lategaming staying up late, playing games

21Nov/080

Solipsist RPG Review

I ordered Solipsist yesterday, paper and PDF, and spent a bit of last night poring over the PDF version. I'll start out this potted review by saying that it's shockingly good, easily one of the best Indie games I've read. Ever.

What is it about?

There are people who think so strongly and individually, that they can literally change reality, teasing out the fabric of the consensus and changing it. They are called Solipsists.

In this game you and your friends play a group of balanced Solipsists, struggling to fulfill your grandiose dreams, retain your desperate grip on reality, and fight the un-making of the Shadows before they can end the world for good.

A role-playing game about bending reality

The comparisons to MAGE: The Ascension will be obvious though as the author says elsewhere, the game is less weighed down by the paradigms of the common man and Solipsists spend more time fighting with their own Obsessions and Limitations than they do combatting the collective beliefs of the rank and file of the world. And that's something to like.

It also smacks a little of the Shadow worlds of AMBER, noting that I never read the novels and base all of my AMBER knowledge on the great Diceless RPG.

The march of a reality-changing protagonist, barred only by their own minds and the conscious minds of other Solipsists (and the mysterious Shadow) is pure gaming gold. While it seems to add some structure and sense to the Amberite shadow wanderings, it also strips away the tiresome paradox mechanic from Mage leaving only a story-driven conflict mechanic that allows the players to control the story and, crucially, lose control of the story.

The writing is clear, the art sparse and the concepts clear. Thoroughly recommended.

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18Nov/080

What’s an ARG?

The Technology column in the Guardian writes:

An ARG is an interactive narrative in which players work together to solve puzzles and co-ordinate activities in the real world and online, using websites, GPS tracking devices, telephone lines, newspaper adverts and more. All of which sounds like it must require even more effort and resolve than a bank holiday gym session, but ARGs employ media - text messages, blogs, social networking sites, video-sharing - that many people already use on a daily basis.

I also explained it today as...

"It's similar to a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) and a LARP (Live Action Role Play). These are games that have existed for years separately and only now as we find ourselves with man-portable internet-connected GPS-aware devices can we attempt to add mix them. Essentially it's a puzzle game that you have to walk around to solve. I want to add actual multi-player and humanocentric role-play to the concoction. It is larp-esque. But it also allows a form of gaming when just out and about. Some games may end up being played solo and some will require interaction. And some of the puzzles can be incredibly elaborate.
i.e. a 'password' that consists of a GPS location and a photograph that must be matched in position. GPS gets you within maybe 50 metres, then you find the position to map the photo. The photo might be a silhouette of a landscape or the light through yonder window. Once the correct combination has been discovered, the application can then deliver the package - be that text, an image, a movie or an audio sequence.
i.e. a set of ten cards containing a QR code sits in a till at a local bar. From a combination of previous clues, you have been directed to ask the bartender for a card with a number on it. You take a picture of the QR Code and it reveals a clue which is relevant to your story. The wrong card will likely lead you down the wrong path or, in a good ARG, bring you down a side path of the game you are currently in.
So in effect you tie it to a location, a perspective and if natural light is needed, a time..."

I see a lot more possible.

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17Nov/080

There are video games that you can actually live inside.

The following quote is from "Cybergeneration", an RPG dating from §993 by R. Talsorian Games.

With direct visual feed, projected ICONs at will, and a way of interacting with these projections, all the pieces were now in place to create what we now call VIRTUALITY; a state where Net images and Realspace are combined in one. This is the furthest edge of Net technology; a way in which reality and the computer generated fantasy fuse into one.
...
There are now entire places, people and things that most of you have never seen in Realspace at all. You probably have friends whose real faces are unknown to you because you met them in Virtuality (and you like them that way). You shop in Virtuality-based malls where products are projected into reality and you never actually touch them. There are video games that you can actually live inside.

I first played Cyberpunk in 1988 and the game setting, 2013, seemed like the far flung future. I wasn't convinced that we'd be spending half our time with a computer plugged directly into our brains but I could believe that synthetic limbs and organs might be commonplace - again, I couldn't see them as 'fashion'. But it was a good romp :- I quickly learned that playing anything other than the NetRunner or a Solo was pretty stupid and my dreams of epitomising the Rockerboy archetype were stillborn as the GM really just wanted us to break into places, shoot people and steal their stuff. To my knowledge, none of us has gone into larceny or narcotics trafficking as a result of our game play from these tender formative years.

I think that Cybergeneration more than anything helped shape my ideas about what could be possible using portable internet-connected location-aware devices. The idea that the Internet may know your physical location is exciting to me (and doesn't scare me one whit). The concept that I can interact with products and services based on my location via the Internet is also exciting to me. The realisation that this could all be part of a game gives me a sparkly feeling in my brain stem. It's that exciting.

