Bethany Culp is still hard at work on the Push 2 cover.
Archive for March, 2007
One of the great storytellers and literary analysts of the dead talks about their narrative tradition.
Everyone must someday come to the Dark City. This means we cannot tell stories of the great heroes of the past, for they are here in person and might take offense. Eternal emnity is nothing to scoff at.
Indeed, we can only tell stories of those who are not here. Speculation about those currently living is common and there is also some fanciful speculation about future generations. However, that type of imagination is dangerous, as it reminds us all too dearly of life.
Instead we must speak of those among the dead who remain behind in the sunlands, those who have chosen not to journey to the Dark City. In our great epics, then, there are two main types of protagonists: ghosts and ghost hunters. The hunters often include members of the monastic order residing at Most Beautiful Cage, the sole outpost of the dead under the sun.
Of course, it is important to note that those seeking refuge at the Cage, while disciplined and highly regarded, are themselves ghosts. And that resonance with their prey, the close relationship between hunter and hunted, forms the basis of many of our stories.
There is also something transgressive about storytelling. The dreamers speak of nightmares. The pattern-walkers tell of those who sought to defy the pattern. The doorkeepers whisper of the places even they cannot reach. And so it is with the dead.
We speak of ghosts and those heroes among us responsible for tracking down them, seperating them from the echos of their past. As is often the case in heroic tales, it is always difficult — intentionally so, I suspect — to seperate heroes from villains, ghost from ghost hunter.
When the Grey Lady kisses her parents, children, and husband goodbye, swearing to join them in the Dark City once she has captured the ghost responsible for all their deaths… are we to compare her to the ghost she hunts?
As for our champions who issue forth from Most Beautiful Cage, are they not also tempted by the fruits of life? Do they not occasionally err in their pursuit of the errant? Is this not why we sympathize with them? Why we honor them? If even the most disciplined among us occasionally succumb to the taste of sweet cream or the ecstasy of sexual passion, that speaks to the nobility of our own frailties.
So the overarching theme of all our ghost stories, the question we constantly seek to explore is this: how are we to let go? How do we move on from life’s joys and sorrows to an eternity without them? What does that brief candleflicker of bright sensations mean in the face of the long dark?
I’m not totally happy with this, but it gets the basic idea across. And it’s not like this is gonna be the final text or anything. But I figure we should maybe try to explain some of this Four Nations stuff.
There was a time, in the early days of the world, when death was a deep slumber. The newly dead fell asleep and their families lay them down in beds freshly dug into the earth.
The dead would dream in that subterranean land, the place below, the under-world. There, they would share pleasant visions or nightmares, all springing from the basket of memories they brought with them from life.
But the dead became unhappy. And so they harnessed their dreams to fight off their nightmares. Together they built a great stairway, leading them up from the world below back into the lands under the sun.
And the living welcomed the dead back into their homes. The dead had no dreams or nightmares anymore, for they left both under the ground. Neither did they sleep. But for a while the dead and the living dwelt in the same place.
It was not to last. There was a great battle. Each of the living that fell became one of the dead.
When the Dream Queen was slain, she rose from the ground as the Queen of the Dead. Surveying the field, she soon realized that, if the war was not halted, there would be no one left alive. She sounded her horn.
And so the dead separated themselves from the living. They drew away, beyond the light of the sun, to a place of shadow. There they build the Dark City to which all must one day travel. And the living stopped burying the dead, because the dead stopped sleeping. But neither could they dwell together.
And that is why the dead must travel, each in turn, to the Dark City. Those who remain behind among the living are ghosts. And trafficking with ghosts only leads to misfortune.
This was probably my first attempt to design something that I didn’t really know how to make work. Honestly, I still don’t know how to make it work, but it’s something I keep pondering every now and then, and I think I’m getting closer. It’s sort of like a game design koan in that way. According to the original premise…
- Fingers is about people exploring the mind-bogglingly big, empty void that is the universe, through a tactile relationship with the stars, and trying not to go insane with loneliness, starblindness, or suicidal feelings of insignificance.
