Inspiration comes and goes, projects get shelved, and unshelved to be completed later. I've been absent from my blog for the past 2 months, but I haven't been absent from the game. During this time I've been working on a few proto projects, one of which I'll be posting soon.
It started as a role-playing game for 2 or more people, designed to reward deliberately subjecting your character to adversity. Rather than advance the concept further and make a complete game, I decided to pull the concept back a little bit, and let it be an add-on for Fiasco, an indie RPG that already does a fantastic job at creating interesting stories between characters.
I'm still getting some of the details onto paper and I have a little play testing to do before I'm ready to share it, so come back soon!
Title, Deus Ex Machina?) is an experiment in player interaction. If I can
successfully get the play balance together, players will be cooperating
together to complete a puzzle and working secretly to complete secondary
agendas that may not be in others’ interests. This will create a play style
where players are forced to say one thing, and do another. That’s kind of my
thing right now, Manipulation and Deception in games.
I’ve got motivation to drive
players to deceive: Independent corporate goals that may adversely affect the
I’ve got methods for discovering
information: Surplus actions and opportunities for clandestine information
gathering and cooperative sabotage.
The next thing I need to do is
make sure that the group goal is interesting and fun.
What I’m imagining is a heist of
some sort that the players need to pull off as puppet masters rather than
operators. They don’t physically exist, so they need to manipulate NPCs into
doing their work for them. It’s a unique kind of story, but can I make it fun?
Can I make the roles balanced between players? Can I make the heist exciting
and quick? Can I write an entertaining “season”? 4 game sessions that work
together to tell a larger narrative…
Here are some ideas that I am hoping
A fixed number of turns or encounters
per Heist, requiring timing and planning for cooperative Sabotage.
Simultaneous turn planning: Each
player submits their actions for each CPU cycle per encounter.
Cooperative GMing: Players have vast control
over computer systems, allowing them to create virtual structures and
characters on a whim. NPC interaction and manipulation will require this
"The Power 19
" is a concept I've seen tossed around the indie dev scene for a while. Published in 2006 by Troy Costisick, these are a series of questions to help game designers get right to the meat of game design. I'll get right down to it, and talk about Artificial Intelligence as a game concept.
1.) What is your game about?
Artificial Intelligence is a dystopian future narrative game about a loose
organization of Artificial Intelligences manipulating the geopolitical
landscape for the betterment of themselves and their parent organizations. Principle themes are power, manipulation and betrayal.
2.) What do the characters do?
Characters are Artificial Intelligences, each pursuing an individual agenda. These entities have individual subroutines that allow them to interact with the physical and virtual worlds in different ways. Successfully completing a heist will require the cooperation of many players. However, depending on the heist, players' motivations may cause them to betray the group. Players secretly hack
each other and work to locate traitors in their midst. Cooperative action can
lead to “reprogramming” of an AI.
3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
play roles with a perspective limited to their AI. The GM plays as an unknown
HOST entity who facilitates communication, and provides information to the
players. The GM is also a scene narrator, who describes the world as perceived
by the AIs from a perspective of phone based sonar, security cameras and other
technological sensing gear. The GM also plays the role of all humans the AIs interact with. The players are allowed to generate virtual worlds to interact with humans and other AI.
4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your
game is about?
setting is a dystopic near future with a lawless political landscape.
There are no moral or legal repercussions for player actions, and this should
contribute to the feeling that the players are not human.
5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what
your game is about?
creation consists of building a parent corporation, and then designing that corp's AI. Each AI has 3 laws of governance that determine what they are forbidden from doing. Additionally, they have some subroutines that dictate what in game actions they are allowed to take.
6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward
(and punish if necessary)?
Secret deals and communication are rewarded, cooperation is
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in
is key. Even clandestine operations require the actions of more than 1 AI. The
principle heist story will require cooperation between multiple players.
8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility
divided in your game?
GM is responsible for describing the physical realities of the world, principle
to the heist story. Players are able to interact in virtual realities that they
themselves shape. When an AI hosts such an encounter, they may describe it as
they see fit.
9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention,
engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
The game provides advancement opportunities for
players to increase their narrative impact. This comes in the form of more
powerful hardware to take more action,s and more specific and impactful
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
For player vs player mechanics, it is a bidding
system. The AIs are all of equivalent knowledge and power, so if one or more
AIs put more effort into an attack than the target does defense, they will win.
the heist, there’s a D100 probability system with the players’ skilled
interaction with systems they want to control, and a series of D6 response
matrix for human NPCs, who are not as predictable. Matrices are situational.
There are different responses that can be expected if the AIs have leverage
over the human, or if they don’t.
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is
The % system serves to remind players that they are
computers, and should think in abstracts, and the leverage/ non leverage human
manipulation table serves to introduce dangerous variables that incline the
players to distrust and not understand human behavior. Humans do not always
12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Characters both advance by improving their hardware
and subroutines, and by changing and developing their 3 laws.
13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof)
reinforce what your game is about?
One theme of the game is power and control, both
over the world via the heist,and over other players through clandestine
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to
produce in or for the players?
I want them to think about the game outside of the game.
