The “How Not to Run a Game Business” blog by Gau/Fugaros from the Something Awful forum has been an interesting and controversial thing. I don’t agree with everything he says of course, but from what I know about things I agree with him more than not. Earlier this month he put on a “Brain Full of Games” contest, asking people to submit 250-word synopses of game ideas that could be game-changers. That’s a tall order no matter what, but I submitted my “RPG in an app” idea (outlined in greater but messier detail in an earlier blog post) to the contest. I was pretty confident that I was on to something with the idea, but I was still pleasantly surprised that I was one of the two co-winners. After checking out this blog he went as far as to put up another post and say of me “He likes good games and makes good games. That’s not strictly relevant, but it makes me happy.” and call me a “good-game broseph.” There’s going to be a $10 prize (woo), but the real prize will be actually doing something with this idea.
All of which has me much more inspired to work on the project for real even though I have way too many projects going on. (And as a consequence I’m writing this blog post of about 1400 words and throwing it out onto the internet, cuz that’s how I roll.) I initially had lots of ideas about what to do in terms of the format, but was totally drawing a blank about the subject matter of a game. When I sat down and brainstormed some ideas, Raspberry Heaven jumped to the top of the list. If you haven’t been following this blog, like, forever, it’s a game I’ve been failing to design for years now, inspired by slice of life schoolgirl anime like Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch. (And it’s one of the reasons I have such a ginormous collection of 4-koma manga.) Twice I built a complete game and decided that it was completely wrong, though for different reasons each time. It’s probably not the most marketable possible RPG app subject matter, but it’s what excites me to the point where ideas for how to make it work are making it hard to sleep, so it’s where I want to be creatively at least.
The game will have a cast of pre-made characters, which aim to be very distinct and iconic in their personalities and looks. I’m thinking 5 or 6 schoolgirls, though I may make them American instead of Japanese for more accessibility and such. My current list of archetypes goes tsundere, space cadet, jock, beauty (I’m thinking of Miyuki from Lucky Star and maybe Hiro from Hidamari Sketch), quiet girl (something like Tooru from A Channel), and spazzy fangirl. The game would have a little “encyclopedia” thing with brief, digestible info about the characters and such that you can bring up at any time, and if you have the app but you’re not the one running the main game you can take advantage of the encyclopedia should you get lost.
When you start playing, each player picks a character and enters their own name for future reference (so if Mike is playing Rose, Mike’s name will show up next to her icon to help you remember). If you’re not sure what to pick there’ll be a Random button to let the game pick randomly for you, which will be a thing through most of the choices the game presents. When that’s done, you do the setup for the episode, picking out or randomly determining the general situation you’ll be dealing with. The app could also use the phone’s calendar and weather report to help decide, suggesting nearby holidays as well as characters’ birthdays and such.
The basic structure of the game I’m envisioning is kind of like Fiasco, where players take turns framing scenes in which you mainly do freeform role-play. The game suggests scene elements based on the episode setup, the characters, and what elements have been in prior scenes. I’m thinking it would be neat to have something or other that the scene framer could trigger once per scene or some such, though I don’t yet have any idea what that would be. At the end of a scene you pass the phone on to the next person (determined by volunteer or at random, and someone who hasn’t gone in the current round of scenes) and they evaluate your scene’s outcome for your character. They do this by moving around a couple of sliders (that say between things like “Fun” and “Annoying”) that the game puts in semi-randomly based on the scene’s subject matter and the character.
I’m thinking a standard Raspberry Heaven session would consist of 4 acts, with each player doing one brief scene in the first three acts, and then the aftermath is the third act. That may be too much, and I may take advantage of software and behind the scene calculations to smooth out how you apportion scene framing and evaluations (and perhaps have the app ask for additional evaluations where necessary). That way it can do a much better job of scaling the experience to the amount of time you actually have to play, which is kind of awesome when I think about it. In the final evaluation the game will take the scene evaluations and put them together, with each character having different evaluations weighted differently depending on their personalities, and then you do a short conclusion. I’d like to give the game something to help encourage multi-session play too, but right now I’m not sure how to go about it. Apps can store new data of course, but I worry about how to go about giving players the ability to satisfactorily back up/recreate said data.
The big question is how to go about designing, prototyping, and testing the game from here, since the software aspect invokes new complications I have little to no experience with. I have two friends who are programmers, but neither of them has any experience making mobile apps, and neither of them currently has a Mac for that matter.. I’m probably going to have to get a very simple prototype done as a basic Windows program so I can test it to make sure the actual game design is sound. From there we have the issues of interface design and artwork. I’ll want to have artwork of the characters for a splash screen, for character profiles, and icons to use liberally to keep the images of the characters in the players’ minds. As for the interface design, I happen to know a great graphic designer in Clay Gardner, but I think I’ll have to read up on the subject all the same.
What’s really interesting to me about all this is how easy it is to think of things where letting a computer handle things lets the game be complicated behind the scenes in ways that would be difficult to handle elegantly using paper, dice, and human brains. I’ve got all these ideas for stuff based on random numbers (which always wouldn’t come from number ranges that fit into neat die types), big tables of story elements, dynamically adjusting probabilities, and so on less than 24 hours after seriously starting brainstorming for this project. That’s partly because the period of my life when I was trying (and miserably failing) to learn programming and the more recent time when I’ve started to kinda sorta understand game design have no overlap whatsoever. It presents a whole new set of freedoms and limitations, which I find just fascinating.
This is especially true of the “Stop. Making. Games.” post, though I would agree with a milder version along the lines of “Stop making games that have already been made many times over.”
“He also likes anime. A lot. A very, very lot.” –Gau (Guilty as charged.) On the other hand once the app is done it should be fairly easy to adapt the same framework to other subject matter. I’d like to do something more in the style of an American sitcom (one of the more clever ones like How I Met Your Mother or Community that is), and something with a very strong genre fiction element of some kind. I’ve been wanting to do something about the everyday lives of students at a magic school or magic shop for a while now, for example. OTOH I do want to try designing an RPG app with some kind of combat involved.
I have a character I’ve been wanting to use in something for ages named Rose Valentine, a brave and good-natured heroine type character (who happens to have four older brothers who all but live in a karate dojo). Not sure if she’ll actually make it into this game though. Were you thinking of Rose Lalonde from Homestuck? A Homestuck-ish reality-bending pixel art thing is on my list of other possible RPG app ideas.
I do want to do an Android version (though I don’t have any access to an Android phone at the moment), and possibly some kind of web app. Where we’d actually start will heavily depend on what’s most feasible.