[Young Turks at the Cafe] Requisite dump thread

Started by AsthmaticHamster, April 16, 2012, 04:20:45 AM

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Hi all,

Just submitted my game, and totally neglected to talk about it over here. It's been a hellish week, but it's done!

If you wanna comment or anything, bring it to this here thread!



Decompression and thoughts on process:

I came up with the bulk of Young Turks at the Cafe on Sunday the 8th, when I sat down and generated a set of random ingredients. I decided to set myself the high bar of including every element; not necessarily explicitly, but taking inspiration from it.

The ingredient that made things really start to sing was my third random ingredient: "[The Madness Ends Here!] First Look" in it, the author describes an idea for a game in which the player characters confront a mad villain of some sort. For me, this jived really nicely with the idea of Last Chance - what if this is your last opportunity to stop... something?

Probably the other ingredient that most deeply affected my design was Coyote. Coyote made me think of prowling, moving on the fringes, hunting, and survival. I also learned (from the Wikipedia disambiguation page for Coyote, my favorite resource when I'm looking for novel interpretations or oblique inspiration from a word), that Coyote meant "a person with 3/4 Amerindian and 1/4 Spanish ancestry (synonymous with cholo, as used in South America)" in Colonial Mexico. This evoked questions and images of marginalization and colonialism, as well as connecting to the earlier ideas of prowling on the fringes.

These two nuggets really became the kernel of the game for me. A story of disenfranchised people seizing their last chance to stop... again, something. This kernel was problematic for me though - I don't exactly have a leg to stand on in discussions of disenfranchisement and systematic discrimination. After chewing on this for a while, and ruminating on the next two ingredients, I came up with a provisional solution - instead of the game being about direct disenfranchisement, make the game about proxy disenfrachisement, and the inherent ethical quandaries of "charitable intervention" and the role of the privileged ally.

This dovetailed nicely with my thinking about another three other ingredients: Doctor, Riptide: Anatomy of a Design, part I (long), and Dungeons and Discourse.

Riptide is a game celebrating the complexity and growth that youths experience during high school and college. Perhaps, I thought, this could be a game about students? Of course! Student revolutionaries! An easy trope, and one with which I can easily identify.

This led, quite naturally, to incorporating the Doctor: for a while the idea of the Doctor as not a physician but a doctor of philosophy had been percolating in the back of my mind. What if the player characters were philosophy students, and the Doctor was their instructor?

Dungeons and Discourse is a thread asking for feedback on a draft of a roleplaying game based on the Dresden Codak comics on the fiction RPG "Dungeons and Discourse," written by a group of people on the DC forums. I had, in the past, toyed with the idea of making a Dungeons and Discourse game myself; I was keen to see what these Dresden Codak fans had done! Unfortunately, as the thread was rather old, all of the links to the drafts of the game were dead. This struck me as deliciously ironic - I had been stumped in my own design efforts on this front, and now, just when fate had dropped this draft into my lap, it was snatched out of my hands, leaving me still doubtful, still hungry. My mind immediately leapt to the idea of "the fruitful void" - things which are deliberately left undefined, things which are unknown, constraints breeding creativity. Bam, that had to go in the game - and why hide what it is? Call it The Fruitful Void.

As far as random ingredients, my last one was: "Random Crunch (dice)." This included a number of abstract dice mechanics and breakdowns of their patterns of behavior. Fortunately, one of them "The Die Ladder," played right into my thinking about the Last Chance theme. the step-wise, countdown feeling of the Die Ladder provided a nice mechanical framework on which to hang my endgame mechanics.

That left Lantern, and Mimic. My immediate reaction to the word Lantern was to think of (actually misremember) my favorite quote from Patrick Henry's Liberty or Death speech: "I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience." I, of course, remembered it as Lantern, but the point stood. This tied in fantastically to my revolutionary inclinations for the game, as well as injecting the idea of personal experience as the focal point of one's decision making process. This led to the introduction of Lantern Scenes, as a way to give the players the opportunity to contract the fruitful void, by addressing their own ignorance through direct experience. Wonderful associations spilled out of this - shedding light, enlightenment, revelation / revolution, and so on. I also took a page from the earlier Dungeons and Discourse ingredient, and went back to read "Lantern Season," another beloved comic from Dresden Codak. It's a comic about forgetting and death, an existentialist exploration of the relationship between memory and action; the interplay between this and my thinking about The Fruitful Void felt right.  Lantern was in like Flynn.

Mimic was tricky. My thought process: Mimic -> D&D Mimic (box that tries to eat you? ... nope), Mimicry (ventriloquism? pantomime? "stop repeating everything I say!" type things? not seeing it), and finally... Mimesis. Mimesis is a philosophical and literary concept extending as far back as Plato. It is differentiated by "Diagesis" as two techniques for the presentation of narrative. In Diagesis, one describes events as the detached narrator, the author. In mimesis, one assumes the role of another character - in effect claiming that there is no distinction between yourself and the character you represent. Jackpot. I stripped out the existing ideas about character creation, in an effort to prevent narrative distancing and diagesis. This also strongly influenced the Cafe scenes, as I designed them to closely resemble the probably arrangement of the players at the table. The idea of blurring the distinction between the players and characters appealed to me greatly.

All in all, it was phenomenally difficult for me to write anything about my thoughts while I was halfway through the design process. In fact, I didn't touch the game design after Sunday the 8th until Sunday the 15th. When I realized that I was about to run out of time, I sat down (around 6pm) and didn't stop until I had written a full draft of the game (around 11:30pm), and submitted it. It was a fantastic feeling, to have finished a draft, but I recognized that this was a suboptimal design approach. There were a lot of reasons I didn't get to do any work in the middle of the week, but it would have been nice to be presenting a more polished game, and to have had a chance to think through all of the design decisions I was forced to make during the writing process. I'm not displeased with the final product, but I do think I could have structured the information more clearly. As things stand, the endgame mechanics feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the game, to me. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not.


In addition to the reviews posted over at the Game Chef Wordpress blog, Dan Maruschak and Laura Simpson have written additional reviews of Young Turks. Go, read them! Feed my insatiable desire for criticism, advice, feedback, and insights!