[Memory Quest] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, February 21, 2011, 02:25:49 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Ron Edwards

Memory Quest by David Berg works off the incomplete-knowledge model of play, which we've all seen brought to jaw-dropping fruition with Sunshine Boulevard (or TSLOSKs for those in the know), but here remains in the realm of the ethical. It's another "Gathering" entry, as I see it, which means that aspects of design, presentation, or both have a scattered all over quality that calls for stepping back and deciding just which of all these techniques really needs to be in the game. So ado or no ado, here goes with my feedback, which is mostly questions.

Is the idea that after dying at least once, the player gets a clue and starts hoovering up reminders? If so, then I'm looking for the fun. It seems to me that at that point, once they've shifted from the obvious-but-wrong strategy to the new one, the whole thing becomes a mere dice runoff to see whether you take more damage than you get to keep reminders.

It seems to me the environment of the agent player affords one tactic: move ahead and get to the end of the activity track, period. So there's a Nemesis waiting up there? So what, you might as well face it with minimum damage. He doesn't know that the real point is gather the reminders, and 50% of the time (which experientially may well be 100% of the time) they do damage to him. Doing anything except barrelling ahead seems retarded. Especially since it's not like you need whatever's being offered to do the mission. You're narrating the circumstances of the mission anyway, so just narrate situations in which you don't need the pipe wrench or the sniper rifle or the Dexedrine or whatever. Pass that shit up and say On With the Mission again.

(What's also weird is that Backtracking and Sidetrack "bring on the Nemesis," but actually do nothing of the sort that On With the Mission doesn't do. I guess I'm seeing that from the agent's point of view, those three things are identical. This is in parentheses because the paragraph below is tightly linked to the one above, but I couldn't figure where else to put this one.)

The various effects of doing different options don't help clarify the situation. The fraying environment is both a signal of getting a reminder and to say you're getting somewhere, and that Backtracking and Sidetracking aren't getting you anywhere. Seems weird to have the same effect mean two completely different things.

It also seems extremely likely that the illusion will be busted soon. All of us are very, very familiar with the genre perhaps best dubbed "you're really in a tank," or something like that. So I'm wondering whether any "your environment frays" event totally punts the whole incomplete-knowledge model and the guy says, "Oh, I get it, the mission is an illusion and I'm supposed to be trying to wake up somehow."

And even without that, there seems to be no "build," just tracks along with the same issues at every step, and wounds and activity tracks are merely a clock.

I really have no idea what kind of thing the agent player might hear the others whispering that leads them to say What Did You Say, and how the answer would affect play. They can't tell him that he's supposed to be collecting the reminders, right? Nor can they just say, "It's a dream, wake up." They're just talking about what sort of reminder to put in there, which strikes me as a relatively trival sort of conversation - "How about the slide rule?" "Hey, good idea!" "OK, you find this slide rule on the desk." I don't see anything in the whispered dialogue that would really be helpful.

David, you probably have a vision for play that doesn't look much like the rather baffling picture in my head that's evident from all the above comments. Can you describe what you're envisioning?

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

I realized that my post completely lacks what I like about the game, which is plenty, but centers right on what appears to be a really fun verbal space of play. One person working with rules set #1, a group working with rules set #2 (and both rules sets are valid, it's not like one is the dummy set); the group whispers among one another and the one person can tune in to a certain extent; crucial information is passed in both directions, i.e., it's not like one side is merely the recipient; and decisions have to be made on both ends.

I really like that. It seems like fun, it's creative, it's unique.

Best, Ron

Gregor Hutton

Oh, Memory Quest. I have some notes scribbled on this at home. I'll post them tomorrow. Briefly, from memory, I liked the idea of many GMs and one player but I wondered if it would be possible to play the Agent even knowing the "secret". As once you've played the Agent you have to be a GM next time, right? And I probably don't keep coming across enough new players to keep playing it as is.

I liked the Lacuna, Inception, The Prisoner feel to it. (I think it would fit really well with a world described like that of The Prisoner with Rover and Number 2, etc.)

