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Author Topic: "Shock: Social Science Fiction" <-- Nan desu ka, koreya?  (Read 6693 times)
Andy Kitkowski
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« on: September 05, 2005, 05:31:50 PM »

At the bottom of Josh's sig, I see:
"Now in the chamber: Shock: Social Science Fiction"

Could you talk a little about this one?

Inquiring minds want to know... (^.^)

-Andy
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2005, 07:02:24 PM »

At the bottom of Josh's sig, I see:
"Now in the chamber: Shock: Social Science Fiction"

Could you talk a little about this one?

Inquiring minds want to know... (^.^)

I thought you'd never ask!

Desu a science fiction game based on the premise that science fiction is an illustration of the difference between the audience's world and that of the literature. To that end, there is a grid (thanks to a suggestion by Ben Lehman) that compares Shocks with Issues, and it is both the primary form of world building done in the game and the generator for the protagonists.

Issues are social issues with which the players are all familiar: Poverty, Democracy, Sexual Variation, Public Schooling, e.g.

Shocks are things that are different, that we can imagine: Phenotypic Genetic Engineering, Star Travel, Downloadable Brains, Aliens Live Among Us.

There is also an Action Matrix: how people deal with issues in this story: Negotiation vs. Violence, Buying vs. Giving, Honesty vs. Lies.

At the intersection of Shock and Issue, you find a collision: Vincent and I did a playtest the other day where his character, Yurgei, was at the intersection of Poverty and Phenotypic Genetic Engineering. He was an employee of GM, where he grew carbon fiber out of his skin, then combed it off to use it in the manufacture of parts as he worked on the assembly line. GM warned everyone that there was about to be a layoff, then announced that everyone was laid off as part of restructuring. Because the company's gone bankrupt, it doesn't want to put everyone's genes back, because that would be expensive and they're still paying lawyers and board members back for their time and investments. So naturally, there are deliterious effects to the health of the subject - congenital heart disease, in Yurgei's case - that make it unsafe to stay in this form for too long at a time.

Cue Yurgei's Antagonist: The FLF*, a group devoted to the liberation of those who have been modified in various ways - it's cheaper than using machines, just like it's cheaper to underpay laybor than it is to own slaves, so these people are dispossessed all over the place. They want him to join them and be their poster boy. They don't care about him, of course; he's a tool.

What does Yurgei want? He wants to make sure his family gets fed! He's been working as a mechanic part time, but there are a lot of unemployed mechanics all of a sudden, and even a lot who grow carbon.

By the end of the little story, Yurgei had lost a conflict with Adrian Kulk, a white kid with dreadlocks and a T-Shirt that says "Rage From Within The Machine", a band made of the downloaded personalities of the members of Rage Against The Machine. Adrian convinced Yurgei to join him through coercsion  and wheedling. But he did not promise to pay him. Next episode, how does Yurgei get his sister out of prostitution?

The Action Matrix for the game was Coersion vs. Honesty and Buying vs. Giving, each on a scale of 1 to 10. Your character is made of your Shock/Issue, your two Action Matrix numbers, (which are like Trollbabe numbers, but you roll, then decide if you want to succeed or fail - this is complex, as it turns out, and is beyond the scope of this little discussion for the time being), Traits (which are connected to a particular direction on the Action Matrix, e.g. I have a bottomless line of credit: Buying 1), and Relationships, which can push numbers in any direction, but can only be used once.

Conflict resolution is done by the PP rolling the dice to determine if how sHe has succeeded or failed, e.g.:


Violence|---x------|Compassion

If the PP rolls a 6, the Protagonist can succeed through Compassion, or fail due to Violence. Which is which can change during the course of play. Players bid coins on the effectiveness of their traits: "I can eat planets - Coersion 1" means that, if you bid 4 coins to eat a planet, the opposition has to bid four coins to keep your planet eating from having effect before they can bid to use a trait of their own.

