Posts Tagged ‘audience participation’
Yesterday, I put out a silly idea for a game name: Psychopaths & Phylacteries. Apparently I’m making a few notes about this game now, namely the following. And I need your help.
- When you make a character, you roll a d% to determine your class.
- When you level, you roll a d% and add that class to your current one. If you roll a class you already have, you double the bonus instead. If you end up doubling it a second time, instead your heart explodes from being too awesome.
Onto the classes. I don’t know the actual mechanics so far, but I’ve also decided that that’s not important right now.
- Cheese Princess: bonus when wielding cheese in a regal manner.
- Emo Vampire: bonus when sulking about how you’re immortal and cursed.
- Motherfucking Sorcerer: bonus to magic for 24 hours after engaging in sexual congress with someone who has given birth
- Bare Druid: bonus when not wearing leggings of any sort. Double bonus when someone is uncomfortable because of that.
- Were-Hippopotamus: bonus when charging at a foe in hippo form. Also, you’re a fucking hippo!
- Racist Arabian Stereotype: may attack two additional nearby foes when wielding two curved swords.
If you start out as a Cheese Princess and level up to become a Bare Druid, you’ll be a Cheese Princess Bare Druid. You can see where this will just get silly.
Anyway, what I need you for: come up with some silly names and ridiculous bonuses or abilities. Don’t worry about the mechanics. I might use these, I might now, and for all I know next week I’ll shelve this idea entirely. So, for the moment it seems like a silly bit of fun we can all have making up stupid shit. :)
John Harper posted a bit on Twitter a few days ago about how (to paraphrase) designers should be playing a breadth of things, citing that he feels designers should play Fiasco, Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World. While I’ve played all those, I see many more games to add to that list — but then, it’s Twitter, so it’s not like you can fit a lot there. And that gave me an idea…
What are the three games you feel that designers should be playing in order to better understand their job? Explain why in one or two sentences.
Please keep the replies short so this doesn’t get out of hand. Some caveats:
- These don’t have to be your top three, just three you think hold good lessons. In fact, if you can’t talk about the lessons inside, that’s going to be a problem.
- You don’t have to like these games. There is as much to learn about why you don’t like something as there is why you do, if not more.
- You must have played a game you’re mentioning. That feels like a no-brainer, but I’m saying it anyway.
- You can totally mention a game that someone else did. Two, three or four people saying “hey, X game holds Y lesson” is useful!
- Stick to three. Not two, not four, etc. :)
- Don’t argue about someone else’s game choice
- [Added] I’m having to correct the spelling of several entries so that people reading this can find the game if they Google. So I will edit your entry to make sure you’ve spelled the game right, should I catch it. But please actually look up the game’s name beforehand. :P
You’ll see three of mine below, as the first comment. I don’t want to overly prioritize mine by making it the body of the post.
Side notes: Announcements
Real quick and unrelated to the core of this post, a couple things. First, I was interviewed on Daniel Hodges’ podcast, Penny Red. This interview took place a couple months back, so it’s a bit out of date, but since you know I’m the Technocracy guy now, you’ll hear me hinting that I am and my excitement for Mage: the Ascension in the podcast. Also, apparently I talk a bit of shit about Tolkien.
Second, are you in the Seattle area, and do you know about Gamerati’s Tacoma Game Day? It’s on Saturday, September 22nd, and I’ll likely be there for the first part of the day. (I have a burlesque show to go to that evening, NERDZ!)
 If someone writes an essay about one game, I’ll probably kill it because it’ll kill flow. :/
Every now and then, I’m reminded that some writers push the “there’s no such thing as writer’s block” onto other, struggling folks. I’ve heard “You only have writer’s block if you’re boring” by writing instructors, which only serves to make people feel bad about their struggles. I’ve also heard “There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” which is a bunch of dismissive claptrap.
I’ve even heard this compared to dentistry a number of times in the past two years — I wish I could find the writer that started that meme and verbally knock some sense into that person, because that’s a load of bullshit. Writing isn’t a job purely involving diagnosis, rote tasks, and reactions. (No belittling to dentists here; I certainly couldn’t do your job, either, but it’s not the same damn thing.)
Point is, it’s better the demystify the writing process by accepting that people have problems at times rather than shame them for having those problems. So, if you want to learn how to get around writer’s block, that’s a long road and different folks had different tactics, but there are some common threads.
I, for one, used to deal with that when I was younger, in a way I now recognize as fear-based paralysis. I saw the blank page, and nothing I would write would feel as good as was in my head. The trick there is to become comfortable with acceptance — the first draft won’t be good, and that’s okay. A lesson I learned recently from Kit La Touche is that writer’s block is often about being unwilling to make a decision: “The beautiful thing about making decisions is that, once you’ve made them, you can evaluate them, and change them if need be. if you never make them, then you can’t do that.”
