There are times when you are sad when you're wrong, and this is one of those times. Back before the Kickstarter I said that there would be an update of the Beta rules soon after the kickstarter, and then I got to work reading e-mails, making notes, and blitzing the forums, and I don't mean the DP9 forums, but forums everywhere.
And I got feedback by the ton. Some was errata along the lines of "I think this is what you want this to mean" to the always excellent "this example is backwards" to my favorite "We play tested this and had a lot of fun, but had trouble understanding X". Some sent in full battle reports and some just commented on forum posts. There have been gut checks and statistical arguements galore and conversations both online, on public transit (random gamer encounters), and in game stores. Everyone I talk to has their own perspective on the game and what it can, and can't be.
What Heavy Gear can't be most of all is another game. Battletech, CAV, Robotech, Infinity, War Machine, Dust tactics, and a plethora of other games are bringing a new wave of gamers to the Mecha side (we have cookies!) are and we want Heavy Gear there ready to greet them. It's not to say that Heavy Gear can't share some principals with these games, because we do, but we are going to carve out a niche in the market where unit tactics matter, but where modern military strategies are given more than a passing wave and we don't get bogged down in minutiae that belongs in a RPG.
The Kickstarter was a great shot in the arm for this. More people downloaded the Beta rules in November than the previous three months combined and the numbers of downloads matched very closely the number of backers. I'd call that a good start. Best all I started getting feedback from people with no history at all in Heavy Gear, the perfect control group. Fresh eyes. The experienced players could give feedback on the nuance of the rules but the new players could tell me if those sections even got read in the first place and what they sounded like when they did. That's pretty valuable to a game designer like me. Both views are needed and you can't build a good game without good feedback from both viewpoints.
I love that I can drop a section of rules onto the forums and get feedback from people whose job it is to do the things we're describing. Getting it perfect would be well beyond the scope of the rules and land us deep in RPG territory so at every step it's been a careful balance of making a rule intent, writing some rules to match, then culling the ideas until you have the basic unit of the game, an action, described in as few words as possible.
Now every game does this, certainly. You go to the source material and find out how something works in the real world. Books, documentaries, museums, research, wikis etc but there isn't a librarian in the world worth their salt who won't check that you've gone to a primary source to get the real visceral answers.you need. But then you have to get down and write something in (preferably) fifty words or less that describe some of the most complicated military situations ever conceived of in the history of war.
The simple problem of the early Beta draft was that too many of these real world situations had worked their way into the rules and the toolbox of solutions to these situations had gotten too big. Nothing for it, the beta had to get put on a diet and a couple of things were gonna get cut. First I started with some rules like we're in Trouble and Hull down. Stuff that just duplicated things that were already happening like rerolls for defense and cover. Then whole sections started getting the chop, often for different reasons.
The whole Electronic Warfare section needed to get slimmed down and a lot of extraneous dice rolling removed. You flip a switch, the machine works. Done. The whole persistent damage section ended up with a string of tokens following models around all game slowing the whole process down. One clever tester asks where the fire extinguishers are kept(?) and there's another section completely rewritten. One commentator on the forums points out that Detection range isn't very clear and that Sensors Range is better and suddenly there's a whole day spent rewriting.
The first draft of the living rules is not just an update to the Beta rules, in some ways it is the next generation, a logical progression from rules that live in only one persons head and eventually end up on a page, to a living document that isn't just rules, but a conversation. And like a living thing the rules are going to grow and age and reach their prime and eventually have to be put back on the treadmill to get fit again. But we'll be there too, writing scenarios, campaigns, mods, house rules and all the kind of mad stuff that grows up around the rules.
Badlands Rally and Arena, I'm looking at you…
Now that the living rule book is off to layout I can take a moment to paint again and get ready for another marathon as we get closer to the Kickstarter rewards in a years time and a Quick start guide that needs to be go out with them then.
I'm also looking forward to more blogging now and in the new year.
PS Here is a Gear meme from the kickstarter to share, because Gears! Follow my crazy on twitter @davemcleod_mtl