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Author Topic: Beyond the Mirror, a sci-fi game on memories and humanity -in development  (Read 5372 times)
Tazio Bettin
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« on: May 12, 2011, 11:56:03 AM »

My current game designing effort, Beyond the Mirror, is a roleplaying game set in a dystopian post-war period whose aim is to explore characters' memories in order to find out whether they are humans or replicants (or, as I call them in the game, synthetics). It is a masterless game for two to four players.
You create your character's most defining memory, describing it as if it were an instant photo seen from the outside. During play you gain solaces which define it and progressively tie it to your character's personal goal, and scars which put the memory in doubt. As soon as you reach a certain number of scars or solaces, your character is finally revealed as a human or synth.

The identity of each character is gradually discovered through the resolution mechanics. The aim of the game is to put players in the position of having to choose between risking their characters' humanity in order to gain what they want, or sacrificing progress their own goals in order not to wake up and discover themselves to be artificial creatures with fake memories.
Of course the game is heavily inspired by Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?" and the movie "Blade Runner".

The full text is available for playtest here: http://www.mediafire.com/?7h46adc7rjulaac
and here is the character sheet: http://www.mediafire.com/?sz2c1b8xs811hv7

Right now I am facing a dilemma.
The resolution mechanics work decently enough, but at the current stage I have many doubts.
The game, as many pointed out (including Ben Lehman, whom I thank for being my first playtester and for all the kind advice he gave me), is heavily oriented towards author stance. I am afraid that this may result in players caring little for their characters.
I must admit, I am totally ignorant of theory, I only read the glossary and those articles written by Ron which I could find, but I come from a background where theory discussion tends to be misleading and often comfusing (I'm from Italy, which Ron knows very well I think).
I would be very grateful if anyone were interested in reading, or even playtesting the game and let me know their opinions on the game.
My goal is to create a very visceral gaming experience. So any insight would be very welcome.
Thank you for your kind attention and patience.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2011, 01:29:01 PM »

Wait...you're two hours from Bertinoro and you didn't bring this to InterNosCon for playtesting? Why is it that the only playtesting of unpublished games at InterNosCon was by the Americans who'd flown 7200 km to be there? I'd have loved the chance to playtest this.

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2011, 01:41:38 PM »

I would have loved to come there, Paul, and have a chance to meet you as I met Ron last year... but InternosCON has been growing in price every year, and this year it was way too expensive for me... but if you have a chance to check this game, I would really love to hear your thoughts!
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2011, 05:43:49 PM »

There's nothing particularly worrisome about author stance, as a design principle. It just means you have to adjust your expectations about where to target rewards and punishments: a good thing happening to a character isn't necessarily a reward; a bad thing isn't necessarily a punishment. But lots of good games encourage author stance w/o too much difficulties. Like Sorcerer and Polaris and Dogs in the Vineyard.

yrs--
--Ben
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2011, 11:33:28 PM »

Tazio,

What were the Questions mechanics that you eliminated? (You mention them in the "note on this playtest rule set".)

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2011, 03:41:35 AM »

I wrote that history for those who playtested earlier versions and might want to know what changed.
The mechanic of question resulted in a terrible downtime and hiccup narration. Basically, once the conflict was over, the Light had to answer a series of questions which would adjust what used to be the stress die back then (and now has changed into something quite different: the goal die).
It was question like "was violence involved?", "did you act selfishly?" and similar ones. A "yes" would increase the stress die's rating and a "no" would decrease it. In the end, as soon as a character would reach one of the two extremes in the scale (it was a d10, so 1 or 10), that would trigger the end scene. However, the progression was very slow and the mechanic didn't work at all so I dropped it.
The initial inspiration for such a mechanic came from the Voight-Kampff test of Blade Runner...
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Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2011, 03:53:33 AM »