A couple years back, writer’s block came from neurochemical imbalance — my untreated anxiety would lock my mind up and attempting to write when I didn’t have a clear idea what to write would give me a massive headache. Once I started getting treatment, I was able to do my job again. But man, while I was in that state, being told that writer’s block didn’t exist, or that I was boring, all that shit, that just gave me cause to beat myself up. Which is why I’m keen to tell people who throw that at other writers to keep that crap to themselves. It might give you some confidence in your work, but that’s no reason to erode someone else’s.
So, friends, how do you deal with writer’s block? How do you demystify it?
Yesterday, I started off Horror Week with a discussion about dice mechanics in horror games. There were some comments about how to do a variant on Fate that would work, which got a “it won’t work” reply from me. Today, I’ll talk about why it doesn’t work for horror, because on the surface it seems like a good idea.
Alan said (among other things):
For Fate you could front-load the expenditure of fate points and only allow for the +1/+2 bonus, never the reroll. But I suspect this will lead to further, hard to predict ramifications.
This is a “how badly do you want it” mechanic, much like Gumshoe‘s General Abilities mechanic. And for horror, these are toxic.
Imagine if you will the following hypothetical slice of a game session:
GM: Okay, so you turn into the alley, with the horror behind you. Shit! The alley is a dead end. There’s a fire escape along one of the buildings that’s secured, and a large & rather full garbage bin nearby. What do you do?
Player: Could I reach the fire escape from the garbage bin?
GM: You could try.
Player: I totally do!
GM: Roll Athletics.
Player: Okay, so I have four points in Athletics. How many should I spend…
And now all the tension in that moment is deflated, thanks to shifting from tense narration to an abstract economic game. It’s a decision point that moves from the lizard brain into the rational brain, due to the fact that it gets into intangible numbers rather than natural language and requires something we humans are good at doing: wishing to keep what we have and worrying about loss & risk. In that regard, the mini-economic game is interesting, but it’s a very different game from “dear god I feel dread” that a horror game need to survive.
Player: I’ll spend two points. [Rolls] Barely succeeded!
GM: Sweet! You leap to the fire escape in time!
That’s the good outcome.
Player: I’ll spend two points. [Rolls] Missed by two! Crap! I should have spend them all.
And there’s the outcome where the dread of the poor reaction is mixed with the anger of miscalculating a bet. Two different emotions from two different places that conflict rather than support each other.
Player: I’ll spend two points. [Rolls] Made by two! (Wish I hadn’t spent those points.)
And there’s the outcome where the elation of a good outcome is mixed, again, with the anger of miscalculating a bet. Two different emotions from two different places that conflict even worse.
If you’re not trying for tension in a game, this mechanic is fine. It’s an interesting drama management system, where you ask the question of “how much do you want this?” But in a horror game, abstract economics breaks tension at its most crucial moment: the point right before mechanical revelation. You have to rebuild quickly coming out of that moment of gambling and the emotional hook related to that outcome. And that’s not fine, which is why the “maybe you could spend Fate points before the roll” doesn’t solve the problem.
(Which is why I have this odd desire to run a Chinatown (the film) game with Gumshoe, rather than one of its horror variants or and of the games where you need to know a lot of unique IP in order to know why the clues in the game matter.)
Such mechanics also prompt thought & consideration before the roll, to weigh spending more or fewer abstract resources. What if they weren’t abstract? What if we could use natural language rather than numbers to introduce the “how bad do you want this” element? What if that wasn’t a resource, but a form of consequence generation? What if whatever currency you used had a linked meaning in the fiction rather than purely dramatic management?
A lot of questions to ask about what feeds into a horror mechanic, which is why I love looking at horror systems.
Audience participation: What systems work for you for keeping tension? What don’t? Why? It doesn’t have to be specifically horror, as long as it keeps strong tension and could probably be used for horror.
A lot of folks with day jobs find that call, that passion, that need to create something. However, when you’re out for 10 or more hours a day — the morning commute, work, lunch, more work, the commute home — the energy level you feel in the morning is depleted. But the drive, and perhaps even guilt, aren’t gone. So you’re trapped in that hell where you think you need to quit your job before you can be the Great English Novelist or America’s Next Top Game Designer or whatever.
I won’t say you aren’t that person, but I have talked before about this feeling. Baby steps means trying to create stuff at night, but then how exactly do you do that when you’re running on fumes?
[Before I go further, this is an audience participation post. I'm looking for your tips as well! Please comment.]
Stop, Drop & Write
When I know I need to get something done, I don’t go home right away. My commute home right now takes around 75 minutes. I take a shuttle 25 minutes to get to the part of town that has some open coffee shops, and I sit down to work.