There is a theme of transhumanism about ARGs.

Meat humans have five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. If, by adding techology, we can add to these senses or enhance the senses we have, we are undeniably transhuman. Whether you consider the ability to see or hear 'invisible' messages left by others in certain locations to be a transhuman quality is a matter of opinion. The ability to add another layer of human interaction upon the day to day level of interaction is certainly transhuman in thought.

Transhumanism has a definition as:

physical and mental augmentations including prostheses, reconstructive surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilisation), absence of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family values.

We're there.

So how do we apply this to the creation of an Alternate Reality Game? I think we begin by treating the internet sense as one of the five. And like the other senses, it must be used in conjunction with each of the others in order to build a true picture. We may interact with someone in a bar based on our feeds from sight, smell and hearing. Adding our internet sense may change this relationship completely. This is over and above reading their Facebook profile - it may give us insights into what role they play in which game and give us the opportunity to interact on that level.

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15Nov/081

Zombi RPG

the earth won’t hold the dead

What if the people who were dead got up one day?
What if they got up and started killing other people?
What if the people they killed just got back up and killed some more people?
What if it had already started?
What if that day was yesterday?

Download the book in PDF form here. This version does not include art.

We've put some Zombi Ts on CafePress.

Click on the image (or here) to go through to Store. We'll be adding more Ts as time goes on.

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15Nov/084

The Great Game

Alternate Reality Games (or Layered Reality Games) are going to be big.

When someone mentions ARGs, I always think of Total Recall (the film) [thanks Eamon]. The protagonist takes a virtual holiday which interweaves the real world with a spy conspiracy in his head (or is it?). Everything in his life becomes involved in the game - a girl he picks from a menu becomes his lover, his wife (with whom he has difficulties) becomes a killer spy, his co-workers seem to be sleeper agents designed to keep him quiet and the whole movie is left for you to wonder is it real or has he been placed in a sleeper community after some deep cover espionage?

Deep Cover Espionage, of course, leads us on to The Prisoner. Progressive and not a little confusing, it's propensity for involved games and the inability of the protagonist to leave the game does indeed suggest it's an ARG gone bad. The game element can be seen every episode

Michael Douglas played "The Game" in this 1997 film where an ARG went wrong and involved all sorts of violence. I kept wondering during the movie whether or not the twist in the tail would be I expected. Would everything in the film just be part of the Game? Or did the Game start and his actions make it spiral out of control?

Hollywood loves disasters. Look at Jurassic Park. Never have I seen science maligned as much as in that movie. The same is true for ARGs. It's a new idea so while they use ARGs in their marketing, they're also happy to point out how these things can go wrong.

Why is there such a need to have ARGs go wrong? Is it because the idea of story involving us must mean action, death and violence at every turn? Why can't the fun of the game just be in the game? Possibly because most games would involve messages on a phone or computer and wouldn't really involve guns or sex - which, at the end of the day, seem to be what sells movies. And a little too much sex and violence in an ARG would probably get you in trouble with your partner.

Mission Impossible enjoyed the use of elaborate reality games when they would convince enemy agents they were in their home territory or being held far from home in order to confuse and disorientate them. Once the information had been gained, the elaborate hoax dissolved leaving the mark feeling very much in the dark.

Viral campaigns for movies such as Cloverfield and A.I. worked really well to weave a pattern around the events in the movies. This makes you wonder though - there's obviously a class of writer that is now being created in the industry - someone who's job it is to weave elaborate ARG plots which in itself is a very specialist skill. It would indeed be a challenge I would relish - a project for another day definitely.

Live Action Role Play (LARP) and Murder Mystery Parties represent a limited ARG. The environment you can move around is limited, the people you encounter will all be in on the game. There was an urban legend I was told about a LARP group that had hired a hotel ballroom and some extra rooms for a "Victoriana" game. During the evening, some guests from the hotel who were not involved in the game, wandered onto the "set". Interacting with the Victoriana gamers had the guests convinced they had walked into another world. LARP isn't all about foam boffer weapons and men with masks wandering around damp forests - it's about playing a role in a game but using the whole body.

Treasure Hunt was a Channel 4 game show which ran for nearly a decade with the winning formula of clues, a studio research team, a helicopter and a pretty girl. If the contestants managed to guide the 'runner' to the treasure using the clues, then they would win a cash prize and all of this was against the clock.

This is related to Geocaching, an outdoor treasure-hunting game where the participants use a GPS device (like a modern mobile phone) and search out hidden treasure, usually a logbook and toys or trinkets. According to wikipedia, over 800,000 geocaches, over 100 countries across seven continents are registered on various websites.

