Damn the Man: Nostalgia Trippin’ through the Alternate 90s

Next Tuesday, June 20th, our game Damn the Man, Save the Music! launches on Kickstarter. Damn the Man has been in development for about two years, and it’s come a long way during that time.

Early versions of Damn the Man had a problem, and that was too much nostalgia trippin’ combined with too much showing off musical expertise. It was a really innocent player-level problem (everyone is excited about what they know and it’s fun to talk about favorite music videos), and I eventually found a fun solution: fake trends, fake music videos, fake band names.

It’s made the game so much more enjoyable, and it’s led to a lot of creativity and funny stumbling when someone can’t quite shake the name of a real person. Alanis Morissette becomes alternate 90s timeline Atlantis Moristand, and so on… Either way, it rebuts the idea that it matters that a particular Metallica album came out in 1988 instead of 1992. It doesn’t matter. Metallica is fiction in this world.

Remember Broccoli Chef, the beloved cartoon avatar of childhood? Of course you do!

Of course, we can’t remove a game about 90s music entirely from the real world. I mean, maybe it’s possible… but that would make Damn the Man a worldbuilding exercise, where a major feature of the game is coming up with an alternate 90s that’s totally different from our own. I do kind of want to play that game, but for Damn the Man, that level of worldbuilding wasn’t a core design goal.

It’s a precarious balance, and the answer wasn’t purely social or purely mechanical. I tried a version of the game that addressed the issue on a purely social level—Don’t do this thing!—and it just didn’t work. Players got flustered when they slipped up, and I don’t want anyone to feel ashamed because they’re excited to talk about Nickelodeon commercials. I also tried a version that addressed the issue on a purely mechanical level, but I don’t think that even exists. Roleplaying games are by their very nature social, which makes them unpredictable. A rule that says “you’re encouraged to make up fake 90s bands” doesn’t mean a player won’t ask, “Hey… does this game take place in 1994 or 1997, because that distinction may change what I want my character to wear?” It’s an interesting question. Based on your gaming group and what you know about their interests and attention, it’s the job of a GM to decide how to answer that at the table.

There’s going to be some unavoidable nostalgia trippin’ for many folks who play this game. For a lot of people (myself included), that’s a major draw! Ultimately the answer involved leaning players toward making things up on the fly while also addressing player-level issues as the GM. “We don’t have to break the scene to look up the dates of Clinton’s impeachment trial. Let’s keep the camera rolling.”

With that, allow me to share a personal favorite 90s song…

I was probably a little young to appreciate this song when it was first released, so I’m guessing I didn’t see the video until the early 2000s. But in the Damn the Man timeline, that doesn’t matter! In my alternate timeline 90s, the Bee Song was the smash hit of 1994. It sparked a tap dancing revolution. To this day, you can still see the little nicks and dents of tap shoes marking the lacquered hallways of middle schools around the world.

If you’re interested in thinking more about nostalgia, we did a Games People Play episode all about the “nostalgia game” this time last year. The podcast is currently on hiatus, but this stands as one of my favorite episodes to date.

Sneak peek of Damn The Man, Save the Music! Plus: Our week long sale!

We’ve been gearing up for our Kickstarter launch of Damn the Man, Save the Music! Our current projected launch date is June 20th and we’ll be dropping more art and text snippets in coming weeks. You can check out the game overview here!

The awesome record illustration and pattern shown above were designed by Baltimore artist Sarah Robbins, who will be doing some special poster art for the game. You can check out more of Sarah’s work here.

Our New Logo

Did you notice our brand new logo? We’re so excited to debut it! It was designed in house by Evan Rowland (our resident artist, and the creator of Noirlandia). If you’d like to read more about our logo creation process, check out our recent blog post about what the logo means to us and the process for designing it—as well as some of our initial drafts.

We’re having a game sale!

In celebration of Spring and our new logo, we’re launching a storewide sale. For the next week, get 20% off on all physical game purchases on our site. Just use the code HAPPYSPRING at checkout and the discount will be applied automatically. Happy playing!

And Now, Words of Wisdom from Lupin

This is Lupin. Lupin is Brian’s dog. Why does Lupin look so happy? Maybe it’s because his zombie apocalypse defense training is coming along so well. Hopefully you too will soon be able to implement this rigorous training program in your own homes. In the meantime, here’s some words of wisdom from Lupin:

“Don’t chase a squirrel unless you are prepared to catch it.”

With Love,

Evan, Hannah, and Brian

Creating an Art Board for Damn the Man, Save the Music!

Creating an Art Board for Damn the Man, Save the Music!

Hannah here, checking in with an update for our next game, Damn the Man, Save the Music!

After a post-Noirlandia recovery period, work on Damn the Man is moving forward. Evan was the forerunner on Noirlandia, and I’m the lead designer on DtM, so it’s my responsibility to keep the ball rolling for a late spring Kickstarter launch.

I had a clear vision in mind for the art, but I wasn’t sure how to communicate that vision to Evan, who will be doing the cover and main illustrations for the game. I decided to compile an art inspiration board to share with Evan, to help communicate my ideas. I broke my research into three categories—Color, Linework, and Emotion. Some pieces had the emotional oomph I was going for but not the vibrancy. Others had the perfect palette without the right linework. Here are my favorite images from each of the three categories:

Color

I haven’t been able to find a single piece that captures my dream palette for the game as much as this image of colorful street art in Amsterdam. I don’t know who the photographer is, so I can’t give due credit for this beautiful photo.

I love this. I love the mix of the colorful street with overcast sky. It captures this amazing feeling of color where you wouldn’t expect it—maybe even where it’s not allowed.

Linework

Linework was the trickiest image for me to narrow down. I want the illustrations to feel loose and sketchy, but without overly heavy black & white shading inside the outer lines, and that can be a hard combination to find. This image gets close, and even the color feels like a nice match.

This is another example where I can’t find an artist credit. My search took me on a broken url loop from deleted tumblrs to password-protected blog pages and back again. If anyone knows who the artist is I’d love to credit this image, and to see more of their work.

Emotion

I noticed that a lot of the person-focused art I found had people interacting in ways that felt stiff and weirdly impersonal. Sometimes the distance was intentional—a piece created to make you feel lonely—but mostly I think it’s hard to create art with multiple humans touching or laughing or whispering to each other in a believable way.

I think this image is very sweet, and it captures what I’d hope to communicate emotionally in the game.

And look, the artist even signed their work! But I can’t read the credit line! I did a reverse image search and only found two results—both leading to uncredited pages.

Sharing these images with Evan and explaining why each one feels important has been a rewarding part of the design process. It’s hard to communicate an artistic vision when you’re not the artist, and examples can be so helpful.

If you’re interested in seeing more, here’s the work-in-progress pinboard I’ve created to share with Evan as I find new pieces that inspire my vision for the game.