Artwork from our Artisan Allies

We found a unique collaboration opportunity to go with the unique theme for our unique card game.
Click here to jump straight to the Anou Tapestries found in the game!
Interesting historical note: the original working title of the game was "Tapestry", but Stonemaier Games released their own unrelated board game with the same title shortly before I was going live with my own announcement!  The story below has been edited accordingly, but you may find a few parts that make more sense with that little extra bit of background.  - Ryan

You don't have to read about or play very much Stitchcraft to recognize ​it for what it is at its core: a card game.  In spite of that, I've tried very hard to template the keywords and game text to de-emphasize that fact.  That's because Stitchcraft differs from a lot of electronic card games in that the cards aren't just a data structure abstraction that has the advantage of being a familiar mechanical device from card gaming history that predates the computer by hundreds of years.

I actually think it's a bit strange that players (including myself!) so readily accept the prevalence of cards in their video games, because it interferes with the suspension of disbelief in a medium that doesn't require it.  Let's say we're playing a card game in which we're fighting with armies of mythical monsters like dragons and griffons.  When we're building our "decks", what we're really doing is assembling the army that we're going to use.  Instead of having a deck list, we should really have a roll call list of all the various critters and soldiers that we have in our army.  Instead of drawing a card, we should really be blowing our battle horns to summon our bannermen and seeing who arrives first.

When we play a dragon card in this imaginary game, then that card is just a representational token for a gigantic, fire-breating lizard with wings.  In an actual cardboard card game, this is a necessary mechanical feature.  The deck provides a relatively cheap, game-specific randomization mechanism that provides sampling without replacement.  In a video game, we don't need the crutch of this representative token.  No one wants an actual dragon on their kitchen table, but nearly everyone would prefer to see the hulking monstrosity on the screen instead of just-another-card.

In Stitchcraft, a card isn't just a placeholder for something else.  The cards have the game powers bound to them like spell scrolls.  They also represent your salable wares which you using to build a showcase to win the interest of passing street market shoppers.  The preparatory display is used as a means of splitting the card play across two different actions, allowing for a player to both invest early actions and later collect his investment for power combos.  Tapestries in this display can be used to threaten and bluff all sorts of tempo and reactionary strategies, and while the cards are in this state, they may pose a threat for either their latent power, the potential to fill a hole in the showcase, or even both at once.

Stitchcraft's theme was chosen to match this characteristic of the game.  I wanted the cards to be the center of not only the game mechanics, but also the theme and the artwork.  Even the title of the game - a portmanteau representing both its weaving and witchcraft elements - represents the goal to distinguish the cards as the real actors in the game, and not just another cardboard chit, misplaced in a medium that no longer needs it.

Living, Breathing (or at least, Billowing) Cards

Stitchcraft's game powers lend themselves easily to the notion that the cards are spells in a wizard's duel.  If the cards in the game were represented as spells, it's easy to imagine them as spell scrolls.  This only serves one function of the cards, though; in a lot of fantasy lore, a scroll is "used up" once its spell is cast, and there's no obvious connection to how the now-mundane detritus that is left over would serve the set collection victory mechanics in the game.

As luck would have it, it's not a strong intuitive leap to get from spell scrolls to rolled-up magic carpets.  Stitchcraft is based on an original card game design collaboration with a long-time friend of mine, Kevin Prothero of Boomer's Workshop games.  We have been talking about board game designs since all the way back during the time we knew each other in college.  One of the games I always talked about wanting to design (which may still someday become a real game at in>D:\development!) was called "Tapestry: The Curtain of Runes".  I actually found my ~17 year old game design journal I kept of that game at the time.

God's honest truth is I can't even remember which of the two of us suggested first that it would be an excellent basis for the theme to work into this game, but I'm certain that lightning bolt of inspiration was charged by those conversations almost two decades ago.

It's easy to see how a city that sanctioned wizard duels between their street market vendors would become an astonishingly popular tourist destination.

