16 October 2018

Farewell, Greg

Last Friday I got the sad news that Greg Stafford had passed on.

My first reaction was that I’d never be able to talk to my friend again. I think that really speaks to who Greg was — not just a wildly creative person who I collaborated with on King of Dragon Pass, and who taught me so much.

My first indirect interaction with Greg was in 1976 or 1977 when I bought his board game White Bear & Red Moon and sent in the registration card. He sent a copy of his mimeographed zine, Wyrms Footnotes.

A few years later, I sent him a cult writeup for RuneQuest. As I recall, it was more concerned with game effects than mythology, which he gently pointed out in a reply.

I probably met him in person after that, at a game convention. I don’t remember the specifics, but I know that he was a designer who I could like in person, not just for his works. (Unfortunately, this wasn’t true for every game designer.)

A later convention memory is playing a game of Pendragon which he was running, remembering one of the rules better than he (the author) did. That was a lesson in how the story is the important thing.

We had a fairly extensive correspondence, back in the days of mailing letters. This was usually related to Glorantha or his games. I suspect it was mostly me asking questions. It often ended up with Greg sending something he’d written.

When Greg wrote King of Sartar, he sent me parts of it for feedback. I think this is when I conceived the idea of combining his world of Glorantha with a multi-generational game, like Pendragon. The next time I was in northern California, he let me visit the Chaosium offices and make xerox copies of any of his relevant notes.

Our correspondence and convention meetings started to discuss making this into a computer game. As we got more serious, I flew down to meet him. He picked me up at the airport, having rented a car so that he could.

We agreed on terms for the contract, which were very reasonable from my point of view. One of the most important issues was the freedom I had to make the game. I was worried about being second-guessed for getting Glorantha wrong, but Greg was totally willing to trust me with his creation.

As for the actual contract, Greg didn’t like how legalese my lawyer’s draft was, and rewrote much of it to be more clear.

During the game’s development, we had a weekly call. Greg usually had way more ideas than I could use, but always just put them out as possibilities.

The one point of approval we’d agreed on was art. We faxed illustrations for several weeks, until Greg finally told me that he no longer needed to approve them. Once again he was giving me a lot of trust, at a time when my game was going to be one of the only Glorantha products in print.

We both tried to pitch it to publishers. We went to a Computer Game Developers Conference. On the way over, Greg expressed his doubts about the quality of the coffee that would be available, so I had to drive around to find a Starbuck’s for him.

Other convention memories include how he always preferred t-shirts with a pocket, and how at one Tentacles, he shared a bottle of excellent mezcal someone had given him.
Greg (left) and me (center) at Tentacles 1999

When Greg started a new company to publish Glorantha, Greg asked me to be part of it. I tried to help him as best I could. I’m not really sure I discharged my duties all that well, though I did what I could to resolve an unpleasant dispute. At one point the company needed a loan, which I was happy to give to a friend. Greg made sure to repay it when he could.

As for running a business, I know he was always honest. He once told me that if you had to cheat on your taxes, you didn’t deserve to be running a company.

Although most of what I’ve written is about playing and making games with Greg, he was also someone I could confide in about family problems, or share a good meal with. And one visit, we were on the way somewhere and he ended up hanging out with a kid who’d gotten hurt, until the emergency responders had showed up and Greg was sure the kid was in good hands.

I haven’t been able to get to many conventions lately, and Greg had retired. He was still willing to give me some ideas for Six Ages.

Thank you Greg for all you’ve given me over the years. I literally wouldn’t have had any kind of game development career without you. Or have branched out my interests into mythology and anthropology without you having made games informed by them. And maybe wouldn’t have had a tlayuda or mezcal. Best wishes on your final trip to the Other Side.

28 October 2017

Happy 18!

Raised in a ShieldThe first public release of King of Dragon Pass was 18 years ago — 29 October 1999. Back then, it was a boxed CD.

Since then, we updated and expanded the game for iPhone and iPad, and licensed it for Android and Mac and Windows (on Steam). And GOG made the original version available for download. To celebrate its birthday, the game is 50% off on the iOS App Store for a limited time!

Six Ages logo
In 18 years, we haven’t seen anything like KoDP, so we decided to make another: Six Ages. It’s currently feature complete and being tested, for release in 2018. Making another game of this scope is a risk for an indie studio, and not many games last 18 years. But we hope we can approach KoDP’s sales (over 175000 on all platforms).

17 July 2017

A Hard Game

I don’t think that it’s a secret that King of Dragon Pass is a hard game. Version 2.0 tried to prevent death spirals, but only goes so far. And there are plenty of ways your decisions can cause you to lose. (Almost always decisions plural…)

Although we have only had metrics in the game since version 2.2 (and only for iOS), a quick look at them bears out the idea that it isn’t easy to win.

For example, of complete games, only 18% are won. Though only 17% of games are played to completion. Presumably a lot of players are restarting rather than play to a grim end. Looking at the overall picture, of games begun, only about 3% end in victory. (I haven’t checked Short vs Long games — presumably Long is played by more experienced players.)

Anecdotally, the game may be hard, but you can learn to master it. Some people complain that 2.0 is easier than the original (which I believe to be true). I think the statistics agree that the game can be mastered, because 11% of long game victories are on the Hard level. You definitely have to know what you’re doing to win playing at Hard.