Basically, characters reach out into the sky one day and discover that they can grasp the stars and pull on them, yanking themselves into the great void of the universe. Eventually, assuming they are uncommonly lucky, they are stumbled upon by some of the other millions of humans who live amid the stars (millions upon millions of other people are simple lost amidst the void forever).
The game draws on Aetherco’s Continuum and asks, if such a situation were to occur, what would the society of these dwellers among the stars actually be like? It’s a kind of reconstructed anthropology.
This is only a partially list of my previous work on this game, since I eventually need to mine my Livejournal account for older game stuff. However, I can’t search my LJ, so that’s going to be a long, slow process.
– 2002 Oct 06: But What Do the Characters… Do?
– 2002 Oct 06: Big Sky Mind, Adapting to the Void
– 2003 Mar 24: First Concise Description of the Premise I Can Find
– 2003 Aug 15: Playing in a Semi-Solitaire Fashion
This is the game I’m currently completing. I’ll expand this post once I’m done, but I’m going to gather up the previous posts here to have something to work from.
– 2007 Feb 11: I Respond to Josh’s Request
– 2007 Feb 12: Initial Draft
– 2007 Feb 14: Ashi and I Talk About Flirting Games
– 2007 Feb 21: Choosing a Premise
– 2007 Feb 22: How the Premise Might Work
– 2007 Feb 22: The Game Threatens to Become Kill Doctor Lucky
– 2007 Feb 25: A List of Likely Main Characters
– 2007 Mar 06: Elizabeth I and the Two Protagonists
Another game concept I had forgotten until I started checking the Forge Birthday Forums. This one is from the 2003 edition.
John “Talysman” Laviolette knew that I had been reading a lot of Daniel Quinn (Ishmael, Beyond Civilization) and said:
- I want Jonathan Walton to do a game about a secret society that designs myths and injects them into various cultures in an attempt to change societies by changing the way people think.
The brainstorming didn’t get very far, but there are some interesting tidbits anyway.
– 2003 Apr 07: Original Brainstorming Thread
Damn, all these games seem to involve Shreyas and Ben. They’re like the angel and demon sitting on my right and left shoulders, whispering design concepts into my ears.
During the 2004 Forge Birthday Forum, I pitched a core concept:
- Ben, Shreyas, and I need to co-write a game that runs from the creation of the angels through the war in Heaven, culminating in the Fall of Satan/Lucifer/Iblis’s rebel faction. And yes, there should be lots of crying involved. Lots of crying at the beauty and the harshness of God’s Love and Will. Additionally, Heaven should be, if we can manage this, non-anthropomorphic, since human beings haven’t been created yet. You know how, traditionally, angels are often depicted as giant amalgamations of eyes, wings, and animal parts? That’s the direction to go. Steal from Milton, steal from Dante, steal from L’Engel, steal from the Bible, steal from the Qur’an. Oh, it would be glorious! Imagine millions upon millions (pre-Fall population of Heaven: 399,920,004) of tiny sprite-like balls of faith and feathers swarming towards each other in intricate arcs and patterns, only to be harshly crushed like so many insects! The glorious tragedy! So delicious! All angels were created as beings of perfect beauty, even Satan/Lucifer/Iblis. But, because of who they are and what their inner beauty is, the angels are driven to fight and even destroy each other. That’s why they all end up in tears.
Totally emo angels.
So we hashed stuff back and forth in the thread, but it soon became obvious that we were moving in very different directions and the game ultimately went nowhere. However, parts of it can be seen in Shreyas’ plans for Ninegun Choir and I still think a game about the War In Heaven would be amazing.
