Electron Dance
16Mar/12Off

The Remnant Speaks

On Tuesday, I wrote about a unique game of Neptune's Pride in which the players co-operated under the umbrella of the "Galactic Peace Organization". Of course, it still ended in star-shaped tears, and I commissioned indie developer Jonas Kyratzes to create a tangible award, The Remnant of The Aspiration, for the winner.

Now I think I've written enough about it. It's time to hear what the players have to say.

The First Place Betrayer

In first place was Captain Wells, played by Electron Dance confidante Adam Wells. He wrote in the comments last month that he prefers games he "can keep in a box". His reaction to the game is similar to mine in that he found it brutally exhausting.

Boy, that was hard work. When I followed a link from my long time friend Joe (LiberalEurope) to join some game, I was too busy at work to really read what it was about. Then it started. Neptune's Pride demands attention and its claim to being hardcore is not understated. How did it make me feel? Mixed. 

To be clear I won't be playing again. I was enjoying myself, when collaborating or plotting with fairly untrustworthy allies and our group could have probably kept playing forever through our negotiations and treaties. A daunting prospect.

So I plotted against my real world friend, then stayed up till 1.30 AM to strike, when I was sure that he would be asleep. Dirty, but that's the point right? By the end I felt like some kind of Mafia boss, with other players authorising their fleet movements through me. I would be interested to hear if they were genuinely under my control (Stockholm syndrome) or if they were waiting to put the boot in.

Victory was strange. Most did not seem to begrudge me for it and felt I played my hand honourably (mostly)... although I may have totally misjudged this.

It was a one-off blast that's for sure; I like to be in control of my own time and manage it as such. Neptune's Pride did not allow me to do that.

I've also got ten minutes of conversation with Adam taken in a noisy pub. We talked about role play, the danger and security of a central position, the diminishing returns of peace and offing a friend who was "bitterly hated". Download the podcast MP3 (13MB) or play it right here in your browser:

The intro and outro music is from the soundtrack of Channel 4's Misfits.

The Second Place Supporter

In second place, Sirron played by long-time Electron Dance lurker mwm.

I assumed the role of Sirron, leading the Veretian long-tailed peoples. Sadly, most rulers referred to us as 'maroon'. My entire match was essentially the opposite of Veret's: I was in the centre of the map and so was surrounded by friends... and Blueshift2k5.

I assumed the role of 'kinda-good guy': I was invaded, only to bounce back at the end of the match because of the allies I had...  and so on. Because I was such a nice person, when the Galactic Peace Organization rolled around, I, being the holier-than-though prick that Sirron was, said 'I was already doing this', which was entirely true. Really, I was the only one who maintained his promises throughout the match, so that even the final betrayal was for my friend Wells.

The game was fairly light on my psyche, not only because I didn't pour myself in it as much as others, but also because I had regular computer access (Lord bless HP for selling my school all those outdated desktops). Role playing was rather simple for me, I just imitated the shade of our presidents, just with greater freedom from 'oversight'. I was the autocrat who more or less alluded to some toy called 'the Senate', who usually wrote in formal style but became stern and frank when the situation became serious, who ended letters with '-Sirron, the First', and who wasn't above torture, just never saw the need for it.

(Oh, and Adam, I totally noticed that was Blueshift's last world. I really did want to be labelled 'xenocist'.)

The Third Place Punk Pacifist

In third place was CitiesInDust played by Shaun Green of Arcadian Rhythms, who has also previously written for Electron Dance. Shaun played a strongly pacifist empire throughout the game and did not participate when the knives came out for LiberalEurope in the final hours.

Hail. Readers of Electron Dance. We are the hard-shelled people. Of the dark blue stellar empire. Our ruler-designate is the one known. As 'CitiesInDust'. This appellation may be known. To those among you familiar with. "UK post-punk".

As readers of Arcadian Rhythms may be aware I've spent quite a bit of time with Iron Helmet's games. Neptune's Pride, however, was the game I'd dabbled in the least, having found the one match I'd played a dispiriting and cruel experience. Neptune’s Pride and its players will fuck you up any way they can. This is cool if you're playing with, uh, 'friends', but against strangers it doesn’t work as well. Thus I hesitantly appreciated the opportunity to play against opponents who were if not friends then at least people who would take the game seriously.

As the game gained pace my involvement became greater and my immersion more complete. I can't and won't pretend that I ever rearranged plans in order to play the game--that includes waking up several hours early or going to bed several hours later just to launch a fleet at the optimum time/screw over another player with maximum dickitude--but after a few days I was checking in at every opportunity.

As covered in my game diary, I found the game a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience, in part because I adopted a consistent persona and carried it through to the end game, and in part because of the way my experiences defied so many conventions of Neptune's Pride, but mostly because the other players engaged with everything that happened with as much enthusiasm as I did.

That's right: I feel closer to these people because of Neptune's Pride. I told you we defied almost every convention.

Remnant side view

Click for larger size

The Accidental Architect of Peace

LiberalEurope, played by Joe Litobarski, founded the Southern Alliance on the basis of self-interest but it later gave way to the Galactic Peace Organisation. He's still writing up his own diary of the game. Joe works in the media and has written for The Guardian. Not that I'm jealous of the bastard or anything.

