Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Time travel tricks and troubles

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.

NewImageTest­ing 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.

NewImageThis 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.

This entry was posted in Projects and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.