Monday, October 14, 2013

Thinking Out Loud Some More - Adventure Design

I had a draft of the first issue of Army Ants Adventure Journal about 3/4 written, but decided I didn't really like the direction it was going, and have been going back and forth about the direction for the development of the game going forward.

See... this is the thing. There are three basic audiences to which I am marketing my games:

1. People who like reading and collecting RPGs, even though they rarely (if ever) have a chance to play them. (I'd estimate 40% of the people who have purchased my game fall into this category).
2. People who want to support and collect RPGs, even if they never even find time to read many of the RPGs they are supporting. (I'd estimate another 40% of the people fall here).
3. People who plan to actually play the durned thing! (I'd estimate this at less than 20% of the people who purchased my game).

PLEASE don't take this as a criticism, regardless of which category you fall into. It's not. It's a reality of the situation. For the record, I fall into the first two categories almost exclusively for my own (limited) RPG purchases. I have little time to play, and what time I have gets devoted to developing my own brand. This applies to most of my hobby purchases - I might take a year to put together a LEGO set I get for Christmas, and a new video game could sit in a drawer for 6 months before I get around to actually trying the thing (I purchased the first Force Unleashed game at a garage sale in June, and I have yet to crack it open and try it out).

So, how do I do something about this? How do I encourage people to spend more time in my imaginary worlds? People with degrees and tons of experience in marketing and promotion are attempting to solve the same problems in the world of RPGs, and are having limited success, so I won't presume to have better answers. However, here are a few things that I have to consider...

1. Since the time people DO have is mostly on their own, and time with an actual gaming group is exceedingly valuable, it behooves me to make that time between reader and book as valuable as I can make it. This means that the books themselves should be entertaining.
2. As an even better solution, you should be able to play the game by yourself. I've read some solo scenarios (and I've even written one myself), and I think there's some fun to be had here. Ideally, the solo adventures are constructed in such a way that adapting to traditional group play is seamless.
3. I want to make sure that the experience of gaming in the world of MTDAA contains some parallels to the comic. The game should enrich your reading of the comics, and the comics should enrich your experience with the game. In theory, there's a distinct overlap between the two.

The problem I have had with solo adventuring is that is tends to be inherently limited. You don't have the open game world and rich character growth in solo gaming that you do with collaborative play. You almost need some form of built-in AI in the game itself in order to create an organic experience of the character interacting with the game world.

One way to do this is through the idea of factions, which I plan to steal from MMORPGs... in fact, there are probably several things that I should consider stealing from MMORPGs... for example, the environment (and I'm thinking of a megadungeon sort of thing right now - the Termite Mound), has several factions of termites within. You have faction ratings with each of the three factions; as you interact positively with one faction, you could increase your ability to leverage that into getting things from them. Your negative faction means that you have been identified as a threat, and the faction would mobilize to find you.

The other consideration is building the story itself as a 'lost story' of the MTDAA comics world. By and large, the most popular character is the enigmatic commando Zak. He never speaks, so this could be a problem in terms of interactions with others. I'd have to find some way for him to interact with others, or for a surrogate to do this for him... but I think that a solo mission into a massive termite mound that develops a mega-dungeon over time would be a fun way to approach this. The adventures would have to be relatively open-ended (not quite as formalized as the standard 'choose your own adventure' paths - 'if you pull your weapon go to 14, if you try to talk to the perp, go to 27'). Each encounter has several paths it could travel down, but your movement through the environment would be open-ended. The dungeon itself becomes a story path, but you aren't limited to only the 2-3 options that appear at the end of the entry.

Hmmm. I'll let this percolate for a bit and see what comes up...