[Game Chef 2011] My Daughter, The Queen of France

Started by Ice Cream Emperor, July 16, 2011, 07:40:45 PM

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Ice Cream Emperor

So I seem to be working on a game. It's about Shakespeare's troubled relationship with his daughter, the Queen of France. It is not yet clear if she is actually the Queen of France, or if we are intended to understand this title sarcastically -- as in, "who does she think she is..." Currently this all depends on Shakespeare, who is also the GM.

The Google document, which contains far more questions than game, is here.

What is the game about?
The game is about the death of the author, the estrangement between a father and a daughter, and the way we try to make sense of the past, our own actions, and the actions of others. The way we take people for granted based on what sort of person we think they are, and what happens when they become a different person without us noticing.

What do the players do?
Play itself is based on repetition and reinterpretation. Shakespeare (the GM) has assembled a group of actors and friends; he is writing a play about what happened between him and his daughter. He is directing the play, and may or may not also be an actor -- but certainly he will not play himself in any of the scenes.

Shakespeare's friends are there to help him figure out what happened between him and his daughter. They are sympathetic to Shakespeare, but they also have connections to his daughter that give them a different point of view. The players need to ask themselves what it means to be a friend; whether it is better to comfort or to contradict, when their understanding differs. Should a friend help a friend see more clearly, even if it means hurting them?

No really, what do the players actually do?
Basically, under the GM's direction the players are going to play through a small handful of scenes from the daughter's life, over and over and over. There are limits on narration that are removed as the scene is replayed. Every time they play the scene, they will have greater authority to change things, to express their own interpretation, and to delve into the inner life of the daughter. The actors will take on different roles -- the same person will not always be the daughter, or Shakespeare, even when replaying the same scene, allowing further opportunity for reinterpretation.

As they play, first Shakespeare and then eventually the other actors will be able to establish certainties about what happened, locking down elements (bits of dialogue, character actions, specific emotional states) that will then necessarily be included in subsequent playthroughs. Basically the goal is to move the play of a scene from composition towards performance, so that by the end they are playing the scene more like actors.

Things they do: Soliloquys
One of the limits that is removed as a scene is played is a limit on expressing the internal life of characters through soliloquys -- speeches addressed directly to the audience, which in this case is mostly Shakespeare, though it could also include fellow-actors depending on how many people are in the scene. The soliloquy-mechanic is currently very vague, but my sense is that once both Shakespeare and the Daughter have delivered a soliloquy in a given scene, then that scene may be done, or at least locked down in some stronger way. (This comes dangerously close to making the soliloquys seem definitive, however, so maybe that's a bad idea. Possibly it should only open up the option to continue on to a new scene.)

So how about those scenes, how does that work?
The scenes proceed in reverse chronological order, beginning with the final confrontation between Shakespeare and his daughter. As the director, Shakespeare is in charge of framing the scene and giving a limited description of what happened -- this is essentially the first playthrough of the scene, and is basically a monologue from the GM. Play then immediately proceeds to the second playthrough of the same scene, with the other players taking on the roles in the scene -- at a minimum, Shakespeare and his Daughter.

Once the scene is played a second time, Shakespeare can decide to either revisit the scene again, casting different actors in different parts -- besides establishing certainties, this is the limit of his authority over all future versions of the scene -- or he can decide he'd rather write a new scene, that takes place earlier in their lives, and will perhaps somehow shed light on how things got to this point.

There will probably be some limit on the total number of scenes (ref. The Hydra), though the need to remove narration-limits on scenes in order to get to the good stuff should hopefully encourage Shakespeare to keep the total number of scenes to a minimum.

So what does that look like in your head?
The ideal mode of play is one in which Shakespeare frames scenes from one point of view about what happened, the actors modify or twist or nearly-contradict his intentions for the scene -- casting doubt on his view of his daughter and their relationship. Shakespeare becomes frustrated or upset and he reacts by retreating further into the past, either in a genuine effort to explore the causes or in a desire to escape the emotional turmoil of the present scenes. Throughout this, the different actors vie with each other (and Shakespeare) to deliver their own insights into who the daughter was, and why she has become estranged from Shakespeare, and whether it was anybody's fault.

Shakespeare begins the game with total authority over who his daughter is and why their relationship disintegrated, and he ends the game with almost none -- all he can do is hope that his friends will be generous. But Shakespeare also begins the game with the stark fact that his understanding of his daughter and himself was clearly inadequate, and that this lack of understanding has driven them apart -- so he also holds out hope that his friends will reveal things that he could not have seen himself, and in so doing return his daughter to him.

