To the Extreme and Back Again – A Crazy’s Tale by Chaos

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Left Image courtesy of marcolm at; Right Image courtesy of Master isolated images at

To people who have not had the pleasure of being overwhelmed to the point of breaking… consider yourself lucky. Very lucky. It was and is one of the most difficult time periods of my life. It’s a burden I’m still fighting to work through day by day. A good allusion might be to Atlas and holding up the world, because that is 100% what that shit feels like.

But let’s Tarantino this a second and go back to the beginning. What happened? Well, when you are you’re own boss, employee, client AND worst critic… lot’s of things can go wrong. You set deadlines for yourself, you don’t meet them because of reasons X, Y, Z and suddenly there’s ten-times the pressure you already had. It’s exponential. Because you’re looking from within and without and basically having a conversation with yourself on your own failings. It’s kind of like this:

Boss: “Hey me, you didn’t meet that deadline.”
Employee: “Yeah, I know, boss. Shit just came up. Not much I could do. I will work double-time to get that going.”
Critic: “You suck.”
Employee: “Shut up, Critic. I got this.”
Client: “Um… excuse me, but when am I going to get this product delivered?”
Boss: “ASAP, sir. We have are best on it.”
Critic: “If by best you mean the absolute worst… then yeah, you do.”
Boss: “He’s right, you know… you got to bust some serious ass and prove you aren’t full of fail, son.”
Employee: “Sigh, yes sir. I’ll get right on it.”
Client: “So… when am I getting it again?”
Boss & Employee: “Soon.”
Critic: “Never… he sucks.”
Employee: “Fuck my life.”

Now imagine having that conversation internally ALL THE FUCKING TIME. I’m not talking once in a while, or when you hit a block or a dry spell. I mean 24/7, 365 days a year. You’re working, you’re living, you’re trying to relax… doesn’t matter. That spectre is just haunting the back of your mind with that freaking recorder from Home Alone 2 and he’s laughing maniacally as he keeps clicking play over and over and over and over.

And you know it’s bullshit. It’s just you’re mind. What boss is there? What timeline? If you’re getting paid for what you’re doing by SOMEONE… then you got something to worry over. But you’re WORKING. There’s a difference. When you are doing what I do, which is just amateur design and work, it’s more a creative outlet with the pipe dream of someone going, “Hey… that’s pretty bad-ass.” You aren’t in that situation of you HAVE TO GET THIS DONE OR YOU’RE FIRED!

But that’s what it feels like. Only you’re being fired from your personal life. That’s what happened to me.


Image courtesy of stockimages at

To the few people and friends who have read my blog from the times of yore… I do a lot of different creative projects. And quite frankly, adding the blog to that overwhelmed me. I was trying to maintain a ridiculous schedule between my life, my work, my creative pursuits, my need to have decompression time and the blog. It just was too much. I started missing my own pre-set deadlines for having things done or having certain projects to a certain point. And every time I missed one, I was beating myself up. And then it got added onto the stack of holy fuck that I already had. Eventually, I shut down. And I mean completely.

I haven’t worked on ANY of my games or worlds in over a year. I totally abandoned everything: my writing, my music, my blog, my design. All of it, Kevin… all of it. The mania side of my bi-polar needed an outlet though, and that became my obsession into the tabletop miniature war game that is Warmachines and Hordes.

The upside to this, is that it’s a wonderful hobby for me, and one I can move at a snails pace and not really feel like I’ve lost much. It was definitely what I needed. But I started suffering from another problem after several months… It wasn’t challenging me.


Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at

Wait, what? Yeah, I know… I just complained about how overwhelmed I felt only to immediately commenting about the EXACT OPPOSITE. Yeah, welcome to being bi-polar and the concept of living life in extremes.

I was missing a large part of my life because I was blocking so much of it out. I was focused on only a few things… my wife, my work and Warmahordes (as the two games are called typically). It was peaceful. But it was too peaceful. I got lazy… REALLY lazy. It was so easy to just say, “I don’t need to go back to my writing, I’ll just put together some more miniatures and maybe paint, maybe not. No dramas.” Worse part was that it took me a long while to realize I’d swung so far to the other extreme. I was now unmotivated and indifferent.

So here we are, over a year later, and I’m trying to bring the extremes into balance. We’ll see how this goes. But first, I’d thought I’d share some thoughts and steps I’ve been doing to try to find that balance, in case anyone else ever gets into this kind of situation:

Being Overwhelmed

1) STOP EVERYTHING. Seriously. I don’t mean quit your job and ignore your spouse. I mean set down that massive lists of projects for a day, take a step back, and BREATHE. I can’t tell you just how important taking just a DAY to focus on the minor details of your life and letting some of the more major ones just lie for a bit. Now obviously some things you can’t do this with. You can’t just stop taking care of your child, for instance. But you get the idea. Take a breather. It’s OK TO NOT WORK EVERY HOUR OF THE DAY. More importantly it’s OK TO DO NOTHING ONCE IN A WHILE. With the absolute hell of day to day life that most of us “normal” folk deal with, we deserve an hour here or there to just close our eyes and fucking veg out.

