add a ‘cool new feature’ to the game that isn’t well playtested.) Alternate crew cards for aliens could well be a kickstarter stretch goal, so I’ll be pitching that to Ad Astra.
We’re shooting for giving each of the factions in Silent Fury three unique warship designs.
Each of those ship designs will come with a variant – which will sometimes be a different version of that warship, but one of Silent Fury’s neat qualities is that we can make a lot of interesting designs that are not strictly warships and play some pretty creative scenarios with those, so we’ll be using the opportunity to sometimes make these variants be mining ships, freighters, and so on. History-wise the conversion can go in both directions – sometimes an old military vessel gets bought up by a cruise line and converted into an armed luxury yacht, and sometimes pirates are threatening your mining colony so you do the best you can to weld some armor and weaponry to your asteroid smelting ship.
So, number wise that’s (5 ships + 5 variants) x 5 factions = FIFTY ship designs!
It’s a damn good thing that whenever I designed a new scenario I had a bad habit of designing an entirely new set of ships for that scenario. It’s given Nathan a lot of practice at this.
We’re not starting from scratch either. While I haven’t been writing faction-based fiction, our more recent convention scenarios have featured faction-based ship designs – we’ve easily got five warships and a few variants thereof for two and a half factions. Those designs may need some tweaking but they’ll give us a big leg up on getting to fifty.
Designing ships and weapons in Silent Fury is easy for me – we have an internal spreadsheet with stats for both and I just fill it out and let Nathan do his thing. I’ll be designing a faction’s worth of warships every week and Nathan will get to them at his own pace, and I expect to have all fifty ships designed and put on ship sheets in two months at most – which we’ll need to do so we have enough playtesting time for…
Silent Fury is a scenario based game, and we’re going to shoot for including a scenario book with about 10 scenarios in it. That lets each faction have a scenario against every other faction, but I’m not ruling out having some 3 or 4 side ‘free for all’ scenarios that feature more than two opposing sides.
We’ve made more than 10 scenarios over the course of development, but given the new ship designs we need I can’t just throw them into the scenario book. I may adapt two or three of them for inclusion but most of the scenarios will be new creations, developed in tandem with the ship designs.
My plan is to write up at least some of the scenarios very early to give my playtesters something they can sink their teeth into. The more times each scenario can be playtested, the better it will be as a result.
Art Assets (like the art we use on the cards) are something the publisher will have final say on and will do on their end, but Ad Astra isn’t a huge company so any art that we do that Ad Astra doesn’t have to re-do will save time and money on the publication side. So as an ‘if we have some spare time’ measure Nathan will be re-doing the art for the back of the cards and other places where we previously used stock images, but this is a low priority item for us.
We’re going to include a quick reference card in the game (which you can check out an early version of here) and a ‘quick start’ guide that basically consists of a lot of visual aids and diagrams explaining the basics of how to play the game to first time players – the idea being that only one person needs to have read the actual rulebook – everyone else can get into the action just knowing the stuff on the quick start guide and Rulebook Master (the real hero of any gaming group – you know of whom I speak) can clarify and explain anything the players need as the game goes on.
We’ll be putting that quick start guide or some variant thereof online when we make it so we can get input from you guys on how clear it is and how comfortable you think you’d feel using it to jump right into the game. A big part of this whole game design process involves getting input from people like you who encounter one of these play aids for the first time and tell us what you think about it, because you are the intended audience – all feedback I get from you guys helps make the whole game better.
The quick start guide is going to have to come after the rules are finalized and we have at least a few of the scenarios written up and ships designed for them – I can revise a quick start guide in a day, but scenarios and ship design tweaks take longer because we need time to see how they actually work through play testing.