~ Daniel

Ice Cream Emperor

Outstanding questions: Pacing

So this feels like the big question to me, though maybe not so hard to solve once I have the answer. The question is really, how many times do I think each scene should be replayed, and how many scenes should there be in total -- and, relatedly, how long should it take to play the game.

It's important to find a balance between: allowing for significant reinterpretation; allowing for significant movement towards play-as-performance; making room for soliloquys, which I think should be limited to one per scene at most; and avoiding player boredom and a feeling of going-through-the-motions.

The last thing there is the hardest for me to gauge, because so much of it depends on player investment in the fiction as it has been established to that point. This whole game is basically based on a single session of Jackson Tegu's The Hydra, which I played at GoPlayNW two years ago -- in that game I could have gone on endlessly, because I was so desperate to construct a timeline in which my character had a healthier, non-dysfunctional relationship with his son. I feel like the relationship between parents and children is, at a baseline, one of the more universally-interesting, but I am not sure how far that will carry players once the elements of the scene become more and more predictable.

Outstanding questions: Soliloquys

So in my pre-GC brainstorming I was thinking a lot about making a game based entirely on soliloquys -- so one of the questions here is whether I am shoehorning soliloquys into this game that doesn't otherwise need them. Or at least, doesn't need them as a formal element.

My solution so far is to tie them into the limited narration elements for scenes, and make them the only point of access to the inner emotional life of the characters -- which is more or less how they work in Shakespeare, too. I also like having them because they are A Thing that can bring a bit of focus to play -- 'unlocking soliloquys' is kind of a nice mid-term goal for scenes that the players find particularly interesting.

Ideally, I want the soliloquys to really blur the line between the actors, the characters, and Shakespeare-the-audience -- so that sometimes it will almost be like the actor is stepping out of, or to the edge of, character in order to address Shakespeare directly about his daughter, or about his self.

The other big question for soliloquys is to what degree they should involve formal mechanics, or soft guidelines, or support from the game. When you're playing a game about Shakespeare and someone tells you to extemporize a soliloquy, that could feel like a whole lot of pressure. While the soliloquys are tied into the mechanics in terms of when they become available, and who can deliver them (only S. and the daughter), there's currently nothing in place in terms of their content, duration, etc. Possibly the soliloquys should interact with the Certainties (the bits of fiction that have been singled out for definite reincorporation, and the primary mechanism for making further replays increasingly alike) -- but I also like the idea of them being almost completely outside the scene, an opportunity for the player to make a direct address concerning the question of the estrangement.
~ Daniel

Ice Cream Emperor

Outstanding questions: Certainties

Currently, players outside the scene can at any point -- by saying something like 'yes, that's exactly how it happened' -- establish a Certainty about a scene. A Certainty is an element of the fiction that must now reoccur in all subsequent playthroughs, though it is generally limited enough in scope that it can easily be transfigured by a new context or reading. An incomplete list of possible Certainties includes: a specific phrase of dialogue, an emotional state, an action including cause and effect, stage directions. Certainties are character-specific; a Certain piece of dialogue cannot be spoken by different people in subsequent scenes.

So some examples would be 'Shakespeare is furious', or 'the daughter plays with her dolls' or 'the daughter says "I don't care what you think of it! You're just an old man."' or 'There is thunder and lightning' or 'The daughter runs her paramour through with a sword, killing him.'

The questions concerning Certainties are similar to the questions about pacing -- how many, how fast -- and also about authority.

My initial thought was that only Shakespeare can establish Certainties, but that seems like too much authority given the themes -- so then I moved to it being Shakespeare and anyone else who was not involved in the scene, as a way to disperse that authority and also keep uninvolved players involved (I am imagining that there will be a lot of 2-person scenes, but ideally the game has at least 4 players, so that more actors can rotate through the key roles.) My current thinking is that maybe anyone can establish a Certainty except the player who introduced the element -- which brings it more in line with general Fan Mail mechanics.

Since I was thinking of limiting it to one Certainty per player per scene, this also allows for more Certainties earlier. If it's only the audience, we could see as little as one Certainty per playthrough, which seems like less than I want. On the other hand, 4 per scene may be too many. I do want the scenes to calcify fairly quickly, so that the scope of interpretation becomes more narrow, but that's a lot of reincorporation to keep track of as well.