2) Prioritize, prioritize, PRIORITIZE. Let’s face it, if you are HALF as chaotic, ADD or scatterbrained as I am, you have like twenty BAJILLION ideas and projects you want to work on. Write those fuckers down, organize them and more importantly PRIORITIZE THEM. Sometimes, its ok to put off writing that in-depth article about your gerbil’s afternoon snack because you need to get some work done on that 18 tier birdhouse you’ve been meaning to build…

3) Reach an agreement with yourself. I mean it. You have fifteen voices in your head and all are saying something different? Have a fucking committee meeting and get that shit sorted. Accept the fact that it’s ok to not have strict deadlines on EVERYTHING. Come to an agreement with yourself about number 1 and 2… Seriously. You have to be on the same page in your head and that sometimes is the absolute hardest thing in the world to do, but it’s maybe the most important. Nevermind, it IS the most important.

Lacking Motivation

1) Choose one MAYBE two things to slowly start working back into. Like for me, it’s this blog. That was my one thing. I’m still focused on my miniatures, but I’m adding the blog back in. And even though it’s been a month since my last hiatus post, here I am. And I’m not stressing. But I feel great because I’m doing something MORE. But it’s baby steps. Don’t just dive back in with both feet. That pool could be covered in fire or something… I dunno. You have to view the landscape first. Check things out, toe in, and when you feel more comfortable, step into that fucker and start swimming again.

2) Set a goal. Not a deadline… a goal. There’s a miracle waiting for you in the world of language called positivity. Words are the biggest weapon (and inspiration) we as a species possess. They can incite everything from rage to joy so powerful you can’t help but cry. George Carlin once said that the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language. What true fucking statement. Here’s how it works. Setting a deadline is making a hard point where you HAVE to be finished… or else. Else what? Doesn’t matter. That’s its connotation. It’s negative language. You have until THIS DATE to get THIS DONE. On the contrasting side, setting a GOAL is positive language. You are setting a point you WANT to achieve. You might set a time for it, but it’s not something that necessarily has any pressure to it. It’s just… I want to have this done by end of the year. Goal. Positive. You WANT to do this, not you HAVE to. That’s the power of positivity. That’s the power of positive LANGUAGE and positive THOUGHT. Use that shit.

That’s it for now. It feels good to write again. Let’s do this again some time.


A much longer hiatus than anticipated

So… it’s been over a year now since my last post. Life got really hectic. I got married, work was more intense last year than it ever has been. But more importantly, I got overwhelmed, in a big way. The kind of overwhelmed that makes you shut down and give up on all the things you enjoy. So I gave up on everything and let my mania kick in as I refocused efforts on something that has no bearing on my future.

But it’s time to get back on the horse. It’s time to get back to work. I have a lot of design ideas floating around… a lot of design for things that are in development limbo. I have some news insights to share and some new hobbies to talk about. I have my game and movie reviews to truly get going and my book’s final draft that I will be posting here; as I write it. Chapter for chapter. Whether it sucks or not, hehe. I have new photos to upload and there will be a site redesign as well as a logo in the works. Lastly, I have a final intro article to write in regards to my long ago series of articles on game design.

So here’s my belated new year’s resolution: Chaotic Invocations is back.



Just a quick update: I’ve been working in Australia for the last couple of weeks, and will be for a couple of weeks more. It’s freaking hot!!!!!

But I’m hoping to have access to internet enough to start resuming posts in the next week or so.


Some More Talk on Concept and Setting

What up interwebs, Chaos here.

So I’d thought I’d do another section on concept and then talk about my favorite design element: setting.


Something I didn’t really talk about in the last post, as I was addressing core ideologies was something that I think is quite pivotal in game design: Multiple concept design.

Multiple concept design is just that, it’s designing with multiple concepts in mind. It doesn’t stray at all from what I was talking about in my last blog, Theme vs. Concept, but it expands upon it. As noted in that blog, the concept of your game is a huge part of the equation that equals direction. If you don’t really have a concept, you’re just coming up with creative ideas. They may apply, they may not.

But when you start getting into complexity, you start having multiple concepts floating around. These concepts are like a roadmap for your design. Let’s talk about my game Runestorm for a minute in regards to this, just because I’ve already mentioned the other two in posts regarding concept.

Runestorm has several important concepts to it. The first and foremost is that it’s a tabletop RPG. That’s a biggun. The Runestorm in and of itself is a concept. Another of its core concepts is that I want it to separate combat class from non-combat class. I personally don’t like linking your skill sets to your combat type as there’s a plethora of examples of highly skilled and trained people who are also combat gods. Being multi-talented shouldn’t be exclusive, it should be the norm. Especially for a game type where the whole premise is that you are better than the average joe. That’s what level one (or starting character for games like White Wolf) is for basically every RPG out there… the distinction that you are no longer a standard dude or dudette in a town. You are something special. Bye bye, average joe; hello, hero of the ages. There has to be a check and balance to this, because no matter what your player may say, being good at EVERYTHING takes away from the experience. But more on that in another blog.

Another really big concept of the game for me is having multiple forms of magic. I never liked magic all coming from one place, so I adored DnD’s approach of divine vs arcane. But I wanted to take it a step further, so I have (yet another blog).

So you can see, there’s four concepts right there. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms game Irish and I are working on has the lowest amount of concepts yet, but that’s because we took three concepts and made it into our end goal concept from the get go. Normally I’d separate and tier multiple concepts just to keep myself in some sense of order but we went a different route with that one.

