The winter months are upon us again. I’m shuttering the lab for the season and wanted to tidy things up before turning off the lights and padlocking the cellar door. It’s been a busy and productive year. I was fortunate to be able to work on games and enjoy the inspirations on Twitter. It got me through a few challenges IRL and gave me a way to put words on pages. I also took time to organize my catalog of docs and projects, which is a low priority during game development.
A PERSCRIPTION FOR INSPIRATION
Throughout the year, as ideas accumulated, docs and folders were created and sorted for potential candidates, a process that incurred a margin of clutter and redundancy. However, the time of only using the Google Keep app to handle my seed ideas is long behind me. I still use Keep to put down thoughts, but now I put new game concepts in a Google Docs format at the moment there’s something to consider with substance.
I looked into one-page games, and even had a nice idea I was working on for a contest. I saw a “no chart games” clause and started to lose interest. I realized how suffocating one page was. If the product is best served as an Amazon softcover anthology, that would be a ton of work and a long haul with 20 one-page games, optional gameplay and storytelling content, designer’s notes, and book stuff. Make money with an Omnibus?
Prototype System and REACTOR give characters agency and players room to breathe. These aren’t beer and pretzels systems. They are light and fast and give the players lots of different ways to enjoy interactive story worlds. However, I owed it to myself to try…
A one-page game system that offers an extremely light and highly specialized system.
Here’s my one-page game pitch for 2-4 players:
When the alarm sounded, you had a handful of minutes to make your way to a nearby life pod and evacuate the doomed ship. Red warning lights flashed as the crew climbed aboard and the hatch was sealed.
3… 2… 1… Away!
Suddenly, a catastrophic explosion sends a shockwave rippling through the spacecraft! The capsule has sustained critical damage, affecting the onboard AI. Use your skills and work together to stay alive.
I’d need to crunch the rules down to make a one-page game even feasible. Which becomes about theoretical than practical. I don’t need more limits.
In 2019, I wrote Minigame System with three tables to determine event outcomes. The narration was brief, with players focusing more on task completion than storytelling. Inventory was determined by pre-gen. Characters started the game with a signature object, their baggage. Players built scenes with action points that determined a winner. Not everyone would make it out alive; all were themes I’d revisit with REACTOR.
Table A shows the character’s inventory. Objects can offer a role-specific bonus when a character uses their signature ability to advance the story.
Table B lists the types of actions. Characters can fight, block, make, or hide. Fight and block are primary actions. Make and hide are secondary actions that put status effects on the table. Primary actions affect the characters. Secondary actions affect the world.
Table C details the way players describe the story world by answering six different questions. Each interrogative looks at a particular story detail that defines the world.
A timer is used to add tension as the players gain and lose points. Action outcomes are determined, story content is revealed, and the game moves toward a victory condition.
2-4 players can start an impromptu session with Minigame and just one six-sided die, a d6. One player can take on the role of the AI that tries to direct traffic during the game.
The pitch had some sparkle. From a publication standpoint, I could see 10 games with the classic Minigame rules, with another 10 pages of variant rules and tables of content to release a softcover. Unless it wasn’t expected to be a softcover product.
There’s the fact that I really wasn’t feeling the one-page format, and without charts. I just muscled through the bitter taste and tried to enjoy the medium. I thought about the travel size category, which is underrepresented with a rules-light retail rpg effort.
The right answer is that there should be a fun and quality tabletop roleplaying game for $1. I’m just not sure I want it to be a one-page game.
CLEARING OUT THE MEDICINE CABINET
The Keep app is more of a junk drawer place to collect thoughts that I export to Docs on a yearly schedule. At that point, they are archived in a vault that I will more than likely never come back to. The upside is that with the constant stream of content that I enjoy, there’s a good chance it will go straight to a folder. My workload makes it hard to take on new projects unless they sparkle. If I miss a moment, it may not circle back around.
2021 yielded about 9 pages of Keep concepts that caught my eye or made me think. They tend to be raw and lean. Without further development, an idea thread can be lost. The content is mostly loglines, motivations, snippets, and titles to be vetted. If a seed idea sprouts, it creates a series of docs and folders, and then I’m off and running.
I also wrote a design environment to study inspirations for features, mechanisms, and techniques. The main difference between a game candidate and a design environment is that an environment is made to benefit other projects. It’s not intended for sale.
Omega Sector is one such environment. When I go back to the drawing board to start a new project or look at gameplay mechanisms for projects that I’m already working on, I revisit this amazing creation. The game is M III. It’s an unpublished, internal-use-only title that I wrote to help me understand various aspects of development and publication.
My original idea was a game that gave the players a lot of fast combat and character actions in an interactive story world. 2-4 players take on the roles of unique characters who have personal goals in dangerous situations. What’s not to like?
To keep the pressure on the characters, player turns would need to be very short. The variety of outcomes would address replayability, and storytelling would take place at the top and bottom of each scene to facilitate character development.
Where did Omega Sector come from? It’s a variant of Icarus, a bold development that brings the game by using modifiers and multipliers to resolve conditions and determine outcomes. Icarus came about as an iteration of Minigame and a game called The Skylab Crisis that took up 23 pages. Hardly mini. Production shifted to Icarus, which became Omega Sector.