We dreamed up the idea that the setting for the wizards' duels is the street market where those wizards come to sell these enchanted rugs.  I think its easy to see how a city that sanctioned battles like this between their market vendors (with all the associated safety precautions, of course) would become an astonishingly popular tourist destination.  With the carpets instead of spell scrolls - but rolled up just like them on the display table, waiting to unleash their powers - now we had a motivation for how they would contribute to the set collection victory.  The spell powers are an advertising gimmick to draw in the tourists, but the carpets themselves are what the wizards want to sell to them!

I would call my graphics skills somewhere in the realm of "barely sufficient", but having the cards be themed as billowy cloth, blowing in the wind, takes advantage of my programming skills (in integrating and configuring the particle physics engine that handles the cloth) to bring life to the game.  The complexity of a large portion of the art gets reduced down to that of the 2D cloth texture, but the cards in the game are no longer just flat abstractions of other concepts where the "real" game happens. 

 

Early versions of the game art used a recolored texture that I found courtesy of a free asset on the Unity store.  This was sufficient to play the game and tailor the particle physics behavior.  You can see an example screenshot of this earlier stage of development below.  Eventually, I started thinking about how I could find more interesting artwork to better represent the personality I wanted to feel in the theme of the game.

Finding Fitting Finery

I set out on a quest to find real-life tapestry photos to incorporate into the 3D model materials in the game, but this was surprisingly difficult.  As it happens, good examples of real handmade tapestry artwork were hard to find, not because they aren't popular, but actually because they are too popular.  The "good stuff" is amazingly obscured by how many minimal-quality reproductions are being sold on Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, and similar marketplaces.  The majority of my searches were absolutely overwhelmed by websites of companies peddling these manufactured knock-offs.  The majority of what was left were middlemen boutique retailers that are taking advantage of wage disparities between customers blessed to live in areas of relative largess and artisans who live in low-earning locales. 

 

Early on, I was considering trying to use photos from one of these middlemen Etsy stores, and I had even found one I liked well enough to put in a permission request to use some of their photos in exchange for credits and call-outs to their store on this website and in the game.  I was surprised to be denied permission, albeit in the most polite way and with best wishes for my luck on my project.  As I continued to explore, I started to discover that many of the photos from different stores were the same, which called into question for me whether or not those middlemen were perhaps just more well-dressed and well-hidden shams, selling more manufactured knock-offs wearing better lipstick.

I eventually got frustrated enough with searching that at one point, I even ended up at the United States Library of Congress website, looking for old photos with releases for expired or gifted copyrights.  I felt all along that this should've been an easier task: if an artisan weaver wanted to sell their wares in this day and age, wouldn't they want to expose their artwork online?   If they were going to make those photos public as part of an advertising campaign or sales catalog, doesn't it follow I should be able to find someone interested in letting me use these already-published works in exchange for whatever additional market exposure I can provide by highlighting their work to my playerbase?  I'm an expert software engineer, not an expert businessman or marketing agent, but I know that exposure to customers who are ignorant to the existence of my game amidst a noisy sea of uncurated, low-quality alternatives is the biggest hurdle I will face when trying to sell my wares.  Those circumstances seem exactly analogous to the difficulty I was having with finding high-quality, hand-made tapestry artwork that I was certain was authentic and attributable to the artist.

I said to myself from very early on that I'd love for the artwork and music to eventually make the game evoke the feeling of being in a souk in Morocco, so I eventually started searching for Moroccan rug vendors that were actually in Morocco.  I found my way to a travel blog that talked about the right way to buy a rug in Marrakech.  Amanda (@marocmama) recommends only one fair trade co-op in her blog that she trusts: The Anou.   

To quote Dan Driscoll, the organization's founder, "Anou is a community of artisans working together to reshape Morocco's artisan economy so that it works for them, rather than against them."

Ancient Art; Modern Wizardry
Anou is a community of artisans working together to reshape Morocco's artisan economy so that it works for them, rather than against them.

