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Author Topic: defining the game and goals  (Read 3752 times)
Brian Hose

Posts: 18

« on: April 19, 2002, 10:45:36 AM »

Hi everybody
(all chorus: Hi doctor Nick)

I don't want to steal Wolfen's thunder but I've maybe hit a snag which has something to do with some things in this discussion.

Valamir said:
"First thing, before you do anything, decide what your game is ABOUT, and plan on rewarding that activity."

Well (i hang my head in shame) here's the thing:
I've never found a sci-fi rpg that really inspired me, everything was either good idea - crap mechanics or great mechanics - crap idea.  So I said "Well fuck it, I'll make my own!" And I did - and it was crap (totally self indulgent not balanced at all) but I recognised that and the game began to change...so much so that the concept changed.  About four times over six years.  now I'm happy with the game - mechanics, metagame interaction everything but...and here's the kicker...

I may have lost my game premise.  I had one but it may be too vague now.

Its sci-fi, as I've said, but its not completely Gamist and not completely Narativist.  Without being aware of the theory, I think that I may have created a game to be played in either style.

Let me provide a little background, there were specific things that I wanted to address in terms of theory:

Context: I have encountered players who couldn't seem to interact with the game because they lacked the contextual knowledge of the game-world.  I was determined tha this would not happen to MY game.  And I think I may have done that by providing social information and where possible by drawing comparison with real world situations and/or time periods.

I didn't want to limit the players to any one type of (I use the word with caution because it doesn't really say what I mean) adventure.  In my game you can play anything (theoretically) from shadowrun-style black ops/corporate espionage games to being itinerant traders wandering Known Space and finding what ever (narrativist-) story they make.

And I think that might be the core of my problem.  Am I over-reaching in scope and causing a flow-on thinness in game premise?

Any and all comments and suggestions VERY welcome.

Nervous and worried expecting father of a baby sci-fi rpg,

"Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once." - Julius Caesar II, 2.
Brian Hose

Posts: 18

« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2002, 05:18:51 AM »

Brian here, I gather that there is some sort of stigma attached to replying to your own posts(?) but...

Well, now that this has its own thread I thought a bit more information might be handy...hmmm...where to start.

The game is called "Distant Worlds".

It began life back in '96 as "Centurion: 2248" about genetically engineered super-soldiers facing an invading alien foe.  Sounds pretty generic I know, the twist was that these genetic marvels were basically slaves - no real rights, no ability to procreate.  But they had a promise passed round amongst themselves that one day they would be free.

When I realised our hopelessly juvenile the game was it changed to "Sentinel".  This was basically futuristic shadowrunners employed by the huge and secretive (but ultimately philanthropic) uber-corporation -  Sentinel Inc.  But that wasn't really what I had intended (too much shadowrun influence, I guess).  So it changed again...

...Into "Dark Paradise", a future on the edge of the collapse that has engulfed the inner sphere of Battletech (but not in the battletech universe).  A time and place when things were starting to slide but it wasn't too late for people (player-characters) to make a difference.  I just found that the political system of the time was one where the level of nationalist paranoia was such that the players would be restricted to much.

Then I stripped away some of the things I didn't like about "Dark Paradise" including the (I shudder) magic system.  Then I found my inspiration all over again - Distant Worlds.  I wanted a unvierse where the characters could get out and find and explore what stories came their way or what stories they went looking for.

Basically in Distant Worlds things are like this:

Mankind has been out amongst the stars for about 400 years and we have encountered four alien races:

   Hundari - wolfish humanoids with a strong bond to nature without sacraficing their technology.

   Kchell - small, hot tempered, vicious when provoked and fast!

   Niirue - wise, peaceful and determined, socially more advanced than humans and they can't lie.  They are the most Alien of all the races with six limbs.

   Traanib - huge, powerful and beautiful.  Honourable friends, terrifiying enemies.  They tend to be a bit bound by tradition and not aloways the most original of thinkers.

(they may sound a bit generic but they look suitably alien and when you get into thier culture i believe they are a lot more interesting)

There are five Genesis-states, so-called because these nation-states are centered on the birth-world of each of the five species.  Between and around these is Free-Space, a chaotic and often turbulent region of individual planets and small coalitions that acts as buffer between the Genesis-states.

The whole area is roughly 1000 light years across and the fastest ships can do this in little over a hundred days (the slowest take up to half a year).  New planets are being discovered and colonised every year.  Basically its meant to be a galaxy of possibilities.