I want them to consider betrayal less as an emotional response and more as an
impersonal mathematical one.
15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color?
The personalities of players and NPCs need to
receive a lot of color, because it is principally a character driven game.
16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or
interested in? Why?
Excited about watching the players
communicate on multiple levels, and being privy to the main plot and the
interpersonal meta plot at the same time.
17.) Where does your game take the players that other games
can’t, don’t, or won’t?
This game is written to leverage the strength of virtual
communication. This game plays best from behind screens, rather than a table
top. Additionally, it encourages secrets and alliances, and allows players to
attack each other in secret, while cooperating face to face.
18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Game to be published online, as free
to test, then if it is a suitable quality, make it purchasable.
19.) Who is your target audience?
Target audience is established gamers with an interest in sci-fi, and the necessity to meet remotely.
Virtual Game Tables
are not exactly new, but it's a gaming format I have worked to avoid. While it works to transcend geographical barriers, there's a sense of togetherness and non-verbal communication that is dulled. There's a sense of atmosphere that is lost when you take your friends out of the room and put them on the other side of a plane of pixels.
But sometimes you need to use them to play with the people you want to play with.
And that's when I say "Looks like there's a game that I need to make."
I'm ruminating over a game where a virtual tabletop will be appropriate for play. Where side distractions won't ruin the mood, and the story being collaborated on is enhanced by a little separation. I'm toying with ideas of a cyberpunk future, where players are clandestine Artificial Intelligences with different political agendas, cooperating to complete a series of heists. Each heist will provide opportunities for players to pursue their individual agendas. Players would need to complete these heists by pulling the strings of the mortals who are charged with protecting these assets.
Slander has been under production for over a year, not just milling around as ones and zeroes, but actually (laser) printed cardstock being passed back and forth. Lunchtime cram sessions have been spent to tweak and retweak the game's pacing to find the fun, and I am very proud with how it has come out.
Slander represents what Good Idea Games is all about: a collaborative effort intended to produce fun. It is a casual, thematic, party game, where players make up crude entendres and insult each others' daughters. Tea and monocles are appropriate accessories.
By releasing the Beta, I am hoping to collect input from a diverse group of volunteer play testers. Until now, production has been very siloed, so I could use the feedback. It's fun, I promise.
Saboteur is a broken betrayal game for 3+
players. Published by Z-man games in 2004, Saboteur has a simple goal- to force
players to cooperate to accomplish a goal, despite efforts of a secret saboteur
who threatens to undermine their mining operation.
it has a couple of -reparable- design flaws that will completely kill the game
for any set of thinking and communicating players, and as a game of betrayal,
play should be focused around thinking and communicating
during the game. All players have even odds of drawing damage and repair cards that
can be played on each other to prevent or restore one’s ability to play path
cards. These are used to hinder the saboteur, or by the saboteur to stop a player
from the majority.
game uses a fixed set of 44 pathway cards that must be played within a 9x5 grid
(minus 1 starting card and 3 goal cards). Of these 44 path cards, only 14 allow
forward progress. These are the cards that will allow the majority to win the
game, and with 7 forward cards needed to reach the score zone, playing these
valuable cards in any way other than a straight line to the last row, becomes
the deck has 9 cards that are dead ends (always bad) and 9 cards that are turns
(usually bad). If a turn card is used to change forward progress
to Horizontal anywhere but the last 2 columns of play, the player becomes suspect.
If a dead end is EVER used, the player is either the Saboteur or foolish, and
must be stopped either way.
gravest issue in Saboteur is that the players have NO REASON to ever play a bad
card. The rules allow players to both skip their turns, and discard a card if
their hand is not adequate. This functional alternative to playing a bad card
means that IF a player EVER plays a card that closes a pathway, or otherwise
reduces options, that player is the Saboteur or hasn't done the math.
game of strategy and betrayal, if
players agree during the first turn to never play forward tunnels unless it brings
them closer to the goal, and to not break each other’s equipment unless a
player has violated the group’s best interest, then the majority will win most
of the time. There is still some competition between players in the
majority to be the player who reaches the gold first, but with this agreement
in place, it will reduces the potency of the Saboteur to one or two plays
before they are completely shut down.
game about communication, strategy and social nuance falls apart if players
strategize or communicate.
Saboteur, we need to provide incentive and excuse for players to make
Completely abolish the ability to skip a turn or discard.
If a player is in a position where they have no plays, they must reveal their hand, and then discard a card at random. They may then draw a new card, and end their turn.
Counting also becomes an issue, as frequent players will rapidly learn the
exact balance of important cards.
3 paths should be removed at random before play begins.
This will also make the game a little tougher
for the majority, as this may reduce their ability to reach key locations.
Shuffle an extra Role card, with an extra Saboteur.
This will increase suspicion in the group. After roles are handed out, the remaining one is discarded.
If players are feeling a bit combative, we can use a popular house rule...
Any players with broken equipment do not get any gold at the end of a round.
