Game: Sequence: _Start_
Game Type: 1 vs 1 hacking game
Game Setting: The urban fantasy world of Require: Cookie
If you look at the above three lines, you might, if you squint, see something that appears a little incongruous. I’m not sure it’s particularly natural to put a hacking game in the same world as conjuring magic, angels in suits, and baby phoenixes that could burn away the world.
The setting, for a game like Sequence: _Start_ is also likely the most unimportant aspect of the game. It’s not a story-driven game, t’s not an RPG in a box, and the amount of RP-based table talk is probably low.
So it might seem strange that I’m choosing this as one of my hills to die on – one of the points I’m putting forward as non-negotiable, come what may. As a creative person, I have relatively few Absolute No-Nos – and most of them fall under the category of perfectly logical, both for myself, and the writers who share my world: don’t write abuse for fun or titillation; if you’ve got a problematic character, have them called out; and no goddamn vampires in the Cookieverse.
If I wasn’t me, and I was designing Sequence: _Start_, I’m sure it would just be set in some underground hacker den or cyber café, that it would contain a motley assortment of Matrix expys and that all of my focus would be mechanical. And I’ve had it suggested to me that I should do just that. That trying to put it in the Cookieverse just makes it far too complicated, and that it’s actually unnecessary, and putting it in an established setting adds nothing to the game.
And…there is probably merit to that argument.
But hear me out.
It’s not story driven. True enough, and that’s not really going to change. Even for the nebulously-planned expansions, there will at most be “missions” or “challenges”, but they’ll be primarily based in mechanics, not in story. It’ll be, at most, “You’ve had enough of Stef leaving cookie crumbs all over your keyboard, so you’re going to leave malware all over her private server”. An impetus to action, not a beginning of a story.
It’s not an RPG in a box. Again, true. But this is where the beginning of my logic begins to worm its way in. The “big game” (ie, something with an MSRP closer to $35-45 than the $20 I’m aiming for with Sequence) is Cookie-based – something like an Urban Fantasy version of Elder Sign. That’s got story-based missions, and all of your character powers come from their established book characterisation, etc.
I do also have plans for at least two RPGs-in-a-box, one based on a failed forum RP we started to run; and one called “Fairthorne and Lilywood Are Dead” (nothing to do with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I just like the way the title sits).
Both the Elder-Sign-esque game and the boxed-RPGs will involve characters from the Agency’s Tech department – characters I want to be choices for the players in Sequence: _Start_.
I’ll define a couple of things here: The Agency is basically the magical MiB, keeping magic away from civilians; and the Tech Department is an umbrella department that encompasses everyone from R&D to CSI. There you go, one sentence, and you have your basic context for the setting. Nerds who work for a hush-hush no-name agency – it’s not exactly something that’s hard for people to wrap their minds around.
The premise, and therefore the basis/justification for the game itself is…well, a game. Techs wanting to keep their skills sharp challenge each other to hacking contests – a nice mesh of black-hat and white-hat hacking, get into their opponent’s system, whilst protecting their own. It’s not the end of the world if you win or lose, which should keep the second-hand stress that the players experience to a minimum.
There’s none of that soul-crushing defeat you experience whilst playing Pandemic, when you see cities overtaken with the Black Death and the Blue Con Flu – it’s the lowkey competition of Munchkin, where’s it’s nice to win, but you’re still friends with your opponent afterwards. I don’t envisage people rage quitting from Sequence, as you hear the stories of magic players, who – after suffering a defeat – proceed to throw out their entire collections, or tear up their cards whilst apparently trying to enjoy an evening of Friday Night Magic.
Low RP-based table talk. This is where using an established world really starts to come in as a bonus – people who are fans of the books will be able to use their favourite character’s quotes, or recognise the references in the flavour text. It’s always possible to do this with non-established characters – people can take the one-line descriptors of a character, and use their imagination to fill in the gaps, to do in-character table talk – so I’m not claiming it’s impossible to do, just…perhaps there are advantages when you’re playing with established characters.
Added bonus – Representation: To me, this is the icing on the cake for using established characters. It’s something that, as a bi girl, I find important in the media and games I consume, but an aspect that’s usually under-represented in both board games and video games. I understand it’s hard to do – often with a character card/character board, you’ve got a couple of lines or a small paragraph of flavour text to establish everything you want and need to establish, and including someone’s orientation isn’t always at the forefront of the minds of the people devising flavour text.
One way to do it would be to include a gender symbol; and a character pride flag/s – but that seems rather too blunt, not to mention, a lot of people aren’t aware that there is anything other than the rainbow flag.
(This is the bi pride flag, it’s so pretty)
I’ve been playtesting the game with two player characters to start with – Stef, the protagonist of the series as a whole, is a mentally-ill, insular, fantastically nerdy asexual woman; and Screen – a recurring secondary character, a fun, sexy, plus-sized lesbian woman. The third character that I’m going to be bringing in to playtest, once I get these two ladies set is the head of the Tech department – and the star of the header art I’m using for these dev diaries: Agent Jones, a bigender individual who alternatively presents as male or female, who has the most impressive collection of game memorabilia you can imagine (and a running spreadsheet of suggested birthday presents for items they haven’t been able to acquire as yet). Jonesy wears her geek on her sleeve – just look at the art above, Portal shirt and earrings. 🙂
I’ve mentioned in one of the posts above my “lesbian piggies game”, and that descriptor alone has had a bunch of people tell me they’ll purchase a copy when it comes out (heh), as people in minority groups like seeing media reflect them in positive ways. (And there’s nothing cuter than tiny adorable lesbian piggies). (Except maybe a hacker girl who keeps getting distracted by her cheer squad – and losing a turn).
The other side of the coin: there could be the worry that setting Sequence in an established world could make it inaccessible for people who don’t read Require: Cookie, but it’s a worry I, er, don’t worry about. All of the flavour text will be evaluated in terms of newbie-friendliness. A joke that works on two levels is a joke that works for two audiences, something that isn’t a joke, but is a bit of worldbuilding won’t turn people off, any more than the stuffed toys that surround Jackson Howard in Netrunner.
If you want to play Sequence whilst not caring the tiniest bit that it’s part of a larger world, that there’s books and short stories that show off the characters you’re playing with? Awesome! I’ll still welcome you as a player, as a fan, and ask your opinion on playing an actions-based game, rather than a code-based game (that sentence will make sense in a further update).
If you’re an existing series fan, I’ll probably have roped you into a playtest or two. If you’re a game fan who wants to explore the books, I’ll be sure to supply you with a few free ebooks.
I’m looking at the setting as an advantage, something I can use to make the game richer, not needlessly complicated.
So what say you? Are you happy for a gem to use an existing setting, or would you prefer it to stand on its own?
Game: Sequence: _Start_