Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Five or So Questions with Nerdy City on Rememorex

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Megan and Sean Jaffe from Nerdy City on their new game, Rememorex, which is currently on Kickstarter! It's a modern game with an 80s theme and sounds like a really good time. Check it out!


Tell me a little about Rememorex. What excites you about it?

Sean: Rememorex is a passion project that grew out of a massive lightning-bolt of inspiration. My wife and I are both old-school gamers, and we watched Stranger Things while constantly repeating how this story itself works like a tabletop game. My wife and I actually created Clearfield on the road from NJ to Chicago, and named Clearfield, DE ,after the town we were passing through on I-80. Out of idle curiosity, I asked some friends online if anyone would be interested in doing tabletop game set in the mid-‘80s, and the response was very positive. The game became an institution on our Jersey City Tuesday nights, and from there, things just gained momentum. My wife and I are very much 80’s kids: I’m a NJ Metalhead, and she’s a Chicago New Wave girl, so we cover a lot of ground. 

There’s no denying that ‘80s are hot right now. I think it’s because Gen X is starting to produce a lot of entertainment so we’re lionizing our pasts the way the Boomers did for us (Seriously, how many of our Saturday Morning Cartoons were about letter jackets and drive-ins? What the hell did that have to with Q-bert of Galaxy High school? Now cartoons all have cassette players and Nintendos in the background.) So I guess we got lucky. Still, things are so garbage right now that any escapism seems to be welcomed by people. I get it. As for Nerdy City, well, we just wanted to go back to a time when there were still music videos on TV and the Transformers actually looked like something. Horror and mystery are just more fun when you can’t immediately look up what kind of asylum used to stand where your house was built, or call the cops when you're the middle of the woods.

What are the mechanics like in Rememorex? How did you match the mechanics side of the game with the fiction?

Sean: Mechanics are intentionally simple and light. Characters are based on three simple stats: Type (Who you are), Training (What you know), and Talent (What makes you unique.). Dice are rolled, totaled, and compared against a target number. Action is super fast and easy. A fun mechanic we have is the “Tracking Error,” wherein players who’s characters aren’t present in the scene can affect their friends characters by changing things in it, helping or hindering things as they see fit!

Megan: Sean developed the Omnisystem a few years ago, I don't even remember the original setting, but then decided it went well with this time travel idea he'd had, and that became Tempus Omni. It's a very freeform, rules light system. You do roll dice, but your stats aren't things like dexterity or charisma, it's something that describes your character; a short sentence or even a phrase. We have a player who has stats as "The Actual Worst." The rules that were added were both to keep on theme (nothing more 80s than a Montage) and also to both up the immersion and to help a larger than usual tabletop group work together. Tracking Errors is the best example of this; you have to roll a handful of dice, but not for the numbers, just for the sound, to alert the other players. Then even though your character is not in the scene, you can affect it in different ways. It helps to keep a larger group involved with the ongoing story, when they feel they can have some agency.

What are some cool experiences you've had while testing and developing? Is there something that really sticks out as really "on theme" for the game?

Sean: In Jersey City, we’ve had a Tuesday night Rememorex game for over six months and everyone in it is just brilliant. it’s really like a TV show- hell, I’m running it and *I* can’t wait to see what happens next. One of my players introduced a new mechanic when he had an unexpected bug show up in Orlando during a Tracking Error. Another started a running gag about glow-in-the-dark ninja stars. Megan and I carefully develop a playlist of synthwave and retro hits for each game, and that really helps maintain immersion. Some of my players have started games of their own, creating new towns full of weirdness in Jersey, Arizona, Ohio, and Minnesota, and I can’t wait to explore what they’ve created.

Megan: One of the non-mechanical mechanics that I love best about Rememorex games is the opening. Every time a game is run, the lights are dimmed, and everyone puts their phones away and gets quiet as the Special Presentation video plays, and then the theme song starts. It provides a sense of separation from the world outside the game, and a more visceral pull into the setting. Sean then went further and cut a credits video, with the player's names as actors and he and I as directors. We played it for them for the first time in an actual movie theatre, and watching their faces and hearing the cheers as each name came up was really special.

In the Kickstarter, you talk about some of your inspirations. How did you choose what you'd draw from specifically? What themes really called to you?

Sean: Well, like I said in the KS, Stranger Things was obviously a huge influence, but I also took a lot from some of the more forgotten films of the “80s kids vs. the world" genre. Everyone remembers ET and Gremlins, for example, but The Last Starfighter (an underrated gem) and The Wraith (a deeply cheesy b-movie with some really interesting ideas) are really worth checking out. Hell, even Labyrinth fits into the genre, although it's sort of a subversion of the theme. Rather than the supernatural coming to the suburbs, the suburban girl comes to a world of impossible wonders. In all of these stories, kids win out against impossible odds through teamwork, determination, and heart. How goofy is that? It was bizarre, growing up in a time that almost seemed to idealize itself while it was happening. There was no shame in being unabashedly sincere or even cheesy. It just felt like cynicism hadn’t... metastasized yet, you know?

Megan: Obviously Stranger Things. Many of the classics of dread; Twilight Zone, Creepypasta, YouTube horror. Then the whole pantheon of 80's movies we love; music from the time, tv, etcetera. Every single named business and most of the notable town personages are some deep deep cut of an 80s reference. That's one of my favorite memories from our first burst of inspiration on that long drive; the laughing and excitement as we tried to outdo and stump each other with subtle name-checks. 

As far as the more serious themes, paranoia is definitely a strong thread. In this current age, there is a pervasive, day to day dread that is affecting a lot of people. The lens of the Cold War as seen through by kids and teens puts you in that same place, where something is WRONG, and even though you are seemingly powerless, it's still up to you to do something to save the day.

How do relationships work in Rememorex?

Sean: There is a table of connections. The first player on the right rolls a die to determine the type of relationship, and the first on the left rolls what it is, on down the line until everyone is connected. Your character might secretly be dating one person, share a shift at the Video store with another, and carpool with a third, but you’re embarrassed to be seen with them for some reason. You’re a kid, so your social life is much sloppier and more full of unnecessary drama. When junior high school is your dungeon, secret crushes, bullies,and best, best friends are your traps, monsters, and treasure. Rememorex doesn’t underestimate this.

Megan: There is an entire relationship mechanic in Rememorex, meant to intertwine people before the game even starts. It was heavily influenced by Fiasco, which is a game we both really enjoy, and also by older games where you roll to set up your character history. 

Once the initial rolling is done, relationships continue organically.


Thank you very much for doing this interview, Megan and Sean! I hope you all enjoyed reading the interview and that you'll check out Rememorex on Kickstarter now!

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