24 October 2010

In Between didn’t make the Game Chef cut.

Not everyone can win and I'm glad I wasn't the person that did. There are many games better than mine that were submitted to Game Chef. I liked In Between, but I knew that it was a mess mechanically when I submitted it. That's what slapping a game together in just a few days will do if you aren't careful.

Here are the judge's comments:
Concept: Players take the roles of dead souls traveling back into the mortal world through reflective pools in the Wasteland, a purgatory-like afterlife, and attempting to make amends for their crimes and regrets. The first player who removes all their fetters to the living world can enter the Golden City, a different and hopefully better afterlife.
Execution: This author was nice enough to include a very simple, sketchy layout, but it does wonders for the ease of reading and understanding the text. Nested subheadings, woohoo! I feel spoiled, almost. Overall, this game takes a couple steps forward compared to some of the other abstract and setting-free games in terms of providing a attractive premise that is substantially more provocative. The Wasteland, its silver pools, and the Golden City all sound pretty awesome. Plus, seeking to make amends and fulfill regrets is both emotionally and narratively powerful. However, this game continues an apparent trend of taking a GMless game of personal exploration and structuring it by having the players (if not necessarily the characters) compete directly with each other using limited mechanical resources. This trend is especially striking to me because it does not seem very natural to match the mechanics of inter-player competition to the theme of individual exploration, yeah? When you watch The Fountain or American Beauty, is Universalis the first game that comes to mind? Probably not. And yet several designers have made just that connection, which suggests that inter-player competition may be the sort of dynamic they feel most comfortable designing around. But there are other ways – Polaris, Great Ork Gods, Geiger Counter, Fiasco, Montsegur 1244, etc. – to design GMless games and encourage other players to take on NPC or antagonist roles without putting the players themselves in direct competition to win. I feel like this game and several others may have been more successful if they’d taken a different route and created a more cooperative GMless dynamic between the players, which might have also led to more innovative mechanics. I don’t mean to pick on this game overly much in this regard, but just wanted to point this out explicitly since it’s at least the third or fourth game to do it.
Completeness: There is some missing text between pages 5-6, describing demons. Otherwise, there are some places where the “power” token economy seems to have issues. For example, there doesn’t appear to be any incentive to spend tokens on narrative control if players are ultimately trying to spend them on winning control of possessed mortals and resolving their issues. I also wish there were more guidelines for what was supposed to happen either in the Wasteland or the mortal world, because right now that’s entirely open-ended, even though it comprises the vast majority of play. Additionally, as with some of these other GMless games of personal exploration, I wonder if the game could be strengthened if the various characters could actually meet each other in the Wasteland or mortal world and interact directly. That seems possible according to the premise and maybe even the rules, but isn’t discussed at all. Finally, what’s the point of having these different classes of dead souls – wanderers, unmarked, and demons – if they players don’t get to choose or explore which one their character ultimately is? Seems like a wasted opportunity.
Cookery: The theme is definitely here, and the ingredients are well included. The author did a clever and evocative job with the requirements here. Very impressive.
Conclusion: The solid premise of this game makes it at least as strong as the World Riddle, perhaps more so, and ultimately more narratively compelling than Symbolon and If Wishes Were Horses, I think. However, like the other games mentioned, which all operate in similar thematic space, this game needs a bit more work if the rules are truly going to support the potential of the premise. I really want to see a game in this vein make the playoffs, but I haven’t quite found one yet.

As you can see, they aren't all bad. It looks like they quite liked the premise. That's good because I’d thought the setting was the strong point and my actual game mechanics were the stumbling block. All of the judge's criticisms are valid and I’m already working on putting together a version of the game that does away with competitive structure. No idea when that will be done.

Speaking of games that will eventually get some work done on them; a new version of Seedfall is forthcoming. It should see the light of day sometime in the next week.


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