“The Theme is Technology. The Ingredients, of which you must use at least two are: alarm, sunlight, sketch and dance. You have one week to design your game. Begin.”
Chair of the Game Chef Arena, June 2016
I have wanted to do something for Game Chef for many years now, but the Theme and/ or Ingredients never really spoke to me. In addition, June is always very hectic, with my real-life job in the most critical time of the year, plus I am usually knee-deep in summer convention prep.
It is easy to watch any cooking game show and come up with one’s own recipes. But, I am no Morimoto, and the comfort of my couch is certainly not the heat of a kitchen.
In Game Chef, one must use the Theme and Several of the ingredients and write and design a complete game in 10 days. There are mysterious message boards where fellow game designers post. Many are embracing a sci-fi theme, embracing Technology this way.
Me, I approached Technology in a different way.
I am a simple man, and I viewed technology as what it is, and what is available to many in this real world.
Technology as an integral component of the game.
I had this idea of using Pandora (or similar music-streaming service) as part of the randomizer.
And then I recalled the Happy Days dance marathon episode (S4E8 “They Shoot Fonzies, Don’t They”), because they had to keep dancing until the music stopped.
A motorcycle mishap forces the Fonz to push his broken bike for twelve miles just before he partners with Joanie Cunningham for a grueling dance marathon.
And, I had recently rewatched My Cousin Vinnie which took place in a town with an alarm siren signifying the start of the day.
I liked the Alarm idea.
My initial idea was a game with a setting involving vampires and humans coexisting in a steel town, where the Vamopires could work the night shift. The soundtrack would be parts 1950s Rock and Roll and Punk Rock for an anachronistic type feel.
Initial seed songs: “Night Time” by The Killing Joke; “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers; and “I Don’t Wanna Grow up” by the Ramones.
The idea of creating a Pandora station with these three songs and hearing what songs would be played via their algorithm really intrigued me.
Games should be about the unknown.
Music can often play a strong part in films and television.
So, I wanted to design a game that did this also (Ribbon Drive by the incredible Avery McDaldno is a game that also uses music very effectively.)
I wanted to play with this.
Music would be one of the randomizers.
Music would help drive the fiction of the story.
This story would end at some point in time, a time hinted at, but not known exactly.
Players had to do something before the story was over, rather, they would end up doing something before the story was over.
“A cross-country road trip before reporting for duty.”
“The man who killed Gramma on her birthday is due to leave the country in one day.”
“The alarms have been tripped, the police will arrive in 15 minutes, and the safe is not yet cracked.”
“The annual dance marathon.”
I have worked with a timing mechanics as one method of driving action in specific ways in game design before, I would do this again.
All of these scenarios have a very specific end-point.
The end is coming, but we may not know exactly when.
Film/ Television Influences: Streets of Fire (anachronistic), Miami Vice (TV), Reservoir Dogs, Before Sunrise, 25th Hour, Run Lola Run, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Twin Peaks.
This is a game. It is a game of narrative control. It is a game about communally telling a story. It is a game about working towards the inevitable. It is a game about audio immersion.
What happens when the road trip adds a hitch-hiker?
What happens with the man who killed Gramma wasn’t alone in the car?
What happens when it is discovered the bank manager and the getaway driver are having an affair?
What happens under the bleachers at the dance marathon?
It’s not whether or not you win or lose, it’s how you play the game…
I wrote like mad, I was inspired. Technology was using music as a Randomizer, the Alarm was the end of the song signifying a shift in narrator, Dance was the use of music, and Sunlight was the Scenario coming to a clearly defined end. Additionally, accessibility was encouraged. Aside from the GM (called quaintly the DJ) everything else would be accessible to those who might have vision issues. The music and the narration were the keys to the game. No character sheets. No writing. Just talking. Telling a story. Storytelling, if you will.
And then, I noticed the 4,000 word limit, and I was over 6,500 words. So, I rewrote it, and cleaned it up.
I called in a favor, and I had a cover. I taught myself a desktop publishing program, and I laid the whole thing out.
It was complete.
I didn’t advance to the semifinals.
But, does that make me think my game was incomplete?
No. I have run it several times, and each time everyone enjoyed themselves, one game even had several players holding back tears.
I printed up 50 as an ashcan version.
I am going to go back with the reviews from Game Chef and clean some stuff up, not restricted by the word limit, but I am happy with the feedback, both from reviewers and others that were interested.
Feels Fiasco-ish (that’s a compliment) but the singletons mechanic is a great twist — love the idea of one player getting to ferret away the Z.
Many of the entries had a setting more closely tied to the theme and ingredients, and that is cool. One entry used sketch as in comedy sketch, which is awesome (I read it as to draw). I am proud of my incorporation of theme and ingredients and accessibility.
Dance ‘Til Dawn is an RPG designed to emulate Scenarios that have a definitive end. Music will be played in the background of the game, and this music can influence the story as it unfolds, both in mood and details. Players will be aware of the passage of time throughout the Scenario, and will collectively explore the world and Scenario and the conflict(s) present within.
In addition to being an FCC-licensed DJ, I was also active in zines “back in the day,” so if you’d like a print copy, and you live in these United States, send $6 and your address to: Barak Blackburn, PO Box 43, Deerfield, MA 01342.
I will be publishing it as a pdf at some point and hope to run it through Indie Games On Demand at Gencon.
It was a successful exercise for me, and I look forward to next year.