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Game Design in the New Year

Hey Folks, Strix here. I’ve got a mega update for you, so buckle up!

When you heard from me last it was August and I was about to embark upon Gen Con. This year’s Gen Con was great, and really transformative. It’s the first year that I’ve hooked up with Games on Demand, and let me just say, they are THE best organized gaming collective I have ever come across. Professional, diligent, empathic, and really good taste in indie games. GoD does an excellent job at maintaining a safe space where everybody can have fun, and I was super impressed. It was a pleasure working with them as a host, and I’ll be coming back in 2015 as an organizer.

I also sat on a few panels about diversity and inclusivity, cosplayed, attended the Diana Jones Award, etc. This year was also my first Peter Atkison suite party. Very entertaining. Gaming as Other was on the ground doing some work behind closed doors. Things are still in progress, so I can’t say a whole lot about it at the moment.

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Wolverine and Jean Grey professional cosplay:

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While at Gen Con I also attended the Hacking as Women event hosted by Indie Game Developer Network. IGDN brought in some heavy hitters from the indie world and sat participants down to come up with new games and work on their design for a few hours. Which is exactly what we did. I ended up being paired with a complete stranger, Sarah Richardson. But we got on quickly and we found we had a shared passion for mythology and fairy tales. We decided that we wanted to make a game based off one of the classical dark fairy tales, but which one? I suggested we do Bluebeard, and it just clicked. We were placed with Marissa Kelly, IGDN organizer and designer of Epyllion, who was supposed to be giving us pointers, but we all got so wrapped up in it that when the hacking event was done, none of us were willing to let it go. There was just something about Bluebeard that was amazing, and as we pitched it around the room it was clear that we had something good.

The three of us have been developing it ever since, and it’s gone swimmingly. We had our first playtest at Metatopia 2014, and our next playtest will be at Dreamation. When it’s all put together we’ll be publishing through Magpie Games, sometime in late 2015. I’ve worked on a lot of other people’s games in different capacities. This is the first one that is really mine. My two co-designers are brilliant, and I am so exited about getting this out into the wild. Here is a little bit of what I’ve written about Bluebeard’s Wife before. If you’re interested on getting glimpses of the development process, I suggest you go circle me on Google+, where I talk the most about these things.

The fairy tale of Bluebeard is one of the darkest in the European tradition. It’s the story of a young, poor bride who marries a rich and cunning nobleman who has already had several wives. He whisks her away to his castle where he gives her pearls and silks, the keys to every door. But the smallest key, he says, you must never use.

It is a trap, of course. Bluebeard leaves his wife alone in the castle and she wanders the rooms, trying to avoid the one room she must not enter, but ultimately drawn to it, and her doom. When she opens that last door she finds…well, it’s best if you see for yourself. 

In our game you play the Complexes, different aspects of Bluebeard’s wife; the Virgin, the Witch, the Mother, and many others, as Bluebeard’s Wife tries to navigate the castle, perhaps trying to find a way out of the front gate, or a way into Bluebeard’s heart, but always drawn towards the last room. The castle tests her sanity, and not every part of her will survive–if any part of her does at all.

This game is dark, erotic, and filled with creeping terror. It’s about the intricacies of feminine horror, which, trust me, is a vast and rich tradition. Unfortunately it’s a tradition that has remained virtually untapped in the indie gaming scene. We hope Bluebeard’s Wife will be the start of an exploration of a vital and powerful genre.

In short: PLAY BLUEBEARD. FEEL HORRIFIED. 

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In August I also sat on an hour long Indie+ web panel, “How to Build an RPG Community.” You can watch it here:

In September I attended SandCon, which really wasn’t a con at all, but a private event in a rented beach house out on the Jersey shore. SandCon was great because there were a lot of cutting edge thinkers there, and there were some very lively and intelligent discussions going on at all hours of the day and night. There were also great games, and new things being tried out. I got to test out John Harper’s Blades in the Dark as well as experience Jackson Tegu’s Silver and White for the first time. My big contribution was giving body surfing lessons and facilitating a larp in which all the players were eight year-olds at a birthday party. We did not bring enough paper towels.

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I finished up the Los Angeles City Guide for Urban Shadows, and I’m very happy with how it turned out. There is a lot of awesome flavor, but my favorite piece of the work was bringing to life the kick-ass vengeful Chumash spirit bent on destroying L.A. Urban Shadows should be doing their full release soon. I can’t wait for you guys to play in my setting!

I also sat as one of four judges for the Golden Cobra Challenge, a freeform design competition. I was amazed, simply amazed by the diversity and quality of the submissions that came to us. There were about 50 entries, and it was extremely hard for us to pick the winners. My personal favorite out of the bunch is Still Life, a freeform game where you’re playing…rocks. But no! I promise it’s beautiful and compact and very cleverly designed and I am in love with it. There were so many other good ones as well, like REBOOT, Glitch Iteration, Dream Bear, I could go on and on. You can download the Golden Cobra Anthology of all the games that the designers elected to include here (Warning, massive PDF). I think that we are going to see many of these games become fairly popular among the indie and freeform crowd, and I’m honored to have been apart of such a massive creative endeavor.

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I, along with a bunch of other talented and inspiring people, have also been helping with James Stuart’s brainchild, Different Play. Different Play is a Patreon initiative to diversify analog games. Our goal is to offer previously unpublished writers support through mentoring, feedback, editing, and design services. AND they get paid for their work. We’re really excited to be bringing this to life, and we’ve already received enough support to begin the development process with four new designers. You can find out more about them and their games on the Different Play website (different from the Patreon site). I would, of course, suggest that you invest in this particular Patreon project. Contributions will directly aid the community in developing a more robust and diverse design scene, which only makes the scene healthier, stronger, and more interesting.

14dd8613133daaad183716792170c8deAll of us working on project CHINA decided to ice it for a few months, but in February we’ll be picking it back up again. The producers have put Tinker on hold for financing issues, and ADAM 8 is in the course of looking for its private investor funding, now that a sufficient chunk of pre-production has been put out. I’ve been so busy in the gaming industry that I haven’t pursued a whole lot of new Hollywood projects in the last few months. We’ll see what direction that goes from here.

As for the academic front, there’s been plenty going on there too. The AAR annual conference was hosted in my home city this year, so I got lucky. I passed my doctoral comp exams and received my masters degree in September. The paper I was publishing in the Wyrd Con Companion book got delayed, so it looks like it’s going in next round. I have several others in development, and I’m considering what conferences I want to submit to this year. My research with Carnegie Mellon’s game lab continues, and I’ve in fact branched out to assist with research in other areas of the HCI department as well. With assistance from Emily Care Boss I wrote a ludography of larp for CMU’s internal use. I also assisted with a study on massive online open classrooms (MOOCs). I’ve made friends at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) too, which is a separate department. I’ve been invited out to speak at their transformative game conference this spring, and I’m currently consulting for a game design class in which students are tackling the sticky topic of sexual assault. Working with everyone at CMU has been a great pleasure so far, and I really like the institution. Their HCI department is cutting edge not just in their approach to science, but in their approach to their own culture. I really dig it.

Coming up in February I’ll be attending Dreamation. I don’t have the full details for the tranformative games conference yet, but it’s looking to be some time in April. Looking even farther ahead, I will likely be spending a large chunk of my summer—roughly a month to a month and a half—volunteering for an NGO in India where I’ll primarily be teaching at a residential school.

2015 looks promising, both for me, and hopefully for what I can contribute to the community. Be well my friends.

Best,
Strix

© 2008-2016 by Strix