3D Printing comes to the tabletop!
Hey guys! Caleb with White Metal Games here. We've all heard rumors about the revolution that 3D printing will bring to the table. But will the rumors match our expectations?
I sat down with Allen Clark and Tristan Morris, co-owners of Proxy Army, a games design company that plans to release their entire product line through 3D printing in hopes of bringing their unique miniatures to the wargaming community.
What follows is a summarized account of our interview. However, you can see the full interview in 3 Parts on our youtube channel and presented as a podcast by steaming the interview on War Council. You can also listen to the interview via Itunes here.
White Metal Games: So what is Proxy Army?
Tristan Morris: We are a custom miniatures company. Say you want a custom mini of your roleplaying game character. You can use our database to custom build a miniature, picking a torso, limbs, heads, drag and drop equipment, and create a fully customized miniature with a unique expression, pose. You can do the same thing with any other tabletop wargame or board game miniature.
Allen Clark: The models are 'rigged' so you can drop and drag various points, to repose them, give them a smile, a frown, make their eyebrows furrow, Cheshire expressions, you can even 'break' their limbs if you want to . .
WMG: So primarily you make custom miniatures and by extension you could make compatible bits for various games.
TM: We also have our own game called Proxy War. The game is supported by the 3D printed system, allowing you to play with any miniature you can imagine.
WMG: Sounds like seemingly limitless options. So why did you both decide to get into 3D printing in the first place?
TM: Well, I used to be in Engineering school. When I was about to graduate, I started playing around with the schools 3D printer to make some custom miniatures for friends of mine, tabletop gaming miniatures. It became clear pretty quickly that there was a high demand for custom miniatures. When the demand became too high, I started charging for my services. That was about 6 months ago. And here we are.
WMG: So how did you guys meet?
AC: Online through a game called Exalted. I ran a game where he played the villain for a few years and he approach me with the idea of a miniature games company. I suggested a few core mechanics and things grew from there.
WMG: So you both moved to Durham to work together. And the rest of your team is pretty spread out.
AC: All over the world. But Durham invited us to a program called Groundworks, which is a business incubator. So Groundworks put us up and provided lots of great advice to help us get off the ground. Mostly there are tech companies. In fact we are the only company that is creating a physical product.
WMG: Tell us a little bit about the world of Proxy War.
TM: So Proxy War is a 28mm science fantasy game. The game allows players to bring literally any army they want to the table, and provides them with balanced rules for creating their own custom miniatures. So one player could have a steampunk style pirate army and another could have a lupine/feline based ninja army, etc.
The galaxy is BIG. You can rule 99% of the galaxy and there are still a million stars you have never visited.
So while you have vast empires that rule portions of the galaxy, there are always dark corners to explore and rocks to look under that will reveal new empires, lesser powers, strange technology and the like.
WMG: But if I can have anything, then will you still be able to buy miniatures in game stores? Will there be cannon factions?
AC: Yes, but let me emphasis we are a custom miniatures company. We will have a limited selection of models available in games stores, with the option to expand that line depending on sales.
WMG: Sure that makes sense. Less risk to the game store owners as well, who don't have to risk overstocking their shelves with models they can't move. So, what models CAN I expect to see in store?
TM: For the setting to speak to people, we needed central races to encapsulate the setting. So we embodied that through three core races. The Vana, the Nakara, and the Human Solar Federation. So those races will be represented in our starter boxes.
The Vana are a race of 'plant people', trying to eradicate other races so that the universe will be safe for them to grow indefinitely. They are violently protective of their space. Because they are 'technical pacifists' they use drones to do their dirty work.
The Nakara were, up until recently a servitor race, previously enslaved to the Vana but whom have since revolted against their prior masters. They are now trying to find their own place in the galaxy. The 'nakara' is essential a psychic field that other races are brought into an thus assimilated. A sort of Hive Mind mentality. So various races are all a part of this group, like a psychic empire scourging the stars for new empires to bring into the fold.
Humans are the weakest of the starting factions, outclassed and well aware of that fact. They are a bit of opportunists, but largely ignored by the other factions, and thus left largely left alone to explore the stars until they cross paths again.
So right now you're probably wondering how much does these custom figures cost? Actually, it's cheaper than you might think. A basic miniature will run about the same price as a traditional resin or pewter miniature. And when you consider this miniature comes fully assembled and posed to your liking, it's a pure win in my book! No more cleaning flash, no more glue, no more clipping! Amazing!
Where price does differ from a traditional company that makes and manufacturers their own miniatures is when you start to modify your figures.
TM: All of our minis are custom, and we have small charges to get original models. Mods start at $20 and fully custom units that aren't in the database at all go up to $430. However, to help circumvent this high cost, if you (the client) commission a model, those parts that make up the model are now loaded into our database. Each time one of these models sells or is used to print a model, you (the client) gets a percentage of that sell. (Like how a musician gets money every time their song is downloaded on itunes.) So in this way new content is constantly being added to the database and there are incentives for new designs to be commissioned.
We are not the guardians of good taste and don't have perfect psychic knowledge of what the gaming community wants.
So if you design a unit and 10,000 of that unit are sold, you just got us 10,000 sales, so we can't really see that as a bad thing.
AC: We may also contact them to see if they are interested in joining the design staff, if their designs are that popular.
