Monday, April 11, 2011

Secret mind-link discovered, part II: Sympathy for the Devil

Follows from here, quite intuitively.

When I found out about Camwhores and compared it with my own never developed idea for a game to be called "Amateur", I still wasn't sure that Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat and I shared a secret mind-link or maybe deep soul-link across the Atlantic Ocean, no. Certainty struck me later, as I went through the games submitted to the two previous rounds of the Ronnies earlier this year — hyper-excited as I am currently about the contest — and discovered that in February she conceived They Became Flesh.
Holy cow shit!
My (3-4?) Italian readers are, I guess, already "in" on this: that Fallen Angels are a hot topic for me. For my (0-2?) non-Italian readers: a small-ish Game Chef-like contest was run last year on Italian gaming forum Gente Che Gioca and I entered a game called I reietti di Eden (roughly: The Outcasts from Eden, proper English title still to be determined though), which has since become my main "thing", the one "big project" I plan to devote lots of energy to. Preliminary playtests exposed large holes in the mechanics and now a major revision (probably in English, or also in English) is upcoming, any time soon — one of which I'm really proud of. Well, I reietti di Eden is about heroic people sorely resenting their ancestors' casting out of Paradise, counting Lucifer the Bringer of Light (aka Prometheus) and the proud Fallen as their best friends and preparing to finally strike back in retaliation against God and the Heavenly Host, so to set wrongs right at last and — maybe even — regain a liberated Eden and Heavens for themselves. In my game, both Mortals and Fallen Angels are available as playable character types and there are mechanics to determine if and when the Fallen, overwhelmed by their melancholic longing for those Heavens they cannot forget, withdraw from the Mortals' side of the fight.
They Became Flesh is about the Fallen wandering a young world, not long after a stern and unforgiving God cast them down from Heavens because they sided with sinful Adam and Eve and questioned Him: they fell from grace for daring to doubt. It's about them trying to fit in with humankind or finding a place of their own on Earth — or maybe having their former heavenly status restored. Unfinished as it is, please go read the most current draft available!
While mine is obviously a very different game from Elizabeth's, I can't help but feel a strong kinship with her vision. My focus may be on the heroes of a "rightful" war, on the End of Times rather than on a still young Earth, but still the Fallen Angels of They Became Flesh are very much the same as mine: melancholic and tragic, torn between their love for humankind and their memories of Heavens. Lucifer is depicted much the same way, as a tragic idealist and a sympathetic character (true is that Elizabeth's Lucifer is very emphatically not the Snake of Eden/Prometheus, contrary to mine, but I don't feel this to be overwhelmingly important). Sure, there are hugely important literary predecessors to such a vision, etc., but that's absolutely not the point.
I look at the two games and see that they complement each other like they were a pair, deeply personally felt facets to the same subject-matter. Both aren't "done" yet, but I now like to think that sooner or later they will be, and maybe - dare I immodestly hope - that mutual knowledge will make both of them considerably better.

P.S. readers who are not yet familiar with Elizabeth's major works (It's Complicated, Blowback) please check them out on her website.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Secret mind-link discovered! Girls get naked on the Internet!

"Amazon, amazon, queen, lust, chains."

You know what's the best thing about the Ronnies? There is no fixed number of winners, meaning I can really root for everybody else's great submissions while still harboring hope for mine. How's that for a refreshing change of pace? Thus, here I am, having a late night beer* and reading through my non-opponent's games for the current round (Ron said he won't be ready to announce results until maybe Monday, btw, and it sucks because I'm dying to know).
So, last Saturday afternoon I was in a car, coming home from a party (I mean, the party was on Friday night, but pretty far away from where I live), talking about the Ronnies with friends, and of course we went through the obligatory: «let's pick Amazon + chains and make a game about a bookstore franchise.» I'm super-glad Dan Maruschak did it — or at least it's a game set in a shop of a chain — because it would have been a super-sad Amazon Queen Lust Chains Ronnies if nobody did.
I had a blast reading Her Son, by Jackson Tegu, with its peculiar, objectivity-be-damned style of writing, the heavy-handed but still pleasurable metaphor, the whole children-are-naturally-adept-at-augmented-reality thing, plus again the goddamn writing style when it turns all "here's me staring at a screen and wondering what to write and I'm eating a sandwich right now". I now ♥ Jackson Tegu.
Eric Boyd's Queen of Thorns and Andreas Eriksson's Tales of Lust, both, I didn't at all dig the premise — or, rather, the elevator pitch — of, but after a read they both look like fun, much more than I expected. Ben Lehman's Homage to Ninshubar, au contraire, I was all fired-up by reading the pitch, but then what? Looks like Ben's being sort of sloppy and just putting together a Poison'd hack to play Steal Away Jordan with (and doing the gender-thing instead of the race-thing is great and all, but SAJ already does the gender-thing a lot, too). But then, you know what? I guess if you're Ben Lehman it's OK to be lazy sometimes.
Those are the ones I read, up to now, except before reading those I started with Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat's Camwhores — I mean, of course I started there!

So, here's a story some of you may already know…
I always have my head full of half-formed game ideas, that's just me. 99% of those die out before they're even born, usually because they aren't interesting enough ideas, but sometimes it's because I don't really have what it takes to give birth to those games (yet!).
So, last year I was at InterNosCon, and Ron Edwards held this laid-back and cozy game design workshop there. He asked each participant for a single game-idea they were looking to develop, and I deliberately answered with the most outrageous one I had going through my head at the moment, which had occurred me a few weeks earlier: a game about women (the PCs) sharing naked pictures of themselves with the wider Internet. Why do they do this? That's what we want to know. And I was thinking of phenomena such as the so-called "goddesses" of 2chan.
People at the workshop, including Ron, seemed to like the idea. Tobias Wrigstad was also there, and he appeared to light up at the first mention of my idea, like it was the only game discussed which was worthy of his attention. He even suggested me a working title for the game: Amateur. Then we got dragged into a discussion about pushing or not pushing players out of their personal "comfort zone" and stuff, and I mistakenly thought I was beginning to understand Tobias — which I wasn't, and still had to go a long way. In fact, when we met again just a couple months ago, Tobias asked me about that one game…
But I never went on to design Amateur for real, and now I know why: I was and still am totally clueless about the very IRL phenomenon attracting my attention, which I only partake of as a passive consumer, many degrees disconnected from the actual people who are doing this.

