It’s been some time since I finished my internship at Hubbub, and I had a great and instructive time with the various projects I worked on. On the last day of my internship, we concluded my personal project, Katsuo, with a fruitful playtest. Though my time as an intern at Hubbub is over, Katsuo holds promises, and you might very well hear more from it when I find the time to work on it again. In any case, here’s a writeup of my work on it up to and including the playtest.
The last post on Katsuo was about the very early stages of the project, and a lot has happened since. It wasn’t an easy run, but then again I never expected it to be, as we had some ambitious demands for the project. We wanted it to use time travel as a meaningful part of the gameplay, not really an easy mechanic to design. We also intended it to use various aspects of live action roleplaying while the game was meant for players who usually don’t do roleplaying games. This meant that the rules should provide sufficient handles for inexperienced roleplayers, yet offer enough of the freedom that I feel defines LARP.
After doing research on time travel mechanics, I started designing and testing a lot of different ways to play with time travelling and chronology. I had decided to leave the roleplaying aspects a bit more in the background for the first prototypes and tried to get my hands on a way to make people feel like time travelling through gameplay first.
Testing concepts over and over again, some playing cards were hurt in the making of this game I'm afraid.
This resulted in a lot of quick prototypes, of which most were more complicated than I desired them to be, but actually making people have the experience of playing with time proved to be hard. Even more so because the game was to be played on the streets, without a professional game master, as is the usual way with urban games and especially live roleplaying games.
For a player to have that experience of playing with time we had to make the game evolve while it is being played without the players doing that themselves. They had to feel like something magical was happening. I played around with different ways to achieve this without a game master, resulting in various concepts: We tested a game where players managed energy bricks and after a certain amount of playtime went back to the start of the game and changed what had been done, making them change actions and outcome of earlier plays. I also did many tests for an idea where players changed historical story-lines for better or for worse, but this proved to be hard to put into effective gameplay. I tried to work with allowing players to get certain objects needed for the game from the future, which would commit them to send those to their past selves when that future has come, much like the game of Temporal Chess that I played when I started this project.
This illustrates how complicated some of the tests quickly got.
I also tried games which focused more on roleplaying, like a game where players would force other players to play out certain scenes and in this way change a general storyline to win. Or a game where players would play the same scene or happening a couple of times, changing it every play-through, much like a puzzle where you go back in time until you know how to change the events that will take place. But with all these games I ran into the same problem. Once they got close to bringing a genuine feeling of really playing with the past or future, they had to become (or already were) rather complex to hit that spot.
So after many tests, we decided to go with a game in which time travel is more of a narrative element rather than a gameplay one. Each player was assigned a character who is a time traveller from the past or future and had gotten in this particular time by accident. In order to have the time vortex return them home they had to recreate the circumstances that had made it appear in the first place. They had to re-enact five scenes on different locations at a set time. These were described only briefly, for example, “a secret deal was made near a bridge.” This made the game a roleplaying adventure through the city, while looking for the next suitable location on a tight time schedule.
To make things more interesting however, every character had a secret agenda and didn’t want to return to their own time at all. To manipulate the time they would be sent back to, they had secret objectives which they would have to perform while enacting the scenes. These were linked to their character. For example: Dracula had to make someone scream, and another character, an impersonator of Shakespeare, had to get someone to quote from a theatre play.
I think the combination of characters from different timezones roleplaying in the middle of the street in Utrecht resulted in a very interesting game. There are tweaks to be made to the game for a next play-through and I would certainly change some of the rules. But after going through a lot of concepts and trying so many forms of gameplay, for now Katsuo has came to a satisfying conclusion.