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Sweet Agatha

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So I'm working on this game, working title is "Sweet Agatha." I've mentioned it before, but here I’m going to go into it a bit. If that doesn't interest you, here is a picture of two cool dudes instead.

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?
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On December 19th, 2006 08:17 am (UTC), weaponjx commented:
If this is a murder mystery, I would end with a conviction.

When the majority of the participants can agree on a culprit, it's over. Are they right, who knows? If it's not a murder mystery, then some sort of similar resolution.

To keep the game going, you might say that the votes don't count until after a predetermined number of sleuthing rounds.

You get realism from this approach. "did he do it... who knows, the jury seemed convinced."
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On December 19th, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
I'm glad someone addressed this, as it was not apparent in the text that i presented.

This game is not a murder mystery. It's got a softer focus than that. ALL that you know is that this woman isn't where she is supposed to be and cannot be contacted. Upon snooping around her house you find all sorts of weird clues that imply there is much more to her than meets the eye.

While these clues are specific (as the designer i will define them in clear terms) they don't point specifically at any outcome, and are thus open to a wide variety of interperitations.

The girls death is only one of a lot of possible endings as is the discovery of her killer. I want the game to really play well in three diffferant tones:
•realism - like Law & Order or any of the other bajillion police procedurals
•supernaturalism - Like the x-files or Kolchak
•surrealism - Like twin peaks or the film "November"

The tie binding these three play styles together is the highly stylized nature of the clues.

As a designer i don't define what the reader is at all. That is, i don't say "you are a detective" or "you don't have any investigatorial background." I don't tell you anything about the reader because the rules are written in second person, they are written to YOU. YOU are the reader. I think that the notion of ascribing personalities, skills, and philosophies not actually your own to the reader "character" is a notion firmly rooted in years of role playing. And remember this ISN"T a roleplaying game, this is a social activity that some people will insert some roleplaying into (just a matter of natural course) and others won't. Hopefully, if i market this well and get it into the stores i want, Roleplayers will be in the minority.

To get a little back on track with your suggestions, john, I agree ending with a conviction would be a very satisfying ending. But at what point in a nights play do you say "alright its over, we all think its this guy, lets get him." One of the best parts of the mystery/detective genre is the progression of clues pointing to a particular character and then when new information comes to light they are ultimatly exhonerated and the search continues. In good mysteries this can happen a couple of times.I think if people get involved in a police procedural they are going to want this "clues rule out suspects" style of play. Sluething rounds is cool, i guess you get to change your vote up till the deadline? Maybe at the end of every turn you say who you think it is? I'd rather not require anything to be written down. [i'm sort of just thinking aloud here]

I like the idea of voting, its something we all understand and it's easy to write about without having to explain a whole lot. The vocabulary of democracy already exists. How do you (or anyone reading this) see votes in this game

I also like the dissatisfaction of a jury's decision, but i don't want to really get into courtroom drama, this game is sort of vigilante, the cops probably don't get called (maybe they do, but I'M not writing about it)
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On December 19th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC), weaponjx replied:
Any type of voting gives the game an extremely postmodern sensibility. Not in the art sense but in the subjective 'media makes us stupid' sense. After all, you have an open ended question with answers defined not by reality or even perception, but by consensus. This can be thought provoking, but also extremely unsatisfying.

I would set several conditions for ending the game, so you can suit the players according to how hardcore they are. (how long they can sit still.) This is a common concept for alot of strategy board games so people will be familiar with the concept.

I would start with the shortest game, or maybe the second shortest, then suggest varients like a 'lightning game' and 2 or three longer versions (maybe one that allows Blake's idea of multiple sittings or play by mail)
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On December 19th, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC), bdeakin commented:
Is play supposed to be one night?

Is the game able to be played again? E.g. Is the way the media is cut up procedural (the same for all copies), or is it however the reader fancies it? Obv, both have their ups and downs.

