A while ago I came up with this idea for a game. I make no secret that I greatly enjoy the character/world creation system of Smallville. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to get some buy-in and some basic locations for the game. Looking at the map that this ends up producing is pretty crazy, as it resembles a network diagram more than anything else. Here’s an example:
I was thinking about this and the fact that I would love to have a game where character churn was encouraged and not penalized. To that end I thought about that map, and what erasing a connection or overwriting a location would mean. What it would mean is that the characters are in a new game setting or location in some way, that’s the most obvious. However, what if you only changed some stuff around the periphery or just changed some of the connecting words? Well, then you would have a different iteration of the same game setting that was already produced by the players. This is appealing to me for a number of reasons, and as a game system conceit, this seems like it has a lot of possibilities. Of course, what I would really want to do with this is allow for a Multiple Me scenario with the game world and the players.
The players may pick up a version of themselves in any new scenario if they a) want to or b) die and want to continue playing. One of the big things that this does is allow for the reuse of already written characters and content, meaning that the actual world itself can remain pretty small, and as players run through it, it gets more and more familiar to them. There is a reason that people love the Back to the Future movies so much, and this is the conceit central to that love. Ok, the characters are awesome, but that’s up to the people running the game, designing the game, or playing the game. You can’t put that one on me.
Here are some basic concepts for different games and how they might work.
Video Games: Really, I’d love this to take the Mirror’s Edge engine and do something with this, as I think a looping game would really be great with this type of engine. The idea of re-exploring the same maps over and over again that are subtly or greatly different is pretty appealing. The same goes for NPCs. Mass Effect is actually a great model for this in a lot of ways. The further you go on in the series, the bigger changes stem from your first choices. While this isn’t exactly what I mean, the idea of subtle gradient of differences the game provides is something I would want in a video game experience like that. Contrast this with the alternate 1985 that goes on in Back to the Future 2. A video game could easily have both of these things, where your party members are rotating versions of yourself. NPCs are the same ones you know and love, and are continually changing their motives and connections. That’s pretty rock solid for story telling, and is a great reuse of characters and design. You could keep the action centrally located without having to make the game world too huge, simply because the same terrain would change several times over the course of the game. As for game premise, I would be interesting in a game where I played a lab assistant that ended up getting involved in hijinks. Essentially an unimportant guy that ends up having to pick up the pieces.
Table Top: Generate the map and the players as you normally would do. This can work for any system, as you could bolt a game map system onto just about anything with enough modification. I think it is particularly great for things like a West Marches DnD campaign, where you would generate a lot of the various NPCs and locations in the area of the town. Now, take that map and make several copies of it. Now, walk through the process step by step on your own, and re-generate characters, but keep the same locations and (generally) same NPCs. The connection lines and the descriptions will be different on each one of them. For these new players, set them aside and keep them to hand to the PCs if one of them should want to not continue as the same version of themselves, or as other NPCs to run into, if you want to have that as a part of your game. Make sure you keep a running tally of all bonus skills or experience the players have achieved, so that you can update the versions of themselves correctly. Now, ideally the game’s central focus will involve a good reason to shift around at the logical end of a story line so that players can experience a different version of their reality. There are a lot of ways to do this, but it really needs to be built into the world in order to make the conceit viable.
LARP: This one is a lot more difficult, but I think this would be pretty awesome. As the game directors, you come up with certain categories and options. You might even open yourself up to suggestions if you want it to be even more organic than this would already be. You might have big categories such as Town Name, Organizations, Political Structure, and so on. These would either then be voted on, or saved as alternate ideas. Now, characters MUST belong to these organizations, though they can create their own organizations to a point and are drawn in on the map. These player made organizations MUST connect to other major organizations via the connection lines. Organizations are built as if they were characters, with different attributes selected so that groups in world have tangible benefits and presence (and are thus able to be changed and manipulated as if they WERE characters). This means that the game staff can manipulate these organizations without changing who the PCs are and how they are wanting to act. If a player dies, they need to create a character in the current world, rather than the old one, and would be able to pick contacts out of the new map for that world. This would mean that a certain amount of world reveal could rely on these PCs from these time lines. It would be a lot of fun to keep the same basic NPCs but continually shift their motivations and personalities every few months. In this case, a single event or bad guy organization could be causing this game play.
Regardless, I think this would be a very interesting mechanism for encouraging differentiation and varying game play.