And I liked the separate rules sets too. The agent is in the dark and fumbling around a bit. That can be cool.

I'm not sure what the advantage of Backtacking and Sidetracking is though (or what it would appear to be if I was the Agent). And certainly if I tried one or the other and got damaged I would pretty much never try them again.

I also figured that the GMs were in the dark too, despite their conferring and apparent control, or at least I'd like that to be recognized in some way. In The Prisoner Number 2 is never really sure what Number 6 is up to despite the fact they watch him, listen in and prod him with their minions. I suspect the same is true of what the Agent is up to in this game. So if the Agent wrong-footed the GMs there might be an advantage in that?

Anyway, I'll post tomorrow when I have my notes.

Devon Oratz

I am curious, has the creator of this game ever played Spider and Web*?

*Not an RPG, but an IF game.
~"Quiet desperation, it ain't my goddamn scene!"~
My Blog: tarotAmerican

David Berg

Here are a few of the things that were in my head that didn't come through in the text:

1) The agent player is mostly intent on their mission, but also wants to address their amnesia.  The goal is to do both, but the former starts out as more actionable. 

a) Maybe the player would rather get to the end of the mission and see what happens; if so, it'll be a great moment, when they narrate their victory, turn to the GMs, and say, "So?  What happens?"  And the GMs say, "You wake up on a desolate beach.  You can't remember how you got here.  You know you're on a mission..."  I don't know if that sounds fun to anyone else, but it absolutely gives me chills!

b) Or, maybe the player would rather lunge at every evocative reminder out there.  Before they're sure this is needed, the threat of injury discourages this; only through extreme stubbornness or failure to wake up will they really go for it.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on February 21, 2011, 02:25:49 AMI'm looking for the fun. It seems to me that at that point, once they've shifted from the obvious-but-wrong strategy to the new one, the whole thing becomes a mere dice runoff to see whether you take more damage than you get to keep reminders.
Well, I hope it'll be a challenging collaboration, where the agent tries to reveal his Mission despite not being allowed to speak it, and the GMs try to read this and creatively generate optimal Reminders.  It's kind of like playing Apples to Apples via Charades or some other static-inducer.  That sounds really fun to me.  The dice runoff is just to pressure that activity.

Am I missing an ingredient necessary to generate that dynamic?  I might be blind to this...

2) My hope is that the damage clock provides a subtle downward spiral; by the time you've realized the optimal strategy, your margin for error is less.  Bad rolls could ruin a given mission, but then there's still hope that good rolls could save the next one.  Maybe this is a very bad place to be relying on random luck; I'm not sure.

3) As for what the GMs are whispering to each other, I expect that a lot of it will go, "What do you think his mission is?  Now that's he's got a gun and a fake ID, maybe it's a political assassination?  Perhaps we can give him a device that jams metal detectors...  Which of the keepsakes from his home might do that?  Uh... here's a, uh, secret agent magnet he used in Iraq!"  This is not supposed to help the agent player so much as to intensify the paranoia of the experience.  The voices are whispering about you!  Are they trying to stop you?  Control your mind?  Maybe you can dodge their interference if you know their plans!  Oh, wait, might they be friends?  Could they help?

Perhaps I need to do something to nudge the odds more in favor of producing that experience...?

Gregor, that's the secret I'm hoping the GMs will be in the dark about: What's the agent's mission?  They need to know so that they can figure out how to make him interact with their Reminders.  If they throw a Reminder that doesn't fit, the agent will just On With the Mission right past it.  That's my intent, anyway.

As for the agent fooling them, it would be fantastic if there was some way for that to produce results that looked good to the agent but were actually bad for him (via being bad for the GM docs trying to help).  I'll gladly hear any ideas on that front!  For now, though, I think my own focus will be on nailing down the extant basics.

4) Backtracking is for going back to a potential Reminder that you chose not to interact with the first time.