Which brings me to end goal concepts.

Whenever you are designing a game that has a lot of moving parts you have to have that direction of your end goal clearly defined. There’s a ton and a half of things that can be done in a boardgame, card game, etc that are cross purpose. The mechanics and implementations are interchangeable. Something simple like health is a good example. Arkham Horror uses a health mechanic on both its monsters and the investigators you play in the game. Magic the Gathering uses it as a win condition and for creature health. Dungeons and Dragons uses health for its players and its monsters. And of course every video game in existence where you fight or take part in battles of some kind use health.

And you can keep going with that. Primary components in Arkham and MtG are cards and tokens; randomness is pivotal in all of the aforementioned games… the lists are quite extensive. With so many concepts, ideas, mechanics and themes shared across mediums, its extremely important to have the end goal concept already detailed. Again this goes back to the whole thought process of aiding in cutting. You have to know when and where to cut stuff from your game to streamline and overall increase its fun factor. And having that end goal concept is super important to this. Not to mention to setting your mentality on the right path. If you know you’re making a card game, you will automatically screen stuff from your creative process that would be used in a tabletop game. Like dice rolling for instance.

Now, I’m not saying this is always a good thing. One of my favorite card games EVER used dice rolling: Battletech. Nothing says you CAN’T design outside the box. On the contrary, I feel you have to, to some degree. But being able to look back and go, “Yeah, that’s more a boardgame style mechanic,” can be immensely helpful. Again, it’s all about direction, and making sure you don’t tangent off down some sideroad TOO far.

Queue the segue!

One of the major concepts I think a game can have is its setting. But I never lump setting with concept. Huh? Yeah, I know, I’m being a little contradictory there.

But think about it… concepts are directional core ideas that establish the general flow of and goal of what your design is. Setting definitely does this. Only it’s way larger than a core idea. Or it should be, in my opinion. Yeah you can say, “My game is a high fantasy setting,” and that can be one of its concepts. But why would you? There is so much MORE. So I like to separate the two and have my core concepts, my themes and my setting.


There’s not a lot that can be said on what setting is, but there’s quite a bit that can be said on what it does. Obviously setting is just that; it’s the setting for what ever your creative design is. Everything has a setting in game design, from high fantasy to modern supernatural (the latest craze). Zombie apocalypse and Post apocalyptic are both common settings as is the more generic sci-fi, mystery and historical. All of these are general descriptors that tell you in a nutshell what the setting is.

But why stop there. Setting is your chance to really put pen to paper; to come up with fantastic ideas and flex that creative muscle. Mechanics and rules are hard to create where you’re not borrowing from somewhere else. There are just so many core things that HAVE to be present or it turns people off. Not because it was a bad idea, but because we’ve been groomed by the current monsters of our culture to expect certain things out of our games. And when they aren’t there, we nerdrage. Setting is the one place where you have carte blanche to just go WILD. Want mecha-zombies? Sure! Want chainsaws attached to rifles? Go for it! Want a thoroughly detailed world of magic incorporated into modern times? Yes!

The key here is to run wild but keep enough of a semblance of what you are designing so that you aren’t creating some crazed behemoth of a setting you have to reign in to get anything done with. Good setting design incorporates seamlessly with the game design. And vice versa, what separates good game design from great game design (for me at least) is the integration of setting into concept and theme. It’s a snake eating its own tail, but it’s perfectly possible and not as hard to do as it may sound.

Let’s take two brief examples: Skyrim and Arkham Horror.

There’s not a lot to say about Skyrim that hasn’t been said since its release. But for me, what stands apart from all the praise is that Skyrim’s setting, mechanics and implementations all fit. They created a language for the dragons, they gave it a history, they made it playable… yes, yes, YES. That’s great design. You get pulled into the world. All the abilities, mechanics and presentation of the game tie directly into the setting. Skyrim’s setting is almost more important than anything else. They designed the game around the setting and designed the setting around the game. And it’s a gorgeous example of what happens when that process is at the peak of its ability.

The same is true of Arkham Horror, a board game set in H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods universe. Arkham Horror again sets all its abilities mechanics and presentation to tie directly into the setting. From going insane (a hallmark of Lovecraft’s works) to almost unbeatable battles (yet another nod to his style) they captured in board game form the feel of that setting. Now in this case the setting was well and thoroughly designed long before the game, but the game incorporates that setting so seamlessly that it feels like they were made for each other. I’ve spent many an hour playing this game, and anyone else who has played can tell you: you need some hours for it!

As I briefly stated above, what is happening with both of those games is very simple: their settings are fully fleshed out. Cthonic mythos, as its usually referred to around here, has been around for, like, ninety years. And Skyrim’s design team used university professors to help with some of their design (if I’m remembering the article I read on it correctly). They had every detail worked out.

Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re an independent, solo designer like I am you don’t have ninety years or a team of professionals helping you along. Regardless, care and attention must be taken to your setting. You don’t have to do what I’ve done with say, Runestorm, where I’ve fleshed out a world with like ten thousand years of history, but you should do a brainstorm or two (or three).

Sit down one day and go ok, what exactly IS in my setting? If you’re fantasy, are you high or low fantasy? What major characters might be around? Unique monsters or locales? Just ask some base questions, flesh out some current events. You don’t have to spend months on it, but if you spend a couple of hours a week for say maybe a month, you might be pleasantly surprised by the design choices and creative ideas that get spawned simply because of some setting concept you thought of.