I hadn’t worked on a really big system that gave the players a variety of world interactions yet, and this felt like a solid move in that direction.
M III – MANKIND, MUTANTS, MACHINES
2-4 players can become a Medic, Tech, Officer, or Specialist, the survivors of mankind who are hunted by deadly machines and mutants that seek to eradicate all human flesh. Time to revive the other team members, soldier.
M III puts action and combat at the top of the list. Players jump into the game with pre-gen characters and roll dice or draw cards to reveal combat and affect action outcomes. Characters can also upgrade weapons, vehicles, and missions. And a whole lot more.
I wanted gameplay with an arcade feel that kept the player’s adrenaline pumping. There are brief storytelling segments supported by canon lore to frame scenes for goals and rewards. Characters can also upgrade their weapons, vehicles, and missions.
Fight to destroy the enemy! Build and repair ancient gadgets to power your skills and weapons! Complete missions and earn rewards as you try to survive in a deadly post-apocalyptic setting!
Omega Sector includes an interesting action and combat mechanism called a modifier:
Modifiers change the number of dice in a player’s dice pool for that turn. Modifiers are linked to attributes, so characters become stronger or weaker, more focused or easily confused, healthy or sick, quick or slow. Coordinate your attributes with actions or combat to enhance your skills.
That means your pre-gen will perform differently than another pre-gen, right from the start. Depending on outcomes, your character will develop differently as well. It comes with layers of cross-connected stat modifiers to major and minor outcomes for vehicles, weapons, and upgrades. It also includes a conceptual and thematic universe of story content with canon lore and factions, that all fits within a modest production budget.
However, determining outcomes is a bit unwieldy and problematic at the moment, and there are other sections that still need a lot of work. At 28 pages with a cover, given time it could theoretically be fixed and see the light of day as a playable game. But the effort to do so would be great. Working on it yields a case study in feature creep, among other important lessons. It also helps with hard questions like “how much is too much?”
M III as a concept came from my interest in writing a d20 setting back in 2010.
THE HOUSE ON ORCHARD LANE
After publishing THOOL in December, I worked on it into February and released Public Alpha 2 13 21b, out now on Amazon. Check it out here: https://amzn.to/3t6somc
The fixes were mostly things that I missed before the publish commit deadline. It’s still a Work-In-Progress with a healthy to-do list. No Scribus version or softcover edition yet.
$1 GAME SERIES
In May, things got busy IRL, and my productivity ebbed. Yet, I was able to begin work on Prototype Gen 2 which will feature in my upcoming $1 Game line. I dabbled in one-page games before but felt they were too restrictive for my needs. The effort to make them meant a ton of titles had to be published as an anthology to get a softcover. No thanks!
A game for a buck has to offer more bang than just cheap. In about an hour, the players get to interact in a storytelling world. Then share how fun it was.
Gen 2 honors the simplicity and quickness of Prototype and strengthens the framework to support multiple cross-genre titles in the $1 Game series, which are about 15 pages each. About half of the first book is written, with other games in the series to follow.
The $1 Game line came from an idea to offer quality effort in a modest format. Who can gripe about a 15-page game for a buck that entertains up to four players for an hour?
All $1 Games are made with the same core rules, which means you can mix and match the characters from different titles in custom games that you get to explore and define.
TOOLS OF THE ALCHEMIST
I’m using Google Docs for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Drafts. THOOL was written on a Chromebook about half the time, the other half using a Windows environment. These days, I’m mostly writing in Docs with Windows. My aging Acer CB3-532 Chromebook is reaching its end-of-life date for OS updates.
I caught it on a sale back in 2018 for $179, and it was a big part of how things got done. I can’t say enough nice things about writing with a Chromebook and using Docs and Drive to get work done. To quickly put words on a page, it’s a great asset.
Google Docs export to pdf for print is still a problematic feature I don’t like talking about.
When the 3rd Draft pdf looks as good as I can get it, all things considered, I push it thru the Kindle Create tool to get the product out there as a Public Alpha exclusively on Amazon. Of course, the very notion of a public alpha is fancy speak for a WIP, which means playing the game will undoubtedly present placeholder content and unfinished layouts. However, the game is technically in a playable state.
I’m trying out 3D fonts with Blender. OpenClipart and FontSpace help out as well. There are also cool metahuman tools I’d like to learn about in Unreal Engine 5.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS
Perhaps by spring, I’ll have a 1st Draft of the first $1 Game, Industrial Accident, as well as the next THOOL update. Prototype Gen 2 is the current big project I’m working on.
There’s also a really cool ʻOumuamua title I wanted to come back to. It’s inspired by how I felt when I researched the object and saw how close it came to Earth. It was on a one-of-a-kind trajectory that brought it close enough to Earth for something to happen.
It’s the very first object of interstellar origin observed in the Solar System, which means the stakes have got to be high and the odds neigh-impossible. Perfect!
As the last days of December loom, I reflect on my blessings. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work on more games and projects.
Play safe. Write responsibly.™
© copyright 2021 James Glover and 1000mg Games. All rights reserved.