Lesson 9 – Put a story on a pre-existing game

Lesson 9 attempted to get the idea of narrative and story into games. Ian Schreiber posed the challenge of making the game Pente into a story mode. For reference, from his blog post, here are the original rules:

Players: 2

Objective:
Place your stones to either create five-in-a-row, or to capture five pairs of your opponent’s pieces.

Setup:
Place a grid-shaped board (you can use a Pente board or a Go board, or make one of your own – try making it 19×19) on a table between the players. Choose a player to go first.

Progression of play:
On your turn, choose a blank square and place your marker in that square. (You can use colored glass stones, or you can just write “X” and “O” on a piece of paper as with Tic-Tac-Toe.) If there are exactly two opposing markers in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally) adjacent to where you just placed, and on the other side of the two opposing markers in the same line there is one piece of your own, then the two enemy markers are captured. Remove them from the board (erase the symbols if playing with pencil and paper), and put them off to the side to denote that you have made a capture. It is possible to make several captures on a single turn if there are several sequences of two-enemy-one-friendly radiating out from your placement in multiple directions.

Limitations to capturing:
Captures only take place when a piece is placed. It is legal to move into a place that causes an “X-O-O-X” or “O-X-X-O” line on the board, by placing in the middle. In such a case, the inner pieces are not captured.

Resolution:
If a player ever gets five of their own pieces adjacent in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally), they win. If a player makes a total of five captures, they also win.

The Homeplay was to embed this story into the game without any rule changes.

Backstory: Alien Seed

What is the setting?
Anyone who has read Scott Sigler’s Infected and Contagious novels (or listened to the free Podcasts) will know that this SF Horror universe revolves about a subtle alien invasion through parasites controlling hosts. The game is an attempt to prevent the Triangles from forming in the body of infected victims. One player represents the infection, which from the novel IS sentient, and the other represents the FBI surgeon attempting to stop the alien parasites.

What do the pieces represent?
The player with the Black pieces is attempting to construct a viable alien parasite, which needs 5 connected DNA fragments in a line to signify an entity that is so fully embedded in the host that removal will kill the Human. The player with the White pieces is attempting to construct an effective anti-viral through highly illegal and experimental medical intervention by introducing nanites (tiny biological robots) in the bodies of hosts.

Why are you placing them?
Both the alien and the artificial FBI created DNA segments are being directed intelligently, and see the other as the most major immediate threat. Both nanites and alien Triangles are more powerful when networked. Both can, for a short time, stop the progression of the other. Placement is to stop the opposition or to work on constructing a viable entity to either take over (Black) or defend (White) the host body.

Experience:

Did your story make a difference?
Very little playtesting was possible. However, the players who were familiar with Scott Sigler’s works commented mostly on the abstract nature of the 19×19 board, which did not in any way represent the various body organs or the host at all well.

Did it affect the play experience?
I think that, from limited evidence, the story element did change the strategy of the game, with several players reporting that they spread further, or clustered more, given the idea of infection and response from the story.

Or was it exactly the same as if there were no story at all?
For some players, given the lack of a representation of the human host, the game was indestinguishable.

Analysis:

Why do you think you got the reaction you did?
Sigler fan boys (myself included) liked the idea of this fairly incidious side to the novels, which was only covered in a few small elements of the books.

Do you think it would have been different if you had chosen a different story?
Yes. I think that the idea of nanites and intelligent virii fitted the abstraction well, and could not see how more symbolic story elements could be pulled off.

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About DoctorMikeReddy

I teach game programming at the University of Wales, Newport
This entry was posted in Paizogogy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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