I’ll end this blog with an example of creating mechanic from setting:

When I was designing the world for Runestorm, I decided I wanted Elementals. But after looking at my bestiary, I realized I didn’t like it just being plain old been around since AD&D Elementals. I wanted some more options. So I decided on creating tiers of Elementals. That’s when the idea of the Primals came around. Primals are the purest embodiment of an elemental force. Whether it’s the typical air and water types or the less typical blood and lightning. I wanted them to be powerful. But I realized that as I was designing these Primals, that I couldn’t use them too frequently. They needed to manifest only when the purity of their element allowed them to gain the power to breach the veil, a mystical barrier between the real world and theirs.

This led me to thinking that their should be almost godlike beings that exist in the most pure form of the elements themselves: air, earth, water and fire. These would eventually become known (tentatively) as Grand Primals. The lesser beings would become Primals and finally there would be the lowest tier, Elementals. But this took away from Elementals entirely because while on paper an Elemental and a Primal were identical, it felt like I’d changed the identity. So I gave Elementals something special over Primals: sentience.

The Grand Primals possess this as well, but the incarnations of the elements, Primals, are just that… primal. They don’t think or feel, they just exist in the form of their element. A Blood Primal will seek destruction, a lightning one will spawn lightning storms, an ice one might bring a cold snap… they are slaves to their primal instincts. So even though they are more powerful, they are uncontrollable. They just are. Like a force of nature.

By doing this I now had three distinct tiers and flavors of my elementals. The culmination of which lead me to the creation of one of my class concepts: Oathbound.

Because I had given sentience to my Elementals, it made me think of what they might want to do. I decided on the thing that really keeps them apart is that unlike Primals they don’t have the power to manifest in the real by themselves. They must be summoned or piggy back on a Primal’s manifestation. So taking a nod from other settings, I decided that they could not only be summoned, but could form pacts with those who summon them in exchange for power. These people are known as Oathbound.

The Elementals’ goal is simple: experience the real. And by granting their power to a “host” they can experience the real through that host. It’s usually benign, other than the characteristics of the elemental tend to blend into that of the hosts. Fire elementals, for example, tend to make their pact bearers more aggressive and hot-tempered for instance. There are also tell-tale signs based on how long the pact has been around: tinting of the skin, changing of eye color, etc. The problem that can arise for the Oathbound is a matter of will: if you make a pact with an elemental whose will is far greater than yours, over time it can subsume your identity. This isn’t an intentional thing, the elemental isn’t trying to eat your soul or anything; its just a side-effect. Regardless, if the elemental succeeds, you cease to be and your body basically becomes a walking vessel for the elemental. Which is why Oathbound aren’t everywhere. You have to have the strength of will to not be consumed by the very thing you are trying to work with.

I really liked the feel of one of the magic types running around was people who had formed pacts with elementals. And so I made two classes to incorporate that feel. One invokes the elemental directly, like a companion, and uses the magical power of the elemental as powerful spells and effects. I called these Summoners. The other invokes the elemental indirectly, instead channeling the power through powerful imbuements to themselves and their equipment. These were dubbed Channellers.

Names not withstanding (they are all tentative at the moment), I adore the feel and implementation of these classes. It ties in wonderfully with my world and makes for great flavor for the class backstories. It also set forth the tone for my class design: a singular power backstory with two classes each. I currently have five power backstories for a total of ten classes.

But more importantly, I stumbled upon the entire concept by working on my setting.

See you next blog, where I address the last of my intro blogs to design and discuss the two A’s: Accessible and Addictive.


Theme vs Concept

*Note: Yay I’m back and with a working computer!

Honeymoon was awesome. Lazy, but awesome. Of course though right before we left (like literally, 6 hours before we left, right before bedtime) my laptop crashed and was essentially unusable. So that kind of sucked. But I’m home now, honeymoon is over, computers are working and its back to writing blogs! So without further ado, here we go!

One of the first things I did wrong when I started designing was confusing the ideologies of Theme and Concept. For a little while they were interchangeable for me and I kind of lumped them together into one big mass of thoughts.

It took me a number of years before I finally got serious enough about game design to really look at what these two words meant and how the impacted my decisions when it came to design. As usual when I’m defining terms, I’ll start with the basics and google the definitions. But first let’s address the proper terminology.

When I say “theme” in regards to design, I’m short-handing it (verbally and otherwise) from “design theme”. This is an actual term and it differs GREATLY from plain old theme. And when I use the term “concept”, I’m referring to… well concept. There is a concept design and a design concept but I don’t use those terms (more on that later). Depending on who you ask they’re interchangeable as it’s obviously just the reversal of word order, but in my amateur opinion, they envelop two completely different things.

However, the base definitions are great starting points, so first let’s define theme and concept and then address their design based breathren.

Let’s jump in now, shall we?


 : the main subject that is being discussed or described in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.
 : a particular subject or issue that is discussed often or repeatedly
 : the particular subject or idea on which the style of something (such as a party or room) is based

Courtesy of

So if we look at the three different definitions of theme, we find a general underlying idea that the theme is the main focus of a work. Creative or otherwise. Some quick examples would be a book having the theme of redemption or a movie having the theme of good triumphing over evil. They are generic ideas that are reinforced throughout the work and give something akin to a spine to that work.

