State of the Hat: Eye on 2013 and Review of 2012

Back at the end of 2011, I posted up an overview of the “State of the Hat” for the company, with an eye on the year ahead. We’re now reaching towards the end of that year, and with plenty of distraction to come in December, so it feels like it’s time for another. How have things gone in the past 11-or-so months? And where are we headed from here?

Role-Playing Games

RPGs remain our core focus, even though 2012 involved a lot of noise about other categories of interest. That said, just because it’s a core focus doesn’t mean we’ve got it all figured out. There have been speed bumps, as well as new excitements and triumphs.

Don’t Rest Your Head

I’d like to sort out some other ways to expand the Don’t Rest Your Head property, maybe even freshen it for 2013 (an auspicious year given the role of 13 in the setting), but I don’t know if we’ll find the bandwidth to do it. For a game that’s working on its seventh year soon, it holds up remarkably well.

Don’t Hack This Game: This project was originated by Ryan Macklin, and got us a lot of authors — some experienced, some new to the field — interested in providing articles. Most all of those articles were written and in the process of editing when Evil Hat and Ryan parted ways due to creative differences. Due to the company’s general bandwidth for getting stuff done, losing Ryan meant that this project had to go on hold. We may be rebooting it with a fresh editor, but when exactly we’re not sure. The authors have been paid for their contributions, regardless!

Dresden Files

There’s something about the Dresden Files RPG property that always makes things take longer. For a while there I was wondering if it was an element of team composition — not that anyone on the team is a problem, far from it, but more that we’ve maybe thrown too many geeks at this particular problem. But as it turns out, even when reducing the team size for other tie-ins (as you’ll see), the entropy curse still hits, and all kinds of crazy delays still creep in. They’re all perfectly understandable delays, but it adds up.

Paranet Papers: Our lead editor got (re-)swiped by Margaret Weis Productions to work on their Marvel Heroic Roleplaying line, so that’s been a distraction, but editing and statblocking still continues on this. Because editing can change the composition and details and needs of a book, we’ve held off on getting artwork done on this until the full edit has happened. The main thrust of writing has been done for a good portion of the year, thanks in part to bringing on Brian Engard to play concept and text doctor on our most troubled chapters. What does this mean for a release date? Wish I knew! See the above. If I gave a date, the entropy curse would goose it, hard.

Adventures: A while back we arranged for the potential to develop some adventures for the Dresden Files RPG, to provide a little support in that category beyond the free downloadables we’ve offered since the core game’s publication. The idea was to produce these such that we could bridge the gap between the game and the Paranet Papers‘ eventual publication. This is where we learned that the entropy curse will hit us regardless of team size, regardless of the talent put to the job. A few of the adventure notions evaporated or had to be put on hold; the one that managed to move forward ran into an incredible mound of day-job-related complications. Status on all this stuff is a big unknown. Harry, lay off the hexus, wouldja?

Fate

Getting ready to launch the next era of the Fate system has been where we’ve found our greatest RPG-project success this year. It’s been exciting, to say the least.

Fate Core: Fate Core is done, baby… at least as far as Lenny Balsera’s writing goes. Jeremy Keller is editing and laying it out in preparation for a big announcement coming next month. Kurt Komoda is working on some of the initial art. I’m aiming for a release early into 2013.

Atomic Robo: The Atomic Robo RPG was one of the big secret projects in mind when we were talking about the existence of such things in last year’s State of the Hat. It’s been going swimmingly! Mike Olson has been doing a fantastic job not only building a deeply sexy implementation of Fate Core, but running a high-yield multi-phase playtest for the system that’s also doubled for playtesting Fate Core. The creators of the Atomic Robo comic remain astonishingly easy to work with. Latest I see this one coming out is middle of 2013, though we’re going to charge hard on getting it out as soon as we get text-complete by end of 2012. Folks who’ve had a chance to read or play Robo have often proclaimed it their favorite version of Fate yet, so signs of everything coming up Robo in 2013 are strong.

Gumshoe

We remain committed to doing some work with the Gumshoe system, but it’s a clear “B-side” to our other, mostly Fate oriented stuff. Great Gumshoe games from other publishers are out there already, but I think we can bring some story-game sensibilities to the system and use its idiom to drive strong drama.