There's nothing particularly worrisome about author stance, as a design principle. It just means you have to adjust your expectations about where to target rewards and punishments: a good thing happening to a character isn't necessarily a reward; a bad thing isn't necessarily a punishment. But lots of good games encourage author stance w/o too much difficulties. Like Sorcerer and Polaris and Dogs in the Vineyard.

yrs--
--Ben

Ben, thank you for your explanation!
I had a conversation with a game designer friend of mine who told me that in the current shape Beyond the Mirror is not centered on advocacy as it is all resolved on an author stance logic, and no advocacy would mean no NARrativism. Usually I don't spend much time thinking where my game would fit in the GNS model. All I care for is that it is fun and intense to play. So far I think players felt some tension during play (I would ask after each playtest, and they would say that yes, they felt tension), so all is good. But I've always been considering Beyond the Mirror a story now type of game, and that talk kind of threw me in doubt. But now you solved it.

I'm still in doubt whether this game solves the dilemma you once pointed, that it's more fun to play in order to be revealed as a synth... I'm not sure I'm solving that yet... in the game's logic, one should feel like accepting blur and getting close to being a replicant should be a sort of sacrifice. In my hope, having solaces work as links that bind the Memory with your Purpose should at least partially solve it. Mind you, I don't mean that all players should NOT choose to be synths. But that has to be the sad ending. Yes you win. But you aren't even human, and all your past and things you loved are fake.
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davide.losito
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2011, 10:28:39 AM »

Well, no, actually.
I told you that you have to find a way to put advocacy in the game.
There's nothing implicitly wrong in author stance, but in the way it is now, you are risking to go to a point where the plot comes out from "dice positioning" and subsequent descriptive narration.

I told you there should be some point in the game where the player can grab the system and say "hell, no... I stand my way". This can still remain in author stance. Just it didn't seem there is such an option, from the feedbacks you reported.

Just to bring the thread on... the version we playtested in dicember 2010 at the ArCONate was far way more engaging than how it seems it resulted this last weekend, based on the feedbacks you reported. :)
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Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2011, 10:39:01 AM »

the way it is now, you are risking to go to a point where the plot comes out from "dice positioning" and subsequent descriptive narration.

Sorry for my misunderstanding. I thought you implied a relationship between author stance and lack of advocacy, and that lack of advocacy meant no narrativism.
Care to explain the point I quoted from your comment?
Dice positioning relates to how you want to go through the culmination, i.e., whether you want to win at the cost of gaining blur, or you prefer to save your humanity and accumulate focus, at the expense of your chances of winning your goal... depending on how you want to answer to this dilemma you are going to position the dice, and then you describe the culmination's outcome.

Saying that "the plot comes out from "dice positioning" and subsequent descriptive narration sounds to me like the description of how a conflict in Dogs in the Vineyard works... So I guess I'm missing something important...
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davide.losito
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Posts: 37


« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2011, 10:52:32 AM »

Tazio, I replyed to a short message you wrote me in gTalk about your doubts in a mechanic change.
You were thinking about choosing a "dice allocation" or "mixed roll with d6 and dFudge" (your words).

The solution you proposed in that chat was:
Quote
Light throws 6dFudge. Lights gets the + and Shadow gets the -
They allocate the dice on Focus, Blur or Goal.
+ and - are nulled out
and you start with an automatic -
(in the conflict)

I just warned you that, depending on what you mean with "dice allocation", you risk to have a game that may produce to emerging problems: 1. have a lot of down-time, 2. have a game resolution that is not nailed to the fiction.

You "risk" means: pay attention to this.

And I already told you in that chat about the advocacy issue (translating a quote):
Quote
no, I didn't tell that now you don't push on advocacy, I told that "allocation mechanics" risk to ...

I don't think we have to translate and post all of that conversation.
You asked for advice and I gave you my opinion :) you can elaborate on it, or throw it away :) I am happy the same way
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2011, 06:17:18 AM »

Tazio,

You write that all you care about is that the game is "fun and intense to play" and that you want to create a "visceral gaming experience". Davide writes that a playtest last December was "far way more engaging than how it seems it resulted this last weekend," suggesting that you've discussed a more recent playtest with him, and that the game is somehow not realizing your design goals.

