Archive for the ‘Wildfire Industries’ Category

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Using gameplay mechanics to support/tell your story

December 17, 2010

Hey everyone!  It’s been a long time, I know, but I want to get writing again on my blog.  It’s been a long time since I’ve written some of my thoughts on gaming down on digital paper, and I miss it so very much!  So, here’s to hoping that I can at least write a post once a week here… I’d like to get back in the habit!

So, I thought for my first post back that I’d tackle a topic of conversation that I was recently discussing on Twitter — using gameplay mechanics to support a game’s story.  My good friend and Avarice Industries co-author Xavier Fox Shandi pointed me to a video on The Escapist that started this whole conversation.  The video in question, “Extra Credits,” discussed how a classic arcade game could use only mechanics to tell its story.  Apparently, modern game designers don’t think that mechanics could be used in such a way.  If you have time, go ahead and watch the video here.  I highly recommend it.

So, apparently, some game designers still understand the correlation here.  Game mechanics, when used properly, can tell a story or support a game’s story on their own.  I find it to be a shame that some game designers don’t understand this basic concept — your game design/mechanics are the core reason you’re playing a game in the first place.  If they can’t be expressive enough on their own, then your game is missing a key component of what makes gaming, well, gaming.

This can even be done with the most simplistic mechanics.  Let’s use a first-person shooter for our example, if we may.  Shooting someone else is a pretty simple mechanic, right?  Can’t tell a story with it, right?

Wrong.

Let’s imagine a game with barely any graphics, no voice acting, no sounds, no nothing.  You start hidden behind a barrier with a few other AI players.  You have a pistol and only a few clips to reload.  There’s more ammo available, but it’s out  to the side from the barrier, visible to your enemy.  Your enemy is a group of red-uniformed men.  They are firing at you and your squad.  The goal of the game is to take out as many of these other men without dying yourself.  As you play, the waves of enemies don’t become harder, but there’s more of them.  More of them are firing at you.  It becomes harder to pop out around the side of your barrier.  Your AI compatriots are dying.  Eventually, you die, because it becomes too much.

That was all game play mechanics, but many of you most likely pictured a soldier making a last stand against an impossible amount of enemies.  You know you can’t win, but you’re going to do everything in your power to stop the enemy.  Your AI soldiers are useful because they’re helping you stay alive against the impossible odds, and you know that when one dies that the game is going to become a lot more difficult.  This leads to you almost “caring” for your AI buddies.  You know you need to keep them alive because they’re keeping you alive.  I didn’t need to give you a script.  I didn’t need for you to have explosions in your ears.  I didn’t need for you to have fancy graphics.  You got what I was trying to tell you because the mechanics are evoking imagery.

In writing Avarice Industries (the game formerly known as Wildfire Industries), I’ve been trying to do the same thing with pen-and-paper RPG mechanics.  Sometimes when playing PnP RPGs there’s a bit of a disconnect between playing the game as a story and playing the game with stats.  There’s no reason the two can’t collide to create something beautiful, yet our PnP RPGs are very frequently all about “tell story to a certain point, demand a check, see how successful check is, repeat process.”

While Xavier and I haven’t eliminated that problem entirely, I would say that our system does evoke the main themes of the game in order to create a better experience.  Let me lay it down for you all.

— Avarice Industries eliminates skills and attributes in favor or the Seven Virtues of Industry — Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Pride, and Lust.  These “Seven Virtues” are both statistics and skills.  They each encompass a domain that executives may use to get important tasks done.  The unique portion of the system is that we allow players to tailor the description of their actions to the GM so they may roll stats they are proficient in.  Basically, if you describe an action well enough that it falls under your preferred virtue, the GM will let you use that virtue in the roll.  Our favorite example of this is searching.  An intelligent character might pick through a person’s belongings carefully, which would lead the GM to use the intelligence stat — Gluttony — in the player’s roll.  A beefy tank character might rip through the apartment, tearing things apart to find what he wants to find.  This would lead the GM to use the strength/warrior stat — Wrath.

— Our other core mechanic is a character’s Motivation.  Motivation is very much like energy/mana/action points in that you spend it to use your character’s special abilities, called Traits.  However, Motivation differs from those examples in two ways:  You can only replenish it with good roleplaying and Motivation can be spent to improve die rolls.

At any point in the game, you may use a point of Motivation to “nudge” a die up or down a number.  In our game you roll d8s for your skills, and you get a success for every d8 that rolls a 6 or above.  Motivation can be used to “repair” crappy rolls, potentially turning horrible outcomes into stunning successes.  We did this because we felt that it was a perfect mirror for how business works — if you want to invest in a roll and put forth all of your character’s energy to make this work, then it will work.  How many times have we played RPGs where that one critical roll is botched and it turns the entire game into crap?

However, Motivation is a resource that should not be squandered.  That is something else we’ve done on purpose.  Investing Motivation is like any business investment — it carries risk.  Do you want to use that Motivation now, on this roll that you don’t want to fail on but can?  Or do you want to save your Motivation for when your character encounters a life or death roll?