Bubblegumshoe: The teen detective RPG! System design has moved forward with the team lead by Ken Hite, and including Lisa Steele and Emily Care Boss. The real problem here has to do with scheduling and coordination — the team is spread out all over, and Ken’s schedule and work commitments remain, well, Ken-like. It’s progress by inches, peppered with pauses. Early signs of deliciousness have been detected, though.

Revengers: This ghosts-who-solve-others’-murders-and-get-them-payback RPG remains a side-project possibility with Will Hindmarch, who has managed to get himself more busy throughout 2012 with stuff that isn’t Revengers. In some ways that’s worked out for the best; this concept will germinate well, and Evil Hat’s bandwidth is probably such that more than one Gumshoe game at a time would not make sense. We’ll also be able to apply lessons learned in Bubblegumshoe’s development, that way.

Spirit of the Century

2012 has been about expanding the Spirit of the Century brand beyond the bounds of its original RPG roots. It’s our strongest non-licensed property right now, so that only made sense. But there’s still activity on the RPG side…

Strange Tales of the Century: Despite some editorial-team setbacks, the edit-work on this long-delayed Jess Nevins-authored Spirit of the Century supplement touring heroes of the pulps from all around the globe is nearing completion. Does that mean we have a publication date? Of course not! But we’ll finally be able to put that cover art to use soon.

Storm of the Century: Pete Woodworth has turned in his draft on this Spirit of the Century adventure arc, pitting the Century Club against multiple weather-manipulating villains. It’s making its way through editing and will likely see a round or two of revision before it’s ready to go into production. It’ll be PDF-only, at least at the outset, when it does.

Board & Card Games

We’ve given a big chunk of our energy to learning the ins and outs of producing board games this year, using our Spirit of the Century property and setting as the launchpad. It’s a long road with many new undiscovered speed bumps on it for sure. Good thing we’re driving two particularly rugged vehicles down this thing!

Race to Adventure: Our kickstarter did well, funding a small double-themed expansion along with the core game. The main speed bump on this one is working out all the complexities and moving parts with our German-based manufacturer, Ludofact. Their quality is very good, but the process is full of weird delays, some cultural — hello banking holidays! — and some procedural. Files have had to be reworked because they don’t use an Adobe-standard version of “rich black” for printing black inks in their printing processes, for example — so there was a lot of detail work that had to be carefully altered in all of the files. They need the files output according to a very old printing standard, which meant that exporting all of the source files for them took literal days to happen, each time there was some reason to rework (which happened more than once). But money is down on the table and the slow march towards actual production and safety-testing has begun. In the meantime, we’ve kept our backers updated roughly-monthly as to how things have been going, and recently shot them print & play files for the expansions; so far, everyone appears happy with how we’re handling the experience.

Zeppelin Armada: We originally thought this was going to be our first release, but it saw delays as we needed to get the art developed for Race to Adventure by the same artist who’d be working on this. During that delay, we put the original design through some more playtesting with some of our best testers at Endgame out in Oakland, California. The upshot of the findings was that the play experience was less consistent than we wanted, and — confession time — some of the original concepts that I’d brought to the party and given to Jeff Tidball to work with were themselves flawed. We’d never managed to get a perspective on them to realize this, I think.

But by this point, Jeff had gotten very very busy with his day-work, so we needed to rely on another to pick up the ball and see where it could be carried. That job fell to Eric Vogel, creator of the excellent Cambria and Hibernia board games. He started out trying to doctor the first version’s rules to address some of the gameplay issues that had emerged in the Endgame testing, and when he’d taken that about as far as he could, asked if we would entertain the possibility of reimagining the game in a way that preserved many of its concepts (and, importantly, already-under-development artwork) while designing it fresh from the ground up. We took him up on the offer, and some 20-odd rapid iterations later, we’re zeroing in on a final design and are about to move into post-design production work.

What we’ve got at the end here is a strangely lean (fewer than 120 card) deck-building game, that still has some fierce “take-that!” style, player-versus-player game play dynamics. Plus: lots of zeppelins. Exploding. In the sky. I can’t wait to get this one out there — the notion of a deckbuilder game that’s small enough to fit in my pocket is really exciting, as a fan of games and games of that style.

Graphic Novels

We were nosing around the possibility of working on a graphic novel or two over the course of 2012, as mentioned in the earlier State of the Hat post. As we near the end of 2012, the answer’s clear to us: not yet. As we expand our business, the possibility remains intriguing to us, but the timing just isn’t yet good. That’s okay, though — because we’ve got our fiction line to keep us warm at night.

