17 September 2006

The Reversed/Engineer Challenge - The Unspeakable Truth

So, I entered this Reversed Engineering challenge. I was mainly inspired by the coolness of the idea: everyone designs a character sheet, then everyone has to design the game that goes with another entrant's sheet.

The idea is pretty cool, so I threw together a sheet quickly and entered. I'm no graphic designer, so my sheet is primitive. I aimed to have the words and shapes on it evocative without pushing the game anywhere in particular. No idea if I succeeded - I haven't seen what the person who got mine did with it yet.

Then the second phase came around, and I got allocated this sheet by Dan Shermond. It's pretty cool, and appears to have the same kind of thinking behind it as my own. This was a relief - if you look at the sheets on the main contest page, some are obviously designed to destroy any would be game designer.

I had trouble coming up with a good, strong, concept for the game. First I threw around ideas for conspiracies in Renaissance Italy, then utopian communities in Renaissance Italy, then utopian communities in general. However, despite some neat ideas, these didn't pan out.

I finally settled on a straight conspiracy game, with the increase in "enlightenment" showing how much the character thinks they know about what is really going on. I let ideas percolate for a few days, then sat down on the last evening I had free before the deadline, and wrote The Unspeakable Truth. It's short - just the bare essence of what is needed for the game. However, it should be a good alpha test version.

I really like the way that your conspiracy theory grows in play and responds to what happens. I also like the endgame conditions - only once you reach the narration of an epilogue do you get to announce whether what the character believed in was true or not. I feel like this kind of gets at a side of conspiracy fiction that is not often dealt with in gaming. Games usually have the gamemaster decide what the conspiracy is and the players get to discover it. This one, in contrast, is more like an exploration of how people might build conspiracy theories based on the random encounters and good or bad luck in their lives. Seems a little closer to things like The Crying of Lot 49 and Fight Club in what it's about.

Now I just have to convince someone to playtest it with me... (Note - any bold readers who give that a try: I will be really interested in hearing how it goes.

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