“Don’t be a dick” - the sequel
For those of you who are unaware of the meaning of the above saying, it was coined by Wil Wheaton, highly geeky individual with an acting pedigree including credits in Stand By Me and Star Trek the Next Generation, and is referred to as “Wheaton’s Law”.
The gist of the rule is simple: don't act like an ass. To anyone. Ever. It's not worth it in the end, and you should always treat people the same way you wish they would treat you.
Unfortunately for him, Mr. Wheaton has gone on to break his own rule in the most awkward of circumstances, albeit apologising for it afterwards, but we digress into politics and issues far more slimy than we’re addressing here. Since its own maker seems to fall afoul of this tenet, we thought we'd rehash it and adapt slightly to have a slightly wider meaning and tangentially deal with the gaming/comics industry in the meantime. Our take on it?
We’re copyrighting this, and you can call us discount Disney for it!
This simple train of thought can help you keep your emotions from exploding into a verbal tirade against things that wouldn't be aimed at you (or sometimes the people you're arguing in favor of) in the first place. Which is (and this bears mentioning on a daily basis) a good thing. If it’s not physically hurting, damaging, or oppressing someone, you should really think twice about going out of your way to prevent it from happening.
Something that you may not like still drives the economy by creating competitiveness, it breeds creation when people see there's a need for something new/different, and it splits us into various fandoms, each with their own style, quirks, ideas, and desires from the products at hand. Our incoming Vs. series will show you just how much fun different tastes can be…
Different people liking different things in different amounts and different ways is a wonderful thing to behold. It’s astounding how diverse in thought people can be.
New content is always welcome (as long as it’s quality content, of course, I don’t think anybody’s pining over a Catwoman sequel…) and should be at most met with “here’s why this isn’t my thing/I think this is bad because X, but you do you!”.
Instead, what happens is companies trying to toe the line between pleasing both sides of their audience and ending up pissing people off regardless whether it’s by toning things down, replacing tried-and-true formulas or anything in between. You're not going to please everyone all the time, but it's a pretty good idea to stick to whatever worked for you in the past and has nothing wrong with it on a conceptual level.
Down to the nitty-gritty...
These are the days of high adventure! Well… Maybe not THAT high.
The latest (also first, and best) rendition of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian universe in miniature boardgame form will be our first example for this bullet point: French-based company Monolith used the rights to this sprawling, amazingly detailed, thoroughly adult-oriented universe and translated it wonderfully into a boardgame that soared above all expectations on Kickstarter (breaking the $3M mark and briefly holding the top spot of the most funded miniature boardgames ladder) but hit snags not far into its campaign.
One of the game's rulebook covers featured this artwork:
I.e. an image of a powerful warrior rescuing a woman from a horrible fate. Pretty straightforward for anyone who's ever read REH's works. Or anyone who read the cover and realised that this is the Heroes’ book. But then a vocal minority of the supporter base stepped in, mostly within the Kickstarter project’s comments page, but also through the voice of an ex-Asmodee employee who somehow managed to bring H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Trump into the whole thing. As you do.
Bringing the artwork's intents into question, raising concerns of it subconsciously trying to send a much worse vibe of a man's dominance over a woman and offer children a less-than-desired outlook on life in general, as well as arguing that the nudity depicted there had no place in or around such a product caused Monolith to take a step back and issue their second-edit rulebook (which was needed due to some less-than-stellar rules descriptions) with the more generic piece of art that was also used on one of the game’s boxes.
Needless to say, this ruffled many feathers while others still seemed indifferent to the whole event. This trend even carried over into Monolith’s latest Conan-related campaign, that of a scenario/art book, where some kept expressing their discontent for the censorship and Monolith’ grudgingly bended knee to political correctness, and to their credit they went on to defend their choices and argue that the artwork draws from pre-existing pieces set in that universe.
