Game Chef 2011 – The Judge’s Analysis and My Replies

Found a moment to go through the analysis from the excellent judges, which may provide insight into the design process. Or something.

Dr. Walton says: I am drawn to his clever concept, though it seems much more born from sci-fi film than from Shxp plays. The presentation effectively employs quotations from key characters and plays, as well as apt and articulate allusions a couple of times. The use of constables and clowns and curses feels Shxpn. But here is a major problem for me: though his list of female names reveals familiarity with the host of women characters in the plays, it is not clear to me that the traits identified really match the characters presented in the plays. At this point the Shxp names seem more like window dressing than based on the true nature of the cast in the plays — a disappointment.

Shaving a thousand words off a document is not easy. One line I lost explained that you rolled three times on the table, not once. This is why the 3K limit was pissing me off so much, because I had to constantly gamble about what might be obvious and what might not. It is no surprise this confused Dr Walton as experienced gamers were also confused. It is fair that the Shakespeare fell away as time went on, because I couldn’t reconcile being a shakespearean woman with being able to be sufficiently awesome, because he doesn’t write them that way. However, I think doing a thematic approach rather than a literal one is a good way to make a Shakesperean MMORPG. Some kind of Elizabethan Disneyland where you meet Mr Romeo and Ms Juliet does not a good game make, it feels contrived and controlled. What you want is a free and open space that intersects with Shakespearean themes and language so his world doesn’t seem alien. Baz Lurhman’s R&J is a fantastic example of this: he creates a world where everything shakespeare says makes sense, because guns are made by Longsword gunsmiths, so characters can say “Hand me my longsword” and sound like gangsters. Alternate settings, for me, are a better way to engage with the language then explaining what medieval England was like (because who cares?).

Master Chef says: Overall, I’m more positive on this game. I think dad read each line of the table as representing a single character, not names, curses, and blessings that you mixed and matched when creating daughters, but his concern still stands, I think, because you could easily generate a Juliet that was “Wicked” and “Musical,” for example. In my mind, the main difficulty on the game side of things is that so much of the wordcount is spent on describing different aspects of the setting that it’s less clear what the daughters actually do: what play actually consists of. If the daughters are rare and often traveling alone to avoid notice, how do the PCs interact with one another? How is play structured? Who determines what the next scene or focus of play is about?

This is kind of what I was talking about in my previous post. Most of these questions can be answered “in the way they normally are in roleplaying games”. I should have mentioned (rather than implied) that the Daughters team up because rebels often do, for strength in numbers, but play is structured like 99% of rpgs – the players say what they want to do, and the GM responds. Did we forget this somehow? Or was I wrong in my conclusion that I should design for experienced roleplayers, and thus avoid the “how to play an RPG” section? I’m not whining here, I’m trying to figure out if perhaps the judges should be explicit about the audience the author should address.

As for what the daughters do, I did end up a bit short on that, but I figured the genre selection would help, as would the list of story hooks: “Like any rebels of the space lanes they elude their pursuers, free captives, aid other rebels, seek resources, smuggle cargo, help the stricken and defenceless, strike back at their enemies and generally seek adventure where’er it may be found.  ”

In some ways, I really like that this is an outline of a game that players can build on, something like Ghost/Echo or Lady Blackbird, but I kinda want less description then — if the players are going to be responsible for putting the game together — just a sentence or two on each important bit of setting and the instruction to cut loose and have fun with it.

Well, with 3K words you have no choice but to summarise. I wasn’t going with fill in the blanks, of course, except about the interpersonal issues that Tam so wonderfully spotted. I perhaps need to be less detailed on my settings but I wanted to cover all the basic questions of what Daughters can and can’t do, because I find restrictions make good gaming. An interesting quandary that a lot of my fellow designers simply avoided by making their setting implicit or very simple or already established. World design and Game Chef are rarely friends, methinks, looking back on other entries…

Or, if that’s not what’s intended, maybe some more concrete suggestions on what to do once play begins. A few more specific thoughts: If numbers below five are frustrating to play, why create a rule that makes them pretty common?

Because some people don’t mind having low stats, of course. And actually, rolling less than five on 4d6 add the highest two is pretty unlikely, not common.

What happens if you fail to make your roll? You can’t violate your programming? So…nothing happens?

