A key element of modern games is often the heist, caper, or in the case of cyberpunk-esque games, the „run“. The common part here is that the target is usually a complicated and large system, full of people, computers, security systems and other components.
In movies and books, we follow the crew through their preparations and then see them pull off the perfect caper, where each element more or less seamlessly enables the next part, until it all comes together in a showdown and ends with the heroes walking (or running?) off with their ill-gotten gains.
There are quite a lot of attempts to map this into game mechanics, and here is my own one:
It introduces two concepts:
the network map of the entity that is to be robbed
Lets start with the network map. It could look something like this:
The goal is to escape with the loot from the vault. Except that as long as there is someone or something to call reinforcements, things will go bad. And if the vault door isn’t opened, they can’t get to their loot in the first place.
Researching this network is the usual preparation phase for the players, where they can dig for information, ask around, bribe people, steal floorplans, and so on. It might even be that you, as the DM, don’t even have the network map prepared but you create it with your players as you play along.
In the end, the map shows the possible choke points that need to be taken out, as well as the objectives that need to be met. Either directly, or indirectly.
And that is where the second core idea comes into play: Cascades. I’m stealing those from the boardgame hit Pandemic. Disease occurrences are marked by adding little cubes to a city. Whenever there are three or more cubes of the same type in one city, there is a virulent outbreak. That means that every neighbouring city also receives a cube. If that tips them over the 2‑cube-is-safe limit, there is an outbreak too.
Let’s apply the same idea here, but with a lower limit: If there are two incidents at one place, it triggers the cascade. So if Joe the Guard does not get his coffee from the Cantina AND the toilet is clogged, he’ll fail at his job (calling the reinforcments in case he sees anything). And that means that the „Reinforcements“ node gets its first little cube.
A similar effect could be achieved by simply taking Joe out (kidnapping, poisoning or bribery for example), but that might not always be possible — and it won’t create a cube at Reinforcements.
So, the planning and execution phase means that the crew selects points in the network, take them out and hopefully create cascades that take out adjacent points for them.
This isn’t playtested, but I think it should be fun to run things this way!
I have had 3D printers in the house since 2015. But it took 5 years and a lot of frustration until I finally got to a setup where I am happy with what I am doing.
It began with a positively tiny M3D Micro — a very basic, consumer-grade 3D printer with a proprietary slicing software, no heated build bed, and not a lot of power. Especially the very small print area coupled with no heated bed made it a device I never really got a lot of use out of.
Eventually I upgraded to a CR-10S, then later tried to replace that with an Artillery Sidewinder, but the gist is: I love 3D printing, but not tinkering with 3D printers. And most, if not all of the <1000 Euro devices are in the end things you need to tinker with. Replacing the fan shrouds, choosing the correct hot ends and nozzles, upgrading the mechanics, the software, writing your own configuration files and measuring e‑steps… it is the equivalent of owning a vintage car, so you can get your hands greasy.
Which is not me, so after the printer again ate all the filament and had the nozzle or extruder clogged, I gave all of the stuff away to a local maker space and was ready to give up on the hobby completely.
Based on the insight that there are printers made for me though, I finally caved and spent way more money than I initially intended for this hobby and bought an Ultimaker 3, quickly followed by an Anycubic Photon Mono SE. As a result, this is my setup:
The sideboard is a workbench-on-wheels, so I can move it around in a pinch. It houses all the accessories for the printers: Extra filament, resins, isopropanol for cleaning resin prints, breathing mask, nitrile gloves, extra paper towel rolls, small tools, and so on.
On top of the workbench, you find the Ultimaker 3 (UM3), sitting on a thick countertop mounted on a rotating swivel. I added that because the filament spools are attached to the back of the printer, which is also where the feeding mechanism is. Getting to those is a bit hard, so having it easily swivel is a pretty handy thing. The heavy countertop helps to minimize vibrations spilling over onto the print.
The UM3 is a Fused Filament Fabrication printer that takes spools of plastic filament, forces it into a hot metal tube where it melts and then through a fine nozzle drawing a line. Through an assortment of gantries and motors, it can draw these lines into basically any shape, lowering the print bed gradually to build up a true 3D model. The good thing with the UM3 is that it is designed for commercial use. That means that it comes with a good workflow for easy handling, and has parts that can be swapped out without any hassle. It „just works“. And when I want a finer or bigger nozzle, to have more details or more speed, I can swap those out in a few seconds without any special tools.
