PART 2 – The Theme

rentitleLast time I talked about the re-theme and how this meant some changes had to be made. I had to throw myself into this new [to me] world of hackers and cyberpunk. It wasn’t a complete mystery to me. I’m a computer programmer by trade, so I know the jargon, I know how to write code, I can hold my own in a conversation. But the key is getting that feel into the game. Players need to feel like they are hackers. This needs to come through strongly. And this is where it’s not just a case of telling a good story, but it means the mechanisms of the game need to fit with the mechanics of that world. This is what sets “thematic” games apart from pure “strategy” games (like abstracts and “euros”).

But the flip-side is that thematic games also allow you to mess with the rules much more. They allow you to make exceptions, corner cases and strange interactions just because they ‘feel right’.  This is also the fun in developing thematic designs. You are trying to model behaviours through mechanics and in doing so you are creating this unique construct, like a new toy, a new life-form. To some extent it is like being a ‘programmer’.

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My research was wide and varied. I tended towards the more “noir” side of cyberpunk. This research showed me to literary works like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the graphic novel Transmetropolitan.

It also meant I got to watch some  old movies like Blade Runner, Tron and The Matrix as well as see a young Angelina Jolie in the 1985 film Hackers.

220px-Blade_Runner_posterI was getting to grips with the story, and making changes to the game. I wanted to keep the core ideas the same. We had a deck-builder that gave you access to actions which allowed you to modify the game state.

But the detail on what the individual actions did, what mechanisms were used to ‘buy’ new cards, even the game’s winning and losing conditions, all began to evolve. And as I worked with VPG developer Tylar Allinder, heeding his advice on things like game-length, learning curve for new players, how much complexity was too much or just enough, Renegade suddenly became a game I felt proud of. It felt slicker, more playable,  like a game that other people would want to play.

The rules are still on the more complex-side, certainly for a VPG game. So, at the advice of Tylar and the VPG development team, I was tasked with finding an easy way into the game for newcomers. So began work on the “simulator”. I’ll leave you with some pictures and the narrative that introduces a “walkthrough” for new players…

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Listen up Prospects. You’re looking at the RS20, a simulator designed by Renegade Black Agents. These guys are ex-corp, so they know what it takes to bring down the SMCs. They’ve created three countermeasures to challenge your skills. Each is harder than the last, from copper, through silver to gold. This is no picnic for no posers. If you fail at ANY stage then you must restart the simulation.

I’ve put all the dirtboys and wireheads every dark corner of this city can throw at us through this sim. We’ve been scraping the barrel looking for a new wave of recruits. It’s like zero-hour in a puppet-parlor up here and folks are losing hope. But someone seems to think you guys are something special.

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“But let me warn you… only the best will make it through gold and be able to call themselves ‘Renegade’. Attempt to streak through the SMCs without the proper tools and the proper training and you’ll be nothing but a chalk outline. And you’d better pay attention to the restrictions each countermeasure imposes on you. We don’t want you guys makin’ like Ronin and trying to cheat the system. Not unless it gets our say-so. Using techniques prohibited by the sim’s countermeasures will result in immediate, IMMEDIATE, disqualification. So listen closely to your instructors and do as they say.

Last piece of advice: when you reach gold, you should visit the Bar in Renegade City to trade for better tools at every opportunity. Props aren’t normally allowed in the Bar, but we have a special ‘arrangement’, call it a ‘bribe’, that you be allowed entry once you’ve made it through the first two simulations. Use this opportunity, because this dispensation costs the Renegade fixers heavy each time we run the training programme. Go careful in there. Every dirty rotten perp and street leech is gonna pick you out the crowd if you go in there looking like some wide-eyed monkey. Use your skills, use your training, and try to fit in. Good luck Prospects. See you on the other side!”, [Rupert Stanz, Ace Renegade First Class]

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