Retrospective: finished; more Complicated matters

6 12 2007

I finished my game for the True Meaning of Friendship design challenge. It’s over in the “Pages” section– look for “Retrospective.” There’s also a PDF link there, if you’re into that kind of thing.

I think I’m okay with the design; it gave me a lot to think about for the Bridge of Birds game that Shreyas and I are working on, and maybe some ideas on how to approach the narration in It’s Complicated.

Speaking of Complicated, I’ve been getting a ridiculous amount of really good, important critique and feedback and playtesting lately. The next version’s probably going to involve nothing less than a total overhaul, with expanded sections on framing scenes which deal with multiple relationships, and scene framing in general. One thing I didn’t realize (and this probably just speaks to the quality of playtesters I’ve had, yay) is that this game really begs for a certain level of skill when it comes to framing, and I’d like to lower the entry level a little.

I’ve also been musing on Jason’s “Little boat theory” of design and how it relates to this game, especially in regards to last night’s playtest. I think I’ve got a lot to say, but it has to gel first, and I’ve also got to finish cleaning up for company.


Battle of the boards

3 12 2007

I’ve been plugging away at Retrospective, and the introduction and game prep sections are now on a page! Just click the “Retrospective” tab at the top of my blog. Now I just need to tackle the “How to Play” section..

So, I’ve been getting poked a lot about It’s Complicated lately, which has really been forcing my hand with the editing and the revising and stuff. I still haven’t finished altering the rules, but the changes are simple enough; the main reason I have not updated the page or PDF is because I can’t do that until I have a new character sheet for the diagrams!

Here are the two contestants:

sheet_small.jpgSo this was the original thought I had. Yes, you can move between all four lines, but you can only hit a line adjacent to yours; that means that the middle two lines have more play options than the outlying lines. This creates a ton more space, but also could make things more difficult for purposes of connection. It would definitely slow down the “mess” factor which tends to happen toward the end of a round, where you can’t make a move without having to declare a relationship with everyone else playing.

sheet2_small.jpgThis second sheet was based on a bunch of “OMG” feedback I got from the first one. JR Dowda spent a not-insignificant amount of time scribbling out alternate layouts, since his reaction to new sheet #1 was so strong. (It’s nice to have people that invested in this project, even if it’s demonstrated by HATRED OF SIGNIFICANT GAME CHANGES!) This one offers less choices, but is still a freer experience than the original board. I’m not certain it solves the “mess” problem, though, so much as it delays the mess until later. Which might be just the thing I’m looking for, actually.

I’ve got some people who want to run one game with both boards and see how it goes; hopefully we’ll be able to get some extra players and try that this week. In the meantime, hypotheticals and thoughts on both are more than welcome. 🙂

What’s the point?

28 11 2007

My blurb author, #6, revealed himself in dramatic fashion (okay, maybe not that dramatic) on my blog yesterday! This game is for Mark “I am not a number, I am a FREE MAN” Vallianatos. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mark! I hope you’ll like this. If something does not sound cool to you, please, feel free to speak up.

Mark had an excellent question:

I like the direction you’re going. Will there be any ‘editing’ together of the answers/ scenes as the narrator or all players try to construct a storyline, or is the point that one can’t create a central narrative from the 4 individual memories?

That’s an excellent question, and one I’ve been thinking about since last night. Having to puzzle out an accurate account of the events would certainly make for a neater story and a real goal; however, it kind of feels done to me, you know, like those “How to host a murder” parties. Certainly, going the “there’s no way to know for certain” route feels more innovative, and reinforces the feeling of subjective reality; I feel like part of the point, part of what seperates this from murder-mystery-type games, is that no one is actually, consciously lying– they’re just relating the truth as they know the truth to be, colored by emotion and distorted through the lens of time. But if that’s not the point, then what is endgame? There’s no satisfying conclusion unless the stories tie together somehow.

