|The brief: design a game in 12 hours, from10.30am to 10.30pm. From scratch - no previous material allowed.
The materials: four Macintosh computers from the early triassic period. Two slightly more advanced ones which could run graphics program, and Quark for the layout. One scanner. One printer. One teeny tiny green room with no windows or ventilation. About two-dozen-something gamers, all told, plus assorted World Famous Game Designers to help out.
My first reaction when I read about this on the website was incredulity. Stupid. A publicity stunt. Surely to be devoured by egos and bad organisation. Would never work.
Then I forgot about it, and would have continued to have forgotten about it if I hadn't found myself without a game at 2pm that Saturday. Dragonmeet suffered the common convention problem of bad signage and purely by accident I found some stairs leading down, down, down into the stygian depths...
I arrived at about 2pm, as Chris "Book of the Righteous" Pramas was giving us the skinny on world creation. The morning had, I soon gathered, been devoted to a great amount of waffling and bickering, a lot of which was still going on. However, I managed to piece together a few facts - although there will no doubt be very different accounts of who precisely did what from other people. I apologise in advance for any misattributions or omissions.
Two ideas had arisen from the original debate. Spontaneous idea-swapping had caused an idea about rats fighting a secret war and an idea about War of the Worlds to get combined into a cool idea about rats fighting to save the humans from the alien enslavement. Meanwhile, Phil Masters had started the ball rolling with an idea about reincarnation. Steve "Lord of the Rings" Long then helped workshop the idea further, and gave it a name - Incarnate. Then, the groups had split up into smaller teams to brainstorm separately on mechanics (those core and those devoted to tapping into your past lives) and setting. Chris was there to hear people report back and give us the benefit of his wisdom.
Chris showed his acumen by asking all the right questions straight away. We proved ourselves up to the task ahead by knowing none of the answers. Trying to figure out the answers quickly devolved back into another group brainstorming session. As Chris left, we seemed to be back where we started - arguing about what the setting would be. Some bright spark suggested we write a blurb to give us something concrete to work with. So while eight people kept arguing about the setting, about five people start arguing over what to write in the blurb.
It wasn't going too well.
I realised there wasn't much I could do to help, so I sat down and wrote a blurb myself. It was accepted as being good. More importantly, it was noted as the second piece of actual product we'd created. The first had been a list of archetypes which had been done by an American woman called Rae, with much the same attitude - she'd just sat down and wrote them.
Quickly, I realised that this was the only way we were going to do this. If everybody kept talking about everything, nothing would get done. If everybody kept asking people if something was okay, nothing would get done. The only way to get something done was just to sit people down and have them do it. Even if it were vaguely possible for ten people to agree on a common vision, we didn't have the time. Nothing is more ineffectual than a lot of bright people swapping ideas back and forth, because every new idea led only to more ideas, not less.
We needed a plan. We needed to get people far away from other people. We needed things being typed. And somehow, I ended up being the person in charge of organising this.
The groups were basically the same as before - core rules, rules for past lives and setting. The idea was to break the groups up as small as possible to stop too much discussion from too many cooks. Setting was the easiest in this regard because it broke into pieces so easily. A tall guy called Gareth seemed to know the most about it and was already writing stuff down, so he was put in charge of knowing how it all fit together. Later, this was passed on to Mole, but even those two guys never really had a grip on exactly how everything in the setting came together.
But nobody did. We didn't have time for that.
System was a lot harder because it really needed discussion, and because it had to all hang together. Mad props must go to the system guys, particularly those working on the core. They had to come up with an entirely original set of mechanics in about four hours, and write it up. They had a brief outline of stats from the morning planning, but only one of this original team remained. Alas, his name escapes me but he and David Brain worked their asses off to come up with possibly the hardest part.
The past life mechanics were also fairly difficult, but at least they had more guys working for them - although that may have also slowed them down. But about four hours later, they too had something incredible on paper.
Meanwhile, setting moved on apace, because it was easy to delegate. All the computers were soon occupied, but anyone coming in could be given a pad, a bit of desk-space and something to write about the setting. Whymme from Holland was the best example of this, just taking a pad, sitting down and handing up stuff to be typed every ten minutes or so. Factions got described. The Well of Souls got defined, as did the metaphysics of soul transference. Did it all gel with the system being written? Well, surprisingly it did, actually. Or we discovered that the details didn't really matter - almost all the variation would vanish in the rubbery nature of the roleplaying game.
At this point, you might be interested to know what the setting was about, or how the mechanics worked. Sadly, I can't really tell you that. I was just co-ordinating the project. A few other people could give you a broad outline of the setting while others would know their faction well, and a few would know either the core mechanics or the past live mechanics, but as it grew, almost nobody knew more than this, and there were quite a lot of people who had no idea what it was about at all. The blurb and the game fiction which we stuck on the wall and what I could explain briefly to newcomers were all the common knowledge we had. It was very much a gestalt project. No one person created even the component parts of it. No one person now knows exactly what is in it. Naturally, we all wanted a copy. Due to the time limit, though, we didn't get one. In some ways, that's appropriate, really.