Fiction

We sort of stumbled into becoming a fiction publisher this year. We knew we wanted to dabble lightly with it, and working with Chuck Wendig to write a trilogy set in our Spirit of the Century universe felt like a good first step. Then came the kickstarter campaign, and with that, the sudden opportunity — and mandate — to create an entire fiction line in the SOTCiverse, seven books in all from five authors. Here’s how that’s coming along.

What we published: We put out our Don’t Rest Your Head anthology, Don’t Read This Book, which is frickin’ spectacular, so go buy yourself a copy already. And right at the conclusion of the kickstarter, we got all those copies of Dinocalypse Now out into the world. It was a good first step.

Sales beyond kickstarter: Post-kickstarter sales have certainly been slow, but we haven’t been positioned to reach out into the full spectrum of fiction-land yet. We’re working with Diamond Book Distribution to reintroduce our published books in 2013, and also launch our other titles (after our Kickstarter backers get their early first-looks). We’re also working with Jim Butcher’s and C.E. Murphy’s agent, Jennifer Jackson, to research and if possible arrange subsidiary rights deals with our novels — that’s fancy talk for things like foreign language translations and audio book rights, among other things. Too early, yet, to tell if any of this will bear fruit. If none of it does, that’s a no-sweat: the kickstarter has covered enough of our costs that we can decide to start and stop our 7-book line with just those seven. But I’m hopeful.

Beyond Dinocalypse, Dinocalypse Forever: Chuck will be working on Beyond Dinocalypse as we cross the border between 2012 and 2013. Dinocalypse Forever may take until the Summer to get its start. At worst for the general public, this’ll essentially mean one-book-in-the-trilogy-per-year, with the kickstarter backers getting some occasionally very advance peeks.

Khan of Mars: The first of our books set after the conclusion of the Dinocalypse trilogy, this adventure by Stephen Blackmoore flings erudite ape Professor Khan and trick shootist Bulls-Eye Gutierrez (a new character) to a pulp Mars that’s equal parts Flash Gordon and John Carter. Stephen has turned in his first-round draft, but it needs some polishing before it goes to editing. Call it a few more months of work before it can move on into post-text production.

King Khan: By the setting’s timeline, this is the latest book, but author Harry Connolly has gone and turned in his draft ahead of everyone else. J.R. Blackwell has already edited it, and Harry has already revised it, so now we’re moving into post-text production work, waiting for an opening in the cover artist’s schedule, and trying to work out how best to deploy this book to the public, given its position in the timeline. KS backers will see it first and out of sequence, but we may wait until Khan of Mars is published as well before we formally publish King Khan for the world.

Stone’s Throe: C.E. Murphy’s dance card was pretty full when we signed her up for this Amelia Stone novel that will dig into her past with the Green-Eyed Monster. We’ve worked out some of the high-level details for this story, but writing hasn’t begun yet. Work probably starts in earnest in earlyish 2013.

The Pharaoh of Hong Kong: Brian Clevinger continues his writing work on this. It’s going slowly — understandable, since he has his successful Atomic Robo-derived comics writing to attend to as well — but the first several thousand words written are packed with promise, and introduce a few new and exciting elements to Spirit of the Century’s lore.

Nonfiction

This was a surprise!

Designers & Dragons: We’re going to be publishing a new edition of Shannon Appelcline’s comprehensive history of the RPG industry, in a four-book set, one book per decade from the 70’s onward. I’ve posted about this before and recently, so I’ll leave it to those posts to fill you in on the details. I couldn’t be more pleased, though — this is the sort of project we don’t see enough of in gamelandia, and we’re very proud to help Shannon’s work find more readers.

Website

The website for Evil Hat has been one of our difficulties over the past years. It’s easy to neglect, and as a result it had become a bit of an outdated mess. We’ve started the effort to revamp and update it this year, which involved some consolidation of our other “satellite” sites into evilhat.com and some graphic design and wordpress work by Katie Stapko and Sean Nittner. We’re still far from done; now that we’ve gotten this massive, awesome facelift, the content still needs to be updated, across the board. But thanks to the facelift, we have a much improved, better platform for talking about our new efforts — and sharing posts like this one — than we’ve had before.

And that’s it for the current State of the Hat! I may not have remembered every topic here, but I think it’s been a pretty good tour. If you have any questions at all about any of this — or other Evil Hat things not mentioned here — please pipe up. We love questions, and are happy to answer them.