Looking back now on what I have written here, I fear I may be extraordinarily confusing. If you are reading this and it doesn’t come together, post that I’m just being confusing and I’ll re-work what I’m saying here. Your opinion matters to me and I want to be able to clearly explain what I’m talking about.
At this phase of production I'm calling this thing a game, because that is what I write, and that is what a lot of this audience will recognize, and honestly, because that has become a sort of muscle memory response but the end product will not be called a game, sold like a game or really be much of a game (this fact could be argued endlessly; "what is a game?" "Is it a Roleplaying game or is it a Story Game or is it an Indie game?" "Who invented dial soap and why?" I’m sure lots of folks are interested in those conversations, but I’m not at all). I have been calling this thing I’m making "interactive literature" I would like to throw a non- electronic in there, or perhaps the word experience, but I’m already unsure of how pretentious the title sounds. “Non-electronic interactive literature experience?”
QUESTION/PROBLEM - How do those descriptors sound? Does that seam to fit to the item I’m about to describe.
The product will come in an envelope, probably a white business envelope 5.5 x 8.5. There will be a full color photo and some type on the front (this is the cover). The envelope will be sealed with a sticker that one must cut through to open. Contained within:
• Several (5, maybe 6) color photos (like you would get at a 1 hour photo). They are more like snapshots than arty-fartsy photography. They all feature the titular character, Agatha.
• A letter to the buyer. I’m still up in the air about what form the letter will take. The purpose of this document is to serve as 1) the title page, dedication, out-of-game legalese that a book would require. 2) A read me document kind of explaining what I am about to explain here (but in more eloquent, easy to understand, and foremost edited language) that is, the "rules of play"
• A 10-20 page half-letter size saddle-staple full color booklet. I call this thing "the journal." This is really what you interface with in the course of the game, it provides the tools for play (both literally and metaphorically), and it entertains the player(s).
Here is what I envision the experience being (maybe I should have gotten to this sooner): A person sees this object in a store, and deciding that it looks interesting they take it home (I have a lot of thoughts on the advertising, store placement, demographic research and such, and that may interest some of you, but I’m going to save talking about that for another post). They cut open the envelope and begin by reading the letter (the letter will be designed in such a way as to heavy handedly say "READ ME FIRST." They learn that they are about to start an investigation. Right away. Alone, wherever they first decided to open their purchase. At first the purchaser gets to enjoy the experience as a lone participant, as a reader.
The journal describes the investigation performed by the reader after Agatha (the object of our story, be she a sibling, friend or lover) one day disappeared. Just vanished into thin air. It discusses briefly (and perhaps a little vaguely) some of the events leading up to her disappearance (on the surface they don't appear to be interesting, maybe in some lights coincidental but when reflected upon the circumstances of her mysterious vanishing, some of these events will look sinister, curious or abnormal).
While that story is all being told (in a very pictorial, designed way, not simply as prose) the reader is being instructed to cut apart the journal. Yes, with scissors, literally destroy the book they are trying at the same time to read. They will cut off corners and sections, removing pages as they journey on to the end of the story. But there is no end, they will have been instructed to cut so much that things won't make sense, thoughts won't be completed, pictures will be little more than cryptic close ups and out crops of what may be pressing information.
Then they take all the stuff they cut away, put it in the envelope and hand it to the friends they want to complete the story with. These people will look over what they have been given (along with the same intact introductory letter/rules doc from the beginning). At this point Group play begins. These new participants are collectively called “the Truth.”
The reader will have unanswered questions pertaining to the story. Up till now they have been guessing at what comes next, but now they are given the chance to decide themselves. They will be asked to frame up a scene they would like to participate in. This is described sort of like a group script writing session. The same kinds of thing that folks like Ron Edwards and others have claimed "isn't roleplaying" and "is a problem facing new games coming out.” Nothing against Ron, he may very well be right, in fact in a lot of ways he is. But this problem is actually the play focus of this game. Some roleplaying may slip in (people may want to conduct interviews, or ask questions, or what have you) but for the most part the experience is authorship and not acting.
Before every scene the Truth will take a few pieces of the journal that they have and offer them as a stake, thereby the reader has to select pages from their journal or the photographs of Agatha that they are willing to risk to get at these new clues. Everything has a value, printed on it, but neither side will know the value of what the other person is risking till the choices are locked in. If the Reader's stake is worth more, they get to keep the clues. If the Truth's stake is worth more the two sides trade what they staked. This means that new clues are presented every scene (and the discovery of these new clues should be worked into the scene) but sometimes they come at a cost.
QUESTION/PROBLEM - I want the truth to be able to hardball the reader a little bit. I want them to be able to make Deal or No Deal-style side bets asking for specific things or pages in trade for other stuff (maybe pages already lost? "Better" clues?). I've got a simple numbers game (this is worth X, this is worth y) and I’m wondering how I can use that to force the reader into making hard choices. Any suggestions for how I should do this.
This trading/revealing economy goes on until "enough" clues have been traded and "enough" scenes have been played that the participants are satisfied with the experience and want to conclude.
QUESTION/PROBLEM - Some sort of endgame is needed here. I waffle on the notion of a prescribed timeline (5 scenes then climax!) or more numbers game (once x value of clues have been revealed/ once the reader has lost y), or simply an open you-have-to-end-it-sometime, just feel it out, when do you think it would be good to end– ending. I'm not asking for opinions on what sounds like it would be most fun (though feel free to offer them) I’m asking what will most support the themes I’m interested in, what seems like it would be the easiest to understand for a "mundane" purchaser, what do you think is going to work best within the context of the rest of the rules. And, of course, Why?
So that's it. The game is all about a sense of confusion and mystery, a taste of procedural drama, and as much (if any) supernatural or surreal element you may want. Anyone have any thoughts? Answers to my questions?