We’ve noticed that players with high Motivation are a bit more carefree when they play the game — they take risks with their rolls  and spend Motivation freely.  But as the Motivation pool drops, they begin to seriously consider their actions, and each roll of the dice becomes a grim task.  The lifesaving net slowly evaporates as the game is played, putting your character closer to failure and losing everything if you don’t invest properly.  That’s the story of business.

And that’s how you use mechanics to support your story.

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America, America

July 14, 2010

Just felt like posting the introductory story to Wildfire Industries while I’m getting ready for this weekend’s second play test with the newly modified rules from Xavier Fox Shandi.  Should be interesting.

Of course, feedback on my writing is always welcome, and I hope you guys enjoy the short story.

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America, America

For an election night, Burning Forest was quiet.  The perfectly spaced trees along the downtown street were covered in midnight blue as the lone biker pedaled along the concrete river.  The red strobe light on the front of her bike turned the road into a patriotic disco, and the sound of the flag taped to her helmet laid down a tempo that matched only the beat of her heart.

She felt as if she could fly her bike right off the street and towards the stars.  The long, grueling election was over, and the nation had a new president — Blake Asgard.  The Warrior himself.  No longer did she have to worry about government regulating the corporation she worked for.  No longer did she have to worry about government tangling her workplace in red tape.  She was free.

She was the lead accountant at The Rainman Group, and the last thing she wanted to see in her office was the man from Washington looking over her books.  There were projects the government didn’t have to be concerned with hidden within those dollar values.  Projects that were better left as ink on the page, rather than as a man trapped in a testimony box.

The smile on her face was the brightest thing on the street on that cold night.

“O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,” she sang to the stars.

Her bicycle passed by the dilapidated store fronts, her voice resounding off of the foreclosure signs and tightly fastened wooden boards.  The downtown was a shell of what it once was, as many of the workers had been hired by the five mega corporations that now resided in the city.  Small business could not hope to compete against the signing bonuses that the new corporations were providing, nor could they ever hope to offer the benefits packages the corporations held out on fishing hooks.

“For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!”

She turned left on the corner of Main and Shady, passing the old Mayor Wisenberg Memorial Park.  The space had been sold by the city to Industrialized Industrial, where they quickly set up a briar patch of brass and steel that kept the steam mains of the city pressurized against their corporation’s heavy steam usage.  The corporation had given back to the community, however, by making sure that only 80% of the park space was used for their control station.  The remaining 20% housed a children’s playground, complete with requisite slide, sandbox, and merry-go-round.  All brass, of course.

“America!  America!
God shed His grace on thee,”

Two police officers were standing on the corner of Shady and Third Street, turning around as she drew nearer.  She reached inside her black blazer and produced two white envelopes, handing them out to the officers as she passed.  The burly officer on the curb grabbed them from her hand as she passed and gave her a friendly wave.  She turned around and nodded, smile still spread across her face as the officer’s partner lit the Molotov cocktail in his hand.  The flaming bottle smashed through the window of the Green Dragon owned building.  Light flickered on their faces as they opened their bounty, eyeing the checks inside of the envelopes. The sound of melting server architecture mixed with the air.

“And crown thy good, with brotherhood”

She turned onto Fourth, heading towards McClintock as her voice began to reach a crescendo.  She closed her eyes and took a long breath of the damp air.  Sirens began to break the quiet of the night, but she didn’t mind.  Everything was perfect.

She didn’t notice the silhouette woman on the roof, idly standing next to a darkened billboard.

“From sea to shining…”

The loud groaning of metal from above her snapped her from her trance.  She hit the brakes on her bike and looked upwards, towards the billboard.  It bent and snapped from its metal stand, the thick advertisement blotting out the stars, only leaving an empty, depthless rectangle in the night sky.

“…sea.”

The billboard marched towards her, shadow paired with the outline of a woman holding the huge object above her head.  She hurled the whole thing towards the biker on the road, her astonished face and dilated pupils explained why her legs weren’t moving.

As the billboard careened downwards, it slowly flipped in the air, briefly catching the light of the moon.  The painting depicted a happy, nuclear family having a picnic in the city’s main park.  Emblazoned across the beautiful, painted blue sky were the words “Burning Forest: An exceptional place to live!”

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The gaming update

October 6, 2009

So, I should make a post to you guys about the status of the two games I’m currently spearheading.  Yes, I said two.  Most of you have probably guessed at this point that I’m going to make Wildfire Industries, thanks mostly due to the comments on my last post being so undeniably positive.  Thanks you guys for being honest, and I’m working on making this game work.