I also added a hood on top of it, to keep the warm air inside, which tends to make things a bit more reliable. But that is it really for modifications — otherwise, this is a stock printer. And I must say: For functional parts or bigger things, this is a very good machine, and I am very happy with it.
Next to the Ultimaker is a small air filter. I run that whenever I am printing with resin or filaments that emit obnoxious fumes. It has a VOC (volatile organic compounds) filter too, for extra safety.
Next to that is the Photon Mono SE, a masked stereolithography, or MSLA printer. It works by shining UV light through an LCD screen onto the transparent vat filled with resin. The screen lets only parts of the UV light through, and where the resin is exposed to it, it hardens. Then the build platform is raised a bit, liquid resin flows into the gap, and the process resumes until a threedimensional object appears from the toxic goo.
The upside with these printers is that they are insanely detailed. The downside is that their build volume tends to be rather small. The other upside though is that they are mechanically dead simple: Just a platform that moves up and down. That means that the main pricing factor is the LCD screen that blocks the UV light. As a result, even the cheap versions of these printers can be pretty good. You pay more if they are larger, faster, or have a better resolution (but keep in mind that the cheapest MSLA printer will probably blow the most expensive FFF printer out of the water in terms of resolution!)
The Mono SE that I have is a mid-priced one. It has a higher resolution and is a lot faster than the cheaper options. Also, the housing is made of metal, and that kinda appealed to me.
The printer and the Wash&Cure station next to it sits on a silicone mat, to make resin cleanup a bit easier. Because trust me: That stuff is nasty, and you do not want it on your skin, nor in your eyeballs or lungs! It is thankfully pretty easy to protect yourself though: Wear nitrile gloves and a respirator, or at least a paper mask plus eye protection in case of splashes (I already wear glasses anyway, because I have bad eyesight). While the printer runs, ensure you have good ventilation. I added a 4″ hose to the back of the printer and use that to draw the fumes out of the flat, which works surprisingly well. The active air filter is just an extra precaution on my end.
Functionally, the printer is otherwise stock too — although I added a few accessories:
a lid for the resin vat, so I don’t need to always put the resin back into the bottle between prints
a small plastic gizmo that allows me to hang the build plate over the vat at an angle, so the remaining resin can safely drip back onto the vat
The last thing on the table is the Wash & Cure station. Once the prints are done, I’ll pop them into a wire basket and drop that into a bucket of isopropanol. The bucket has a magnetic impeller at the bottom, and the W&C station has a motor that makes it spin, thus agitating the isopropanol and giving the prints a good rinse, washing off all remaining liquid resin. Once done, I dry the prints and replace the bin with a rotating plate on the W&C station. The prints get put onto that, a UV safe hood on and then the station slowly rotates the plate while exposing the prints to more UV light. That „cures“ the prints, so they don’t feel sticky anymore and are properly hardened. The results are frankly astounding:
At the side of the workbench is a holder for a roll of lint-free paper towels, to clean up messes and such.
Overall, I am quite happy with the current setup. Everything works fine, and I can start FFF prints from my desk (the UM3 has wifi). For MSLA prints, I still handle a USB stick, but that is actually fine for me, as I need to go there anyway to pour resin, prep the surface with paper towels, etc.
On the computer side, I use the following resources:
tinkercad.com and Microsofts 3D builder for creating or modifying models
For the UM3, I prepare the prints with Ultimaker Cura (which can read the printers settings and inserted filaments through the network and also sends the print jobs directly to the printer)
For the Mono SE I am still figuring things out, so I am switching between the Photon Workshop that came with the printer and Lychee slicer. The latter seems nicer, but won’t work without registering and connecting to their cloud on every use.
There’s probably oodles of articles like this by now, but this is mine.
So, since roughly march last year, I’ve worked exclusively from home. At the start, I simply plonked down the company laptop on the dinner table, but then gradually reworked and upgraded the setup.