What's funny here is that these same people who are trying to preach a safer, more inclusive environment for children playing this game have no issue welcoming their offspring into the other folds of the Conan universe. The fact that the heroes are fighting to outright kill off their opponents (some which may be evil or have vile intentions, but who can be very human) most of the times is of consequence to them. Neither are the horrific monsters, grisly depictions of gouged hearts or mentions of human sacrifice, torture, theft, or kidnapping that are a big part of the game and its scenarios.
Slightly weird interpretation of where fiction begins and reality ends notwithstanding (as well as violence being fine in the above context), this is the perfect example of an item not being aimed at a certain demographic.
Conan deals with more than just sinewy, bear-chested barbarians whirling living steel around and slicing their foes clean in half to reach treasure... It's a universe filled with lust, despair, adversity, rejoicing, drunken orgies, military brilliance, hard-boiled negotiators, mesmerizing beauties and mind-bending awfulness, along with a multitude of other concepts that children who would have an issue seeing mild nudity (but not chopping heads off…) are simply not able to fully understand. Even when it’s all laid out in the diluted confines of a board game.
Furthermore, trying to bend those concepts to the minds of 10 year-olds or even younger children has people also bend not only Monolith's original vision for the game, but also REH's own take on Hyboria towards a possible breaking point.
We came here for Conan the King, not Conan the Kind who asks for permission before rescuing the lithe maiden who was abducted by the cult, and maybe also leaves something behind for the cult so that their efforts are rewarded because everybody gets a prize these days… #cultistsarepeopletoo
The author's antiquated views and purported beliefs which have always seemed to cause more of a stir than need be aside, Conan's saga and its offshoots stand as paragons of literature in general and the Sword & Sorcery/Grimdark genre in particular, and any attempt at partly nerfing it so that a younger audience can appreciate, coupled with conflating any original piece set within the universe as inherently racist and sexist it can be seen as anything from benign and disingenuous to malicious and hypocritical in the circumstances.
We’ve delved too deep
On to the next small artwork-related issue we've come across, and taking a step into what many have called a Bioshock-inspired universe, we come across Deep Madness. Another highly successful Kickstarter with plenty of backers and a wonderful product to deliver: a team of specialists exploring an underwater facility and fighting both physical as well as psychic horrors on their way to solving its overarching mystery.
Originally, the campaign had boasted a unique, dark, twisted, mysterious art style for both its monsters as well as its card and rulebook UI. It was simple, elegant, effective, and benefitted the game's baseline idea that the team of specialists didn't really know what lay in the shadows ready to pounce, or were liable to reach such a state of insanity whereupon they wouldn't be able to discern what they were looking at anymore.
A long time after the campaign was funded and went into production, and late into the playtesting process, an issue was raised with the artwork, namely several (we were told a significant number, but no real data was shared) people not being able to discern, in some cases, which card belonged to which monster, something that may have posed issues due to players being new to the game and would, as pointed out, no longer be an issue within the first couple games.
Said playtester issue rose to new heights when picked up and amplified via the Kickstarter comments section by people who, for the most part, had not seen the minis and cards in person and were judging things based solely on pictures they had seen online. The result?
The artwork and UI were changed in such a radical manner that the game ended up losing its entire visual identity and slipping into dime-a-dozen-sci-fi land, with bright, bold colours, an accent put on clear-cut lines and shapes instead of appealing to a deeper, more disturbing form of horror. It went from Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft to Dead Space 3 in one fell swoop.
As a result, many backers were distraught, especially at the lack of any meaningful communication or dialogue from the company's side. Their justification was that they were doing what was right and it was their way or the highway.
Of course, they didn't account for people who actually like highways and canceled their pledges, myself included.
Further into the campaign (and currently), a middle ground was reached, toning down the garish second artwork style and trying to at least hint at the original pieces, although by that point the damage had been done and myself and others never returned as backers.
I will buy this if you clucking change it
Here's another attitude that really grinds my gears...