5) Sidetracking is for "What the fuck is going on?" probing.  I figure curious players will want to try it.  Once oughta be enough.  But who knows?  Ignorance births strange approaches!  I'd enjoy being wrong about something like "the secret lies in the unraveling edges!" but maybe that's a tough mindset to expect players to bring in, and most would resent that option being called out in the rules.  I wonder if a disclaimer "Some of these may be terrible ideas; find out in play!" would do it.

6) Finally, what's The Prisoner and what's an IF game?

Thanks, all!  I mean to give this game some serious re-working after I recover from this upcoming weekend's convention.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Nathan P.

If you happen to have access to the No Press RPG Anthology (now out of print as far as I know), Michael Miller's Discernment and Mike Holme's Cell Gamma both dealt with similar themes to what you're looking at, David. FYI.
Nathan P.
Find Annalise
I design | ndp design
I blog | Games, Design & Game Design
I tweet | @ndpaoletta

Ron Edwards


"What's The Prisoner?" (recovering from shock)

It's an early 1960s British TV show. It ran for about ten episodes and is a self-contained story. It is highly influential.

Everyone else, shut up about The Prisoner. David needs to go and rent it and see it, beginning to end. This is a rare opportunity for someone truly to enjoy something without ruining it by endless pre-digestion. David, please do not look it up on Wikipedia or IMDB or anything else. Watch it cold.

Best, Ron

David Berg

Oh, I'm with ya, man; whenever I've actually decided to read or watch something new, I steadastly avoid reviews or chatter.  I saw Sixth Sense a year after it came out and still hadn't had the ending ruined!

So, cool, I'll watch The Prisoner.  I'm pretty sure some of my friends have liked it too.  It may take me a month or so to get to, though.  I'm currently engossed in Fringe (which I discovered right after submitting Eye in the Pyramid, believe it or not).

In the meantime, any further thoughts on my clarified intentions above?  Visions of lightbulbs going on?  Visions of the crack pipe I must be smoking?

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

Hey Gregor, did you ever find your notes?
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards


Your #3 seems the most difficult to implement to me, although whether I'm merely flapping my hands anxiously, or there's a procedural issue that playtesting can help fix, or there's a fundamental problem, I have no idea. Everything else sounds fun and intriguing.

The backtracking and sidetracking are interesting features - basically, a bit of a trap to induce some damage, and to provide flexibility in one's options without really offering alternatives.

How long do you envision a given mission to last in real time? If I put over an hour into getting borked and waking up to a new mission, I might be annoyed unless the process was incredibly fun. But if a given mission is short as well as fun, then trying to get it right through several of them, partly through learning what "right" even is, would be nifty. Kind of a Groundhog's Day meets James Bond.

Best, Ron

David Berg

Hi Ron,

Yeah, I think my vision for #3 is kinda of the optimal scenario for what the current procedures are likely to produce.  The more it matters for the agent and GMs to understand each other, the better.  Ideas:

1) Perhaps the solution is in fact to have the cycles run quickly.  On the first mission, it might be fine to have a simple, "I narrate how I win, I have no idea what the whispers or other narrative options are for," as long as it was pretty quick.  (Maybe 25-30 mins including obstacles?)  Then the Groundhog's Day moment hits and the second mission has the "figure out how to escape the loop" objective brought to prominence.

The main thing I envision slowing the process down is the GMs flinging lots of obstacles into the fiction in an attempt to forge connections with Reminders.  I could discourage this with either some GM advice ("If the agent player isn't latching onto your reminder opportunities, hold off until their first reboot; then they'll care!") or a hard limit on obstacles that grows over subsequent mission attempts.

2) Perhaps the agent player's ability to just narrate success ends at the mission finale.  Perhaps the GMs need to have deduced the mission in order to provide that opportunity.  So, as the agent player, it's kind of like I'm having this lucid dream up until the part that really matters, where I need confirmation of my expectations to really buy it.  If I don't get the climax I was expecting, the carpet's pulled out from under me, the dream/simulation crashes, and we reboot.

