Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Whenever one game is nearly finished, I double back and pick up other projects that I put into “cold storage” for a while. In this case, now that Corona‘s getting nearly ready to release, I’m revisiting Project Atlantis, and finding that the idea of Paths I had previously discussed for Daisho might be a better fit here.
Because I want to encourage a dramatic structure – particularly echoing classical tragedy – I want scenes to be logically structured together. They should build deterministically, where the results of prior scenes have a hard mechanical influence on what follows, which I had previously wanted to implement through investing dice ahead in time toward the final outcome of the plot.
I have since introduced a second currency into the game system – elemental tokens – that can be used to charge traits just like dice, with the differentiation that dice count as mundane applications of concentration and skill when used to charge traits, whereas using a token is overtly magical.
But that’s neither here nor there! What’s important is that I now have a viable method of letting players both contribute to and steer the course of events. Five Paths (one per element) contain different rewards for following them. You follow a Path by behaving in line with its elemental affiliation: go into a scene with high emotions and lots of energy, for instance, and you’re said to be walking on the Fire Path. If the scene resolves in a way commensurate with Fire’s ideals, then you get a reward for having a hand in that. You also then nudge the final scene closer to a Fire-based resolution. (I’ll explain more on how that works mechanically later, but the general principle is that scenes’ “dispositions” are based on elemental tokens that have been banked in the scene ahead of time.)
I’m still working on how to balance an ever-increasing dominant element against the others in order to prevent one or two early scenes from “steamrolling” everyone into having to walk one specific Path if they want any rewards at all, but the fundamental idea seems sound. I have the inkling that rotating the power of narrator through the players, and allowing them to populate scenes before they start with tokens that can be acquired, used, or saved might help mitigate an overpowering reward spiral for those who get early scenes to go in their favor. There will also be counterweight to using tokens for long-term benefit by making them really useful in the moment to affect scenes as they play out. I’m hoping to actually test out a brief three-act structure sometime in the near future and see if it actually holds up.
One of the early lessons in game design when I started doing it for publication rather than as a pastime, and a lesson that stuck deep in my mental mud, was what Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions refers to as “remixology”, which is another way of putting the aphorism attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Now, of course, one doesn’t simply just steal an item and leave it readily identifiable as stolen, and it’s not very fulfilling to just put out someone else’s game as your own, so you steal pieces. In this case, for the card game I’m currently referring to as Daisho, I’m adapting* the travel mechanic from the Lord of the Rings card game, whereby the players move their protagonist group along a trail of nine cards representing sites in Middle-Earth, and which become more and more treacherous as the journey progresses towards its end goal. In Daisho, each ronin will walk a Path of cards, with all Paths leading towards the central point where the final showdown occurs.
In LOTR, though, each player picked out a specific stack of site cards and played them in sequence to form a single track on which all of the players were walking – the ultimate shape of this track was thus a conglomeration of all of the players’ site deck, and part of the strategy was in making sure you got to lay your locations in the appropriate spot instead of allowing your opponents to dictate the sites that appeared, as each site had effects on the encounter parameters (making specific enemies stronger, for instance).
I like that, but I also want this to be a fairly streamlined process for players; my experience with the LOTR system was that it wasn’t always easy for a new player to have control over the site path. Also, there’s a thematic strength to each ronin in Daisho having to walk their own lonely Path toward destiny, so instead of a central series of events that all players share, each player in Daisho will deal out their Path leading toward the central stronghold.
Another tweak I want to make is stolen from a different card game: the Vs. System (Marvel/DC) by Upper Deck, which allowed players to play any card as a potential resource (unlike in Magic, where the resource cards are a specific sort, and if you don’t get them, you don’t get to do things). Instead of making a specific Path stack, players deal out a certain number of cards from their deck face down to serve as the Path. The reward for overcoming the hazards that lurk along that Path is to pick those cards up and add them to hand once each enemy or obstacle is overcome.
Oh, and because I do want there to be a possibility of direct player-to-player confrontation, a few cards will open up the possibility of side-stepping onto another ronin’s Path. This also makes the strategy of what to include in a deck much more nuanced, since the choice card you’re hoping to use for your own strategy may be picked up as a Path card by an opponent and used against you!
* That’s a good word for it, right?
That’s the short pitch for a new game idea I’ve started developing, anyway. It’s pretty awesome as a pitch, but it does what most good pitches do, which is a little bit of a bait-and-switch ploy: the real idea isn’t quite the one described in the pitch, but the pitch gets you to stick around to hear more detail.
We start with the picture a ronin wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland, then zoom out. It’s not post-apocalyptic NOW, but post-apocalyptic 1600: right as the Edo period is taking off in Japan, and in the heart of the Ming Dynasty on the mainland in China. Something has happened to the world – fully half of the globe, from the Black Sea at the easternmost edge to New Zealand at its westernmost, covering the Western Hemisphere, has been practically destroyed with few to no survivors, and the rest of the earth is a nightmare realm.
Our ronin’s sandals tread the blackened earth and foul water of this hell, and occasionally cross paths with other wandering warriors. What goal do these warriors seek? It’s hard to say. They all seem to be fixated on a distant, looming stronghold, perhaps a tower or castle’s ramparts, where it’s said an overlord of the darkness holds sway. Is the ronin going there to challenge the fell daimyo in hopes of lifting the curse? Will they instead offer their sword’s service to the emperors of shadow, thinking that any master is better than none? Do they hope they fall in combat along the way, freeing them from their wretched existence? The ronin does not answer, but simply walks on toward the next duel.