I was whining to Shreyas about this quandry earlier, and I think he’s right– the answer is somewhere in the middle. The idea isn’t fully formed yet, but I’m thinking there will be some kind of mechanic which allows you to cement a certain detail of your story as truth; ensuing stories must accept this kernel of truth. Maybe it’s kind of a PvP-ish thing, in which players come into conflict and jockey for their version of events to be accepted as true, or rather, more of their version to be accepted as true than anyone else’s.

A Modernist sensibility

27 11 2007

So Modernism, as we (I) think of Modernism, is not really something that meshes well with the idea of a documentary-style game. It covers a pretty broad swath of movements, most of which revolve around the ideas of bucking tradition and structure. Trying to embrace Jackson Pollock in the rules of this game would be.. well, it’d end up looking like the board after a long game of It’s Complicated. So I’d better pick and choose.

So the bit of Modernism I’m grabbing for this game– tentatively titled Retrospective— is from the very beginning of the movement, before it went into the hyper-real or lost its subtlety. Impressionism and Henri Bergson’s theory on Duration are the big influences here.

The theory with Impressionism is that people don’t see objects; they see light. Bergson believed that no two people could ever experience the same moment, and even in remembering something, you could never experience the same moment twice; it’s more complex than that, but you get the idea.

What this means for the game

Our most important experiences– the things which really shape us as human beings– are not marked with eidetic memory; no matter how keen our thought processes, when something changes who we are or the world around us, it is impossible for us to divorce our emotions from the events. Not that we should! Ignoring how the events make us feel is also changing the experience– basically, the point is this: four people, in the same small space, sharing the same pivotal experience, will in fact, experience it in four completely different ways. And that’s what this game is about.

In the beginning of the game, players decide what they will be reflecting on. This could be anything– they could be war buddies reminiscing about Viet Nam, or high school football players talking at their 10 year reunion, or a rock band on Behind the Music, whatever. The important thing is that what they’ll be discussing is an event, or series of events, which shaped who they are today. There is an outsider present; a Narrator– this is essentially half a GM, more of a facilitator than a storyteller. The Narrator is filming a documentary, or getting a story for the local paper, or is the child or grandchild or spouse of one of the players. The stories are being told to the Narrator, for his benefit.

There are two different kinds of scenes: interviews and flashbacks. In interviews, the Narrator asks questions of a player to set up the flashback; we’ll have rules for these questions once the game itself has rules. Interviews are clever ways to give cues to the other players, about who will be in the flashback scene, what the flashback means to the interviewee, etc.

Once in that player’s flashback scene, the other players must play their characters as explained by the interviewee; motivations and personalities and actions mirror what the interviewee remembers, and not what the players have decided their characters truly are. At the end of a flashback, another character interrupts; “Wait, you got that wrong.” or “You missed something.” Or “Here’s what really happened.”

The Narrator interviews that character, and a new flashback starts.

The True Meaning of Friendship Design Challenge

26 11 2007

So the True Meaning of Friendship Design Challenge that Shreyas and I have going over on the Knife Fight kicked off today, with people declaring dibs on the anonymous blurbs. This is the one I chose:

I’m an environmental advocate. I think that ordinary life and material things can hold more wonder than fantasy worlds or the supernatural. I dig themes drawn from 18th/19th/20th century modernism. I like games with political/ historical/ real world dimensions. I enjoy games designed to explore serious or quirky topics – documentary or docudrama games.

I’ve been thinking about something with a documentary/flashback style of game structure for a while; this will give me a chance to flesh out those basic ideas, and maybe take them a step further and make it even more cinematic. (When I say “documentary” I mean more Ken Burns, Spike Lee.. less Michael Moore.) I don’t know if I want to center the game around something specific and historic (my brain is still all wrapped up in the BPP), or if I just want to come up with a system that lets you do The War and Behind the Music with equal ease. Maybe I’ll do the system and loosely have an example setting.. we’ll see.