Mostly, we all just did the jobs we were assigned. My job soon became to greet people at the door, explain what was going on, and find a job for them. This was actually fairly easy, if they were keen to help. The hard part was getting people used to the idea that they could actually produce material, and that nobody actually needed to look at it. Some people were not very keen at all on admitting to having talent, or on writing anything, and once they did write something, they often needed assurance it was okay. We didn't have the time to do this, but I soon realised that it was the only way to keep some of the writers writing, so I took the time out, or got whoever wasn't doing anything to help out. While Will nursed Jinnie through her first ever piece of game fiction, I nursed an actor through his first ever NPC write-up.
The new people who kept steadily arriving were pretty good at helping out here, just finding someone in need and talking to them. Others were just good, mad-keen writers who understood how to just turn the handle. Gareth "Mytholder" Hanrahan spent a few hours churning out attribute descriptions and a chargen example, and then wrote up the Game Masters section and notes on an adventure and was writing the Introduction right up to the moment he had to leave for his Dune game (and then he came back anyway).
Art was the hardest. John Kovalic promised to do us a comic, but that wasn't enough. Nobody coming in would admit to any artistic talent, and we had no artists among us. Finally, a guy named Peat tentatively put his hand up as being able to draw, and I managed to convince him (it was like pulling teeth) to do a picture which went with the game fiction. Once again, this beginning broke the deadlock. Gregor arrived soon after and did us a spectacular cover picture. Then another artist arrived. And another. As the night went on and the material piled up, more and more writers came out of their shell and put in their picture contributions. We even got one large-breasted anime girl sketch, ensuring our commercial success.
The same progress happened with the writers. The more they got used to just filling up the page, the better they got at it. The quality went up, too. At the same time, people from the morning came back (like Craig Oxbrow) with ideas they'd been thinking about and could sit down and plug them in for us. As the dinner hour approached, our blood was up, and we had lots to do.
There was a lot of us now, with more drifting in from the games above - but not so much so we got distracted or lost the vision. It was about this time that someone realised we never actually came up with a name for the soul police. In a rapid fire discussion, it was decided to call them The Soul Police. A minute later, someone was typing in their blurb. It was gorgeous to behold.
David "Ars Magica" Chart came down and was able to give a lot of real help. We were no longer having talks, but I just pointed the game designers to the groups that needed them at that moment. It was real hands-on stuff, and I think people learned a lot. David recommended editing, and told us how to do it. I agreed, but we didn't really have the time or the resources.
During the dinner break we had a huge influx of people. Most just wanted to watch, but a lot of new helpers also arrived, often more than we had tasks for. One computer had already crashed into component pieces, causing the loss of a large chunk of the core rules. Another was siezing up. The scanner computer was busy scanning and Mark was ever-busy doing layout on the printer-ready machine. Which meant we couldn't print things out easily and have them being read and edited, for those standing around, unable to work because we only had two and a half computers free. If we'd had just, say, eight computers all with printer access, we could have probably done a lot more. With a faster scanner we could have got the art in properly; with a faster printer we could have ended the day with more than one hard copy; but most importantly we could have harnessed more talent, and less people would have walked out of the room unemployed. Our cup runneth over.
Mark, by the way, was easily the biggest hero of the day. He did layout for something like six, seven hours straight. He not only made the game look good, he collated all the countless random bits and pieces scattered across five computers. We decided to give him the original of the John K comic strip as a result, and no man has ever been more deserving.
James Wallis and Steve Long came down during this rush and were impressed. Marcus Rowland of Forgotten Futures cursed us for stealing the idea for something he was going to make. Phil Masters marvelled at what his idea had become. I watched this approval works its magic on the team, charging them up and driving them on.
As the zero-hour approached, there were a few minor disasters. The core rules and the past lives rules were both finished and being edited when it was discovered they no longer fit together any more, but half an hour of unbelievable dilligence turned this around. The character sheet was taking too long to design, the NPCs too long to write-up, but they came through at the last minute. We had more stuff on some factions than others, so we just made a note that these were expanded to show you how you could expand the others. I gave people deadlines and they met them. The rules matched up. The setting suddenly seemed to have coherence. The sections started to fall into place. And when we put it all on the computer, it suddenly looked like an RPG. A game artist turned up, but nobody really needed him.
The last three hours or so were almost totally devoted to art, layout and printing. We realised at the last minute we lacked an XP system or a write up about the Athlete template, but these didn't take long (and the latter allowed us to mention ninjas). The writers, now more or less unengaged, had some fun together writing out the legal mumbo-jumbo stuff for the front of the book.
Eight became nine. The comic arrived from John K, and it was hilarious. It was slowly scanned and the character sheet was slowly printed. The graphics were slowly copied over, disc by disc. The layout was patched, boxed text inserted, the contents fixed. Nine became ten. Most people had left. Eventually, the only guy working was Mark doing the last bits of saving and printing. While we waited for the galacial printer, we sat around and talked to James Wallis. We shared all the in-jokes and experiences of the last few hours. I can't really put them down here; they were ephemeral, part of that hive mind that we'd created, and that was even then already washing out of us along with the adrenaline.
Sometime around 10.30, the printer finally creaked out a copy with everything in it (including all the spelling mistakes). We bound it, and handed it to James, who was already packing the computers into boxes. Only about five of us were left. It was over. We were over. There was nothing left but silence and exhaustion.
I walked up the stairs, out the door and stood in the cool rain until my heart rate slowed and my ego cooled down a little. But not much. I didn't let it. I deserved to be proud. We all did.
Because we'd done it. We'd made a game. And it was _good_.