Not One Step Backwards

Started by ShaneM, September 11, 2010, 06:08:42 PM

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Hi folks,

I'm new here, and new to practical game design (though I have had an observers interest in game design for ages and have had an adventure published ages ago, so I have a realistic view of writing), but with a ton of free time on my hands the next week, and a spoonful of interest, I have decided to have a go at the Game Chef contest this year. I have over the last few years become quite interested in indie games, and have been dipping my toes in those game waters, so this seems like an ideal opportunity to see what indie game design is about for myself.

To whit, I am hoping to get some input on my ideas so far, so I am posting them here (along with the power 19 answers for my idea - this is the first time I have answered them, too).

The game is tentatively titled "Not One Step Backwards".

1.) What is your game about?**

Russian conscripts deserting from the army in Stalingrad. Fleeing 'the commissar', fleeing their inner demons (on the edge), fleeing to safety.

2.) What do the characters do?**

Dodge German and soviet patrols, deal with civilians, scrounge, move through threat areas, sneak past barricades, face their nightmares.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?**

The players taken the roles of the Russian conscripts, the GM runs them through the conflicts and obstacles on their journey from hopelessness to salvation. 

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

Stalingrad to a city on the edge, home to none of the soldiers, a sojourn along their journey from life to death.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

Characters are created to be flawed and human, but with the spark of hope required to believe they can escape the situation in which they find themselves.

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

The game rewards those who balance risk and caution, and who press onwards towards the goal of salvation and freedom. It rewards those who reject the dehumanising effect of the rattenkrieg and strive to restore hope. It punishes those who sacrifice humanity to achieve escape, who delay too much on the path, and who lose sight of the destination.  

7.) How are behaviours and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

Rewards are through the reinforcement of the character's hope and strength (moving them further from the edge), and the attainment of bonuses to rolls in terms of their focus.  In addition narrative rights increase as a reward. Punishments are xxx.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

The GM frames most scenes and lays down challenges, players have the ability to influence or even control narrative based on how focussed they are towards game concept. The GM, through the commissar, has a mechanism to add conflict to any scene where it makes sense.

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?)

Their characters are defined by their hope and focus, and the players can shape the story the more they embrace that. The game also attempts to humanise the characters and npcs, allowing greater empathy with the setting.  

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

Simple mechanics that can be heavily influenced by a 'story point' mechanic, to ensure players can have a meaningful impact on elements they care about.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

Probabilities of success and failure for different action types are heavily influenced by the hope, fear and focus of the characters. Actions that move the characters towards their goal of salvation and freedom are initially difficult gut get easier the more along the path the characters go but can often leave  character vulnerable to the darker aspects of the city. Characters can embrace the negative game concepts to resist the darker aspects, but at a heavy cost. Players must balance these sides in order to achieve the final goal. The story point style system will be link to physical and social resources, to reflect the scarcity of support in the environment. 

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

Advancement does not occur in terms of level ups or skill increases,but stats can and will alter in both directions in play to reflect the evolution of the character during the journey. 

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

The changes in the stats will help describe and guide the character's future actions in order to complete the journey to safety (both physically and mentally).

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

Empathy for those thrown into the horror or a hopeless inner and outer war. Tension in term of success. An insight into what they would be willing to do to survive and escape.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

Character mental stability and focus, because they are central to the game. The obstacles and dangers in Stalingrad during WW2 (in a thematic as opposed to historically accurate manner) as they form the basis of the threat to the character's success.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

I am most interested in the fact that the game is about the battle against battle, where those who have been changed by war attempt to walk the path back to who they want to be.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can't, don't, or won't?

I don't think this game does anything that has not been done before, but I am hoping the mix of situation and concept will draw people's interest. 

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?

None beyond this contest.

19.) Who is your target audience?

The Game Chef judges and interested others.

I should point out I don't know a lot about WW2, so I am going for feel and theme of history.

I see the game session as being character creation and the intro scene, where the players actions determine the level of threat the commissar mechanic provides, and sets the characters up with an initial set of resources and a direction. Then a series of scenes resolving around threats and obstacles, before the final scene where the characters face the final choices and either escape (either physically mentally or both) or fail.

Thanks in advance for any help and feedback.



Jonathan Walton

Sounds terrific. Can't wait to read it.

Jason Morningstar

Looks cool! Meshes well with the ingredients.

My only advice would be to write for yourself rather than the judges.


Hi folks,

Thanks for the positive thoughts. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of my brain. I'll definitely bear in mind your advice about writing for myself, Jason.

So, my question is, with such a sherry period of time, what is a good sequence of design to follow? My current plan is to shotgun ideas onto the page and try and sort it out. Is there a better process anyone could advise me on?



Jason Morningstar

You'll need to find your own way, but honestly, shotgunning is not unreasonable given the time constraint. Keep it small and focused, know what you want and do that one thing well, treat it as a design lab rather than a competition.

Good luck!

Brendan C.

Sounds like a cool idea, Shane. I haven't ever really thought about a game which is the fight to avoid fighting. I like that idea, though, and I like your historical setting. And the idea of "The GM, through the commissar, has a mechanism to add conflict to any scene where it makes sense," somehow tickles me.

Being inexperienced myself, I have no idea what the best strategy is, but I'm certainly going for a shotgunning kind of strategy, too.

One thing I'm curious about for your game is the optimistic tone. Considering that many of your answers to the questions are focused on the idea of giving more power to those who embrace hope and humanity, this game feels very different than I might have envisioned it given just the concept. After all, WWII as a setting does not often seem conducive to stories about hope and optimism. I'm interested to see how well that comes through, particularly because of the idea that "[the game] punishes those who sacrifice humanity to achieve escape, who delay too much on the path, and who lose sight of the destination". Perhaps I'm reacting strongly to the language of "punishes", so my reaction is unwarranted, but I'm curious to see how effective the game would actually be in making people move in an optimistic, hopeful direction through negative reinforcement of a more pessimistic style of play. Again, though, I might be unnecessarily hyper-focusing on the "punish" part.

Oh, and thanks so much for using the questions! I had heard about these before, and then I totally forgot how to find them, and now I'm shamelessly stealing them for use in my own thinking. Thanks again!

Jason Pitre

Hmm, it might screw up the timing for the setting, but the idea of Russians fleeing for Berlin and the wall (post-war) seems ideal for the themes in question.  Just a random idea.  It looks intriguing thus far.
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Gregor Hutton

I got a chance to play through the very start of play and a few scenes for this one. It has some promise, some questions and some problems. But! I think after some card flipping and a little play Shane has a kick in the right direction for what he needs to work on and where to go. There are also things he needs to flag up as questions for finding out in play and probably things he needs to ditch or think hard about.

I found the link I wanted to share with Shane too: Krasnoarmeets, which touches on the same colour, location and grimness. Shane's take is different (you're fleeing from the war in Stalingrad on a journey) but I think it's worth Shane looking at one of my favourite Ronnies entries!