Anou is an cooperative organization for selling artwork, but their mission and challenges revolve more around modern technological wizardry and less around their ancient artistry.  In the past, many of the craftsmen and women who wanted to sell their wares would have been at the mercy of exporters who would pay only a fraction of the retail sale value for their work.  The final retail sale of these artworks command prices that reflect their uniqueness and hand-crafted origins, but without the artisans sharing in the revenue benefits of their non-commodity qualities.

Once upon a time, that arrangement may have been a necessity due to simple supply chain capabilities that simply were not available in any other way.  Now, many of the requisite tools and supply capabilities have themselves become widely-available commodities as technology and the Internet makes its way to every nook and cranny on the planet.  To market their tapestries, the artisans don't need an expensive camera and agents that speak different languages in order to reach customers all around the globe; they just need an inexpensive cell phone to post pictures online.  To ship their tapestries, the cooperative doesn't have to own its own boat or plane; extensive and exceptional tracking and process management software at large-scale shipping companies like Fedex, UPS, and DHL allows even the smallest package to be delivered almost anywhere at amazing economies of scale.

Of course, turning the available tools into a working business process requires its own investment, software development, and training, and crafting this business environment is the main focus of the cooperative.  Anou develops mobile software applications with user interface design driven by needs to suit the language barriers and training challenges of providing new technology tools to first-time users.  Training in photography, order management, shipping, and the associated new technology tools are provided by other more veteran Anou members to create an artisan-led leadership foundation.  Training occurs at each new artisan's workshop, not only to guarantee the authenticity of their work, but also to identify any unique local challenges to the success and adapt accordingly.  A small portion of every member's sales is set aside not only to promote continued development of Anou's tools and provide this training, but also to invest in long-term strategies like research and development of high-quality, environmentally friendly craft materials and lobbying the Moroccan government against laws that stifle artisans and promote resellers.

Crafting a Collaboration

As a software engineer, the feats that Anou has successfully undertaken look remarkable.  Designing easy-to-use software can be difficult in the best of cases, and Anou faces needs among its user base that would challenge the most battle-hardened designers.  The users themselves deserve an equal portion of the credit in the success of the technology tools, dedicating themselves to learning how to be their own business leaders to inspiring results.

Though we call it science or engineering, I think writing code in many ways is also its own craft.  In spite of having a traditional education myself and being an advocate for its benefits, I believe a lot of the software development process is guided by judgement and foresight that can only be obtained in the trials of experience and the shared knowledge of that experience passed around between developers.  I think this is a commonality it shares with other crafts.

When I was first reading about the Anou on their site, I couldn't help but feel a little kinship, particularly while reading their blog article about the myth of cactus sabra, a particular weaving material, and Anou's research into using a bamboo version as an alternative.  I think the article demonstrated a depth of knowledge of their weaving craft that, from my experience in my own field of work, seems to separate the capable from the extraordinary.  

I contacted the Anou and ended up sharing my own story with Dan Driscoll, the founder of the organization.  I was hopeful that I could feature the Anou's work in the artwork for the tapestries in my game, because I love their mission and the story of their success in using technology to empower real, identifiable people.  You can meet them right on the Anou website!  Even a small collaboration with a group like this would be a true honor for me.  Here I am making video games, and I might get a chance to rub elbows with folks who are out there genuinely making the world a better place.  To my absolute delight, he and the artisans in the Anou community agreed that this seemed like a fun and unique outreach opportunity for them!

Ait Bouguemez Valley, birthplace of Anou

A Real Tapestry Retailer
We may be selling make-believe tapestries in the game, but Anou is selling the real, handcrafted heirloom versions in their online store!
Check them out here, then take a look at the rest of their art as well!

As a result of our collaboration, Stitchcraft gets to feature real, handcrafted heirloom artwork as the face of its cards, providing a truly unique environment for us to play the game in.  Please thank them for sharing their talents with us by taking the time to visit their online store, admire the real artisans' wares, and consider purchasing some for you and your family to enjoy.  In the meantime, check out a few representatives of their work below that you may recognize from the game!

 
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