I’m envisioning this as a card game, but it can go one of two ways: initially, I imagined a direct player-versus-player dueling game, but I can see the appeal of having a multi-player competitive quest to follow a path of events, questing closer to the end goal while simultaneously throwing obstacles onto the paths of one’s rivals to prevent them from beating you to the climactic encounter.
More to come as I develop this.
I noticed from my stats that one lone individual came looking for Spectrum yesterday. Hello there! I want to reassure anyone who’s looking into the Spectrum rules that it’s not a dead project, just on the back-burner while I finish Corona and Project Atlantis. I have not one but two different games using a Spectrum iteration as the core mechanics in percolation, and hopefully I’ll be able to discuss them more later this year. As always, I encourage people to take Spectrum Prime and experiment with it – that’s why it’s available for free under Creative Commons license, after all.
Delve will be out soon! Besides a few exciting tweaks from play test feedback (new Specials! better movement rules!), the game also features a new set of icons by artist Chris Clouser. They give the game a more cohesive visual appeal as well as facilitating play. Take a look at Chris’ other work over at DeviantArt: http://holymonkey.deviantart.com/ Also, start signal boosting: Delve comes out Friday, February 15, if the dungeon doesn’t kill us first!
Sorry for the prolonged silence, but I can apologize by offering you cool new stuff! Not only will there be Delve and Corona announcements soon, but I spent November – which you of course know is National Game Design Month – creating something brand new. Check out the fruit of this month’s labor over on the Games tab: a little strategy game called Monoliths of Titan. Hope you enjoy it!
In Corona, you have one. But can you keep it?
The universe of Corona is one in which humankind has spread across the Milky Way. Psychic autarchs have learned to harness solar radiation to magnify their powers across entire systems, and their rule is largely unquestioned. However, an autarch’s sun-mind powers are limited by the heliopause – the outer boundary where the star’s radiation and the interstellar medium reach equilibrium. As a result, there is no one dominant interstellar power, but instead thousands of island-like star-nations vying for any advantage over the others.
One turn, or span, in a game of Corona focuses on one of these autarchies: one player adopts the position of the Throne, playing the autarch overseeing this solar kingdom, with the other players adopting the various members of the court, divided into four Ministries responsible for different duties and powers in the system.
Not all agents in the court are loyal, however. Some might want power for themselves or their Ministry; others could be secret partisans for another rival autarchy; still others may be idealists who want to replace the authoritarian rule of the autarchs. The danger of treachery is heightened in this time of change, when serious threats overshadow the long-held equilibrium of power. The nomads who wander the causeways built for interstellar travel during the Emigration have their own independent agenda. A fledgling Free Alliance of systems newly emancipated from autarchial rule agitates for a new era.
Corona allows players options to explore one such autarchy’s saga, constructed by consensus, or even to string together multiple autarchies in rotating story arcs to build a truly galactic epic.
Dice: do you prefer your own, or is it okay to share?
Recently, a new designer on a forum I frequent tossed out an idea for a system for a game that used dice as a physical currency to represent narrative control. (I didn’t mention that I had already done this with Diceconomy, because I didn’t want to skew the discussion, but the concept in general obviously appeals to me, and I like the thought of seeing more games do this.) One of the flaws in the idea was that the game required a huge number of dice. How huge? Over 20 per player. And because they represent a player asset, they can’t really be shared, meaning a 4-person game would approach 90 dice on the table.
Project Atlantis uses four dice, by comparison, and as such it may not seem directly related, but there is a point that bears consideration, and that’s how to manage the logistics of dice that do things other than serve as randomizers. Because one mode of activating character traits in the system for Project Atlantis requires a player to invest one or more dice in the trait, one quickly runs into a dilemma: if you’re playing with one shared set of Fudge dice, then a player who invests even one die has messed up the die pool for the rest. (Rerolling a die isn’t a good option because of the way die rolls interact with magic – to wit, magic manipulates the lay of rolled dice, so rerolling a die complicates the resolution mechanic.)
This isn’t a problem if everyone has their own dice, of course. But while statistics don’t seem to be available, I’m guessing the number of players with a set of Fudge dice remains comparatively small, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s requiring players to buy too much proprietary equipment to play a game when it can be avoided. (One can convert regular six-siders into dF, but I recognize that many gamers like having the “proper” die for a roll). Another workaround dictates that one simply relies on non-dice tokens to mark investments and then just rolls fewer dice, which allows for sharing in the event that not everyone has appropriate dice.
As problems go, this one is rather insignificant, but it represents some of the factors game designers should take into account when creating a game. An early commenter on the Diceconomy games joked that I must have stock in one or more of the dice-making companies because of the number required to play (although compared to the example that prompted this post, Diceconomy is, if you’ll pardon the expression, rather economical: only 28 of a given color of die can possibly be on the table at a given time, and that’s an extraordinarily unlikely occurrence that practically requires collusion between the players to accomplish). Nonetheless, I’ll be considering the proper procedure for handling dice to please the most number of potential Atlanteans.