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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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[User Picture]
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."
[User Picture]
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)
[User Picture]
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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