Every creative work has a theme. I suppose you COULD argue that, but for the sake of not delving into devil’s advocate territory, let’s just stick with that blanket statement. This is where the idea of design theme comes into play.

If we shift gears to we have the actual term design theme:

Design Theme
: Recurrent, underlying objective that ensures the overall consistency in the design of a family of products, their packaging, and/or the advertising campaign.

I’m sure the more areas you look, the more you’re going to find, but as I use these definitions just as quick jumping off points, let’s stop there. I’m too lazy to look past the first page of results in google anyways😉

The important thing to note here is that the definitions are basically the same, though the design theme definition is a bit more specific. The design theme is the subject that ENSURES consistency, whereas theme in general is just the main subject.

This distinction matters a lot in game design and it’s why I initially was confusing concept with theme. I was always under the impression that the concept of something was its overall idea or subject matter; basically what it dealt with. I thought a theme was the same thing.

Theme and Concept are the one-two punch combination that gets you started in the right direction for game design. When you decide on a theme, what you are doing is coming up with the core idea that you want the entirety of the design to sync up with. Let’s take my Dragon CCG as an example:

The game is a two player dueling collectible card game set in a high fantasy setting where you take the role of a hero who is trying to defend his kingdom from the onslaught of a terrible dragon.

So what’s the theme? Its heroes defending their home against a powerful enemy. Notice that I didn’t say high fantasy or dragon in that statement; because that’s not the theme. That’s the design and the setting, but the theme is much more simplistic. It’s heroes vs enemy. It’s important for me to keep that in mind when I design the game because that theme has to carry the games mechanics and rules so that it doesn’t lose that feel. If I create a Dragon CCG that feels like a monster brawl, then I’ve strayed from my theme.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you read my intro to the Dragon CCG, it was formerly a Godzilla CCG. And the theme of that was initially a giant monster stomping through cities on his way to fight another giant monster. Dumbed down it was a monster brawl game. You might also note that I used the word theme quite liberally to refer to a couple of different things. I take no responsibility for my amateur use of the word showing!
But ANYWAYS… That theme didn’t fit with the mechanics and rules I’d designed. Nor did it fit with the setting (which I sometimes stupidly use theme to refer to, old habits and all). I could have scrapped the game entirely and started over and try to stick to my theme better, but it made more sense in this case to shift the theme to something that fit what I had design, then tweak that design to the new theme.


: an idea of what something is or how it works

Courtesy of

Concept is an annoying word for me. It’s annoying because I want to use it ALL the time to refer to stuff it may or may not ACTUALLY refer too.


If we look at the book definition though, it’s pretty clear cut: it’s a specific idea. Think of it like a thesis statement for those damn persuasive essays you had to write in school. If someone says, “Hey, cool game, what is it?” Your short answer is the concept. Or at least my short answer is. I’d answer that question by saying, “Oh it’s a collectible card game based on dragons.”

Bingo. That’s the concept. More specifically it’s a collectible card game. Or trading card game, if you prefer.

See how DRASTICALLY that differs from what my theme is? The concept is the base description of what it is you’re doing. In web design, a concept is just that: a base idea of what you want that website to look like. Now when you do a quick layout of what you want the website to look like… boom, it’s now a design concept. Mockups are often put in this category. Concept art also uses this model. You do some roughs of an idea, develop the roughs, pick one, redo it so it looks cool, etc. There’s a generic process but ultimately those first few steps are the design concept. When you see a storyboard for a film, you’re looking at a design concept.

So what’s the design concept of a card game? Hell for that matter, what’s the concept design of a card game? Is there one? Speaking of which, remember when I said I view those as two different things? Here’s why:

A design concept for me is a specific term that basically means mockup. If I was to work for an auto manufacturer and they asked me for a design concept of the next great car, they’d get a mockup of that car. Just like the comments on website design earlier. For my own peace of mind, I tend to just use the terms layout and mockup. My CCG design concepts are the card layout and the game layout. So I just call them that. Feel free to correct me if I’m doing some egregious sin here.

So what’s concept design? I read somewhere a long time ago that it’s basically the job that creates concepts. If you are the one making the concepts to solve problems in business and such, you’re involved in concept design. It’s like a job title. Let’s take the car example again. If the same company said “hey, we have a problem with our fuel efficiency and we need a solution,” I would then be involved with concept design; trying to come up with a concept that fixes the problem.

Anyways, as you probably have figured out by now, theme vs concept is a pretty substantial and simple difference. All the more reason I felt like a moron for confusing the two for so long. Fortunately I don’t’ tend to talk to people with design degrees so no one’s called me out on my mistakes yet.


Theme and concept for me are a chicken or the egg conundrum. I don’t think you really have to start with one or the other. Hell, I’ve started with mechanics before and built a theme and concept around that! But as I’ve designed more and more, I do really feel like the “proper” way is to sit down and develop a theme and concept first. It just helps with direction and coherency. And ultimately I think that’s what they do for your design. Your theme is the coherency and your concept is the direction. This was a very important step in my design with my buddy Irish in regards to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms board game.

