Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hearts in Crisis - new project

Hey everyone!

I started working on a new project yesterday that I've had in mind for a while. It may be a long-term project because of how research intensive it might be, but I wanted to tell you a little bit about it.

The game is called Hearts in Crisis. It is set during the Vietnam war, and focuses on the lives and stories of the women (primarily nurses) who worked in the war. It's focusing on drama and personal relationships while dealing with intensely difficult crises.

I'm really excited about it. Here is why.

I grew up hearing a lot of stories about Vietnam - from people who opposed the war, people who carried legacy racism and bigotry from the war, and people who served. Most of the people I knew who served were men, and hearing stories of women working in the service during that time was really rare and that actually makes me kind of disappointed. Most of the stories I heard were not heroic or even hopeful, they were stories from the perspectives of snipers and soldiers who had to do awful things just to survive and protect their fellow soldiers. From everything I know, the Vietnam war was a horrible, terrifying experience for everyone involved.

There were not a ton of women who served in Vietnam. The total numbers I can find are at highest around 10,000, but more likely around 7500, and over 6000 of them were nurses and medical personnel. While I wouldn't ever discount the experiences of women who served in administrative roles, from what I have read, they typically were far from most of the trauma and immediate danger. Those who were are the kind of characters I would see being played in this game, but most of the characters will probably be nurses. Nurses were not in combat, but they dealt with some of the most tragic and intimate crises, saving lives and comforting the people who were suffering.

One of the stories that really inspired me was not of a nurse, but of a stenographer, Karen Offutt, who was awarded the Soldier's Medal around 32 years after her actions in Vietnam saving injured children from a fire (when she would have initially been awarded the medal during the war, she was given a certificate and told that women weren't awarded the Soldier's Medal). The actions of women are so often forgotten and dismissed, and I think that we can take the step forward to tell these stories.

I intend to do a fair amount of research about this piece of history, and I want to really work on telling the stories that many people have let fall through the cracks.

As far as mechanics, I'm working on structured scenes with token exchanges and flipping tokens for success/failure. For me, the mechanics will be important, but will have to be very strong and support the feel of the game as well as possible in order to ensure that the mood isn't lost.

ETA More details on the mechanics:

Right now, I have it set up so that there will be three scenes: one intimacy scene, one crisis scene, and another intimacy scene. Each player will have certain numbers of tokens that they start with and that they can earn, and during intimacy scenes players will give each other one type of token that can be used in the crisis scenes to save casualties who are brought in to the triage. The main way to determine who lives or dies is by flipping the tokens and seeing which comes up heads or tails. The main characters themselves cannot die unless they elect to for story reasons, because part of the point is that they have to live while others don't.

I'm looking forward to sharing my progress with you!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Musings on Horror Games

I'm playing Alien: Isolation on PC right now. I'm not very far in, but I've found some stuff I wanted to talk about (which I recorded the audio of while playing but the file corrupted or something).

I want to make a horror tabletop RPG at some point. This is something I have been interested in for a while but have not had the capacity to do as I don't have a ton of experience with horror games. I've played some tabletop horror RPGs - Don't Rest Your Head, Black Stars Rise, and a fantastic game by +Nick Wedig that should be published if it isn't already (I'm a little behind on Nick's work.) (ETA: I've also played Dread, very late at night at a party, and it was pretty great). These games are good, but they require two things: good, experienced players, and a great GM. The systems do some of the work, but I feel like they wouldn't work as well without the support of the players and GM. I want to make a game approachable to new players, which is challenging for me in the first place, but I also want something compelling.

There are a few things I want to avoid that I have found to be way to common in various horror media (games, television, movies, etc.): boredom and sexually predatory themes. The former is just wasting time, but the latter actually kind of pisses me off. I feel like I should be able to avoid that kind of trigger in horror instead of being constantly confronted with it, so I've tasked myself with aiming for the kind of horror - maybe dread? - that avoids that specific trope.

Things I want to include: suspense, vivid descriptions, and the ability to run and play the game without tons of tabletop experience. Much harder than it sounds.

Part of me wants to interrogate the people I know who are good about horror, but at the same time, I feel like I need to focus on what makes me scared in order to satisfy what I want.

One of the feelings I want to incorporate is that feeling of "I know what's going to happen, I can't stop it, and it's terrible," that dread. One of the movies I was unable to finish because of how distressing and dreadful was Buckets of Blood (1959). Part of this is because I for serious cannot handle harming animals in film (we shut it off before the first icky part, admittedly), but part of it is that kind of dread just shakes me up. I would love to capture that in a game, but how do you do that? I feel like there needs to be a script, so I'm wondering how you include three things:

  • The illusion of free will
  • Freedom of description 
  • Compelling story

I mean, part of it is that I'm just not a super experienced writer or designer. Part of it is I need to consume more horror media, but I don't want to consume too much and lose my focus, you know? I think video games are a really good place to focus because I am learning a lot about games and interaction from them (I'll eventually write another post about some of the games I'm playing now).

 Avoiding boredom is suuuuper hard. This is my biggest problem with horror movies and games. If the suspense isn't done right, or things are too repetitive, I totally lose focus and interest. Sometimes this is useful because there can be jump scares, but jump scares are not only hard in RPGs but can be kind of silly. I don't want players to be uninvolved enough that they want to start checking their phones or having side convos.

That's where I am right now. I'd appreciate your thoughts!