Noirlandia August update: art art, rules rules, rinse repeat

As summer rolls along, so does our progress on Noirlandia, which we’re on target to ship to backers in October! Here’s a roundup of the behind-the-scenes work we’ve been doing over the past couple of months.

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Creating the Quickstarts

We’ve received all of the first drafts for the stretch goal quickstarts, and after a round of feedback and revisions, almost every writer has completed their final draft. The quickstarts had some tricky parameters, and it’s been great to see how everyone approached our weird project guidelines!

Here’s a snippet from the Tiraval quickstart, from Choice of Games author and editor Rebecca Slitt:

Tiraval quickstart snapshot
Tiraval quickstart snapshot

Art

One of Evan’s big July milestones was to complete another full-page illustration for the book. The following illustration is the supernatural crime scene unlocked as part of our community stretch goals!

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Supernatural crime scene by Evan Rowland

Right now, Evan is diligently completing the remaining rulebook art, then it’s on to noir portraits. We’ve received some amazing portraits from backers, and we’re excited to be working on them all! There’s a lot of art to make, but it’s going to be awesome!

Writing the Rulebook

In terms of writing, we’ve composed a new draft of the rules with an emphasis on clarity and flavor. We’ve also added example text, actual play samples, and a more careful ordering of game concepts. We’re currently working with our editor, Joshua Yearsley, who we interviewed earlier this year about the game editing process (interview here).

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Snapshot of our work on the rulebook

In a few days, when we get our final rules “okay” from Josh, it’s on to the layout phase!

Materials

In preparation for the Kickstarter, we researched all of the sources for materials going into the deluxe editions of the game. Now that we know how many deluxe editions we’ll be making (nearly 100!) we have the opportunity to find better prices and quality from bulk distributors. This looks different for each of the many components involved in putting together the deluxe edition, so we’ll be testing and sourcing materials from lots of different places, including Amazon, Make Playing Cards, and Pouch Mart.

That’s all from us for now. In the meantime, stay cool. We can’t wait to share Noirlandia with you in October!

Noir portrait submitted by a backer. :)
Noir portrait submitted by a backer. 🙂

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It’s the final countdown: 32 hours left for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter!

Thank you!

As of writing this blog post, Noirlandia has 677 backers on Kickstarter. (Whoops, make that 678!) We’re simply blown away by the support and enthusiasm our friends and the larger indie gaming community have shown for our creation.

There’s 32 hours left to go for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter, and we just got past our stretch goal to include amazing casebooks with every level that gets a physical copy of Noirlandia. Now, we’re on to our final stretch goal: at $22,500, we’ll produce these amazing custom Noirlandia playing cards for the Private Eye ($75) level and above.
660f784ae43f606ff97684330b0cfd56_originalWhile we’d love to create these playing cards, our main goal is get Noirlandia into the hands of as many people as possible. We’d deeply appreciate it if you helped us spread the word to anyone you think would like the game, as well as on your social media platforms of choice.

We can’t wait to share the final product with you, and hear all about the mysterious cities and murder mysteries you dream up. Thank you so much once again.

Best,
The Make Big Things Team

Hacking One RPG to Make Another RPG: An Interview with Evan Rowland, Designer of Noirlandia

Earlier this year, Make Big Things launched an interview series to strike conversations with indie game insiders, discussing their process, hopes, and work. For this installment of the series, we decided to sit down with one of our own: Evan Rowland. Currently, we’re running a Kickstarter for the game that Evan is the lead designer and artist for: Noirlandia. We thought this presented a great opportunity for Evan to share his insights on how to create a roleplaying game.

Brian: What inspired you to create Noirlandia?

Evan Rowland
Evan Rowland

Evan: Noirlandia was, in part, inspired by a single mechanic present in the earliest drafts of Questlandia.

This is how it worked: When creating the main characters of the game, the rules had you use some tables and randomizers to generate as many people are there were players at the table – plus one. Everybody chose their favorite, and then there’d be one extra character left behind. In Questlandia’s final ruleset, that character is just cleared away. But in the early draft, that character was killed. The death of this character would kick off your story.

We eventually decided that we didn’t want every game of Questlandia to be a murder mystery. But the seed was planted…

Much later, Hannah and I decided to simultaneously create two hacks of Questlandia for an upcoming convention. Having recently rewatched Chinatown, I felt ready to do a full-fledged murder mystery conversion of the system!

Brian: What was your biggest challenge designing Noirlandia, and how did you eventually overcome it?

Evan: From the start I wanted the game to center around the creation of a crime board – a corkboard with polaroids and newspaper clippings all pinned up and strung together with yarn.

Getting this to mesh with the rules and work properly was a long process. I started with a sort of absurd, prescriptive system: First, you find a connection, then you’ll find a clue, which then allows you to pin up a lead, which finally supplies you with an answer. You’d repeat the process four times, once for each district of the city. It was a bad system. I made bad rules.

But I playtested them anyway, and modified them, and playtested some more. I’m lucky to have many resilient and open-minded friends who were willing to try the game over and over as I iterated through rulesets.

As they stand now, I’m finally happy with the corkboard rules – they feel quick and intuitive to me. The boards actually end up looking like the tangled, paranoid boards you see in films. It’s gratifying!