This encourages majority back stabbing, and creates some "noise" that the Saboteur can use.
little house ruling, Saboteur is a fast, low-pressure betrayal game that plays
out several rounds within an hour. It’s an approachable choice for a group
looking for a game with a strong social
element that doesn’t require nearly the commitment of some of the heavier kings
of the genre (such as Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Battlestar Galactica).
Rounds of (House Ruled) Saboteur can pleasantly fill the time between heavier
games, or occupy a corner for a part of the evening, rather than the entire
edit: subsequent play tests with large groups had many circumstances where players were left with unplayable hands. This situation has been rectified.
It’s the wave of the present! Kickstarter has allowed
independent developers to go direct to their fans for investment, and some of
these startups are going one step further and putting development in their fans’ hands as well. Letting your stake-holders provide FREE content for
your developing project is a powerful opportunity to provide diverse content
for your game… as long as you are able to edit out the chaff, and still maintain control of your game.
Serpent’s Tongue is the subject of my musings today, and the
release of their 3.0 play test kit. Successfully kickstarted a few months back,
Serpent’s Tongue is an aspiring strategy combat game, where players build a
deck of spells, and cast back and forth in an effort to out-wit an opponent. It’s
reminiscent of Magic the Gathering, with cards being collectible and
purchasable from boosters, and the developers are going to great lengths to
ensure that the game’s structure is rigidly defined. Serpent’s Tongue makes
itself unique by forcing players to interpret symbols and properly speak the multi-syllabic
names of the spells they are casting, while holding up one of six gestures.
This will in theory, create a very thematic game, helping players to feel like
modern Magi, as they imagine spells hurtling back and forth.
The developers have just released the latest revision to
their rules set, and a card creation tool for their community. Having proposed
hundreds of spell cards for their initial product launch (a bold move), I can see how they
plan on going about it: Crowd Sourcing.
It's an interesting play, and as I watch from the side lines, I have a few thoughts on the matter. First, getting content from your fans is a great opportunity to build and empower a community, but unless it is tightly controlled, I'm afraid that it can also lead to fundamental destabilization. Most game developers don't ask for help from their fans, assuming that their fans don't really know what's best for balance and fun. That makes this Developer's move particularly bold. Maybe Serpent's Tongue was foolish to make such a loud call to arms? Maybe as a publicly funded game company, they felt that their investors deserved visibility into their process?
I don't know how their exercise will end, whether Serpent's Tongue will be the thematic, creative battle game we're all hoping for, or whether it will collapse under the weight of the crowd. But I am fairly certain that at the end of the year, all that will matter is the quality of their game, but as far as I'm concerned, that's not all they will be remembered for.
You will see a number of updates to the site this week!
I've added A Delicate Operation, my playable 80% Game Chef entry. See also, the Cylon Virus. This is what the concept for Space Virus has become. Perhaps, ultimately, the concept of hybrid games will accelerate, but until then, I am satisfied to see my ideas at least playable.
Engineers try to do as little work as possible. I like to think that this philosophy is derived from being clever. Why should I write code that others have already written? There are libraries of code I can use. Why should I write a rules system for my RPG? There are hundreds of great ones. I can just call my game a scenario, and be done with it. But the rules shape the fiction, and in the case of table top story games, sometimes the game you want to play isn't like anything else. That's when innovation
has to occur.
Almost Exactly. When the game I want to play isn't real, I make it real. Stay Tuned.
My next Project is an ambitious mod of Fantasy Flight's Battlestar Galactica board game, that turns it from a reasonably complicated 3+ player (3+ HOUR)strategy game with strong social elements, into a 1-2 hour social game, with strategy elements. It's a "Mafia" style game.
But why do we need another "Mafia" game? There are dozens of variations on this absolutely free parlor game! Generally speaking, it's a low-concentration party game for folks too simple to play Battlestar Galactica in the first place. You may not need to "fix" Mafia, but I do. It's a game I've been mulling, called Space Virus.
In my community, Mafia has been broken. Ideas about "how to play it right" have been introduced, and spread like a virus, and now, a game of Mafia is really a 3-4 hour series of interrogations. I am not exaggerating, the first round generally takes an hour. "The Mafia want quick turns," the leader will say. And of course he's right, but can you guess why no one wants to play?
What Space Virus will do, is turn Mafia from a purely social game, where accusations are made based off of strictly the interpersonal communication skills of the players, into a social strategy game. Using BSG's system of color coded action and crisis cards, the Cylons try to bring about an end of the ship. This will provide at least SOME evidence that can be used and considered when voting for an airlock execution.
The completed game will play radically different from the basic BSG game, and will use only pieces from the BSG core game.
This week I have tied off my latest long-term project, the adaptation of Bogeymen from weekend-rough draft to professional product. Bogeymen (available as stand-alone download from this site) is one of five modules written for Ingenero
, an upcoming narrative role-playing system.
I learned a lot through the production and play-test of this module, some highlights are below.
- The player dynamics have a greater impact on the story than even the module itself.
- When developing an art style for a piece, use something simple, reproducible and unique.
- Less can be more. By providing less that's explicitly stated as part of the module, the GM is given more freedom to design the game they want to run.
I hope you choose to take a look at this, and I hope it inspires you to record and share your own modules.