Future Tense @Liveware Lab

By Ian McNeely

 Players watch with uncertainty, discussing what to do about the invasion of mysterious spiders from space.  It's tough out there for intergalactic corporations.

Players watch with uncertainty, discussing what to do about the invasion of mysterious spiders from space.  It's tough out there for intergalactic corporations.

This weekend, I joined 30 other meganerds to play a megagame at Hex and Company on New York's Upper West Side. Future Tense, designed by Scott Silsbe and Mike Sette, casts players as futuristic entrepreneurs competing and colluding to achieve economic dominance.  The event is pure mayhem: Armies battle on an area-control map game, delegates shout at the mock United Nations, and panicked investors buy and sell corporate shares at a live stock market all developing in real-time, affecting one another and creating a great story.  

 At the stock market, supply and demand determine company's relative value and players gamble to make a quick buck.

At the stock market, supply and demand determine company's relative value and players gamble to make a quick buck.

My group, the Offworld Trade Union, was basically intergalactic UPS.  Our Mission: Convince other teams to grant us shipping contracts to haul their precious resources.  Our competition was the Astrogation Alliance (Space FedEx), and most of the game was spent trying to underbid them or bribe away their clients with lucrative favors.  In the end, they creamed us taking nearly two thirds of the transportation marketshare.  But, our stock appreciated nicely, so I'd like to think our ending was a happy retirement.  

 The currencies of Future Tense: Influence, spacebucks and industry.

The currencies of Future Tense: Influence, spacebucks and industry.

Meanwhile, on the map, rival corporations produced drones to take resource-generating locations.  Mercenaries were hired, alliances were forged and broken, mysterious space-spiders invaded and things got messy.  It was interesting to see how this game module brought out the confrontational side in people, I'm looking at you, Risk kids!  Maybe it's human nature to want to expand out borders?  Maybe maps bring out the worst in people?  All I know is this part of the game seemed the very acrimonious as my cooperative conference table kept craning our necks to keep tabs on the newest imbroglio.  

 A solitary drone contemplatively ponders his place in the universe.  "Am I just a cog in a giant machine?"  Yes.

A solitary drone contemplatively ponders his place in the universe.  "Am I just a cog in a giant machine?"  Yes.

If you're in the New York area, be sure to check out LiveWare Lab for details about their upcoming events.  The atmosphere is casual, fun, and an exciting way to spend an afternoon.  Highly recommend it. 

The Rogues Gallery and Megagaming

By Ian McNeely

Hey friends!

We are holding a new and improved Rogues' Gallery Saturday, February 17th at 8 PM.  This new offering is a freeform, social megagame—

What's a megagame?

 ©2015 Watch the Skies, a megagame in the UK that drew hundreds of participants playing the assorted nations of Earth during first contact with aliens.

©2015 Watch the Skies, a megagame in the UK that drew hundreds of participants playing the assorted nations of Earth during first contact with aliens.

A realtime, in-person, social game with many participants: Risk meets Mafia meets a high school reunion.  They most often focus on politics and negotiation and frequently resemble a model UN.  There are teams within teams with secret objectives (even within a team) that come into conflict and build a nuanced maelstrom of human behavior without a "winner" per se.  Instead, megagames are focused on procedurally generating a colorful story.

The Rogues' Gallery is a spy thriller set at a convention for supervillains.  Guests are cast as specific gamblers, assassins, goons and gatecrashers, all with diverse goals and secrets for the night.  The event is a great way to meet new people (no better icebreaker than a funny character), sip on a drink and see where the story organically leads and with 16 different and distinct endings, it could lead anywhere!  

Our ongoing goals:

To be accessible.  The rules should be simple enough for anyone to understand them immediately and start playing the game.  Who wants to spend time learning rules?

To be engaging.  Sure, you could play this sitting around a table like a board game, but wouldn't it be more fun to run through the event on a scavenger hunt or plant a pipe bomb on someone?  Action is better than words— though words can be full of action.

To be theatrical.  Quality performance enhances suspension of disbelief and not just performances from actors, normal people want to be in the thick of it too.  Why do we dress up on Halloween?  Why do we sing karaoke?  Maybe we could think of a megagame as the acting equivalent of karaoke, where normal people have a chance to reimagine themselves as the star of their favorite movie.

Personally, I'd like to be Samwise Gamgee intrepidly adventuring towards Mordor, but that's just me!

 © 1978.  Lord of the Rings, directed by Ralph Bakshi.  

© 1978.  Lord of the Rings, directed by Ralph Bakshi.  

Which movie character would you like to be for a night?

 

The Rogues' Gallery, Saturday February 17th, Brooklyn.  Exact location TBA.  To reserve a spot and request casting contact: brokenghostimmersives@gmail.com.  Tickets are $10.

Bunker Playtest #1.

 By Ian McNeely

"The doors are now sealing.

The doors are now sealed."

-Municipal Bunker #509 Control Droid

 Mysterious strangers communicate with the Bunker via the De.Bunk command console.

Mysterious strangers communicate with the Bunker via the De.Bunk command console.

 

This weekend we held our first playtest of The Bunker, our newest immersive where guests collaborate to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Guests' decisions were directly responsible for the procedurally generated narrative full of lies, decapitations and cannibalism.  More on that in a moment...   

Joining us in the Bunker:

Devon Caraway. Actor/Director/Long-time collaborator with BGI.

Will Fulton.  Game Critic/Theatre-maker and co-founder of Antimatter Collective.

Molly C. Greene.  Theatre Artist/Writer/Dramaturg.

Brough Hansen. Actor/Playwright/Park Slope celebrity.

Elise Lebreton.  Actor/Playwright/Long-time collaborator with BGI. 

Iya Megre.  Attorney-at-Law (specializing in litigation) and distinguished megagame aficionado. 

Dan Rogers.   Freelance director and co-founder of AntiMatter Collective.

 Log of the first three days of the Bunker's procedurally generated story.  Magic and mystery were part of their history.  The last surviving participants made it to day 10.  

Log of the first three days of the Bunker's procedurally generated story.  Magic and mystery were part of their history.  The last surviving participants made it to day 10.  

Our goals for the playtest were to measure audience engagement, test the practical functions (i.e. locations, items, etc...) and search for the ever-elusive "proof of concept".  There's nothing more nerve-wracking than throwing your baby in the pool to see if it swims.  

I wasn't sure if we could successfully suspend disbelief with our prototype of homemade cards and handwritten notes, but I was very happy to watch people get onboard.  The feeling of the bunker was intense for the first half, but struggled to sustain as pressure seemed to decompress.  The next version needs to progressively ratchet up the stakes (like the well-made play of yore).   

 The players' legislative referendums for the bunker.

The players' legislative referendums for the bunker.

We induced players to embrace political intrigue, passing and rejecting popular referendums, but ultimately, we needed more possibility space, more specific ways players could come into political conflict.  Our "secret objectives", while useful for initiating opposition, didn't have a sustaining quality to keep the game going.  Again, we were hemorrhaging momentum, slowly relaxing into entropy.   When it was all said and done, our 100 minute design had clocked in at a sluggish four hours.  Clearly, the next iteration needs a timer and a merciless rising action.

 The players map their discoveries on the wasteland.

The players map their discoveries on the wasteland.

 

The nuts and bolts of exploring the wasteland and gaining resources too heavily favored random luck.  Players would wander off, draw a card at random and, accrue a bunker full of junk without advancing the tech tree to one of the victories.  Mea culpa.  But how does a designer give enough direction without making it feel like the game is "on rails"?  This is why we playtest.  Back to the drawing board for round two on Saturday, January 20th!