Monday, December 26, 2016

Two Paths: A State of the Kensei Address

 Last month I attended Metatopia, Double Exposure's convention that allows developers to field their prototype games and for players to be part of the ground floor of up and coming products. While it is hands down the most laid back convention in my yearly cycle, this Metatopia was a busy one. I was a part of two panel discussions: one for the psychological reasonings for role playing, and to discuss ways to combat the notion of Trickle Down Plot (which I'll do an article on, now that I have time). I also tested several upcoming games, and got to meet and reacquaint myself with friends and people I have  come to know at these conventions.

It was also the second year that I brought in my game Kensei to be looked at in a focus group. This past year saw some progress on the game, based largely by the assistance found from the people I had spoken to at last year. There have been some playtests, especially of the combat systems, as since that is the key component to these games I wanted it to be clear.

One of the things I kept hearing was "I love the setting, but as the system stands I wouldn't play it." The system was based on previous boffer experiences plus a few other concepts (the stamina gauge from Dark Souls). I wasn't married to any of these concepts, because quite honestly I'm not that keen on mechanics as a whole. The entirety of this blog probably stands on that point more than anything else.

I do, however, understand that a game like this demands mechanics. It needs them just for the purposes of balancing skills and keeping people from walking around being broken in terms of their sheet. I hate sheet breaking in the games I've played and I will do all that I can mitigate it in my own systems.

Another problem I came across was an avoidance of 'The math game". A lot of boffer larps require you to keep numbers in your head in terms of your health and ability points. One of my first thoughts when I started doing boffer was "This could be subtly abused". It depends on the honor system, so much of what we do does, and honor is something on a short supply from what I've experienced.

That was your cynicism moment of the day. Thank you.

The problem with the math game is that the more numbers you have to crunch in your head, the less in the moment you're in. I want people to enjoy the ride, not have to count the road markers.

So where do we go from here? There are two roads, from where I'm standing. I can turn and say 'This is focused on actual combat ability'. The combat in the game is dependant largely on your combat ability as a player. I know there is a market for that and it would probably be received with open arms. I, however, am not part of that market.

Working with the gaming community, I see so many diverse people. Both culturally and physically. Several developers I work with have body mechanics that are not typical, often requiring wheelchairs or other tools. I myself am visually impaired As much as this is a setting surrounding combat, I don't want the game to be just about the combat. That's not the point, and I know that I'm going to run in to people who think this is going to be a game for hitters and get horribly confused about all of the plot going on.

Also, I'm noticing a trend in upcoming games that are attempting to break away from the normal conventions of boffer larps. The focus is more community driven, person driven. The combat isn't the premiere feature.

So far I'm leaning towards the other side of the road. One of the things about Kensei is that the meta language we use for games, like 'Level' 'Experience' 'Skills' are all language used in game. Skills, in particular, are designed to be purchaseable, craftable, and swappable. You can own dozens of skills, only have room to use maybe a handful of them at the time, and go to ops to get them swapped out. Making skills a physical item, Kensei starts leaning closer to a card-based RPG.

In my head, Kensei was always a larp. With this new development it A) opens up to a Tabletop component, which I'm not going to deny means this goes out to more people and B) opens the potential for accessibility.

And that's the catch, the potential. There is a broad road ahead down that path, with no definitive end in sight. As far as I know, no one has tried to do this, and of course I had to be the poor son of a bitch to decide to do this. I blame my upbringing of melodrama and sword fights.

One such example given to me focused on the use of teams. Fighters and their dedicated corner crew, like a boxing match. The fighter is out there doing the heavy lifting, the crew makes sure that they are able to do just that. The crew handles the mechanics while the fighter acts out the results. I like the idea, but it also makes great grounds for clique attitudes out of game. It's easy for a team of players to roll in and be a great team while some new player needs to struggle to find someone. I want to keep the use of teams as an advantage, not as mandatory. Still a good idea.

In the coming year, I'm going to switch tracks. I think that if this is a game that focuses on the community surrounding combat, I think so too should the skills. How do people deal with the world on a base level? How does investigations work? Crafting? Maybe by defining how the world interaction works, I can zero in on how I want the personal interaction.

And that's it for me. This game is one of those labors of love that will, inevitably, be born. Next year will see a bunch of new games from me, and some new experiences as I work to building more of my resume in the field.

Happy New Year All


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