The first thing we did was establish our concept: we wanted a resource management based, strategic, war board game. The theme was a bit more interesting a situation because we already had a setting and a concept. The theme had to come from both of those. What ended up happening was something interesting:

Our theme was our concept.

Wait, what? Yup, that’s right. They were one and the same. But think about it, that kind of makes sense. Sometimes that’s going to happen. Hell oftentimes it probably happens. Our overall theme in this game is resource management based, strategic war. There’s not really anything else we can put there. We can dumb it down to risk-style board game, but we REALLY wanted resource management to be a MAJOR cohesive theme.

So I guess you could say resource management is our theme, and strategic war board game is our concept, but now you start to see why I blur the lines a lot.

Either way, deciding on the concept and the theme allowed us to start making mechanics that made sense. Because let’s face it, creating is capital F fun. And you can get carried away, making tons of mechanics and rules and all kinds of crazy stuff that you just come up with on a whim or a creative binge. And it’s all amazing. All of it. Yes, ALL. No, don’t you argue. All of it, Kevin. All of it.

But you can’t put everything you come up with into your game. It would make less sense then an acid tripping monkey performing sign language. I don’t know where that came from, ignore that.
Anyways, you can’t do it. You have to cut. A lot. Keep those ideas! You never know when they will fit elsewhere, but you HAVE. TO. CUT.

And that’s where having a pre-established theme and concept help a lot. Setting too. All of these things are guidelines as to what you can/should keep or not.

Let’s see, this is a war game, so we aren’t going to be concerned with the murder mystery mechanic. Gone.

Resource management… ok we aren’t concerned about collecting card sets. We are managing resources, not collecting cards. Gone.

Three kingdoms era setting… ok, ok no bazooka units… goddammit.

See how this works? Now I’ll get into setting in a different blog post, but you get the idea. Anything that helps you maintain coherency and direction is your friend. Anything that gives you a jumping off point is your friend. Put the two together and you get theme and concept, your best buddies when starting game design.

Just don’t do what I did and use them interchangeably!


A brief hiatus for marriage bliss!

So this week was pretty light on content with only a movie review. The reason for that is that I just recently got married!


Yup, tied the knot to my darling, and we’ve been spending the last week getting things in order before we head out on our honeymoon tomorrow.

Needless to say, I’ll be writing on my honeymoon but with no internet, so I’ll probably be a bit blog heavy when I get back on Nov 25th.

Look for a couple of game reviews, retro style, my previously mentioned blogs on Theme vs Concept and on the 2 A’s, Accessible and Addictive. I might squeeze in a blog regarding my Dragon CCG as well.

Thanks for reading and see you after the honeymoon!


Thor: The Dark World

First Critic-al Thinking review! Tis a good day! And now the disclaimer:

I am in no way shape or formed trained in critique nor do I really know what I’m talking about. I’m just speaking from my personal views and feelings. Because let’s face it… I’m the type of guy who looks for movies on Rotten Tomatoes that got terrible critic reviews, but the fans loved it.


In case you haven’t heard, Thor: The Dark World had a smashing weekend pulling something like $86 million on opening weekend. That’s not a bad haul eh? But is it just Avengers carry-over, or does Thor 2 really hold a torch of its own. Let’s have a look, eh?

Teaser Synopsis – No Spoilers

So in the wake of Avengers, it seems that there’s a bit more to the Thor storyline then just hunting Loki down. Apparently, Thor’s been out and about trying to bring peace to the nine realms in the wake of the bifrost getting blown to smithereens. And Midgard, i.e. Earth, was on that list. At the top of it as it would appear. But Thor has prevailed, Loki is incarcerated and the nine realms are at peace. At least until an ancient darkness wakens from its failure-induced slumber to track down its ancient weapon of INCREDIBLE power and attempt to use it to snuff out all light and life in the multiverse.

Just another day in the life of a marvel superhero.

Along the way we get some insight and looks into the characters that are the Thor movie universe. Some good, some bad and some downright obnoxious. So let’s jump right in with the goodness (and there’s a lot) before I rant on what went wrong. Last chance, spoilers below!!

Epic Movie is Epic

Ok, so first things first. Let’s talk about Loki. Cuz I mean, come on, it’s freaking LOKI. Tom Hiddleston has done for Loki what Heath Ledger did for the Joker. He’s took his character and ran with it. Usain Bolt style. I have zero negative things to say about Mr. Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki. It’s absolutely fantastic. Second on the list to get out of the way: What a fucking gorgeous cast! Sif, Jane, Thor, Loki, Frigga… hell even Anthony Hopkins keeps his old, classy swagger. I’m personally in the camp of people who feels that Jaimie Alexander (Sif) is a scene stealer. That woman oozes badassery from every step. I saw a rumor on yahoo I think about her being looked at to do a Wonder Woman role. HELLZ YEAH!

