What Ever Happened to ETU?

-March 9th, 2012

Part of me can’t believe it’s been over year since the last post on this website, but another part of me believes it just fine. I hope to resume an occasional game design journal here, if for no other reason than so that you can keep me accountable. However, I can’t really resume posting without addressing the elephant (or chupacabra) in the room. What happened to ETU?

Loyal 12 to Midnight fans will remember that we were working on a giant campaign book for the Savage Worlds system, based on Pinebox’s very own East Texas University (ETU). The actual name of the book is Degrees of Horror. In it, wet-behind-the-ears freshman are introduced to a world where ghosts and monsters prey upon the ignorant, but even heroes have to take final exams.

So what happened? My writing partner Ed and I worked on the book literally for years. Over time, it became apparent that the company 12 to Midnight was losing steam and that Degrees of Horror might be our very last book. Consequently, we wanted it to be our very best. We held (almost) nothing back. We poured nearly every cool idea we’d had for Pinebox into DoH. By the time we handed it in to Pinnacle in the spring of 2010, Degrees of Horror had become the “everything but the kitchen sink” of campaign books.

The effort to pull the book over the finish line took a lot out of both Ed and I. In a lot of ways, we felt like we’d just finished a marathon. Both of us are married with children and, unlike many of your other favorite game publishers, we both have full time jobs as well. The writing on 12 to Midnight books always came AFTER a full day (or week) of work. After nine years in business, we were all exhausted. Turning in Degrees of Horror felt like an enormous weight had been lifted.

Roughly six months later, the edits started coming back to us from Pinnacle. Our editor had a huge task. We’d given them “everything but the kitchen sink” when all they needed was a game about college students learning how to grow from victims to heroes. The majority of the edits come down to helping us distill the book back to its essence.

So here we are. It has been more than a year since the edits started rolling in. We started off strong (frankly just wanting to put the book behind us) then slowed down again. Without going into all the details, let’s just say life has a habit of getting in the way. Also, it’s a lot easier to pull those late nights in your early 30s than in your 40s. In 2011 weeks went by without either of us opening the files.

I think the turning point came over the Christmas holidays. We started picking up momentum again and I’ve been working on the book fairly regularly. We’re up to chapters 10 and 11 respectively, so we ARE making progress. My new routine is to get up at about 5:15 am and work for an hour before the kids get up. It seems to be working.

So that’s pretty much where things are with Degrees of Horror (aka, “ETU”). We’ve put too much of our lives into this book to not finish it, so it’s not a question of if but when. I feel good about the progress we’re making, and I know the book is going to be much, much better for the effort.

Next week, I’ll talk about my experience editing the plot points–without actually giving away the plot.

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