TM: Each faction has 24 slots for units, including up to 6 slots for unique units, such as Mercenary bands. This allows you to gradually incorporate custom units for your army. There are also a bunch of pre-existing mercenary bands you can choose to field right from the start. By incorporating some of these factions, you can change the entire theme of your army,"
WMG: But what if I DO want to design my own custom unit. How does that work?
AC: "You log unto our database of model parts and select from hundreds of thousands of pieces and snap them together, letting you make any model you can imagine. If you can't find exactly what you are looking for, then you submit a 1-2 paragraph description to our design staff. They send a follow up questionare to outline the unit in greater detail and clarify. You partner with several members of the design staff and they send you outlines and sketches of concept work in progress, which you then respond to and help them fully develop the idea. Once you are satisfied with the concept, the design is sent to the 3D modeler and then printed."
WMG: Sounds time consuming.
AC: Not really. It takes two weeks maximum for our full-time artist team to do up to thirty-two revisions in the concept art and illustration phase.
WMG: How do you envision the culture of the game growing around this ultimate sandbox?
AC: Although players can craft ANYTHING they like, these are not the core factions of the game, in context.
TM: We envision a dynamic relationship between the player and the designers, where the lore changes based on which units are being used most by players. So if a splinter faction gains enough popularity, fits the lore and is taken seriously by the fanbase, it can be added to the core game and become an entirely new faction.
WMG: Can you tell us a little bit about playtesting the game?
AC: The game was broken down time and time again to test the balance at every level of play. We liked the early versions of the game, but the game wasn't playing the way we hoped. It wasn't scaling properly. So we revised and learned from our playtesting experiences. We analyzed everything from how long it takes to play a turn or consider their actions before moving their figures, how many times a player referenced a book during a turn, realizing that players preferred higher numbers meaning better results (vs. rolling under a target number, which is viewed as negative by many players), to how players prefer throwing tons of dice versus just throwing a few dice. They like the feel of forty dice in their hands when forty gunmen open fire.
WMG: How does it play?
TM: Much like HERO or GURPS. It's a point based system, which allows you to build rules for models where no rules exist. That way you can print the model you like first, and design the rules afterwards. The abilities scale based on the size of the game, so you can run a 500 man horde army and treat large groups of figures as a single 'unit' or a 5 man elite shock unit and they balance accordingly. Or a single 'superman'
AC: We call him Zargoth the Destroyer. In playtesting we would just load him up with abilities and use him to play test hypothetical builds in the system, just to make sure he wouldn't break the game.
WMG: Where have you demoed the game so far?
AC: Local shops and at an Expo. We even had folks that aren't traditional gamers coming by to playtest the game and they picked it up really easily.
WMG: So Proxy War is a game a mom could play with her kid?
WMG: So when can we expect to start seeing product for Proxy War hit FLGS?
TM: We have a kickstarter in November, and then you can expect to see actual product in stores about seven months after that.
WMG: So around summer 2014. Tell us more about the kickstarter? What will some of the reward levels be?
TM: The rules of course, both in PDF and hardback. And custom minis is the big thing. For a fully custom unit that will be about $430 bucks, and you get a percentage of the sales. There will be levels of small skirmish bands, larger platoons, tanks, and 'titans up to eighteen inches tall!
AC: We also have terrain and as a stretch goal there is destructible terrain that can literally be pulled apart as the building is destroyed. This allows you to change the circumstances of the battlefield itself rather than just being subject to the field as it is presented.
TM: We also have levels for full armies complete with a custom army book. There is even a tier where you can have your faction added to the core game.
WMG: Sort of like buying real estate in the game.
AC: Just like real estate, since you start earning a percentage of those sales. In addition, if you are a game designer, you get a discount for have Proxy War design and print your models for your game. And that's for both test models and full production runs.
TM: We are also going to offer a digital art book with over 3000 sketches of the game from development to really show you how the game evolved.
WMG: So how to are you going to make sure your kickstarter stands out from every other game out there?
TM: Enthusiasm! To get other people excited about your game,,you have to show your level of excitement and get the players excited. Players are the driving force behind our content. We want them to feel engaged at the time of launch. In fact at the launch party we're giving away $3000 worth of a fully custom miniatures to one lucky attendee that has the best idea for a custom army (per voting).
AC: As well as two laptops.
WMG: . . . what . . .?
AC: We're giving away two laptops! Chrome netbooks! And they'll be able too surf the netbooks to watch the kickstarter video, that sort of thing.
WMG: Will I be able to try out the database at the party?
AC: We'll have some demos for the group, but it won't be on the netbooks.
TM: We'll also have a VIP area at the party, with guest speakers Rob Balder, the creator of Erfworld and Howard Taylor, the creator of Schlock Mercenary will be there. And we'll are going to be making exclusive miniatures available as a reward level on the kickstarter from both web comics. Never offered before and never offered again.
WMG: Any final thoughts?
TM: This is the first barrage in a new revolution of gaming. The world of 3D printing is going to turn the miniature gaming industry on it's head. Desktop printers will be affordable in a few years and when that happens we plan to allow people that own their own 3D printers to print their own models on their own printer just by paying us a tiny access fee to our database. The future of miniature gaming is not boxed kits, but printing off their miniatures at home, anything they can imagine and then game with it. Change is coming.
More information regarding Proxy Army and Proxy War can be found on their facebook page and their homepage.
And remember remember the 5th of November . . . that's the launch date for their Kickstarter!
They'll be hosting a launch party at Atomic Empire in Durham, NC! They're expecting quite a crowd so come early! You could win a full army designed in any way you like!