Interestingly, almost as many people win at Hard as the middle difficulty, as the graph shows.
Wins, broken down by Difficulty

There’s not a lot we can do with this data, years after the game was designed. But it’s something to think about as we consider difficulty level for Six Ages, our next game.

And if you have won King of Dragon Pass, congratulations! It wasn’t easy.

19 December 2016

Where’s Kero Fin

Recently a player was having trouble sending exploration missions to Kero Fin.

We tried to make this a fairly easy hit target. (After all, an omen tells you to visit.) Probably the easiest thing is to tap or click the label, but the picture shows the extent of the map zone (with debug shading turned on).

29 October 2016

17 And Counting

The first public release of King of Dragon Pass was 17 years ago today — 29 October 1999.

Since then, we updated and expanded the game for iPhone and iPad, and licensed it for Android and Mac and Windows (on Steam). And GOG made the original version available for download. To celebrate its birthday, the game is 50% off on all platforms for a limited time!

We’d like to thank our fans for keeping the game going over the years. Selling more than 150,000 copies (on all platforms) seems pretty good for an indie game, and your continued support encourages us as we continue to work on its spiritual successor, Six Ages.

We just posted a progress update to the Six Ages development blog, and here’s a sneak preview of some of the art.

19 October 2016

Cannot say enough good things about KoDP

I just got this email today, and decided to share it (with the permission of the writer). The title of this post is the subject line.

Mr. Dunham,

Firstly, if this email is an imposition, I apologize in advance. I know you are probably very busy with Six Ages (which I am absolutely giddy to find out about!), and support for the various KoDP versions.

There is no need to reply, I just wish to share some of the joy that King of Dragon Pass has brought me as an avid gamer.

A close friend of mine was one of the original 1999 buyers, and I had watched him play a bit back then, though at the time I was more of an FPS gamer. He was completely enthralled with it for several months,and this convinced me to buy it last year when I found it in the Android store.

Let me say that my tastes have expanded considerably in the last 16 years, and my newfound appreciation for storytelling and immersiveness, have not been satisfied by many 'modern' game releases.

King of Dragon Pass has not only satisfied that desire in a unique and beautiful way, it has rekindled my long-forgotten adolescent dream to be a writer.

The richness and depth of the story woven by KoDP creates an interesting phenomenon where we as players begin to think about the characters in the game as far more complex than just game mechanic aspects. This is especially the case with the Duruluzei as I always spend far too many resources and too much time trying to get them into my tribe (no luck so far... But there's always next replay!)

At first I saw them as just a source of early food tribute to feed my growing clan. This changed pretty quickly once I saw some of the other events, and I confess it was they that inspired me to look into Glorantha's lore in depth.

I actually felt remorse for my previous playthroughs and now make every effort to befriend those valiant warriors of Humakt. Even to the extent of putting my tula at risk by lending way too many weaponthanes to their cousins to fight the swamp undead.

And here's where the genius of this game really shows: Even though I've only ever seen maybe five different Duruluz events, the writing, choices, and art create a living breathing culture in the player's mind that actually transcends the few megabytes of content presented, and we begin to think about the Ducks in the same complex ways as we think about traditional book fantasy cultures where literally thousands of words are used to fill in cultural detail.

I also very much love the intentional ambiguity and risk of the magic system, as it creates that same kind of complex mechanics-transcending thought with the gods as participants. Does giving food to a clan in famine help you with your Ernalda heroquest? I have no idea! But I am going to play like it does, and the game is just vague enough that things like this may make a difference at Sacred Time.

I own very few mobile games, and play them rarely. Not the case for KoDP, I have been playing it approximately 8-10 hours a week. It is so perfect for killing a 2 minute wait in the grocery line, or settling into a comfy chair and spending a rainy evening  trying out strange heroquest options.

The art is beautifully unusual and paints a picture of Dragon Pass that is exotic yet familiar, bronze-age yet not of this world. The music is catchy and never becomes annoying, I occasionally whistle along with it while I'm playing.

I cannot thank you and the rest of A# enough for creating such a wonderful game, and I have no words to say how fortunate I am for the Android re-release, and the extra content that has been included. It is so rare that a older, less than profitable game gets a fresh chance at a new audience, and on such an ideal platform for the pacing of gameplay (Also: nice work on the UI modifications for mobile!). It is my sincere wish that Six Ages will receive sevenfold the acclaim and distribution that King of Dragon Pass should have gotten in the first place.

I look forward to the release of Six Ages with an eager heart, thank you again for an unforgettable game experience.


[name withheld]

P.S. please feel free to use any part of this email, except my name, in any way you see fit. This game does not have enough testimonials online, and I want as many people to know about it in time for Six Ages' release as possible.

04 May 2016

Sales Outlets

Not long ago, someone asked (on Facebook) how sales of the game on the Android platform compared to iOS. I recently got some quarterly updates, so figured it was a good time to share.

The majority of copies sold are on mobile, and the bulk of those for iOS.

The second largest outlet has been GOG.com, which sells the original version.

Comparing any of these is difficult, since the game has been on iOS longer than it has been available for Android, and Steam is even more recent. GOG sometimes runs sales of bundles, so not all of those copies might have ever been launched.

Plus, some of the numbers aren’t exact, due to how we get reports. (For example, I have  no idea how many units were sold on Windows Phone, but I know it has to be insignificant.) Even the number of boxed CDs is an estimate.

But to answer the question: iOS is indeed selling better than Android (by about 2:1 over the last month).