People who see a game/movie/work of art, appreciate parts of it but are then bothered by some to the point of being turned off from buying/watching the piece anymore. So instead of going for what seems like the common sense "Not everything should be for everyone" option, they stick around and start telling the creator how they could make the thing more enticing to them and people like them.
Case in point, a fun, lighthearted, entirely enjoyable party game called Cock Block, previously on Kickstarter.
Shameless plug out of the way, the game deals with a batch of roosters, going to the local country club, i.e. The Barn, and navigating a minefield of various unwanted events in trying to woo a hen and leave the club with her, all the while doing their damndest to cock block the other cocks in the coop.
So far, so fun.
The people who have expressed their lack of preference for this theme fall into 2 categories: those who have said "This isn't for me, I wish you all the best!", and those who have tried to make a point out of them and others buying into it if the creator would pursue the quick, simple, and sure-fire avenue of changing the theme altogether.
Nevermind the time spent on devising the artwork, making sure it all goes together, brainstorming all the punny names, tooling the miniatures, checking to see that the theme made sense with the mechanisms so that it didn't seem simply pasted on and inconsequential, none of that mattered.
What did matter, was that this theme was insulting to some... But they would totally buy it (because they recognised its merits) if it was just changed entirely to appeal to them more. Not a big thing to ask for in this day and age, it seems… The eggs on some of these people…
Thankfully, and all credits to the designer team for sticking to their guns, the project got relaunched to cover EU shipping as well, got funded in under 3 hours and looks like it’s finally made people shrug in disbelief at someone not catering to their particular needs just because reasons. That doesn’t mean that some aren’t still trying to elicit a response regarding said issues, but at least more of the backers have stepped in and are holding stations in the project’s final days. Clucking good!
Edit: the project went on to find a publisher and has since left KS to pursue a direct-to-retail model thanks to the support it garnered. All’s well that ends well.
Flipping you the board.
Just as I thought I’d ended the boardgaming part of this article, one of the designers of the upcoming Saints Row boardgame posted a query on one of the boardgaming Facebook groups I frequent to ask if people thought it was a good idea to make the game family friendly.
> Saints Row
> Family friendly
Cue my inner cringe machine.
Apollo Games, a subdivision of Academy Games that was put together specifically to produce the brand’s non-historic endeavours has gone on to announce a Kickstarter for a Saints Row miniatures boardgame, Agents of Mayhem.
If you’re not familiar with Saints Row, the universe is what would happen if Grand Theft Auto had an overdose of crack and speed and decided it wanted to direct a movie. While drunk.
Needless to say, it is entirely politically incorrect, over the top in its set pieces and depictions/names of various items and people, and most recently featured the PotUS fighting off an alien invasion back in SRIV. So you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more suitable target for people looking to water down the next lewd IP to come into the genre.
Apparently some had expressed concern at one of the miniatures flipping the bird as well as some more crass humour (that literally defines the game’s whole shtick) so one of the designers, Gunter Eickert, decided to gauge what the general consensus was in either making the main game family friendly and possibly adding the “adult” content as an optional extra, leaving it as-is and making the family-friendly bit an extra purchase, along with a few other questions addressed at an audience of several thousand on one of the biggest boardgaming groups on FB.
To my surprise (and after having dealt with the above issues you’ll understand where I’m coming from), the initial and majority reaction from the fanbase was that as long as you’ve chosen to depict an IP that is famous for its mature depictions, you may as well go the full nine yards and stick with it through the end.
The poll that was posted there had over 100 responses, most of which agreed that staying true to the IP the game was based on is the right thing to do, even if they weren’t in the target audience to begin with.
I’m shocked that in this day and age such a sensible stance can be had on such a “major” issue…
We’ve spoken with Gunter and are content in the knowledge that Apollo Games are doing their utmost to come up with an enjoyable experience that marries all the tried-and-true concepts that have made Saints Row a bestselling game the world over.
Which has us crossing our fingers for the Penetrator, of course.
Stay tuned as the second part of this article will deal with Marvel’s current status within the comicbook industry as well as a couple videogames going through similar issues…