This is how it looks today:
Let’s break things down bit by bit, and explain the history and purpose of the individual parts.
The monitor is an ASUS 34″ gaming monitor that I bought when I finally retired my old All-in-One deskop PC and got a plain midi-tower unit instead. That PC is fit for gaming, and used to sit on top of the desk, behind the monitor. Alas, the company laptop wants to be used daily, so I needed a permanent space for it. That means that now the PC is strapped to the side of the desk.
The desk itself is a motorized standing desk. As you can see, it is pretty deep, but only 80cm wide. It is that deep because by now it is old enough to buy alcohol in the States. And back in 2000, desks had to fit ginormous CRT monitors. The small width is due to the fact that it originally was part of a combination next to a much larger desk. When I was still working in Hamburg, it accompanied me through several offices (all part of the same company group), and when I moved to Berlin in 2015, they let me take it to my new home. Having it in the living room is ok, as it doesn’t take up too much space, and the cats appreciate its placement close to the window.
When I sit, I sit on an IKEA stool. It is one of these ergonomic things that keeps wobbling a bit, thus allegedly strengthening my back.
Eventually I attached the monitor to a heavy duty arm. The main purpose of that arm is to free up desk real estate. The rather bulky original monitor stand, plus PC, plus Notebook, plus peripherals made the desk too cramped.
As the PC is strapped to the side of the table, I also managed to route all the cables more or less prettily.
All I/O peripherals like mouse, webcam, keyboard, etc. are attached to the monitor and a switching USB hub. So when I switch devices, I press one button on the USB-switch and also select a different input on the monitor. That is pretty painless and saves me from constant re-plugging of devices.
For the longest time, I used a Logitech BRIO webcam. It is nice enough, and especially the built-in microphones are pretty decent. But as I do not live alone in this place, I most of the time use a set of Bose QuietControl 30 Bluetooth earplugs. The battery lasts for about two days of calls and the active noise cancelling lets me be undisturbed.
When I am not sitting or standing, I walk. Right under the desk sits a desk treadmill. To use it, I just push the desk back about 1 meter (it is on wheels) and start the thing up. That takes about 30 seconds of effort, and then I’m off. By now I can actually walk and work at the same time, this blogpost is being written as I am walking!
Overall, I spend about only a quarter of my desk time sitting, the rest of the time mostly standing or walking.
In order to keep my hands and wrists healthy, I have switched to an ergonomic keyboard and a wireless vertical mouse. The keyboard has a detachable numblock, and I am quite happy without that thing — I need it only rarely, and it does save that sweet desk real estate!
The monitor has built-in speakers, but frankly, they aren’t the best. Instead I plugged in a pair of Creative monitor speakers. They are small enough but have decent enough sound for YouTube videos and the occasional game.
As my job has me do lots of videocalls with various degrees of expectations regarding my „professional look“, I eventually attached a simple dark gray roll-up shade to the top of my bookshelf. In day-to-day use, it is rolled up and hidden, but whenever I do not want to show off my collection of roleplaying books, I can pull it down to get a nice clean background.
Behind the gray roll-up is a greenscreen roll-up. Using Open Broadcast Studio I can key out the background and do other video shenanigans to make my life easier and looking more professional.
Pro-tip if you want to use a green screen: Do not skimp on light. The better your lighting, the easier it is to key out the green. I added two inexpensive Neewer brand light sticks to my setup — one lives inobtrusively in the corner and the other moonlights as a workbench light and gets carried over whenever I need to do „proper“ videoconferencing.
The desk has a simple LED light stick on a gooseneck stand attached to it. It has some brightness and light temperature settings, which helps a lot with eyestrain in the evenings. As the desk has no drawers or similar, I attached an IKEA pegboard to the side, to hold cables, adapters, headphones, and so on.
The latest addition to my setup has been a Sony A7S digital camera, sitting atop a cheap camera arm. It is attached to the USB-hub via an Elgato Camlink 4K stick and thus provides quite an excellent alternative to the Logitech webcam. People I videoconference with keep noticing the vast quality difference. Having the background blurred by actual optics instead of some algorithm is really an upgrade. (which I wouldn’t have afforded myself if I hadn’t gotten a good deal for the camera from someone who realized that they didn’t use it all that often.