Maybe leave it open-ended, allowing players to bring other artifacts into the game themselves. The owner of the game could keep it in a big manilla envelope and have a story that grows as more people are involved.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:41 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
yes the entire thing should take one night. Alternatly there can be as much time as is desired between the initial reading and cutting up of the journal and the start of group play

A free pdf will be available for download that will include the bits that you end up destroying. This doc will not be designed as a functiona item, simply and un-stylized. The initial letter/rules will not be included. This is so it can be replayed, but not to the same quality. In theory the same original materials could be re-cycled, but it may prove difficult in practice.

An interesting thought. I think things like that will develope naturally in play, but it might be a good idea to address it and put in there as a designer element.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:57 pm (UTC), bdeakin replied:
If you want to include it, I think you need to give some serious thought to what the players are allowed to do, when it comes to incorporation of clues. If you want each player to be Deep Throat, they need to know what they can do, what's out of bounds, and how to ensure that either:

1. MY clues are divergent enough from YOUR clues, assuming we're both charged with providing them, that they won't interfere on a fundamental level

(You can't make assertions about where Agatha was and when. You can't authoritatively speak for her, in the first person. You can't...)


2. Some way of ensuring that the clues will "gel" in a rational way.

(Some type of mechanic where two people "bid" story assertions back and forth, without telling the entirety of the particular story they have in mind. In other words, if we both agree that Agatha visited the library on Tuesday, then our clues can reinforce one another. But you know that she went to research demonology, and I know that she never left. The sub-clues may or may not be mutually exclusive, and that would have to be borne out in play somehow.) OR...

2a. The clues are meant to be contradictory and the "truthiness" of those clues is not in question, which I think could be done, but hemming the game into a conclusion will take a feather touch.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:57 pm (UTC), bdeakin replied:
In other words, "develop naturally in play" is dangerous as fuck.
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On December 19th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
It is the reponsability of The Reader to frame scenes that will include clues, and be ripe for the inclusion of clues.

"In this next scene i'm going to meet up with Agatha's shrink, i already have his name from a perscription form in her house (a clue presented in the journal, or previously by the Truth), i want to start by asking him some questions and if he gets difficult or tight lipped i'm going to go bad cop on him. Oh, and i'm meeting him down by the docks at sunset, after he gets off work, where no one will see us."

The truth takes this into consideration and then presents clues that will fit into this scene. The truth exclusivly introduces new clues.

The reader doesn't author new clues, he only discovers them, seeks them out. He only has things he's already learned from the journal and things that have previously been presented in scenes. When the Truth presents a new clue, it is fact. That's why those participants are called the Truth.

So i'm really more into your option 2 or 2a is where the game is going. Its an issue of when do you say, "alright we know enough, lets tie it up."

SUB THOUGHT- i'm wrestleing with the notion that one of the "clues" that the truth can reveal, is that a previously discovered clue turns out to be false. Sort of a red-herring card. I'm including it right now, but i worry it may prove confusing in play.
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On December 19th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC), bdeakin commented:
I think, by using Twin Peaks as an example, you've pretty much said that you don't want a traditional buildup->conclusion heuristic. In fact, to me, the strength of TP was the agony of having new things added and nothing answered for SO LONG.

I don't know what to suggest, though. But I'd be more concerned about mechanics which handle a story arc-wise (and over the course of many sessions) than something shorter.

I think what I'd do is this:

- Come up with some kind of concept map, like that dude in Memento had.
- Come up with mechanics for when clues are "committed" to the map.
- Have the story end when the "conclusion" is enabled, which would be a function of the committed clues.

You also get a neat map showing off the progression of the story, and also something that can be in display in a "gaming" area that's fun & interesting.
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On December 19th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC), bdeakin replied:
"Concept map" bears further explanation. It'd be a big sheet where you can attach photos, newspaper clippings, journal entries, whatever else with the reader's own spin on each artifact.