When you say that you have concerns about "players caring little for their characters," is this something you've observed? If not, then what are you seeing in your playtests that isn't living up to your expectations for the game?

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Tazio Bettin
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Posts: 27


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« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2011, 08:46:29 AM »

Paul,
maybe something I said caused Davide's interpretation, but actually I have to disagree with him. The playtest of December showed how crude the game was and how much work I still needed to do on it. Since I trimmed the useless parts and changed some bits, I experienced a dramatic improvement in the game's fluidity. The most recent playtest I did was partially successful.

If I were to say what I don't see as working as smoothly as I'd like is mainly the culminations' resolution mechanic.
I'm trying to find something that works with as little downtimes as possible. I haven't had a chance to playtest a complete cycle with a grou or three or four players yet, due to a lack of time. It only happened twice that we managed to have our characters go all the way up to the revelation, and that's because we were playing in two.

Also the matter of narrative authorities has been bugging me a little bit. Maybe it's more of a personal bias than an actual problem, but I have an issue with games where the audience have a passive role or little influence over the narration. However, I'm still struggling with deciding whom should have the last say on what.

Lastly, In one or two earlier playtests I see a lack of flags, possibly. I.e., not always the Shadow finds it easy to help the scene move towards a culmination. However, I've seen games with fewer flags working in a perfectly smooth way, so I'm kinda comfused. Should I add something? A relationship map perhaps? Not sure about that...

Regarding my concern for players caring little for their characters, it was just related to the observation Davide made about author stance. No, I haven't witnessed that in the playtests. When a resolution roll puts players in the position of taking a difficult choice, I always saw them feeling cornered, and that was thrilling. The problem is that (having players face tough choices) right now it happens less frequently than I'd like. Blaming the resolution mechanics here. They work, but not too efficiently.

Sorry, long reply. Thanks for asking those questions. By answering to them I noticed many things I had been overlooking.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2011, 10:24:32 AM »

Tazio,

Both you and Davide have used the word "downtime". Do you mean Search Time (everything that needs to happen before you can use the resolution mechanics)? Or Handling Time (everything that needs to happen to completely use what the resolution mechanics have specified)? Or something else? What kinds of things are you characterizing as "downtime" during the Culminations?

Paul

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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
davide.losito
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Posts: 37


« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2011, 10:48:14 AM »

hm, for me, it was a term I have been introduced by... Tazio :D

It should represent the break on game narration while players set the dice and "read them", without adding any specific content to the fiction and actually stopping it.
In a game where the mechanics require the players to place dice and wait for the opponent to place his, either one by one or all in turn, there is a lot of this "downtime".

I don't know whether there's a specific term for this, but it sounded right and explanatory enough, so I accepted it.
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Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2011, 01:14:03 PM »

Paul,
Davide summed up the term pretty well.
I introduced this word in a discussion I opened on Story Games where I identified what I perceive as flaws in the design of Joshua A.C. Newman's shock: social science fiction (with Joshua's permission).

I consider a downtime a time during play where you stop making decisions and just do the game's math. It is a term I see most often related to boardgames. And in boardgames it's a design flaw (or considered so), because it breaks the game's flow. Like when you have to make additions, subtractions, calculations etc. You're not taking a real decision in game, or even considering your strategy. You're just doing math.

I also try to carefully keep a balance between a game's math and the ratio of information you get from a resolution roll. Any given conflict resolution mechanic can give you as simple an answer as yes/no (you get the stake/you don't get the stake), or it can give you tangent information (yes, and/yes, but, for instance). In such cases, some complications may be acceptable, but a full fledged downtime would be a mistake in my opinion. I think it's a very serious matter, but for some reason it has been widely understimated in rpg designing, by what I perceive. May be mistaken, mind you.
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