A figure in a coat overlooking a valley of skeletons.
Brian: What do you hope people feel after they finish a game of Noirlandia?

Evan: I hope they feel like, somehow, all the clues and mishaps of the case have somehow, miraculously, become understandable. The best games I’ve played have taken complicated crimes and puzzled out a convincing solution. And those solutions, more often than not, have been indictments of large-scale societal structures – systems of poverty, oppression, or consolidation.

I don’t know the word for that feeling. A sort of hopeless defiance. “Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown.”

Brian: What’s something you learned about game design while creating Noirlandia?

Evan: In roleplaying games, you don’t make a closed system of rules. You have an additional input – the imagination of the people at the table. Your rules have to make space for the players to add their own ingenuity to the scene. And you can shape the space – it’s like drawing with negative space. This is a part of all the rules in Noirlandia, but in particular, I grappled with this concept when designing connections.

Connections, in the game, are when two different leads on your board are tied together with string. You learn how they’re related – for instance, maybe the ivory eagle was hidden away in Ms. Beuville’s attic. This is an ideal place for player input – human brains are fantastically talented at making connections. But the task actually gets tricky when it’s in the context of a larger mystery – what connection fits the information we’ve learned so far? What connection will progress the investigation?

So the task has to be opened up again to give the player some freedom in choosing the best connection to make. Normally, when this comes up in a game, there are 3 or 4 pairs of leads to choose from, which seems to give enough freedom to make a relevant choice, without being overwhelmed with options or too tightly constrained. Creating the right constraints for those moments took a lot of trial and error!

Noirlanida being played on a corkboard.
Noirlandia being played on a corkboard.

Brian: What advice would you have to people looking to design their own roleplaying game?

Evan: Start playing the game as soon as possible. Get a playtest scheduled immediately. Then do everything you can to make the game playable by that point. Let your playtesters know they’re trying something incomplete. Play the game, take notes, what went well, what was broken. Then immediately schedule the next playtest.

Playing the game with other people is how you’ll find out what your game is about, what makes it special, and the bizarre consequences of your rules. Play it!

Teatime With Make Big Things: Solving Mysteries in Games

How do mysteries work in games – RPGs, board games, and video games alike? And how do these different types of games use their mediums to explore and eventually answer mysteries? Does the game have to know the answer to the mystery, or can the game leave that up to the players to determine? What happens when the point of the game is the mystery itself? And why, exactly, is Clue the best game ever? (Just kidding… or are we?)

Since we’re kickstarting Noirlandia, our newest game about solving fantastical mysteries in strange cities, these were questions we wanted to discuss! Luckily, several other people wanted to chat about them with us too during our second monthly Make Big Things teatime. Watch the video of our great conversation below!

Read more

Noirlandia is live on Kickstarter!

coverThe day’s finally here: we’ve launched Noirlandia on Kickstarter!

Noirlandia is a cooperative roleplaying game for 3-4 players about a desperate investigation in a fantastic city. Players work together to build the city as well as a murder mystery, which they then have to solve together… or lose their minds trying. Watch the video below to find out more!

We’ve been working hard for months to bring Noirlandia to Kickstarter, and we couldn’t be happier with the game we’ve completed and the campaign we’ve laid out. We want to thank everyone for their support thus far and their support in the future, too. Here are a couple of the awesome rewards you can get from backing Noirlandia on Kickstarter:

  • Noirlandia as a PDF or a softcover book
  • Your headshot turned into an illustration and used in the game and a glossy 8″ x 10″ print of the illustration.
  • Physical copies of all starter mysteries, including stretch goal mysteries, in sealed, custom-designed Noirlandia envelopes.
  • And more!

Here’s what people are saying about Noirlandia:

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We’d deeply appreciate it if you helped spread the word about the Noirlandia Kickstarter with your friends and networks! If it’s helpful, below are some sample posts for Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook:

Check out Noirlandia, the newest game from my friends at Make Big Things, and back it on Kickstarter! It’s a roleplaying game about a strange city and a dark murder mystery that you have to solve before it consumes you. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hannahshaffer/noirlandia

Twitter:
Check out #Noirlandia on Kickstarter, by @MakeBigThings: a great RPG about a strange city and a dark murder mystery https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hannahshaffer/noirlandia

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The Art of Noirlandia

Noirlandia is a game about dark cities and the dark mysteries they hold. Appropriately, the art in Noirlandia is often gritty and full of blurred lines. Here’s some of the concept art and experiments being made, some of which will be fleshed out and make it into the final game:

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The art in Noirlandia focuses both on the people at the center of the mysteries and the cities where the mysteries are born. Games in Noirlandia take place in the worlds you dream up: they can be so close to our own with one big difference, or they can take place in a fantastical space opera or fantasy setting, like an island city on stilts.

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Noirlandia chapter page - crimescene

At the core of every Noirlandia game is the story of a corrupt city, and how it corrupts the city’s people. There are suspects, victims, innocent bystanders, those who want to keep the mystery quiet, and people who will do anything to solve the case.

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All of the art here are concept pieces and practices for the game’s final design. The art will be used throughout the Noirlandia book as well as leads that you will pin to the corkboard to track down clues and suspects. Want to see the final art? Then keep an eye out for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter that will be launching around April 19th!