The Adventure Game was another ARG-related game show, aimed at children, from the BBC during the early-mid eighties. The story was that the contestants had travelled to the planet 'Arg' (was that prescient?) - the game seemed, from the viewer point of view, internally consistent and the contestants played along with the game format. The Vortex task at the end of every episode, also presented a unique perspective - rather than being a physical or mental task, it was a tactical task based on the presence of an invisible destructive force on the game grid - a force that could only be seen by the television viewers.

Knightmare came pretty much after the Adventure Game where a 'blindfolded' child was led around a maze by three friends and had to interact with various physical tasks and puzzles. The environment was a mix of physical sets and computer imagery (using Chromakey). Wikipedia states that Knightmare was conceived by taking the computer game "Atic Atac" from the ZX Spectrum and 'revolutionising' it using television. Somewhat ironic.

Flash Mobs would be another nod to Alternate Reality Games - when a mob of zombies descends on a mall or participants engage in a massive and worldwide pillow fight, there is a 'game' element that is being used. The activity is usually coordinated by the internet and can bring a lot of attention. The concept itself seems to have originated in a Larry Niven story "Flash Crowd" from 1973.

De Profundis is a final example of an Alternate Reality Game. It's a story-telling game involving the posting of letters from participant to participant. De Profundis has also been played using email or blog posts across the internet. It ties literary story-telling to the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos - encouraging participants to describe their descent into madness and the occult in flowery prose fitting the style of the genre. Described as more of a psychodrama than a role-playing game and certainly having more in common with creative writing than table-top games:

In De Profundis we don't declare to the Game-master that we are going to do a library search. We go to a real library ourselves to look for vague comments and hints which cause shivers of cosmic terror. We have all the books of all the libraries in the world to look through and fish for secrets and hidden, disguised truths.

So what?

ARG's tie together several things. They bring the ability to source material from the Internet (giving a virtually unlimited amount of virtual scenery to the Game) and then link that to a location (hyperlocality) using a GPS and a time (temporality) in order to weave together puzzles. There's also a virtually unlimited amount of interactivity. We have to answer questions like whether 'participants' are also 'creators' within the game. That's something that really interests me with my background.

I have also been contributing to (viewing mostly) the 4IP social network (hosted on ning) called '38 minutes'. In particular the area that interests me on 38minutes most is "Alternate Reality Gaming". I'm sufficiently interested in ARGs that I
intend to start a Masters degree to study them. I just need to flesh out the concept and learn to program computers!

Over the next few blog posts I'll examining the following steps.

Step Zero: The Concept
Step One: The Engine
Step Two: The Game Rules
Step Three: The Plot
Step Four: Profit!

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14Nov/080

Zombi Ts…

To coincide with the next printing of Zombi and the 'very soon' release of the PDF version, we've put some Zombi Ts on CafePress.

Click on the image (or here) to go through to Store. We'll be adding more Ts as time goes on.

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11Nov/080

6 – Terminology

(Though I'm still unsure of the final name to call this game, for the time being I'm going to be referring to it both by the nom de plume '6' and the nom de guerre 'CONTROL'. I hope that suffices to confuse)

