Much of this week was spent running through ideas for designing a game that works within the realm of this new project. The main focus was to analyze play-by-post (PbP) gaming as it is likely to be the center of the gaming experience for whatever this turns out to be.
Much of the PbP that happens on the internet is simply a modified version of a table top RPG (TTRPG) - there are still usually dice rolls and all of the other pieces of the game support that basic mechanic. When I came up with Derelict Radio, I ultimately landed on using the tried and true model of Character Stats and dice rolls as the basis for a resolution mechanic. It was a fair conceit at the time.
You can download a copy of the original Derelict Radio ruleset here if you're curious.
However, as I revisit the concept of a collaborative storytelling game that potentially spans the globe, it's important to take a step back and consider different approaches that may better suit the experience I am hoping to provide. Instead of relying on what has worked in the past for localized storytelling, the game needs to be designed with new considerations and ideals that don't necessarily apply to the kind of game we're all used to.
Non-linear action. Most TTRPGs default to a very realtime and linear story structure, which means they need a very realtime method of resolving action. However, the nature of online role play and PbP lends itself non-linear storytelling. This becomes even more pronounced as we take into account that a podcast with a weekly or biweekly release schedule will play an integral role in telling the overall story. As such, we are not limited to resolution mechanics that require realtime feedback; but we also need to consider how resolving actions that may conflict with one another due to timing or other non-linear artifacts can be handled.
Massively collaborative. This project (as with many PbP games) needs to be able to support dozens or possibly hundreds of players interacting with the fiction at once. Too many voices at the table can be problematic. That's why most of the time we limit our group sizes to somewhere around 6-8 people. There are for example, compounding time requirements to go around the table for a single round of combat. Then there's the need to share the narrative spotlight, and given most peoples' limited time allotted for gaming, that slice of the narrative gets smaller and smaller as you add more people to a game. One of the prime focuses of this project will be to foster a great experience for all player; whether we have 4 players or 40, or 400.
Make use of the medium. Being built on and for the internet, the game should give us an opportunity to use some really unique methods of interaction. It allows us to take a data-driven approach to solving problems that couldn't be addressed with pen, paper, and dice. Incorporating the podcast adds another layer to be able to convey a rich and immersive story. A key goal in this project is to take the various mediums and tie the core aspects of each into the game mechanic. For the forum we are using text and data. For the podcast we are using words and sound. Each of these then need to be anchored in the core mechanic of the game.
Fiction influences the mechanics. Mechanics influence the fiction. Taking everything from above into consideration, the type of story we will be telling has to play nicely with the supporting mechanics of the game and vice-versa. While this should be a goal for any TTRPG game designer, it's especially important in this venture. As we explore new avenues of telling stories within a game, we need to not only look at how we interact with the game, but how the fiction interacts with the game; how the game interacts with the fiction; and how we interact with the fiction. A lot of valuable inspiration can be taken from video games as we look forward in designing and writing for this project.
With those four tenets in mind, the project moves ever closer to taking a loose shape. We've named the goals of the project, so now we need to give the project a name. To give something a name is to make it real. And until now, this pie-in-the-sky idea felt very unreal - very much unachievable. Naming and defining our goals makes them tangible. To be tangible is to be attainable.
As I continue developing this idea further, one theme keeps recurring: interdependence. The mechanics and story depend on eachother. The podcast and forum depend on each other. The members of the community depend on each other. With so many interdependencies in the very concept of the project, it’s not surprising that such themes will be central to the fiction of the world as well.
We’re in this together. Together we’ll make something that could never have been possible before. Welcome to Symbiosis.