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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 68 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: The Engine: Setting challenge review  (Read 2546 times)
Anna Kreider
Member

Posts: 65


« on: January 06, 2007, 09:38:27 AM »

I'll admit that when I opened up The Engine, I groaned when I saw the massive page count. (I read The Engine last, and since I'd drawn the two beefiest submissions it had taken me a while to get to it.) But once I started reading, I completely forgot about the length of the piece because I was totally engrossed in the writing.

The Engine is very impressive in terms of evocative writing. The concept of the setting is in itself fascinating - a train which is longer than both horizons, where no one has ever seen either end of the train and the inhabitants of the train are strangely removed from life. The protagonists are on a mission to go to the engine and find out "what it's all about", which serves as a gripping premise for what will undoubtedly be an epic journey.

While I cringe at making the comparison, the initial description of the setting seemed very reminiscent of anime - particularly anything by Miyazaki or Galazy 999. The strong use of imagery is instructive as well as entrancing, as it helps to convey the feel of the setting and the types of stories that could be told using The Engine.

The writing is simply gorgeous, which made the setting a joy to read. Although, there is one section where it seems to drag a little - the section called "Competition" in which is ennumerated the various methods residents of the train use to convince others of the validity of their thoeries about the purpose of it all. This was the only point at which I caught myself checking page numbers a lot. The idea of it was interesting, and the understanding it adds to the philosophy of the train residents is important, but I'd still like to see it either shortened or tightened up as I felt that the flow suffered in that section.

(As a side note, I found it especially interesting that Mikael seemed to have picked out the push/pull dynamic of the Heart and the Mistaken as the heart of the Polaris system - since that is what his setting is based around. When I had heard there were other Polaris entries, I was a bit nervous. So it was interesting that we both picked out different aspects of the Polaris system as the core around which our entries were based. But that's neither here nor there.)

Briefly, here were my thoughts as to the main judging questions, though I'm not giving scores...

How well is the game system integrated? How well does it seem to fit?

The system of the game is almost seamlessly integrated with the setting text. The section regardings Themes and Aspects is presented as a sort of chronicle of the journey so far. I was impressed with the clever integration of story and rules, because it does present a fascinating story while at the same time not confusing the issue of how the Polaris rules are being modified.

How will the game presumably work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?

Having played Polaris quite a bit, I think that The Engine would relatively easy to play. The setting being very rich means that it's not very hard to conceive of scenes to set, potential conflicts and rivalries, or any of the other things that make a good game of Polaris go.

My only real difficulty was how the two stages of the journey (Doubt and Stability) were broken down. Because that actually added something new to the Polaris system, I wasn't very satisfied with the somewhat terse explanation given of the breakdowns of these two stages. It didn't leave me with any sort of idea of how these would be brought out in play, or how characters were supposed to progess through these stages.

I would like to see greater explanation of that included, just because it's something that seems pretty important to the modified mechanic of The Engine. But as its implemented, it confuses more than it adds to the setting.

How complete, accessible and well presented is the material?

The presentation is pretty plain - just text and nothing else - but is still well done for all of that. The font face, size, and spacing all contribute to maximum readability - which is critical for something as beefy in word count as The Engine. Accessibility was also very good; the writing manages to strike a nice balance between beautiful prose imagery and ideological manifesto without ever going over the heads of the reader.

How interesting, original, stylish and “juicy” is the setting?

As previously iterated, this is a very "juicy" setting that provides the players with a wealth of rich imagery. High marks, too, for originality.


A big thank you to Frank T for starting this.

~Anna
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Malcolm Craig
Member

Posts: 263


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« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2007, 06:18:12 AM »

My thoughts on The Engine.

Out of the four settings I have reviewed s part of the Transatlantic Setting Design Challenge, The Engine was the one that engaged my attention most as a work of fiction. The environment of the train itself was one that made me want to explore and create stories in it. Maybe this is because the setting itself reminds me of ‘The Bridge’ by Iain Banks (my favourite of his novels) with its strange architecture and unknowable quantity.

The style of writing, placing all information in the form of a first person narrative, also helped to create a feeling of there being much more than was revealed. We only know what this one person relating the story of the train knows, and so we are encouraged to explore and create our own meanings and reasons for the existence of the train and its eternal journey.

The fit of the Polaris mechanics seems to be a good one, although I have to admit it is not the game I am most familiar with out of those used in the setting design challenge. However, The Engine does manage to take the basic themes and tools provided by Polaris and utilise them well for its own ends.

Nutshell Review

How well is the game system integrated? How well does it seem to fit?

From my limited knowledge of the mechanics, it does seem to do an acceptable job.

How will the game presumably work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?

The setting does well to evoke mystery and story creation in order to find out the true nature of things, both in terms of environment and the nature of those on the quest.

How complete, accessible and well presented is the material?

The first person style was intriguing and easy to follow.

How interesting, original, stylish and “juicy” is the setting?


The setting was vague, but not in a bad sense. It had an underlying richness that occasional peeked through the surface, hinting at much great stuff below.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk

Part of the Indie Press Revolution
Mikael
Member

Posts: 206


« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2007, 12:43:55 PM »

Thank you both for your encouraging feedback. It is not a done thing in the Finnish culture to dwell on positive feedback, but I want you to know that it is highly appreciated.

As far as the anime take on the setting goes, I have no problem with the readers taking that approach, if it comes naturally, but I do hope the text leaves room for other interpretations as well.