That's a rough little sketch there. There are a couple of weirdnesses, but writing starts soon.

There was just a little discussion over in Indie Game Design about this mechanic, and I can safely say that everyone who didn't like the bidding idea was wrong about what they thought would happen, so neener fucking neener.

*Furry Liberation Front.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2005, 07:14:11 PM »

There's a new Actual Play Report for Shock: up now. Next playtest will be in a couple of weeks. The game is coming along nicely. I'll release an alpha to this forum when it's all writ down so folks can poke holes in the assumptions.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2005, 03:49:44 PM »

If I haven't commented elsewhere, I'm really interested in this game. I don't believe a good SF game has been published. (Yes, that's a strong statement.)
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2005, 05:51:30 PM »

If I haven't commented elsewhere, I'm really interested in this game. I don't believe a good SF game has been published. (Yes, that's a strong statement.)

And one I'll second.

I must say, however, that Shock looks exciting.
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- Brand Robins
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2005, 06:38:25 AM »

Thanks for the encouragement. The playtest alpha is close to completion. Watch this space for updates!
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
cappadocius
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« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2005, 07:30:46 AM »

If I haven't commented elsewhere, I'm really interested in this game. I don't believe a good SF game has been published. (Yes, that's a strong statement.)

This may not be the time or place to ask this, and glyphmonkey should feel free to smack me down if it's not, but...

What makes "Shock" look like the first good SF game to you over, say, a "Continuum" or "Blue Planet"? I'm very interested in Shock myself, but I'd like to see what about it makes you throw out such strong statements. :)
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2005, 07:46:13 AM »

What makes "Shock" look like the first good SF game to you over, say, a "Continuum" or "Blue Planet"? I'm very interested in Shock myself, but I'd like to see what about it makes you throw out such strong statements. :)

Well Larry can answer for Larry, but for me I can answer that question like this:

Continuum was (occasionally) good Sci-Fi, but not (usually) so good as a game. Blue Planet was good as a game, and had some nice Sci-Fi background, but wasn't good as a sci-fi game.

Which probably leads you to ask: What the fuck are you talking about Brand? How is that even possible?

Well, it's possible because Blue Planet, and most sci-fi games, do not directly engage with the source material in direct ways. They, instead, lead to either Westerns or Fantasy dungeons in space. From a Nar POV they don't ask the interesting questions -- or do, but not (as in the case of Transhuman Space) in a way that the players can either answer or pose further questions upon. From a Sim POV they only cover a limited fraction of the totality of Sci-Fi, mostly adventure sci-fi or space pulp -- as the focus is on things that are important in RPGs, rather than things that are important in Sci-fi literature. In Blue Planet you have this rich setting that mostly (from all Actual Play I've seen) gets played out as a setting for water sheriffs to hunt down water outlaws or water mercenaries to do water missions, with occasional freakiness from the aboriginals. The game would be much more interesting to me if it had a way of playing a team of scientists, all full of prejudices and social/sexual tensions, desperately trying to communicate with the aboriginals while being lead to question the very nature of what it is to be human.

Note, I suppose you could do that in the game -- but the mechanics give no support for it, and the setting (because of the big mystery angle) sure doesn't make it easy on you.

You read Neuromancer and get this story about the tensions of humanity, sexuality, and identity. You deal with a loser character who is always in over his head, avoids violence whenever possible, and ends up having more empathy for a machine than for most of his fellow humanity -- many of whom are hardly human anymore. Then you play Cyberpunk and usually end up as an expert mercenary, wired to the gills, blowing shit up, and trying to do violence as often as possible. Sure, it's fun as a game, but it's hardly like the source. In fact, it is so unlike the source that most people I know who were introduced to Cyberpunk through the RPG (or Shadowrun) are slightly shocked and nonplussed when they read Mirrorshades or Islands in the Net, or even Snowcrash -- as what they play and what they read have only the shallowest level of resemblance to each other.
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- Brand Robins
Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2005, 08:16:34 AM »