– 2004 Apr 05: Original Brainstorming Thread
My dad sent me a copy of the HBO two-part movie Elizabeth I, starting recent Oscar winner Helen Mirren. It unfortunately doesn’t mention Marlowe’s killing, but it does feature nearly every other major character connected to that “great reckoning in a little room.” Several good things came out of watching that film:
1) I don’t have to write setting background for the game now. I can just say, watch Elizabeth I.
2) I know who the main characters of my game are: Lady Frances Walsingham, daughter of the previous spymaster and lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and, her second husband, Robert Devereux, the young Earl of Essex. Only Lady Walsingham is going to be significantly more badass than depicted in the film and Essex is going to be significantly less crazy. Otherwise, yeah, great characters.
So yeah, Josh, you and your girlfriend should totally see this film. It’s pretty dern badass and is a fabulous introduction to what’s going on during this period.
Bethany Culp has tentatively signed on to do the cover for Push 2. The cover will depict a caput bubonis, an formerly good owl who has turned to evil and taken over a human body specifically for the purpose of meddling with the symbolic contents of a memory palace. Yes, like the last cover, this cover’s content comes from an experimental short-form game, in this case Eero Tuovinen’s Ludus Repotiorum, a roleplaying game based on the ars memoriae.
I’m mostly posting this here so the Push 2 contributors can discuss it, but I thought I’d share with you folks as well. Enjoy!
This game existed for all of two posts before it turned into something else. That’s pretty typical, I suppose, since I’m so ADD when it comes to design. But the idea is hot!
This was my third attempt at something for Frank T’s setting contest, the first one being a version of Folkways based on Clinton’s The Shadow of Yesterday and the second, Gridiron Gods. Red Star, White Sun eventually turned into Dead and Dreaming, a mini-game that was trying to prove the validity of some design ideas I had for Four Nations. Lord, these introductions are self-referential.
The basic premise is:
- There are four people from the same village, two men and two women. They have pre-established relationships. Maybe they’re married or siblings or lovers or relatives of some kind. And the Nationalists come through and draft the two men to fight on their side. And then, months later, the Communists roll through and draft the women into their Female Soldiers Detachment.
And, eventually, both sides learn of this and are sorta trying to rescue each other, despite being on opposite sides. And the game ends with some sort of dramatic showdown where several of the characters probably die in trainwreck heartbreak fashion. And the ending moment is the announcement of the Second United Front, which means the Nationalists and Communists are going to work together to fight the Japanese.
The most interesting thing about the game, in my mind, is the system, which I described like this:
- Each player has a list of what are basically scene concepts. And these concepts are arranged in trees. And the trees interconnect with each other and are conditional with related scenes and the like. But there are clearly branches of the trees that share similar themes or plot certain paths. Like, maybe there’s a branch where one of the women is pregnant and there’s all sorts of complications related to that. Or maybe one character becomes a spy for the opposite side or the Japanese and that leads to all sorts of things. But then what if she’s a PREGNANT SPY! Then there are all sorts of possibilities in the middle that interconnect them.
And you don’t have to head down any particular path. you can sort of work partway down one branch and fork off to the side. Or you could do a little bit of several branches. So there are a limited number of options, but near infinite combinations, especially when you’re playing with all four characters. And so the scenes are sorta like Keys. You do one and that opens up future possibilities. but it also puts limitations on things or maybe gives you abilities or takes abilities away. So there could be like a Sniper branch that you progress down to increase your skills as a sniper. But it requires bad things to happen along the way. Or just things that are not necessarily good.
I tried to implement this kind of rules structure in Dead and Dreaming, but stumbled across quite a few problems. But I’ll talk about those once I get around to writing a post about that project.
This is yet another game that is Shreyas’ fault. For some inexplicable reason, he challenged a bunch of people to design games based on the concept “lesbianstripperninja.” This is my attempt. Annie Rush’s game, House of Horiku, is another.