Black Clover, my first love and major Pen and Paper Roleplaying Project, is currently sitting in a ditch and going back and forth to get itself out.  The problem is that if this game was a car, then the outside would look awesome while the engine would be a complete complex unworking joke.  Simply put — the lore and world is fantastic.  Everyone I talk to regarding this project has nothing but happy smiles, raised eyebrows, and a wish to know more.  I’m really excited to be putting all of these thoughts and concepts down on to paper and make a gothic steampunk game.  If this game could be completely lore driven, it would be great, but sadly that’s not the case.  The game is a game first and a world second, which leads me to saying…

The system sucks.

Perhaps it’s me, the author, just being overly critical but I don’t think I am.  Every time I try to sit down and work the kinks out of combat or work with the system, I either feel I’m cutting off roleplay by being too strict or not putting enough meat on the bones of the combat system to make it unique and original.  I feel as if combat should be a good portion of this game, especially as each “class” is limited to one “mythic weapon.” (Oh snap, I just revealed something, oh well.)  That weapon should provide a really wonderful and multi-talented use, as it’s the only weapon the heroes will get.  Why did I make that decision?  Well, it simply seems to fit another system in the game, which some people could potentially guess at but I’m going to leave out of this conversation for now.

Skill checks seem to work well in the context, but those too seem to be too reliant on the branching pathways of the classes.  Plus, I don’t want to put things out of order and make something too strong or too weak.  I need to bite the bullet and get cracking on at least getting things together in some working order so I can test for these types of power issues, but every time I start working on it I feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps I just need a break.

To make up for the problems with Black Clover, I have an awesome wallpaper to give out to you guys here on mah blog.  The art is done by my good friend Melissa, who is spearheading most (if not all) of the game’s artwork.  All in her spare time.  Throw your kudos to here on here, please, and let her feel some love for all of the work she is doing — especially if you use the wallpaper below.

Widescreen Version

Widescreen Version (1600x900)

Fullscreen Wallpaper (1200x1024)

Fullscreen Version (1200x1024)

Now, as for Wildfire Industries… well… things went together damn easy.  The system is insanely modular, and in the span of 2 hours I figured out a way to play the game as a traditional RPG, a cutthroat game of roleplaying where one person is declared the winner in one session and, interestingly enough, an expandable version that can hold up to 5 teams all playing against one another in either a one shot mission or a running campaign.  Now, you need one hell of a team of GMs for the 5 teams version, but it’s possible — especially if you can play it together on the internet.

This is thanks mostly due to the fact that skill checks are easily variable and not dependent on item use, simply on stat use.  If you want to be better at X skill check, spend points on it.  Or, you could spend the company’s money, which is a discussion for another time.  Checks are easily modifiable to either accomidate one player or a team of players working together (as some checks force players to team up to make them, which depending on the game type they may or may not want to do, resulting in hilarity.)  The game also supports secretive undermining right in the checks system, and that’s not even adding in the “traits” system which are the character’s publicly known and secretly hidden abilities.

Either way, the rules are done.  The game is simple, and I think it’s better for it because it leaves oh-so-much-room for sheer insanity on the parts of the players, much like Paranoia does. (Although I think Paranoia is much more complicated when it’s put next to my system.)  Now all I have to do is complete writing up the abilities that each character type has.  Then, it’s going out for a test run with my gaming group.  If it succeeds there, it goes for a test run at the local gaming club at the University of Pittsburgh.  Hopefully all of this will allow me to refine the rules and abilities, and then I’ll ask for testers here on line.

Then, with luck, I’ll get some inspiration and move forward on Black Clover.  Mmmm… Black Clover… *drools*

Anyway, sorry for the HUGE post, but I hope you guys enjoyed it!

~Sera

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Doing business, badly. Yey or nay?

October 1, 2009

So I need to poll the audience here, hence why I’m writing this post tonight.    I had one of those brain explosions that I rarely get, and I decided to act on this one.  It was the concept for a RPG/game-ish systems where players would effectively play a roleplaying game while simultaneously screwing one another over at the table, but in order to benefit the whole table.  It sounds fun (in concept, of course, as I haven’t exactly tried to test this yet) and it also sounds like a perfect system to plug into a game world that I’ve been working on for a long time now — Wildfire Industries.

WI was always built around the concept of pulling the stick out of the ass of business before shoving it violently into the head of business.  In short — it’s horrible corporate satire.  It’s the office politics you dread taken to a level of insanity and murder.  It was always a fun world for me to write/picture, and it even did quite well as a alternate reality game.

But just because it works well in one setting doesn’t mean it can translate to other settings, so here’s my question.  Would you play a pen-and-paper roleplaying game that centered on something like business?  Now, granted, it’s insane business, but it’s still business.  It’s still making contracts, securing funding, solving problems in the workplace, and things like that.  Sure the answer to all of these things might be having sex with the person you want to make the contract with, robbing a bank to secure funding, and killing everyone in a department to make sure there’s no more problems in the workplace, but it doesn’t work unless players want it to work.

So, would you want it to work?  Would you play a pen and paper roleplaying game centered around something as mundane as modern business?  Or would you believe that this system should be put to use in another type of game?