If you want to use your DSLR as a webcam: Check if it either has a firmware update that lets you use it directly through USB, or that it at least can deliver a „clean“ HDMI output. The latter means that there are no on-screen menus visible on the HDMI signal. The Sony A7S does both, but I learned that the USB-webcam functionality is pretty bad. It requires a certain sequence of switches each time you turn the camera on, and doesn’t work with all programs on a Mac either.
The Elgato Camlink solves that rather elegantly. The other thing I did was to get a so-called „dummy battery“, which you put into the camera instead of a battery and that then draws power directly from a USB charger. I set the focus to automatic, the camera to „video mode“ and now I just need to power the USB cable and everything works.
(if you use Windows 10 and the stick keeps disconnecting — download the Camlink capture software, click on the preferences icon while holding down CTRL and then select „Isochronous“ as USB Transfer Mode. That certainly helped me)
Let’s start with the really bad ones, the ones I’d label actual scams in hindsight:
Spinward Traveller: What I wrote back in 2017 is still true. There was a brief flicker of life since then, but that doesn’t change anything.
Zen Blanket: Yeah, this was me being stupid. ‚Nuff said.
Then there are the outright failures, where I assume people put an effort in but went about in a naive or incompetent way:
The Pulse Dice: First timer dealing with overseas manufacturers and failing. That stuff just happens.
Webcam privacy cover: I’m still not convinced this wasn’t a scam. Could’ve been, could’ve been someone being way in over their head and then cutting their losses. They probably were facing the decision to either fulfill and make losses or not fulfill and keep some profit, and then taking the profitable way out..
Rite Press: There are a lot of comparable french presses available, but this one promised the gimmick of having a removable bottom to easily get the grounds out. I think the creator really planned to deliver, then faced quality control issues and now has a stupid mess on their hand.
Of course, there are a bunch of projects that got delayed, but where I am still mostly hopeful that things will work out eventually. They come down into two categories, those with good communication about things, and those with, well, bad to nonexisting communication. Let’s start with those that have really good communication:
Iron Harvest: Creating computer games is hard, and prone to a lot of failures. These people put in the work, keep everyone updated with excellent and in-depth information and also provided a pretty good beta version of the game too!
Of course, there are a lot of projects that have too infrequent or outright bad communication:
Cartel, a game of mexican narcofiction: This is a heartbreaker game, and the playtest material already looks gorgeous. But it being a heartbreaker means lots of delays, as the writing takes ages, and the author isn’t the best communicator either. Still, I’m hopeful.
Flying Circus: Another heartbreaker RPG, and it suffers from the same thing: The creator has high standards and little time, nor the planning capacity (in time and effort, not intellect) to have a proper timeline…
Velvet Generation RPG: A rewrite of an existing RPG, which seemed straightforward enough, but then got stuck in development hell. Add only sporadic updates, and you get a project that will probably deliver… eventually. Who knows when though.
Record of Dragon War RPG: This is a tricky one: I know most of the people involved personally and trust them not to cheat or scam anyone. But this project had to weather a company going bankrupt, a buy-out by a company owned by a japanese-owned corporation, which then merged with a large US one. All of which has lots of behind-the-scenes things that are way above the paygrade of this crowdfunding campaign and thus doesn’t get communicated in updates. I still have hopes, but boy, I have no idea when this will deliver at all.
Grey Cells RPG: A lot of this has delivered in forms of pre-release PDFs, but there is still a lot missing and only sporadic communication about things. Which is a pity, really..
Satanic Panic RPG: Here you can see what happens to an RPG project when the main author has to pay their bills by.. taking on more RPG projects. And then disappears into them. The lesson here kids? Don’t take on crowdfunding as your main source of income, you’ll end up juggling a lot of plates…
Seance and Sensibility: This is sort of good, but could have been better. Still, I got the PDFs at least already.
And then there are those projects, where I completely lost faith in them delivering anything, even though it might still happen, the creatores are still occasionally clamining some sort of progress:
The Obsidian 3D Printer: When I backed this, I had done all the due diligence work: There were good reviews of the demo machine by 3rd parties, they already successfully delivered another 3D printer through crowdfunding, the reviews for that one were favourable, and they stated that they were good to go. Then they fell out with their main engineer, lost the rights to the machine as it were and spiralled downwards from there on, with only the barest and most superficial of updates. I don’t think anyone wanted to scam the backers here, but this is a case of marketing people failing at hardware. Hard.