The section on Competition bothered me as well, but unfortunately I did not have time to do much about it. The different ways of influence are actually meant as suggestions for the different approaches the guides could take with their envoys. I wonder if the section could be made more entertaining by turning it more into "real-life stories" instead of the enumeration it is now.

Regarding the two stages of the journey, Doubt and Purpose. The idea is to give a name, meaning and exit criteria to the numbers of original Polaris Zeal and Weariness, thus hopefully giving some more structure and spur-through-constraint to the whole game. Given this goal, I fear that too much additional explanation will lock the thing down too tightly, while there definitely needs to be enough information so that it can be used in play at all. Definitely an area that needs some playtesting. Thanks for the heads-up, Anna.

+ Mikael
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Sam!
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Posts: 25


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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2007, 03:08:56 AM »

Thank you both for your encouraging feedback. It is not a done thing in the Finnish culture to dwell on positive feedback

Let me demonstrate it: Like Anna and Malcolm, I like The Engine. It's poetic and uses fantasy to provoke thoughts. I won't repeat all the glory already said, but I agree with it.

But could someone explain me this a bit - I have played Polaris only three times way back when and never read the rule book. So how are the rules changed? I recall that in Polaris every player had a character of their own, but in The Engine it seems that there is only one Guide and one group that is trying to find the answers. And the idea of Innocence / Doubt score is a new element, which is there to drive the game to go through nine Steps, right? And the "What you gained / lost" lists refer to Aspects that can be used & lost or gained, like in Polaris.

And what is the meaning of pages 11-16? The philosophical material given there is interesting, but what does it mean for the actual playing? The expedition group isn't supposed to discuss the matter, is it? The previous pages are explaining the setting (p. seven being the jewel), but somehow this part seems to be less informative.
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Sami Koponen
tadk
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2007, 06:53:04 AM »


Hello all
Life kept me from participating in the challenge, which I wanted to do.
As I read about some of the entries so far this one intrigues me the most.
Can I get a copy of the document, so I can read it for myself
Either way congrats on a, wonderful sounding, entry.

Cordially

Tad
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Mikael
Member

Posts: 206


« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2007, 09:04:54 AM »

Here's the link to The Engine v1.0 PDF. This and the links to all the other entries can be found in a thread titled something like "Setting Challenge submission thread" in the Endeavour forum. towards the end they are even conveniently collected into one place.

Although, if you are not a judge, you could wait a week, and I will try to get a bit more expanded version out.
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Mikael
Member

Posts: 206


« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2007, 11:51:49 AM »

Sami, sorry for the slow reply.

Thanks for the questions and stuff. They certainly point out areas where I need to expand a bit.

Quote
I recall that in Polaris every player had a character of their own, but in The Engine it seems that there is only one Guide and one group that is trying to find the answers.

There is one guide and one envoy per player. Players define both characters, but only play the guide, except at the very end (which needs clarifying as well).

Quote
And the idea of Innocence / Doubt score is a new element, which is there to drive the game to go through nine Steps, right?

Yes, the Doubt/Purpose drives the game through the nine steps, but this was the same as in the original Polaris, except here the steps are named and differentiated, as I tried to explain in my reply to Anna.

Quote
And the "What you gained / lost" lists refer to Aspects that can be used & lost or gained, like in Polaris.

Here I need to make it more explicit that these do not need to Aspects, although they can be. The things lost & gained can be anything, as appropriate for the actual events, and have no other effect on the play besides a) making you think about them and b) serving as a sort of a record of the play.

Quote
And what is the meaning of pages 11-16?

Ouch. Yes. They are there for a purpose, but that purpose is far from clear. 11-13 (Morality) present the apparent conflict in the society, 14-16 (Competition) the true conflict between the guide and the envoy, although this is too veiled and disconnected.

Thanks for the feedback! There will be a new version out soon, I hope.
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talysman
Member

Posts: 675


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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2007, 11:56:36 AM »

Another game I scored in both Round One and Round Two. I divided the 10 point possible total between the four areas, but allowed a max of 3 points in any area, to allow a game that was excellent in one area to compensate for lower scores in another area. I didn't use fractions in Round One, but allowed them in Round Two, when I re-evaluated The Engine.

- How well is the game system integrated? How well does it seem to fit?
From what I could tell, the rules are an exact fit. It deserves one-fourth of the total points, at least, but I was fuzzy enough on the details that I didn't give it 3 points. 2.5 points
- How will the game presumably work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?
There's some incompleteness, mentioned below, which made it hard for me to judge how well it would work in play, but otherwise seems OK. 2 points
- How complete, accessible and well presented is the material?
Aside from details on the kinds of events you would see while exploring the train, there's no explanation of how the warring philosophies are supposed to be integrated. Because of the extreme originality of the setting (you can't just refer people to a movie or novel,) the game really needed more work in this area. 1 point
-
Despite the failings mentioned above, the style and originality of The Engine is unquestionable. I'm seeing this as being similar to an allegorical children's story, like The Phantom Toll-Booth, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or The Little Prince. It also reminded me of a science fiction story from the early issues of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine about a world that was nothing but a huge freeway, westbound... and the main character dreamed of sneaking across the median strip to find the mythical eastbound lanes. I'd see playing this game with a lot of pseudovictorian detail on the train and weird out-of-place elements, like a forest of hatracks in one car, or another filled with a newspaper press. 3 points

Total: 8.5 points (Round One: 8 points)
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
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