~ Daniel

Ice Cream Emperor

Outstanding Question: Shakespeare is the GM? Really? Is this even about Shakespeare?

Okay, calling the father Shakespeare is obviously a bit of a thematic red herring. He could be anyone, really, I just think it's kind of funny. The direct thematic ties to Shakespeare are fairly weak in general, except insofar as the game is definitely about being a playwright and Shakespeare is the most recognizeable Western playwright. The soliloquys also offer a somewhat more direct connection, though it's not like he's the first guy to ever have his characters deliver monologues, either. If Shakespeare were an ingredient I'd be doing just fine, but as a theme -- not so sure. It's hard for me to separate Shakespeare from the meta-concerns of Shakespearean & literary studies in general, which this game is obviously full of.

But I also do really enjoy the little Shakespearean-window-dressing elements, and I think groups will play to or against that based on how much they like/know about the Bard himself. For example, I'm planning on giving Shakespeare a list of names to choose from for his daughter, and they will obviously all be the names of heroines from the plays. For some players this could be a major point of departure/inspiration, while others will just get that vague frisson of recognition/reference -- which if nothing else will, I think, set a certain tone.

Possibly if I get this one done early I will write another game that is a little more thematically on-point. But it's been a long time since I thought about Shakespeare, specifically, even if I am rereading some relevant critical studies just in case there's something to steal.

~ Daniel

Nathan P.

There's a lot of interesting stuff here! I wouldn't worry too much about shoehorning in elements - make decisions that are good for this game, not good for the contest. I also have a strong Jeepform vibe (not that I know much about it, but still) based on your thoughts about structure. Maybe it would be valuable to consider how much formal structure, vs. informal emergent structure, you really need.

Good luck!
Nathan P.
Find Annalise
I design | ndp design
I blog | Games, Design & Game Design
I tweet | @ndpaoletta

Ice Cream Emperor

So I wrote the game. Currently the game text document is hovering around 3800 words, and I have not yet written the play advice section. There are no examples of play and a tiny number of actual examples, period -- fewer than I would like, and had planned for.

Not really sure what to do about that, except what I did every time I wrote an essay in university -- ignore the rules and hope the professor doesn't stop reading.
~ Daniel

Jonathan Walton

Hey Daniel,

I just posted the submission guidelines and would recommend that, if you feel that strongly about your game (and I'm glad you do!), maybe your vision of your game and the quality that you see in it is more important than winning Game Chef, y'know?  I mean, as Vincent said one time: being indie means that, while I might have opinions and suggestions about your game, you get to tell me to fuck off.

So I specifically put in a clause that makes otherwise ineligible games (rules-wise) totally welcome in the reviewing process, because I definitely think it's important for everyone to feel welcome and involved, even if their passion and vision leads them in a direction that doesn't strictly fit the guidelines of the contest.  Winning Game Chef, after all, isn't really what the contest is about, especially since very few winners have ever been formally published.

Hopefully that works for you too.

Jason Morningstar

Your game has outgrown the format - since winning Game Chef is a hideous curse, you should thank your lucky stars!

Jonathan Walton

I still hold out hope that James Mullen will beat the curse and start a new trend, but... yeah, it's kinda a thing.

Ice Cream Emperor

Well, we'll see. If you mean primarily in terms of theme or content, then absolutely -- the fact that my game is not strictly, thematically about Shakespeare-in-particular is certainly not something I will be compromising. If you mean the word count, I have currently asked a few people to look over the text and suggest possible cuts. My plan at the moment is to edit it down as much as possible and then, if it still comes in over 3000 words (which it is almost certain to do), I'll just add a little marker to the text and try to arrange things so that there are some 'supplemental' sections for optional reading.
~ Daniel

Jonathan Walton

Sounds good to me, Daniel!  The word count is the only thing I was concerned about.

Ross Cowman

Daniel, I just got through reading MDTQOF. I am really impressed, and excited to play this. I love your idea of the certainties and the scene constraints that loosen over time. The writing and layout are all beautifully executed, can't wait to get this on the table.

Ice Cream Emperor

Ross, I'm glad you're excited -- I'm not sure if I'll get much of a chance to play/test it locally, so if you do get a chance to play it, I hope you let me know how it went. There's lots of stuff in the rules that I am curious about seeing in play -- I had to guess at things in terms of pacing, how quickly certainties are generated, how many times scenes will actually get played, etc.
~ Daniel