What makes "Shock" look like the first good SF game to you over, say, a "Continuum" or "Blue Planet"? I'm very interested in Shock myself, but I'd like to see what about it makes you throw out such strong statements. :)

I suppose should have elaborated. Actually, Brand seems to be pretty much on the same wavelength I am. Basically, while there are certainly a number of very good SF settings on the market (I'm a huge fan of Transhuman Space.) when it actually comes to the gameplay part it falls back on D&D or space opera tropes. Hard-core exploration from the POV of a single character. If it's fun, it's because you've created a successful pastiche of the source material. The mechanics completely ignore society above the level of the individual.

(And just so we're on the same page, I'm totally one of those snobs who differentiates "SF" from "scifi". Tons of passable scifi games, with yee-haw starship jocks and cute aliens and Men Who Can Do No Wrong.)

I don't know enough about Shock to say that it delivers. But the concepts that are being thrown around as gameplay elements suggest to me that at least it's looking in the right direction. Society and technology seem to be more than color, they're actually incorporated into the system.
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cappadocius
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« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2005, 08:26:18 AM »

(And just so we're on the same page, I'm totally one of those snobs who differentiates "SF" from "scifi". Tons of passable scifi games, with yee-haw starship jocks and cute aliens and Men Who Can Do No Wrong.)

I do, too. So, no worries. I still think there are some decent SF games, but given the criteria you and Brand have laid out, not bloody many.

I don't know enough about Shock to say that it delivers. But the concepts that are being thrown around as gameplay elements suggest to me that at least it's looking in the right direction. Society and technology seem to be more than color, they're actually incorporated into the system.

Yeah, I don't either. I'm actually wondering if Shock is flexible enough to serve as a meta-system that can be added like a template to a more "traditional" SF (or sci-fi) RPG. I like exploring the deep issues, but I also like car chases and gunfights. If I could do both in the same game, well...
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2005, 08:32:23 AM »

Yeah, I don't either. I'm actually wondering if Shock is flexible enough to serve as a meta-system that can be added like a template to a more "traditional" SF (or sci-fi) RPG. I like exploring the deep issues, but I also like car chases and gunfights. If I could do both in the same game, well...

Word.

Joshua, we hereby demand that you give unto us the perfect game system. Not good, perfect. ;)
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- Brand Robins
lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2005, 09:10:00 AM »

I hesitate to promise what a game in development is going to deliver - I mean who knows, Joshua might suddenly suck or something (hi, J). And only the King of Life is perfect. But presuming that Shock delivers what it promises, it's the game you're asking for.

Like, have you heard how it works already?

Pretty much the first thing we do as a group is write down some stuff like "shock: living on a water planet," "issue: aboriginal rights," and "issue: environmental exploitation."

Then I create my character at the intersection of "living on a water planet" and "aboriginal rights," say: she's the leader of a research team developing quick-to-build inexpensive human-habitation technology, hard-nosed, utilitarian, all practicality and no sentimentality, unwavering in her commitment to terraforming and to populating the planet with humanity. Then we figure out her antagonist, who lives at the same intersection: let's say it's her immediate assistant in the team, indespensible, but quite taken with some kind of nativist fusion-spirituality and a committed believer in low-impact development, population maximums, and genuine cultural sharing with the aboriginal population.

And let's say you create your character at the intersection of "living on a water planet" and "environmental exploitation": an action-oriented radical (my character would say "terrorist"), an Earthling but an Earth-out-of-ist, who blows up human habitations in development. Then we figure out his antagonist, let's have it be some kind of land rights legislator/administrator who lives in orbit but acts through on-world law enforcement agencies.

Then we figure out some opposed ways that people accomplish things here. How about "action vs. legislation" and "research and development vs. empathy and intuition."