By not immediately going home, I deny myself the restful rituals involved in arriving home — dumping my bag, laying down, etc. I’m so used to doing that the first few minutes of getting home, as a way to shed the day’s stress, that it breaks my flow. So I hold off. I write, or edit, or whatever I can do while in a public place. (Recording a podcast is right out, not that I’m a podcaster anymore, but I have edited some in a coffee shop.)
Those uncomfortable-after-too-long chairs, those just-big-enough-for-my-laptop-and-coffee tables, the lighting that’s crap-but-sufficient, the endless coffee you get if you do the free refill thing, all of that helps me push forward for an hour or two.
I don’t generally stay for more than two hours. But still, that’s two hours I might not have worked if I went straight home after a hard day. The siren call of “chill the fuck out” gets strong sometimes. And then we’re able to trick ourselves into thinking we’re working by lying around just thinking.
You don’t need a laptop to do this. There’s a great new app called “paper and pens”. I gave it five stars.
You have problems sleeping while it’s light out? Use that.
Monitors are designed to look like a close approximation to sunlight. So far things like fluorescent bulbs. Gets bright, white lights and use them in your work space.
Now, that’ll play hell with you trying to sleep later, just like drinking caffeine late at night would. So be warned. (I know someone who used to do this and take melatonin shortly before work was done for the night.)
Related, if you do a lot of work at night, I recommend checking out the color temperature regulation software for PC & Mac, f.lux. I’ve been using it for nearly three years now. I have this on most of the time, but turn it off if I need the light to be bright and keep me awake longer.
Sit Up Straight!
Seriously, sitting up straight works. And get a desk & chair that’s at a comfortable height. And then sit up straight. Don’t slouch. That posture can keep you alert, because it’s not a restful one.
If sitting up straight seems to be an issue for you, and it sometimes is for me, there’s something I discovered this past August when I rented the tux for the ENnies. I have suspenders, and when I wore them, they made it awkward and uncomfortable for me to slouch. I still need to pick up some to see if it’ll help my productivity, but I’m thinking right now it couldn’t hunt.
Yes, I’m talking about having “big boy worky time suspenders.”
Better Yet, Stand
Standing desks are all the rage. But not everyone has one, has room for one, or has room in the budget for one.
You know what makes a great standing desk? Your kitchen counter. And it’s conveniently located near your coffee maker, tea pot, or whatever caffeine injection systems you use.
Keep your back straight when you do, though. Get some phone books or whatever to have your laptop or notebook or pad of paper at the right height. And put something near your feet you can rest a foot on, like how bars have rungs at the bottom so you can elevate one foot and shift how the weight is distributed on your knees.
Easy on the Stimulants
You might be guzzling coffee or chain-smoking to keep yourself up, but that doesn’t last long. And it comes with side-effects — restlessness that’ll keep you up, headaches, things like that. Take it easy on the stimulants. In the long run, they’ll fuck you.
- 9pm: Oh man, I have a hell of a night ahead of me. Time for the coffee!
- 2am: Jeez. Done. Okay, time for sleep
- 3am: SLEEP BRAIN SLEEP
- 7am: [Alarm goes off]
- Every moment after 7am: Utter exhaustion
And that’ll carry over throughout the day and into that evening & night. When you’re young, you can bounce back, but I’m not able to bounce back like that today in my mid-30s. You’re time-shifting your exhaustion, not dispelling it. And it’ll come back to crash on you.
Keep your energy up with playlists that motivate you, that get you moving. One of my is the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured soundtrack/remix album. And Korn. Yes, I dig me some Korn — when the work I do can bare to have lyrics involved.
Sometimes I do headphones. Sometimes I do stereo. Depends on if I feel I need the music in my ears or around my space.
What music do you groove on when you’re in the late-night zone?
Flip It Around
Working at night, after you’ve been working all day, is hard. You have all that energy and passion in the morning, and having to wait until half a day later to act on it is rough.
So why not go to sleep earlier, wake up earlier, and do your creative work before you head out? Seriously. I know so many writers that swear by that. It’s not unlike people who get up early to go to the gym
Try it for a week or two. You can DVR your favorite shows and postpone some social engagements for a little bit.
Take Some Time Off
When I was working on the Dresden Files RPG, I was working between 55 & 65 hours a week (again, day job). I was burning myself out, and toward the end, I crashed on one of my chapters. Luckily, Clark Valentine was there to put the finishing touches on City Creation, but if I had taken a couple days off here and there, I wouldn’t have crashed. This is something I see from a lot of during-my-spare-time creators. Take some time off. Don’t try to push something out every night. Know your energy levels, and know when you need to replenish.
You cannot be productive at night if you create a situation where you have no energy at night. (And, really, you can remove the “at night” parts in that sentence.)
What Tips Do You Have?
So, faithful readers and newcomers, what tips do you have for working at night after you’ve been doing day job work all day?
 I look forward to the day where this is an honest-to-god anachronism.