Producing NISEI: August 2022 Update

Hello Netrunners! Extrac and the Production team here with a bumper production update. This one’s a little earlier in the month than usual due to the absence of one last month (which would have basically read: “What are you doing reading this, go play new cards!”). We hope you’ve been having a blast brewing deck ideas over the past few weeks.

Two parts to this production update today: a look back and a look forward!

Looking Back – Midnight Sun

We were thrilled to release Midnight Sun to the wider community, representing not only our first major release of a new cycle but also the first major release under our new production model. 

Back in January we set out to do two things:

  • Get new cards out as quickly as possible whilst maintaining a quality product.
  • Upping the level of transparency and lifting the fog that surrounds NISEI’s new card pipeline as we get these cards out.

Our opinion in Production is that, with some caveats, we have broadly succeeded in both.

When we began planning this year’s production run, we had a set of nearly complete mechanics text (what the cards actually do), but no visual assets were, broadly speaking, ready to run. We quickly took the decision, given the drought of new cards since the releases of System Gateway and System Update 2021, to prioritise a portion of these for release in a booster pack. The core concept here being both to inject a bit of a shake up into the meta whilst also getting to grips with the production process—bearing in mind all of us in the production team were fresh to the organisation.

When we made this decision we also made two sub-decisions: 

Firstly, we were going to publish timelines as soon as possible and as detailed as reasonable. We appreciate that poring through Gantt charts probably isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but the salient points had to be clear with the evidence to back them up when we say things like “based on our projection, this will be the expected release date”. Thank you to those that took the time to read through either with a fine tooth comb or with a view for broader detail.

Secondly, we wanted to get production to the point where booster packs would not be necessary going forward (i.e. that the releases would be frequent enough to eliminate the need for them). Every release, no matter the size, has some fixed costs in terms of time associated with them. As a volunteer organisation, time is one of our most precious resources, so we have to be extremely careful how we allocate it. Booster packs therefore carry a less favourable time-cost to community-benefit ratio and should be deployed sparingly. We’re not going to make sweeping proclamations like “No more booster packs ever”, but it is something we are keen to avoid going forward under the current setup unless the benefit balance changes. That being said, we believe it was the right call for the circumstances, both in terms of community need and in terms of a test run before attempting a major release.

With the booster pack out, we turned our attention fully to the main Borealis Part 1 release, with the biggest hurdle to cover being art commissioning. Our production liaison for Art & Narrative, Conrad aka Banknote, worked closely with our new Visual Director to source and coordinate with the excellent artists we have in our rolodex, along with a few new ones, to get the art briefs written and contracts agreed for the work. 

With a major release being roughly ten times larger than the booster, there was a lot more work to do here and the teams performed excellently in coordinating the process. Watching the artwork come together was thrilling for those of us adjacent to the main actors. In parallel, we were working with the rules, translation and community teams to finesse the card text to the right place, translate them and set up their reveal to the wider community, making sure to highlight the milestones as they were completed in our monthly production articles. 

We reduced the spoiler season length following feedback both internal and external in the System Gateway and System Update 2021 releases, reducing it to 2(ish) weeks as opposed to the previous protracted season. The feedback we got from this was positive and so we’ll be repeating a similar pattern in the next release.

There were definitely some lessons learned to take forward into our next production run.

  • We needed to allow more time for templating. Whilst this was completed on time, we have a limited number of people who have the means to complete this process. This created a lot of pressure on these teams to finish in a short time with little room for error and partially caused the lack of communication around the card backs change and the card text misprints. We have extended the allocated time in our next set planning and implemented additional checks to mitigate this.
  • We needed an earlier engagement of our Translation teams in the process. The time-span itself was fine, but there is definitely a ramp up to full speed for this process as they are only fully brought into the process when the card text is approaching rules- and narrative-complete. We have allocated some time to early engagement to enable this process to start sooner whilst being careful not to reduce the time for the “main run” of translation as it occurs. 
  • We have a number of community members who buy released sets in bulk to make them available to the wider community, which drives down the end-cost for players. We are keen to support these community members so we are working closely with them going forward to allow for printing and delivery times in tandem with the digital printers we have used for previous releases. (See our Purchase Guide in the “Authorised Resellers” section to find out how to get in touch with those community members.)

Looking forward – Parhelion’s production run

Taking these major lessons learned into account, along with some other smaller ones, we have planned out our next major release, Parhelion, and agreed the updated plan template with the team leads. Based on these timelines our projection is that Parhelion will be released in December—stocking-fillers of jank for all!

Gannt chart showing Parhelion production progress
Click to expand

As this timeline is a revised version of our Midnight Sun template that implements the lessons learned from that release, we have a large amount of confidence in this process. At this stage art briefing and artist contracting is going well, and the Rules team has begun working on Parhelion text while working on the Midnight Sun Rules FAQ in parallel. We will have more updates on how this is progressing in the coming months.

Looking forward – Other Areas of Exploration

In parallel to producing Parhelion were also working on two other efforts.

Remastering Old Sets: 

With the introduction of core damage and other mechanical updates such as “Interface” along with the updated card backs, we are looking at the steps needed to bring the older sets up to the modern standards. More details of this can be seen in our product status page.

Distribution Model Changes:

As mentioned in the lessons learned section we are exploring ways to support and optimise our distribution methods so that we aren’t reliant solely on print-on-demand digital printers to get our products in the hands of our players. There’s still some work to carry out here but we expect to have an update for you in a future article.

Looking further – “Bell-Tower”

When we started this process we were keen to understand the potential cadence of how frequently we can complete major releases. With the release of Midnight Sun planned we formulated a predicted frequency of every 6-8 months and we intend to continue aiming for this. 

The next NISEI cycle, currently codenamed “Bell-Tower”, is a new challenge to this. While Borealis’ cards had completed design and largely completed text when our Production team arrived, requiring “only” finessing the card text, translation and art to complete, “Bell-Tower” is still undergoing its final iterations of design and development. We are working closely with these teams to understand the granular progression and see where the opportunities are to begin the later stages of production in order to maintain our 6-8 month cadence. At this stage things look to be progressing well but we will be collaborating with the teams there to provide support to them throughout this process. We will keep you updated as the situation progresses.

That’s all from us for this month. There’s a lot of work to do and we look forward to sharing the journey with you as it is carried out. We hope you’ve been enjoying the new Midnight Sun cards and we’re excited to see some of you at Worlds in October! Always be running and see you next month!

Up to date production status of all in progress sets can be seen at the product status page.

Author

  • Extrac is a member of Null Signal Games' Production Management team. He's a UK player that will one day install Harbinger with net damage when the Rules Team, the FAQ and reality itself stop disagreeing with him.