AGENT - highly trained civil servants. Because of their skills and experience, they are paid better than their civil service counterparts to the tune of almost £8000 a year.
ASSET - individuals who through their skills, background, contacts or position have
BLACK BAG - covert or clandestine surreptitious entries into structures to obtain information
CELL - a method for organizing a group in such a way that it can more effectively resist penetration by an opposing organization.
CONTROL - closeted senior officers within the Special Executive.
C - chief of the Special Executive. C's name is often publicly known as is his position as he is selected for the work by politicians. C's position is always re-evaluated when a new government comes into power. He will almost always be a diplomat or senior ranking civil servant and probably will be holding a knighthood and looking for a Baronet.
D - directors. The Directors of the Special Executive may be recent appointees (selected by the current government), long term appointees (past DCs) or selected from the most senior Agents (who may be too well known to be of operational use).
DC - deputy chief. The two deputy chiefs are appointed by the current government. They usually intend to stay in their current position for a term not more than four years and then move on, hopefully to cushy ambassadorial roles. Their commitment to the job is questionable and they seldom come from an intelligence background.
DAY OUT - The first mission for Agents who have been released from the Field School.
DEAD DROP - a location used to secretly pass items between two people, without requiring them to meet.
ENEMY - the current enemy of the day whether military, political, economic, ideological. In the standard game, the player AGENTS are assumed to be from the Western Bloc and therefore the ideological enemy is the Eastern Bloc, composed of the governments behind the Iron Curtain. The enemy in a specific scene may be a fellow agent from another intelligence agency, an agent of a friendly government, an agent of a hostile government or even the civil law and security forces of any country in the world. In the modern world, the definition of enemy will change several times during the career of an agent and may change even during a single mission.
ESCAPE KIT - usually a passport, some money and other documents that an agent keeps, often circulating in the mail from a dummy address just in case things go badly and he feels the name to escape.
FALSE FLAG - covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities.
FIRM - The internal name for the Special Executive.
FIELD SCHOOL - the training facility for Agents. They will be taught weaponry, demolitions, languages, tradecraft
GLASS HOUSE - A private section of the civil prison at Shepton Mallet, Somerset used for the containment of domestic traitorous Assets and dishonoured Agents. They are kept separate from the civilian criminals and it is common knowledge that some of the inmates of the Glass House are actively serving loyal Agents, keeping tabs on their imprisoned ex-colleagues.
GOVERNMENT - The current government, whichever party is in power. Governments treat CONTROL as their best friend, AGENTS as useful but expendable tools and ASSETS very poorly.
JIC - the Joint Intelligence Committee consists of the Chairman of the JIC, C, K, the head of the Defense Intelligence Staff, representatives from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister?s Cabinet. The function of the JIC is to provide a definitive top-level assessment for the Cabinet Office.
K - the enigmatic Director General of the domestic security service.
MICE - Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego - the basic procedure for creating assets.
Money - the Asset is working solely for financial reasons. He may be being paid directly in cash by the Agent or may have a series of bank accounts and dead drops. He may be involved in financial schemes which would be assisted by the Agent?s government.
Ideology - the Asset is working for ideological reasons. He may not agree with his employer or government. He may hold the Agent?s country or government in high esteem.
Coercion - the Asset is being coerced to work for the Agent through blackmail, threats to himself or his family, fear of exposure or other means.
Ego - the Asset is working to further his own ego and may harbour delusions of grandeur. In truth he may want nothing more than to be caught by his own side so he can reveal his genius to them.
MIX - the British secret services have, since WW1 been known by their department numbers. The MI prefix stands for "Military Intelligence" even though the majority of the secret services have been wholly civilian.
5 - the origins of the Security Service, also known as MI6, are within the domestic security section of the Secret Service Bureau, established by the Committee of Imperial Defence in October 1909.
6 - The origins of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, are to be found in the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau, established by the Committee of Imperial Defence in October 1909.
NATO - Founded April 4th, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is founded by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States in order to resist Communist expansion.
STEGANOGRAPHY - the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one apart from the intended recipient knows of the existence of the message.
TRADECRAFT - a collective word for the techniques used in modern espionage. It can refer to generic topics or specific techniques.

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10Nov/081

Viking Ghost Hunt – a ‘hyperlocal’ Dublin-based game

While down at the National Digital Research Centre last week, I saw a brief presentation from two Dutch guys, Soren and Mads, who were making an iPhone game which overlaid a game on top of reality using GPS and cell tower triangulation.
From NDRC:

Viking Ghost Hunt will capitalise on location based gaming. The interactive game will require the user to travel around Dublin city to advance the game, incorporating physical exercise into traditional gaming, and experiencing new combinations of storyline and game play activities.

I'll be asking them for a demo I will.

A hyperlocal game is essentially using the GPS built into the iPhone to do some GeoCaching - except that the reward is 'virtual'. Otherwise the principles are the same. The software links into the web site rather than having you dig for a prize and then delivers a preprogrammed message. A little like "Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi" if you think about it.

The concept of this is very simple. The execution shouldn't also be too hard.

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10Nov/080

Fonts, fonts, my kingdom….

I'm having trouble identifying a font I used for the original printing of ZOMBI and this is the replacement I have come up with.

The original was quite clean and had a name like 'corroded' or 'corrupted'.

The potential new one is CM Corruged by Charly Masci (link is down).

I think it's actually an improvement.

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9Nov/080

zombi

I've spent the last week working on the PDF version of zombi. I've been updating bits and pieces as well, adding in references for "Fast Zombies" and other things which have been popular in the years since the book was released. Hard to believe that it's nearly ten years since it was first published.

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8Nov/080

Superheroics

I've been reading a lot and prepping my 'superhero' game and though I love the concept of GODLIKE and Wild Talents, it's really turned into an exercise of accountancy.

I don't like point buy systems which encourage you to minmax.

I'm frustrated by this because I can't therefore find a system I want to use. And that means I'm going to have to stop procrastinating and write my own. I'd already done some of this before, then lost all of my notes, and now have to almost start from scratch.

I think using the basis of the 23rd Letter is probably a great idea. What say you?

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