Making Waves — teaching refugees to build a boat. To be honest, I am happy with what has been done with this so far: A bunch of refugees got to learn how to built a small sports yacht from scratch. Having a launch party at some point would have been a nice extra, but really, I wasn’t backing it for the party here.
Some campaigns have actually delivered, but in a way where I don’t think that they kept their promises:
Lima, the brain of your devices: It worked. Sort of. By the time it arrived, it was too slow, too underpowered and relied way too much on central cloud services to actually be useful. I gave it away for small change on ebay in the end.
Snore Circle — anti snoring eye mask: The good thing about this? It was cheap, and is a decent enough sleep mask. The anti-snoring gizmo and the app that was supposed to control it? Well, it got delivered, but it didn’t do anything even remotely effective or noticeable.
Enclave ANC headphones: They work. But not perfectly so, and weren’t the most comfortable ones. Again, I gave them away for peanutes on ebay.
There are a bunch of projects that actually delivered since I started writing this post. All of these have sent me things that are about as good as promised.
Fiasco, the game of things going wrong: This is a reprint, where they adapted the core game mechanics to use playing cards. An eminently good idea for this game, and the package is great. They’ve delivered the digital versions of everything ahread, but logistics and other things delayed delivery. Great game, great update, good communications!
the Dun travel pack: Ah, another bag, because I don’t have enough. (Seriously, I may have a problem. I am STILL looking for the perfect backpack / daily commute bag). This one was supposed to arrive by christmas, but they apparently had quality issues with a component, and when they figured it out, their supplier dropped out in favour of a bigger contract. That happens, and they communicated things well. The backpack is neat, although who knows when I’ll travel again…
Spyra, the fancy water gun: They had a truly overambitious delivery date and rightly moved that to „spring“ this year. They overcommunicated these things in a good way, and already have the first 160 production samples in their office. This is how you do this! (Also, the water gun is truly overengineered and cool)
Inhuman Condition - a game of cops and robots: This is apparently already fulfilling in the US, and should start soon in the EU. As this is a board game with a bunch of slightly fancy components, delays were kinda unavoidable, but they were still nicely communicated. And they told their backers about tariffs, printing woes, conventions and so on, all useful and interesting information! The box is beautiful and I love it.
The Ultraviolet Grasslands: A high concept RPG, mostly developed through a Patreon. The people behind this shared every step of the way, telling the backers when art got submitted, what was missing, why work halted at some point, showed progress pictures and sent out PDFs with intermediate material. At no point were I left in any doubt whether things will be fulfilled, even with the delays that happened. This is an excellent game book, you should buy it!
X-Bows mechanical ergonomic keyboard: Before I had a luggage/bag habit, I had a keyboard habit. This project is an excellent example how people underestimated hardware development, especially when it comes to magnetic connectors. And at times, the updates were not as information-dense as I’d liked to have them, but they were there and let us know what happened. The keyboards are mechanically gorgeous, but the software is sorely lacking.
The Rainsaber: Nifty concept, and I truly believe that Ben wants to deliver, but boy does the man have bad communication skills and at this point, I don’t know if he’ll ever deliver. I am very close to formally requesting a refund here.. I got the saber by now, and it is as promised! And to be fair, Ben did throw in a lot of extra parts into the package because I told him of eventually putting together a „Darth Poppins“ cosplay.
Turbo-Killer short movie: The trailer and concept art were so gorgeous, I had to back this. The backer communication was mostly very good, although there was a stretch of silence in the middle. Still, at no point did this feel like a scam, but always more like „ok, they have shit to do that is outside of this, so give them a break!“. Sadly though they kinda dropped the ball towards the end of the campaign, mostly because the movie rights got bought up by Shudder and that apparently made everything harder? Still, I got the Blu-Ray and all.
5 out of 160 projects are complete failures or scams
4 got delivered, but in a quality that should probably still qualify as failures.