We make our characters strong and weak in those approaches to conflict - like, you'll almost certainly make your character strong in action, but where does he stand wrt R&D vs. empathy and intuition? Could be either, could be mixed. His antagonist will surely be strong in both action and legislation (via traits), and probably stronger in R&D than empathy.

So in conflict, we're going to be using our character's strengths against their antagonist's weaknesses, as best we can. What this'll mean in play is that your character's going to be shooting it out in undersea car chases with the police, and my character's going to be arguing hard data against her assistant's swishy-fishy "religion."

The fact that  we customize the approaches to conflict means that we'll always get the kind of action we're after, and their structure means that they'll actually work.

Thus: the goodness!

-Vincent
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2005, 11:20:58 AM »

I'd like to thank everyone in this thread for saying what I was going to say anyway. I'd particularly like the thank Cappadocius for being the shill and Vincent for saying "swishy-fishy".

Cappadocius (do you have a less unwieldy real name?), the models for Shock: are many, but here's a short bibliography of stories you could emulate (off the top of my head. There's actually a bibliography in the book that's more complete):

Isaac Asimov:
Foundation (etc.)
Robot novels

Arthur C. Clarke:
Songs of Dying Earth
2001, 2010

Philip K. Dick:
Dhuuuhhh... I don't remember the names of the stories off the top of my head, but there are a bunch.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Bruce Sterling:
Schismatrix
Holy Fire
Distraction

Kim Stanley Robinson:
Red, Green, and Blue Marses
Icehenge

Classics:
The Time Machine
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Invisible Man
Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde

Movies & TV:
Blade Runner
Ghost in the Shell: both movies and Stand Alone Complex, though they apply to different degrees.

Comics:
Planetes
Ghost in the Shell (the first series. I can't tell what the hell the second series is about)
Appleseed

Philosophy:
Donna Harraway (big cyborg philosopher)
Marshall MacLuhan (media)
Robert Anton Wilson (extropianism in general: space flight, immortality, &c.)

Obviously, the philosophy stuff informs the play, but isn't intended as the core of play; it's not some sort of philosophy class simulator. It uses modern and postmodern philosophy as a way of figuring out what issues are interesting to confront.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
cappadocius
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« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2005, 04:49:37 PM »

Cappadocius (do you have a less unwieldy real name?),

It's Ian, but that lacks a certain internet lame-grandiosity. :)

[snip big honkin' bibliography]

I hope you can spare a page in Shock to reprint this bibliography. I find they really help someone like me figure out what you, the Platonic Game Author, are trying to say.

Obviously, the philosophy stuff informs the play, but isn't intended as the core of play; it's not some sort of philosophy class simulator. It uses modern and postmodern philosophy as a way of figuring out what issues are interesting to confront.

As long as I can confront those issues by having a hovercar chase that runs through a stack of space cardboard boxes while shooting a laser gun, everything is copacetic.

The above is meant at least 45% jokingly. I'm quite looking forward to the chance to check out this game!
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2005, 08:42:37 AM »

Hi, Ian. Perfectly respectable name. The only person on the Forge who doesn't go by his real name is Willifrence Flatus. He just can't stand his name, so we let him go by "Lumpley" instead.

The bibliography will be in the book. It's actually bigger than the one I posted here; there are some obvious omissions in this list: Twilight Zone is missing, for instance, as is Transhuman Space and Battlestar Galactica (the new one). Also, it's a whole appendix. It's too long to fit on one page!

Yeah, the hovercar chase is a valid possibility. You might find that you have detailed descriptions of the hovercar and lasergun to go with you, and those descriptions are a resource; that is, knowing that your Vortex Aerodyne (2045 model) has a small chamber between the seats that you use to hide your laser gun, and that it has a built-in hover-cardboard box bashing bar on the front might give you bonuses in the car chase.

In the Future, do they still forget to break down their hover-cardboard boxes before they put them in the hover-alley?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
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