Indie magazines
Craft and creativity

Making a sustainable independent print magazine

Kai Brach is the publisher, editor and designer of Offscreen Magazine. He has written about the lessons he has learned in a comprehensive Medium post: Indie Magonomics

Kai covers everything from sourcing content (“The hard truth is that most indie publications rely on a lot of favours by a lot of generous people”), to printing (“A lot of indies start with 1000–2000 copies. I started with 3000 for my first issue, but it did take me more than a year to sell them all”), to distribution (“Ask anyone who sells physical products and they will tell you that one of the most biggest challenges is getting the product from A to B. Shipping is hard”), and marketing (“…no matter how boring or old-fashioned it seems, email is still the most powerful marketing tool for most online businesses”), and finally, to making moneyContinue reading

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9/11 Memorial coffee mug
Humans and other animals

Inside the 9/11 museum’s offensive gift shop

New York Post:

The 9/11 museum’s cavernous boutique offers a vast array of souvenir goods. For example: FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police T-shirts ($22) and caps ($19.95); earrings molded from leaves and blossoms of downtown trees ($20 to $68); cop and firefighter charms by Pandora and other jewelers ($65); “United We Stand” blankets.

Even FDNY vests for dogs come in all sizes.

After paying $24 admission for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for kids 7 to 17, visitors can shop till they drop.

About 8,000 unidentified body parts are now stored out of sight in a “remains repository” at the museum’s underground home.

“Here is essentially our tomb of the unknown. To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant,” said Horning, who also objects to the museum cafe.

“I think it’s a money-making venture to support inflated salaries, and they’re willing to do it over my son’s dead body.”

John Feal, a Ground Zero demolition supervisor who runs the FealGood Foundation for ailing 9/11 responders, said he understands the need to raise money for costs, including six-figure salaries for execs like CEO Joe Daniels, who takes in $378,000.

In a twist, a plaque says the store was “made possible through the generosity of Paul Napoli and Marc Bern,” partners in a law firm that reaped $200 million in taxpayer-funded fees and expenses after suing the city for nearly 10,000 Ground Zero workers.

The museum Web site lists the firm as having donated $5 million.

Inside the 9/11 museum’s offensive gift shop

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Lambda
Light-based media

The Cabal: Valve’s design process for creating Half-Life

By Ken Birdwell for Gamasutra, back in 1999:

By late September 1997, nearing the end of our original schedule, a whole lot of work had been done, but there was one major problem — the game wasn’t any fun. At this point we had to make a very painful decision — we decided to start over and rework every stage of the game.

Ivan the Space Biker

The first incarnation of the game’s main character, now known affectionately as “Ivan the Space Biker”

Fortunately, the game had some things in it we liked. We set up a small group of people to take every silly idea, every cool trick, everything interesting that existed in any kind of working state somewhere in the game and put them into a single prototype level. When the level started to get fun, they added more variations of the fun things. If an idea wasn’t fun, they cut it.

When they were done, we all played it. It was great. It was Die Hard meets Evil Dead. It was the vision. It was going to be our game.

The second step in the pre-cabal process was to analyze what was fun about our prototype level. The first theory we came up with was the theory of “experiential density” — the amount of “things” that happen to and are done by the player per unit of time and area of a map. Our goal was that, once active, the player never had to wait too long before the next stimulus, be it monster, special effect, plot point, action sequence, and so on.

The second theory we came up with is the theory of player acknowledgment. This means that the game world must acknowledge players every time they perform an action. Our basic theory was that if the world ignores the player, the player won’t care about the world.

A final theory was that the players should always blame themselves for failure. If the game kills them off with no warning, then players blame the game and start to dislike it.

Valve then created a “Cabal” to tackle the game design. The goal of this group was to create a complete document that detailed all the levels and described major monster interactions, special effects, plot devices, and design standards. Cabal meetings were semi-structured brainstorming sessions usually dedicated to a specific area of the game.

During Cabal sessions, everyone contributed but we found that not everyone contributed everyday. The meetings were grueling, and we came to almost expect that about half of the group would find themselves sitting through two or three meetings with no ideas at all, then suddenly see a direction that no one else saw and be the main contributor for the remainder of the week. Why this happened was unclear, but it became important to have at least five or six people in each meeting so that the meetings wouldn’t stall out from lack of input.

Mistakes were made

Letting players see other characters make mistakes that they’ll need to avoid is an effective way to explain your puzzles and add tension and entertainment value.

We also ended up assigning one person to follow the entire story line and to maintain the entire document. With a design as large as a 30-hour movie, we ended up creating more detail than could be dealt with on a casual or part-time basis. We found that having a professional writer on staff was key to this process. Besides being able to add personality to all our characters, his ability to keep track of thematic structures, plot twists, pacing, and consistency was invaluable.

Practically speaking, not everyone is suited for the kind of group design activity we performed in the Cabal, at least not initially. People with strong personalities, people with poor verbal skills, or people who just don’t like creating in a group setting shouldn’t be forced into it.

Tips for a successful cabal →

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Ryan North
Use your words

To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure

Slate’s Alison Hallett writes about and reviews Ryan North’s Kiskstarted “chooseable-path adventure” version of Hamlet, brilliantly titled To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure:

Thanks to media attention and a viral spread it became the most funded publishing project in Kickstarter history, surpassing its initial $20,000 goal by more than half a million dollars.

North’s campaign was very close to perfect, one that should serve as inspiration to anyone who wants to crowdfund a creative project: The concept was innovative; the reward tiers were thoughtfully designed; North communicated clearly and enthusiastically with backers at every step of the process; and the project not only delivered what was promised but improved upon the initial concept. As the book arrives in backers’ mailboxes this month, it’s worth asking: Is it a good book? Is it $580,905 good?
Outrageous Fortune – slate.com

Personally, as a backer I only care that it is $35 good.

To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure Kickstarter may not have any rules about how excess funds are used, but I imagine in most cases (like this one) that the scale of production grows larger by the same proportion and the funds are consumed that way. It’s not like North suddenly has half a million dollars burning a hole in his pocket.

Fun fact: North signed 13,200 paperback books. In one sitting he signed 4,340 books, thrashing the Guinness World Record figure of 1,951. That has to be worth something alone!

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