Over the various incarnations of the game the core mechanics have remained relatively steady.  Mainly just changing numbers to result in a more balanced system.  Its pretty simple - just a variant on the attribute + Modifier (skills, situations etc).  Right from the outset, I wanted simple mechanics. After playing shadowrun I was heartily sick of rolling d6's, ya know? (I still play - hate the mechanics, love the concept).  Dice are d10 and d20.

Whoa!  I just realized how big this posting is getting (i know its certainly not the biggest but) I don't want to bore you.

Anywho, to recap, I am happy with the game.  Its about fourty-four thousand words at the moment but will be bigger when I finish the three chapters detailing the physical and political lay out of Known Space (although I'n not going to go into absolute detail, I want to leave something up to the imagination of the players, besides there is something like five hundred worlds) and the short introductory adventure. BUT

What is my premise?

Thanks for your time,

"Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once." - Julius Caesar II, 2.
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2002, 06:27:16 AM »

Hey Bri,

Your final question is my exact concern, which I imagine is not surprising.

I think one variable that isn't very important to me, at least, is "originality." Your very first setting notion is perfectly acceptable - in fact, it is arguably the best of the bunch if we are talking about Premise in a thematic (Narrativist) sense.

However, your current setting is based, as you say, on "go and look at what's out there." It sounds like Exploration of Setting is the priority, in your mind. Please note that Exploration = Imaginative Enjoyment, not "explore" in the expeditionary sense of the word; the latter may lead to the former, which is what it sounds like you're up to. So, we're looking at a Simulationist-oriented game design.

That brings up a very difficult issue with adventure/SF, and my ideas on the subject make many people upset. The issue is: to Explore Setting, do you or don't you write up the setting in detail first?

Arguably, to Explore Setting, you must have one. Equally arguably, by writing up the primary outcome of the game before playing it, you have removed all reason to play. I submit that the goal is spectacle or insight during play itself, and that the game author must choose whether the game is about presenting these things, or about developing these things. To pick fantasy examples, Earthdawn is mainly the former, as is Al-Qadim. Glorantha is (surprisingly) mainly the latter, after a substantial start-up that seems like the former.

I also want to be sure that that's really your Premise - "to see all the neat stuff that I've created." If you think you've generated enough spectacular or insightful oomph to keep play going for as long as you want it to (whatever that might be), well and good. Is this the direction you're going?


P.S. I'm not sure where people get their perceptions of what is or isn't a "stigma" at the Forge. Reply to yourself all you want.
Matt Machell

Posts: 477

« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2002, 06:30:47 AM »

Sounds quite a simulationist orientated premise really. Here's a big universe with lots of setting (you mention detailed alien species, political info etc), PCs go and interact with said setting.


Brian Hose

Posts: 18

« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2002, 03:37:46 AM »


I think that I may have misrepresented my game in a certain light, or maybe I hit it right on the money too.

When I said explore I did mean it in the sense that Ron used the word...

"It sounds like Exploration of Setting is the priority, in your mind. Please note that Exploration = Imaginative Enjoyment, not "explore" in the expeditionary sense of the word;"

I must admit that in the reading that I've done so far I never associated simulationist ideas with elements of the game outside of the mechanics.  But I see it, I really do.

The thing is this:
My concerns for creating a depth of background still remain but I feel that by giving the players (and by extension, their characters) a greater hand in creating the game universe they will have a personal investment in the game, and hence, greater desire to play and greater pleasure in playing.

So, is there a way to balance these things?

You know, while I can see that it looks simulationist - to me it feelsnarrativst.  Could this be exclusively a function of my role as the creator of this world?

Anywho, thanks muchly for your input,

"Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once." - Julius Caesar II, 2.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2002, 04:56:20 AM »

Quote from: Brian Hose
You know, while I can see that it looks simulationist - to me it feelsnarrativst.  Could this be exclusively a function of my role as the creator of this world?
It could well be.

The thing is that you can make it Narrativist if you want to. Or Sim of any flavor. I think that what everyone here is saying is that you are beginning your design with a few elements of play, but you don't seem to know where you are going. And you want us to tell you where you're going. The thing is, that until you have a goal, you're going in circles.

Get a vision for the game's goals first, then tailor the elements to fit the goal. Not the reverse.


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