Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mass Effect Hack: Hurdles on the Track


I owe y'all some explanation. I've had one post in the past month. I've completely let things slip. But I'm going to make excuses!
The beginning of May was a time of a bit of progress on things, but not enough to post. I should have come up with something anyway. Then came the week before finals, where I had a billion things to do, including writing a huge-ass paper (but not the sort that would be enjoyable to read here, sadly). I also had multiple presentations. Then it was finals week and you can forgive me for being busy.
Since classes ended, like literally two days after, I started working for my dad re-siding the house. I hate construction work, especially when I'm getting paid not that much. But it's exhausting work, seven days a week, so I've just felt too off to write. I feel super guilty, especially about missing Sunday Songs repeatedly even though I don't have any music in mind that I want to share a ton. I think I'm gonna put Sunday Songs on hold for a while, build up for a month-long event again.
I really just want to get a draft of MEHack up, then do a revision and expansion of AvW (along with completing the subplaybooks). Thinkin' I might do a little pixel art again, and maybe talk about movies or games or anime or something.

So here's a thing about how I've been finishing the first draft: I've been actually writing the game and laying out the PDF at the same time. This has had a few effects. First and foremost, it means that when I get to a section, I need to write it it, I can't just leave blanks. It pressures me into actually finishing things. It also keeps me from second-guessing, as it's hard to go back and change things. If I doubt something I of course am noting it down (as I will undoubtedly re-lay out everything another time anyway), but for right now it keeps me looking forward. It also keeps me from lapsing into writing in my design-note notation. That style is helpful for initial stuff, but when I use it without thinking of how it goes in a document I overlook things.

However, given this workflow, I still hit hurdles as I push to a first draft. Let's look at a few of those.
First issue was the organization / flow. I ended up with a similar early section to Avatar World, where I start with the idea of an RPG, the idea of the genre, and the game's classifications (GM'd, 4-5 participants, etc). I jump into a follow-along-as-you-start walkthrough of getting a game started, explaining the basics: the conversation and moves, the Basic Moves, rolebooks/speciesbooks, the cosmetic decisions, the stats, moves, introductions, relationships, and the Ship's Log. After this brief intro,, I jump into the playbooks themselves in book form (not playsheet form, though the two are similar). Third I'll be adding the MC stuff in brief (the job, the principles, the moves,I'll do Threats stuff later I think), then the book goes into full detail on the mechanics, suggestions / notes and all.
The main hurdle is that I decided to put the Playbook/MC stuff before the explanation stuff - after I'd already written the explanation stuff. I'm now treading on thin ice with all the layout holding together.

Writing the intro stuff was easy - this is like the fourth version of the "how do ApW games work" speech I've haad to write, I like how I say it. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly have all the mechanics in place when I started. I spent a couple days re-writing the Ship mechanics AGAIN, but I FINALLY think I got it right. Took me long enough.

Writing explanatory stuff for each of the mechanics wasn't too bad either! Took time, but I understood all my mechanics, even the ship stuff.

Then I backed up and started writing in the playbooks, and that's when things get more annoying. I started on the Rolebooks, in alphabetical order of course, so first was the Academic. I had to write Origins, and the Relationship prompts, but the moves were already written.
For the Agent, I needed moves as well as origins and relationships, which nobody had when I started.
Looking at it visibly, I decided it would be best to keep the Agent with only three moves total, with Agency given automatically and starting without choices. This bugs me a bit cuz it doesn't give you options off the bat, but there's options in Agency, it's a strong move, and it's very powerful fictionally, and it's got precedent; after all ApW has the Chopper and Hardholder who don't even get move choices, and DW doesn't give you move choices at all at first level, and you'll have a choice from your Speciesbook anyway so Agents don't start the same.
Getting to the Leader was a bit tricky. I ended up doing the same thing with Mission as I did with Agency. I'm not 100% on what I chose, but oh well.
The Loner is where I'm at right now, and it's a huge bitch. I've found two major issues that I'm still grappling with.
1) The Loner's broadness. The loner is an extremely popular concept in movies and games, and as such has a huge range of potential abilities, making it hard to nail down an iconic set of actions.
2) The Loner's connections. The Loner is an important archetype to the game, but at the same time represents a bit of a paradox to the sort of game I'd like to see played. The story of the game revolves around a team, and the heart of storygames is the interaction of player characters. So a character whose gimmick is that they don't like interacting is troublesome. My intention is to not reduce their amount of starting relationships, or to give them moves that favor such antisocial behavior. I intend to tilt the moves to encourage pursuing independent behavior when with the team.
My brother brought up a good point, that the people who choose to play The Loner likely WANT to exhibit that kind of antisocial behavior, which is a bit of a flaw. Similarly, it makes fictional sense that a Loner would have less connections to the other players, but I don't want to actually cut them off from an easy way to integrate with others. But since MEHack, as an ApW-powered game, is a fiction-first game, should I lighten my design intentions there to better adhere to the fictional concept of the archetype? Am I as designer as bound by fiction-first as players and MCs are? For now, I'm just gonna run with it as I please.

I dread getting to the Rebel, who will be a huge mess to develop. The Veteran is mostly complete already. The Speciesbooks are almost entirely incomplete, but have strong concepts so I just need to be mechanically clever or something. The MC stuff will need explanations, but I have the basics down. And those are the things I have left! We'll see if there's other hurdles.

Oh yeah, and there's one big problem. Mass Effect Hack is a really stupid name for a real project. It's conveniently descriptive, but not very evocative, fun, or memorable. I'm just coming up totally dry. Something reflecting the cooperative, mission-based play, or the grand-scale sci-fi in a diverse society. I'm fond of the word Stars for it.
Actually, sitting here typing this post and seeing if I haven't come up with any ideas, I thought about how maybe Among Darkening Stars could work. The phrase isn't copyrighted, it implies danger or evil in the galaxy that PCs would be going up against, it clearly indicates the sci-fi nature of the game, and it is an excellent descriptor of the tone of Mass Effect's story, with people, then colonies, then whole regions going dark and silent as the Reapers worked.
How does anyone else feel about Among Darkening Stars? Cuz I like it I think!

End Recording,

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