Kazekami Kyoko is probably the most well known of my games, aside from maybe Seadog Tuxedo, probably because I talk about it all the time. It’s not the be-all and end-all of my design skills, but it’s where I felt I finally came into my own as a designer and designed a game that doesn’t play like anything else. Still, as I’ve mentioned before, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s influences:
- The dirty secret of KKKKK is that it’s just James Wallis’ The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, in which player/characters brag about their impressive feats. The only difference is that the game is structured as a dialogue instead of a monologue. The basic structure is:
A: I did X! Aren’t I awesome?
B: Verily! But what about Y?
A: I accomplished Y in this fashion! What do you think of that?
B: Impressive! And Z?
Now, it’s made slightly more complicated than that by the alternative response formats, but that’s a pretty decent summery nonetheless.
Recently, I’ve been discussing the content of the game with folks. The original premise went like this:
- Kyoko is a wind spirit, a kazekami. She is also a ninja. She is not a princess, as Kublai Khan thought before Kyoko stabbed him in the gut. He was trying to be amorous with his newest concubine. She was trying to prevent the Mongol invasion of Japan. As Kublai dies, the kazekami torments her husband by recounting how she has managed to seduce scores of his rare and beautiful wives…
Now, this sounds really awesome and sexy. But Kyoko tends to treat Kublai’s wives just like scenery or tools, which is not as feminist as the premise might initially suggest. It’s basically a very masculine fantasy about being totally dominated by a powerful women who, to make things worse, is busy telling you how she did the deed with a bunch of other hot women. So, yeah. Can’t really make excuses for that. It’s just one big giant sex-capade.
In any case, I tend to think the game has more redeeming qualities than flaws. It was an early effort to find my own design style and, in that sense, it succeeded specularly. I’d like to play more of it so I get a better sense of how I could polish it up.
– 2006 Jan 11: Shreyas Announces the Lesbianstripperninja Contest
– 2006 Jan 18: My Original Draft of the Game
– 2006 Feb 13: Transcript of Initial Playtest with Thomas
– 2006 Feb 23: I Discuss KKKKK in Relation to My Other Two-Player Games
– 2007 Feb 14: Ashi and I Discuss Flirting as a Model for Game Design
– 2007 Mar 07: Mo and Brand Comment on the Game
Hey, check it out, a game that’s actually finished!
The Chinese title is Jiuzui de Tianguo (Drunken Heavenly Kingdoms), a play on the Teresa Teng song — which everybody and his brother has covered — Jiuzui de Tangou (Drunken Tango). It’s the first two player game I wrote, for Game Chef 2004, but I broke one of the rules and also didn’t turn the game in on time, so it was never a contender. As a two player game, though, it’s definitely inspired by the work of Emily Care Boss (Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon) and Ben Lehman (Polaris), and went on to inspire Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, Waiting/Tea, and my current project, The Untimely Death of Christopher Marlowe (which may or may not be the same game as While You’re Far Away).
The premise of the game is that two brothers have smuggled forbidden wine into the capital of the pseudo-Christian Taiping rebels, who don’t drink and don’t want anyone else to either. Security is getting harsh and their only way out is to drink their entire stores to dispose of the evidence against them. While they are totally plastered, one brother drops dozens of strips of parchment on which are written stanzas of this very long poem explaining Taiping religious doctrine. The brothers then take turns placing the stanzas back in “the obviously correct order” and explain away any new discrepancies in the poem.
Basically, it’s a game of drunken story construction, similar to Once Upon a Time, but based on full stanzas of text instead of just individual locations, characters, or themes.
There was some tacked-on ideas at the end about giving each brother a slightly different personality and having them push for a different tone to the story (maybe unconsciously inspired by the Ever After cards in Once Upon a Time), but that never really matured into something really interesting. I came back to the idea of “different players, different rules” in Kazekami Kyoko though, and nailed it much better.
The full rules text is available online, linked below.
– 2005 Aug 10: The Game of Drunken Taiping Exegesis