The attempted action fails. You cannot punch the guy (effectively) or steer the ship away from the asteroid.

Or you have to do what people tell you to? What happens to daughters who have violated all their programming? They become NPCs, but what does the GM (there is a GM, right?) do with them? I’m not sure the tension between wanting to rebel and wanting to avoid violating all your programming is an interesting one because it’s unclear what violating all your programming actually means.

Now that’s an excellent question that I should have fleshed out a bit more. I’m guessing that Daughters consider the Unsexed to be a kind of enemy, and vice versa. I think the Unsexed probably end up not unlike the Reavers of Firefly too – so devoid of any mercy they become self-destructively savage, or so determined to exterminate all men that they are hunted on sight. Shall have to think about it.

Finally, it’s the GM’s job to make the PCs fall in love? How do they do this?

An excellent question that I ran into with about half an hour before the end of things. I realised I should have had a mechanic for it, and had no time to design one, nor space left to fit one. But again, this happens “in the usual way”, ie by the GM going “you fall in love”. Well, usual for my table.

What do you do with the enemies and foils?

And again, the answer here is “what you normally do with enemies and foils in an RPG – use them for plots”. I’m not whining, it’s just striking to me as a rpg writer that people might not know what to do with these things.

I feel like, if some of the extensive description was cut down, some of these more concrete details could have been addressed.

Absolutely. In hindsight, as mentioned, detailed setting design is a dangerous trap; it eats your word count without providing some fundamentals.

Overall, though, a very strong submission (that’s already being played, excitingly enough!) and one that gets major props for trying something outside the Elizabethan milieu, which was much more common in this year’s entries than I was expecting.

That’s interesting. Given the paucity of non-period versions, I was actually surprised so many WERE Elizabethan. Although I was amused when somebody wrote “The Tempest in Space” as an entry, because after Forbidden Planet I can never think of the Tempest as being in anything else BUT space. But I’m weird.

In our recent phone conversation about the games, both dad and I thought that, for this game to move forward, it might be better to cut free of most of the Shakespearean trappings and just go for it. I’d definitely be interested in playing it sometime, in any case.

I’m glad my game was thought-provoking. That really is an incredible, flattering thing. And I think yes, some of the language will fade away as I finish developing it. That’s the thing about design – you can’t always control where it goes, especially when you have no time to go back and try a different path. You go where the river takes you, even if it takes you away from the conditions of the contest!

And seriously, this is excellent, thoughtful feedback that will help me build a better game – as will the fact that it keeps making people want to play it. Thank you once again Johnathon and Dr Walton, for your comments, your time and thought, and for running the whole thing as well!

2 thoughts on “Game Chef 2011 – The Judge’s Analysis and My Replies

  1. “If the daughters are rare and often traveling alone to avoid notice, how do the PCs interact with one another?” – Well I’ll go back read through the rules and find where it’s explicitly written “the Daughters do not form a group”…

    Regarding the preference of your reviewers towards making DoE something less Shakespearian, I realize something : that your final work was not exactly in the lines (which may have cost you the victory). One of the key word for example was “Exile”. The game as I feel it is that the Daughters are fugitives, more than exiles. To be an exile means you have been sentenced to, such as the Father declaring, in a formal Court session “You Have Disappointed Me. Now Leave And Never Return” to the Daughters. Of course, then it would be preposterous to have the Brothers sent to chase and bring the Daughters back.
    Or Exile like “you have decided to flee the company of human beings”. Which is a bore, since interactions with NPCs is the basement of roleplaying. Thus IMHO is the setting of the Tempest most boring (Duke and Daughter alone on an island; Duke has to bring in more people to create plot).
    So the Keyword is rather “Fugitive”.
    You Steve, could have stick to the word and recreated the settings The Tempest, but this would have brought a “single-session/adventure” RPG, whereas DoE can lead to a campaign.

  2. Yeah, a lot of designers listed the three words they chose; I did not because I hadn’t really chosen any of them and was also using all of them. There was a bit of nature, a bit of daughter, a hint of exile (being a fugitive is a sense of self-exile) and they can end up forsworn…but yeah, fairly soon after I’d decided what the game had to be about, I hit a point where I went “okay, if I keep going this way, it’ll lose element X” and I went, “not important, follow the idea”. I’ve never been a stickler for rules, which is probably why I’ve never held down a job.

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