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14 Apr 2013

Game development blog no.6

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This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: Game development blog no.5

It's been a long, long while since we wrote a blog. A mixture of 'real life' intruding and keeping us both busy on other projects and also a lack of anything devastatingly new to report has kept us quiet, but we're back!

There's so much to write about and catch up on: the death of Thatcher, Chavez, Obama's ever-murkier drone war and the "Kissinger" wikileaks. But first let's get the boring stuff out of the way: game development update ahoy!

Kleptocracy is still bubbling under. It's not dead by any stretch, but it is a big project. Recently I've headed back to doing more research on the subject of corruption - there's something fascinating about how corruption takes root and self-propagates (and is then really difficult to get rid off). I desperately want this insidious root-taking to be an organic part of the game, but without understanding the causes better, that's never going to happen.

Meanwhile we've been steadily (and very gradually) testing and improving Drunk Prophet. Living up to its name, it's a remarkably suitable end-of-evening game for our Tuesday testing group before we get chucked out of the pub. What's interesting is that despite my desires to make the game a little more intellectually rewarding - a bit more meaningful - it's the simplest version of the game that keeps prevailing.

How to play Drunk Prophet

So here's how it plays currently: There are six decks of cards. This is the drunk prophet. The game takes place in ten rounds as the drunk prophet issues ten commandments. The topmost card is revealed from each deck in order, forming a (frequently confused) decree. All players have a hand of "theme cards". These themes are things like 'forgiveness', 'atonement', 'temptation' etc. Everyone holds the same themes and players have a short time to select a theme that they believe will represent a unique reading of the Drunk Prophet's words, but still relevant enough that it can be expanded upon. Everyone reveals their selected theme. All unique readings then get a chance to talk for 30 seconds, explaining and interpreting the Drunk Prophet's words with regard to their chosen theme. All non-playing players (those that didn't manage to select a unique theme) then vote on which disciple delivered the most compelling reading. Repeat ten times. That's it.

Can nonsense political arguments be made sense of and discussed quite normally? For me, the game has two high points: realising that anything can be interpreted is both funny and instructive. You really get a sense that authority and profundity comes not from meaning, but from context. If you read these phrases in the Bible, it's monumentally different to if you scribbled it down drunk. But the most surprising moments come when Drunk Prophet comes up with something unusually cogent and germain. I think we've encountered everything from the horrific to the genuinely thought-provoking and even the occasional moment of profundity.

Introducing ... Drunk President

On a whim, I reprogrammed my Drunk Prophet generator (yep, I've made such a thing - maybe a future app? (joking)) with a load of stock political buzz-words for the purposes of seeing if "Drunk President" was worth pursuing. Don't worry, this isn't the start of a pointless "Drunk ..." empire, there's a reason for this...

Politics was actually the original context for this whole mechanic - seeing if nonsense political arguments could be made sense of and discussed quite normally. The original goal for Drunk Prophet was something much more Orwellian - examining the potential for language to make the abnormal normal.

I decided to change the gameplay slightly: Players take it in turns to be the beleagured Press Secretary to the Drunk President. They unveil the nonsense policy and are then quizzed on this by the other players acting as the press corps. One player sits out each round and acts as the general public, allocating points to whoever they feel has swayed their opinion.

It's more raucus than Drunk Prophet - much more of a free-for-all - and it requires greater commitment. You need to embrace the role far more and perhaps it's also a little more demanding. I feel the people enjoying it most would need at least a vague knowledge of current affairs. But this is only off the back of one playtest.

Anyway, the first outing was remarkably successul. Almost depressingly so. I've strived so long for the sort of reaction the "Drunk ... " games have got - and yet to achieve it with a slightly cheap language trick is both a little frustrating and comically inevitable.

We've started work on producing some prototypes of Drunk Prophet for beta testing. This means we're fairly serious about making it. So if you'd like to help us improve and test it, get in touch and we'll start co-ordinating stuff over the next few weeks.

 

Posted by Andy S on 14 April 2013 - 2 comments

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Comments so far:

  1. Wow, the "Drunk President" sounds great can't wait to purchase it!Zach Berly from North Carolina USA - 21 April 2013
  2. Thanks for sharing such valuable information. Keep posting such great info for us thanks! r4 3dsr4 3ds from Paris - 3 December 2013

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