So fanboy gushing aside, this movie has a lot to be proud of. The CG work is fantastic, the acting is pretty top notch, there’s some great easter eggs for the geeks and nerds out there (I’m looking at you Chris O’Dowd) AND manages to have a cool plot with great action and comedic timing. I’m not going to go in-depth here, because this isn’t a plot synopsis, this is a review, so I’m just going to touch on a few scenes that really stood out to me and in my opinion made the movie. In no particular order:



Frigga gets some pretty awesome screen time in this movie, which is cool. I love it when they show bad-ass women doing bad-ass things. Thor 2 also barely passes the Bechdel test, a rarity these days. The Bechdel test is simply when a movie has more than one female actress who has conversation with another female actress and it isn’t about men. Frigga and Jane Foster have some dialogue together and Frigga gives her life to protect Jane when the Dark Elves first invade Asgard, looking for the Aether. It’s a very powerful scene, especially when Thor arrives just a moment too late to save his mother. The funeral scene is one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve seen in cinema in a long, long time. Most everyone I went with had at least a little dust in the eye during that scene. There was several comments and scenes that really related just how important Frigga was. From how much Loki still loved her deeply as his “mother” to how she influenced Odin and made him a better king. It really was great stuff and I truly believe her character was one of the best and most thought out in the movie.

Loki and Thor


Let’s face it, anytime we get to see goldilocks with psycho mantis on screen together, it’s a great freaking day. And there was plenty to inspire that here. Once Thor’s mother dies, he realizes that to spare more Asgardian lives he has to take the fight away from Asgard. So he hatches a plot to escape Asgard with Jane Foster and confront Malakith himself. The only hiccup is that he needs Loki to do it. The warrior’s three do a great job of aiding in the springing of Loki, and Heimdall again is in on the action. Once Loki is freed, there is a scene between him and Thor as they are walking down a hallway, Thor all paranoid and Loki like a kid in a candy store. He goes through several illusions as he taunts and jests with his “brother” including copying Captain America in a hilarious parody of the character. It’s truly one of the highlights of the film. Thor has lost all his trust in his brother, something that obviously pains him. And when they do escape, thanks to Loki’s help, they have a brief argument regarding the death of their mother after which Thor admits, “I wish I could trust you”. The delivery of that line and the look on Thor’s face is pure acting gold. Followed by the amazing delivery of “Trust my rage” from a whispering Loki. The dynamic of the two of them together is magical and I can only hope we have such forays in the future.

The Supporting Cast


When you have powerhouses like Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston mastering the characters of Thor and Loki, it would be understandable if the supporting cast was overshadowed. I can’t tell you how pleased to say they are not. Well, not all of them. Four in specific really helped make this movie feel fantastic to me. I’ve already touched on Frigga, who has one of the top three scenes in the movie, so let me give some praise to the others.

Dr. Erik Selvig went from being a brilliant, calm man in Thor, to an insane genius in the Avengers to a… well a TRULY insane genius in Thor 2. The portrayal of the character in his insanity yet clarity is masterfully done by Stellan Skarsgård. He absolutely steals the scene a couple of times in the movie by embracing the insanity of his character, much like Tom Hiddleston does with Loki.

Jaimie Alexander is a goddess. Pure and simple. Whenever I see her onscreen as Sif I have the same two questions: why don’t we get more of her and why is Thor going after Jane? I’ll touch more on that later, but as mentioned above I think Jaimie Alexander has a fantastic portrayal of a confident, warrior woman. Between her and Frigga you just get a needed display of female kickassery, something that Jane Foster just doesn’t provide. In a testosterone filled muscle fest like Thor, it was great to have Sif be able to step up and just be the embodiment of a fierce warrior, right alongside Thor. I know why they didn’t do this, but I really wish we could have scene her use her sword-staff. I saw that thing and had a total nerdgasm.

Lastly, this is just a personal shout out. I ADORE this guy. Idris Elba, otherwise known as Heimdall in the movie. Mr. Elba is one of those actors that can just run away with a scene totally on accident, much like Mark Ruffalo did in the Avengers. And he does so here too. I fell in love with this guy when I saw him in Losers. And in Prometheus he was one of the only three likable characters in the whole movie, the other two being his co-pilots. He was just downright badass in Pacific Rim and even though he only gets a little bit of screentime in Thor 2, when he does you’re just like hell yeah. From his voice to his presence, it’s just fantastic. The scene where Heimdall is talking about the convergence and when Thor initially hatches the plot with him to betray Odin’s orders are fantastic. Mr. Elba brings a whole new level to the character, emotionally speaking, in both of those scenes. That’s something difficult to do as the other times we had seen Heimdall, he was a stalwart, quiet guardian.

The Story

There’s a few key aspects of the story that I truly enjoyed.

I loved that Thor inadvertently brings about the death of his mother because of Jane. It’s a subtle plot nuance that really dials in the darkness of the tone this time around. It shows the price of action on a completely different scale. Previously it was all about war. But this cost came out of love. Injecting that little bit of sorrow-filled irony really added to the story for me.

The descent of Loki was another brilliant piece. Watching him at war with his self was intense, especially the last time he and his mother talked. How much rage must Loki have been filled with to know the last words he said to Frigga were “You are not [my mother]”? You could see clearly that it pained him to even say it, even as he warred internally to try to separate himself from a family lost to him. You see glimpses of hope for Loki amidst his megalomaniacal mind, such as when he saves both Thor and Jane from death. I was pleased to know that the predictable faking of his death was indeed truth, and grinned like an idiot to see him sitting upon the throne of Asgard.

The overall story was pretty well done I feel. A basic premise, but one well executed with a lot of little bits between to bolster and strengthen the relatively simple conflict.