Enter Elizabeth Shomaker Sampat, with a game about webcam girls! It's in many ways almost the game I wish I was able to design, and even if it wasn't I'd dig it awesomely just because it's "like Czege's Nicotine Girls but a little closer to me", in the sense that I've got (a few) real life reference points I can append the game to and exploit to more completely relate with it, whereas for Nicotine Girls I've only got movies and stuff (or maybe I'd have to retool it in such a way that it references the reality of my own country).
It's of course not the same game I sort-of-had in my head, mind you! For one, it's about cams, that is, real-time streaming videos, instead of photographs, and this isn't trivial at all: webcam girls engage their marks in interactive dialog, which makes the whole experience way less anonymous (it's closer to sexting or cybering, with your image also exposed) - and this is to Elizabeth an opportunity to deliver a much more nuanced and engaging set of encounter-resolution mechanics than what I could have ever hoped for hypothetical Amateur. On the other hand, cam-whoring is basically a form of prostitution, so no mystery about the PC's motives here: they're doing this for money.
On a related note: I had absolutely no idea that Amazon wishlists are used that way! Brilliant, I admit. And that's probably why I was unable to "see" this one subject in the list of keywords myself, dammit! How cool would it have been to have two games about this topic in a round of the Ronnies? Man…!
Well, I was just kidding there. I'm actually glad it was Elizabeth to make this game and not me. Not just because she's a woman — like I should fear being called a sexist for making (I, a male!) a game about objectified female bodies, etc. — but much more importantly because she met webcam girls firsthand: she talked to them, she's friends with them. Follow me? She's got an understanding of the topic. I haven't. I'm hooked by the subject exactly because I'd like to understand better.

But that's only half the exciting story… Stay tuned and be back in a few days for the truth about the secret mind-link between Elizabeth and me. I kid you not! (Well, maybe).

··· END OF PART 1 ··· CLICK FOR PART 2 ···

* = Castello Rossa, an Italian bock, or strong lager. For those two-three guys out there who are into beers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Running for the Ronnies

Another round of the Ronnies is just over and this time I was able to enter the contest, something I've been wanting to do since Ron re-started this endeavor in January but I haven't been able to. It seems to be a sort of a new tradition that you now have exactly one Italian participating in each round, though, so I'm happy I upheld it.
The reason I was able to participate, of course, is that this time I got an idea for a game which resonated strongly with me, and I got it early enough that I was able to actually start designing it before the final countdown. My game is called The Shackled Self, by the way, and it uses "lust" and "chains" for keywords out of the very inspiring "amazon lust queen chains" set (and, don't get me wrong: all of the Ronnies keyword sets have usually been amazing, but anything about lusting for chained queens apparently turns me on, polysemantically named e-bookshop or not).
One thing which didn't fit in the mad 24 hrs. design & writing crunch, though, is a Forge-style reference list… and then I noticed that other contestants managed to include it, which made me envious as fuck. So here you are:

· The Shackled Self's first and foremost inspiration, overall, is a couple of wonderful 2-players games: Ron Edward's S/lay w/Me and Tim C. Koppang's Mars Colony (for the Prince-Temptation or sometimes Prince-Mountain creative dynamics).
· Then, Ben Lehman's The Drifter's Escape, a 3-players game with fixed and asymmetrical player roles and a single protagonist.
· From Tobias Wrigstad's GR (you know I can't spell its full title on the interwebz!), which is the best jeepform ever, I lifted a good-sized chunk wholesale (keeping eye contact and knowing what to say as a pvp mechanic).
· A game of Danielle Lewon's Kagematsu which I played just the day before designing TSS suggested me the "player dominating a scene" concept (K. also being a game of asymmetrical 1 vs. 1 dynamics).
· Alessandro "Vito" Temporiti once made a game called La decisione di Giuda ("Judas' choice"), which was all about externalizing a single character's dilemma by crafting a three-players dynamic out of it, and it was wonderful to play.
· Jonathan Tweet's Everway and Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World (suggestive questions as a springboard for creating).
· Vincent Baker's In a Wicked Age…, Paul Tevis's A Penny for My Thoughts, Matthijs Holter's Archipelago II and, less directly but ultimately, Ben Lehman's Polaris (explicit verbal commands to signal/resolve a conflict; I confess I included this as a form of lazy design, since it's so expedient).
· Everything Nordic for showing me that you only need resolution mechanics in a game when you need 'em. Everything Nordic, yeah, but especially Matthijs Holter's Society of Dreamers (also for the ouja board thing, which I now realize I made into the mandala thing).
· Vincent Baker's In a Wicked Age… (again) and Meguey Baker's 1001 Nights are the first games I met with snacks & drinks recommendations included in their manuals (great stuff!). Vincent Baker's Toward One, also, for reminding me that coffee, too, is a meditation-enabling infusion.
· Plus lots of other games and stuff which I sort of interiorized, of course, so that I can't pinpoint the titles and authors specifically. But I'm made out of you, people, you know? Made of you! Love ♥.

So, what's left…? Yeah, wish me good luck, I guess.