You might regiment the process by requiring that some clues lead to others and some clues dead-end (in other words, the paths are pre-made, but the attached artifacts are not). This could be interesting, from the perspective of the group authorship (and if there's a competitive aspect to the game at all), in that the storytelling exercise must conform to a certain schema. Also, it leaves less x-factors to you for writing your story development & conclusion mechanics.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
I like this idea a lot. I like the reflexivity of spending all your time to destroy an artifact and then to build another one. I like that you end up with something real and physical. I like that it regiments in a way the clue finding/building process.

It also gives the reader something to physically do during play (a problem that has been biting at me a lot lately), and directs them more overtly in what kind of scenes they should frame up next.

I'm concerned with how easy it will be to explain what this object is though, and how to build it. Especially to someone with no game experiance. Extra especially on one side of an 8.5x11

This bears a lot of further exploration
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On December 19th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC), bdeakin replied:
Oh. I think make it yourself (and fold it many times to make it fit in the envelope). Make Agatha an investigative reporter, perhaps, and have the concept map represent her method for "cracking" a case. You're writing in a bit for the players, sure, but what cool disappearance stories don't start with a character looking for something they shouldn't? Not many, sir.
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On December 19th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
well, making it myself would be cool but...

1. i would essentially be designing a big blank peice of paper that you stick other little peices of paper to, and that might not look very impressive (purely a design problem and one that isn't that serious)

2. it would increase my production costs to include another item in the package, and i'm already concerned about how much this thing will cost to make.

But a framework element might be helpful and it's another thing i can put information on.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC), oddbovine commented:
I think this is a really cool idea. That said, I think this game would be a lot more fun to talk about than to actually play.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:24 pm (UTC), oddbovine replied:
Also, "non-electronic interactive literature experience"?
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On December 19th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
i know, its big mouthful of turds.
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On December 19th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC), bdeakin replied:
Also, just call it a game. I excised the NEILE bit from memory so quickly I forgot to even comment on it.

Literary game, fine.

Gestalt? I'll shove you down some stairs.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
What aspect sounds like it would be more fun to talk about than to play. The two acts are pretty much the same with the exception of a goal in the conversation.
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On December 19th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC), oddbovine replied:
I think the design is very interesting and elegant, and captures one of the essential aspects of gaming very nicely: the communal reality that is part subjective, part objective. But I think its too deconstructed to be all that much fun to actually play. Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe I'm not the target audience.

As for specific suggestions, I'm leary of a game which has complicated, self-destroying instructions and no replay value. If you screw up cutting up the journal, or accidentally see the wrong clue, the game loses a lot of its value.

The lack of any kind of objective solution is going to be problematic, also. Boiled down, this game is a very complicated, communal Rorschach test, where the players project their aggregated psyches onto some abstract chain of events, and I'm not sure that is going to qualify as an enjoyable activity. On the other hand, that's sort of the driving force behind Apples to Apples, which is pretty fun. So maybe I'm full of shit. But my feeling is, Law & Order would not be nearly as successful if it were a choose-your-own adventure.
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On December 19th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC), geek_patrol commented:
As a casual gamer, the description of this game did not make much sense to me. I was with you up to the cutting apart of the book, then you lost me.
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On December 19th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
Yeah, i know this is a really convoluted post. As i get the inner workings in order i'm hopeing i can really refine out all this mumbo jumbo and explain everything in a couple of sentences.
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On December 19th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Incidentally, and this is just my selfish little desire, but I'd like to see a game like this as "play-by-mail", where in-character correspondences are sent with letters, clippings, and other evidence.

The reader would post the investigation to some sort of blog based on these letters.

Snail mail would be most exciting, because really, who doesn't like getting mail?
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On December 19th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC), bdeakin replied:
That was me.
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On December 19th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC), kevin_allen_jr replied:
a neat idea. and i don't think anything about the functionality of the game would preclude this kind of play. In fact i think it would do just fine by mail.

But i want a fast short thing. and mail is above all things slow.
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On December 31st, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Sweet Agatha in France & in french
Thx for your game.

Richard from Toulouse
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