Hell, maybe instead of narrating your opportunity, the GMs could actually narrate you completing the mission.  Then, if that wasn't it, you'd deliver a line like, "But that wasn't what I was supposed to do!" and that would cue the GMs to reboot.  That strikes me as clearer feedback on the priority of communicating, but also a kind of harsh loss of agency.  Hmm.  Maybe if the agent's instructions included, "Once you're in position, your instincts will take over," or some such...

3) If the GMs are required to talk more about the agent's real status (stuck inside psycho's mind), that ups the odds of a good "What did the Whispers just say?" result.  At the same time, fully revealing that status for certain breaks the fun of curious confusion.  So what about this: a requirement that the GMs precede and/or follow every obstacle insertion with a reference to the agent's physical circumstance.  Heart monitors, EKG readings, glucose drips, family just outside the room, CIA director stopping in, military guards on the psycho, etc. 

Since most of this narration wouldn't be overheard by the agent, it'd have to be a fun game between GMs to be functional.  Not sure how to do that without really distracting from the main point of play.  Rrr.  Will ponder more elegant solutions...

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Gregor Hutton

Hi David

Sorry for the delay, I did!

I think a lot of the things I had were covered above, but here was what I also had scribbled down on my print out:

Page 1 (Memory Quest: A race for Truth): So, new players only as Agents, right? Can that be fixed? Is it only fun to have an Agent player who is in the dark about the twist?
Page 2 (Agent Instructions): I've drawn a doodle of an Agent in a circle surrounded by Whisperers. And I circled the "four steps are required", with "What 4 steps?" (It's OK, I get the answer on the next page)
Page 3 (Agent Instructions): I seem to have written the numbers 1 to 15 above the boxes and circles to work out how many scenes I'd be having. I've scribbled 0 * S S B W * below this. I think I was musing on what sort of scene order we might see in play. Do you have an idea of how that will pan out?
Page 4 (Whispers Instructions): I've written "Inception/Lacuna/The Prisoner, right?!!"
Page 5 (Whispers Instructions): I've written in big letters in the space below "What if the agents fails..": Need Examples. What are my reminders supposed to be like? And I seemed to have been a bit confused by the "now needing only 3 steps to complete...only healed by half..." I think I was wanting a concrete example: Leo is in his 10th scene and he dies for real here's how his stats change with a shock. (By the way, that "dies for real" is that damage taken on the track or fictional damage too? Like he falls off a cliff?)
Page 6 (Whispers Instructions): I've underlined the text "Collaborate on this in secret before starting play." It seemed too far into the Instructions. Shouldn't we Whisperers be doing this up front? Like one of the first things? And under Victory I've written "Bait & Switch?!?!" under the Victory paragraph. I think that was a knee-jerk reaction to reading it the first time. But I'm still trying to gauge how I might feel when my victory is turned into something else.
Page 7 (Whispers Instructions): What is point of backtracking/sidetracking? (You've covered that in this thread) I wondered why the coin flip is secret. If I were the Agent it would seem bizarre to me anyway if it was flipped in front of me and a Whisperer said "two points of damage". I mean I can see them flipping the coin and I know that it can only be heads or tails. That seemed obfuscatory enough to me, without hiding the result. I wondered if me seeing the result wouldn't matter anyway.

Err, and that's all that I didn't cover above. I don't know if that helps any, David. I hope it does.


David Berg

Thanks, Gregor!  I am going through these point by point, and I think a lot of these will help me improve the text.  I have some questions, but I'll try to distill them first so I don't hit you with a lengthy barrage.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Gregor Hutton

No problem, David. I'll help out as best I can and no need to rush.

(I find mindself weeks behind making even simple changes to my Ronnies document -- but charitable things got in the way, so I don't feel bad about it.)


David Berg

New version of the game text is available here.

First playtest thread is here.

Gregor and Ron, I brought both your comments to running the game and they informed my revisions.  Thanks!
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development