Where Thor 2 Falls Short


Let’s address the elephant in the room:

I hate, I hate, I HATE PETER PAN… wait sorry, wrong movie… JANE FOSTER!

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Natalie Portman does a GREAT job of playing the character as it was given to her. I just think they TOTALLY dropped the ball on what could have been a moving, interesting, intense character that was worthy of Thor’s affections. Instead we get a cute, bumbling, socially-inept genius that is endearing, but poses a very powerful question: Why on Asgard would Thor pick HER over Sif?

Let’s come to grips with two things here: Jane Foster and Sif are both strong, attractive, powerful women. One as a scholar, the other a warrior. Both obviously mean a great deal to Thor. Where I lose it is when you think about all the battles and such that Thor has gone through with Sif, you’d think they’d have built up some sort of deep connection. And you get glimpses of that. Glimpses that Sif holds a love for him that she has yet to bring to bear because of his lack of indication that he holds the same. And I do get it to a degree… Jane was the one who showed him the error of his ways, so to speak. It was protecting her that gave him a new purpose in life other than to be a spoiled brat turned warrior-of-the-ages seeking glory. That’s powerful. But the… silliness of Jane’s character loses a lot of that weight for me. In the comic books, she was a teacher. I think if that was the case here, I’d swallow the pill more willingly. If she was someone who was making a difference in the lives of other people directly, something Thor could witness and latch onto, I’d be ok with it. But as it stands now, I just have to think in my head that Thor sees Sif as a sister-comrade and that’s why he hasn’t taken her up on the BLATANT offer she’s given him.

Ok… now that that’s out of my system. I have two other major complaints. One is the pacing of the movie and the other is the villain of the movie.

As to the pacing, in GENERAL I feel it was pretty good. But it dropped the ball a few times. The intro was unnecessary. All that could have been explained in the library when they were researching the Aether. A better intro might have been a brief fill-in of what’s gone on in the multiverse up to this point. Not only was the intro unnecessary but it was LONG. And that’s a shame because the movie, in today’s standards, was SHORT. Cut out that fat and gives us some more meat! There were half a dozen or more scenes that BEGGED to have just a few more precious minutes of interaction that just didn’t get it. The actions scenes were fantastic, but character development man! Give me more! MAOR!

Thor is a unique property in that the initial film truly felt like a filler movie that was just establishing some characters and relationships. But it did that WELL. Why? Because now you bloody care about those characters! Give me less Darcy and intern and give me more Thor and Loki! More Sif! More Odin and Frigga! More Frigga and Jane even! MORE HEIMDALL!!! He finally gets a badass action scene and he uses shortswords? Give that fucker his broadsword and let him lay waste for a bit! There are so many characters in the Thor universe that we care about, yet I feel the movie just didn’t give them enough time. There was enough to tell the story, but not enough to satisfy the need that story generated.

And that brings me to the villain: Malakith. Speaking of characters you care about, here’s one that you don’t give a flying baheezafuck (don’t ask) about. Malakith ISN’T the villain of Thor 2. LOKI is. And that’s ok, I don’t have a problem with that, I really don’t. But that’s because I’ve seen all the other movies, I know Thor’s comic culture to a certain degree and I had no problems with Malakith taking backseat to the stars of the show. But not everybody is that informed. And I think that was gamble. He was a one-dimensional cookie-cutter minion turned mob-boss. Hell, his lieutenant had more depth than he did. I really think the writing team failed in making anyone care at all about Malakith other than as a plot device. Again, there could have been a lot more done here, but oh well, at least we got plenty of Loki action!

As a final note… screw whoever decided to give more onscreen time to Darcy (not the actress the character)… god what an annoying waste.

Wrap-Up, otherwise known as TL;DR


On a scale of 1-10, here’s my wrap-up on Thor: The Dark World

Story: 6

I really think the story was overall pretty good with just a few things that could have been done differently to make it just a bit meatier.

Cinematography: 8

There are some FANTASTIC scenes in this movie. And even the brief glimpses we get of the other realms throughout the film give you an idea of what they embody (which is accurate to norse mythos as well as the comic if I remember correctly). Can’t say enough good things about the camerawork, the CG or the overall design of the film. Just masterful and beautiful all day long.

Soundtrack: 7

I don’t remember the soundtrack. So why am I giving it an seven? Because a great soundtrack pulls you into the scenes of the movie without overshadowing the movie. And that’s what the soundtrack did here. There was no memoral Avenger’s theme, but the soundtrack helped pull me into the world presented onscreen without making me stop watching and go “Hey that’s awesome!” However, because I didn’t do that, I can’t rightfully give it higher than the seven I did, and that is actually probably being a tad generous. I’ll have to watch it again (twist my arm).

Acting: 10

The acting in this film is SUPERB. End of story. Even the ever-annoying Darcy was well-acted… just really freaking annoying. Fantastic cast.

Enjoyment Factor: 9

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I was a little scared with the slow-paced intro, but once the movie got going, I was hooked from start to finish. I’d not only see it again, I’d see it again in THEATER.

Overall: 8

Another solid Marvel entry. Enough loose-ends to bring you back for more. I swear, Marvel/Disney has found the key to my wallet and I’m smiling the whole time they are taking my money. I’d say this one was much better than the first movie, and if you were concerned about the sequel because of Thor 1, don’t be. It’s a fun watch.

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