The game we played can be split roughly into three chapters. In the opening third, everything was exciting and new; it was my first ever Neptune's Pride game and there was still everything to play for. Creating the "Southern Alliance" was a diplomatic coup and, as the Alliance gradually morphed into the bureaucratic Galactic Peace Organisation, there was a genuine sense that we were doing something a bit different with the game. It looked like we might actually have a pacifist game of Neptune's Pride!

In the middle third, though, things started to stagnate as we ran up against the physical limitations of the game world. We had essentially managed to break the game at this point, and galactic peace had been established... but the game itself would only end when one of us conquered 99 stars, so we were all locked in until we either walked away in boredom (which seemed a bit anticlimactic) or went back to playing by the original rules. We could be playing this thing for months!

The final third of the game, though, was the escape route. This is where we truly tunnelled free of the game's rule systems and role-played our way to freedom. Some of the highlights of the game were in these last few days, as we played with the characters and mythos we had jointly created over the past couple of weeks. The whole experience highlighted to me the difference made by good players in any game; if you have players that are open to new ideas, inventive, imaginative and mutually supportive, then it doesn't matter what the actual rules of the game are on paper, you can shape the experience however you want.

And The One Who Brought Terror

RoboCaptain was played by Todd who organised and sponsored the match. His empire resisted the GPO and Todd also invented Doctor Terror as role-play cover for his attacks on a neighbour.

This game was by far the most intense I've ever been in. I think a large part of it was... no one dropped out. Even Grand Space Lord Al, who I eliminated ("xenocided" in one player's words), kept logging in to check out the game. He never went "AI". No one did.

So that kept things interesting from a strategic standpoint. There weren't any 'easy wins' to go after, no abandoned empires to gobble up. Basically, once all the stars are claimed, expansion came only through one method -- pissing someone else off.

The player LiberalEurope constructed a treaty that he tried to get all the players to sign. I thought it was completely ridiculous. Even now, my reaction to the treaty is surprisingly hate-filled. For someone who mostly poo-poo'd the intense emotional aspect of most "recaps" that I have read, this game really got to me. All I wanted to do was see LiberalEurope's yellow empire burn. When he marked me as a galactic outlaw for attacking green empire Grand Space Lord Al, I figured I was doomed. So I adjusted my personal "winning conditions" appropriately -- Al must be exterminated at ANY cost.

After achieving that goal, the game was largely down hill for me. The role playing really took off and as the game was winding down people started using the "chat box" as "out of character" talk. That's when I realized LiberalEurope was only PLAYING a dick. Turns out he, and many others, were just amazing role players.

Thanks for letting me hijack your blog's comments for that amazing game! I'm afraid it will be a long time before another game lives up to it.

Remnant angleshot

Click for larger size

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Comments (9) Trackbacks (2)
  1. I really should’ve edited my words.

    One thing though (Somewhere, upon a mass of granite stone will be set “Maurice: the correction nazi”), I really didn’t mean to give you the money as a bribe, I just didn’t want the filthy Southerners to get it. I couldn’t invest it myself, because he’d just grab any planet I built up, and it’d be a real waste to just sit on it. All the same, that was a dick move waiting; what was it, 4 days or so?; to help me out.

    Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure everyone but Adam hated me. Hatred hated me, The robots hated everybody. I promised a series of poetic punishments unto the slugs, and I took second place from Sean.

    The real problem, in my mind, with ongoing peace, was that the game was to polarized. Not that we were split into two camps or anything, but there were two superpowers, and the rest of us were practically a bunch of African colonies. Sure, I was Germany’s colony, and I could’ve put up one hell of a guerilla war, but altogether, it was only those two that really mattered. It was simply too easy for one side (With a name like Joe, he has to kill billions) to attack the other, for practical or story reasons.

    Now that I think about though, there’s another reason that would’ve been very difficult. In order for the game to close (probably. Someone should google this), everyone has to stay logged out for a couple days. Unless somebody just said ‘fuck it, I’m not coming back’, everyone would still be interested in surviving. The only way to safeguard themselves is to postpone the end by logging in. The only way to circumvent this is for everyone to unanimously give up on the game, for several days.

    Then again, if no one saw what happened after they left, it would simply be the memory that would survive. Maybe that’s the real strength in quitting early, in any game: that one retains an idyllic memory of time spent there. In Fallout New Vegas for instance (and I’ve thought about this a lot, since I’m considering playing through with a ‘Samurai Jack’ character), the war between the great powers would have been left unresolved, retaining everyone’s dignity and station. With the ongoing war, the NCR would have had the responsibility to continually safeguard the people, rather than taking advantage of its monopoly in the government dept. The strip would have remained open and ‘fair’. The Legion would’ve stayed on their side of the river. All the factions, the Brotherhood, the Khans, the Enclave, the Van Graffs would have remained intact.

    In essence, we could have quit, and held on to our perfect ending instead of being forced to pursue an unattractive future. However, that wouldn’t have made a difference in what actually happened. Really, our descendants would have continued to fight and kill, and the way we look at that won’t change a thing. I have this strange feeling that some other group of players would inherit our game, and carry through with the actions we couldn’t.

    So, I think, we made the right choice. We chose a more perfect union, one ruled by a single, unchallenged entity, but, one that respected all life, and regretted being forced to take it. In time, the ties connecting the different species would waver, and borders would disappear by annexation or ignoral (From this day on, this is a word. It should be a word.), though pockets of resistance would always remain (but who would begrudge them that, if that’s the way they want to live, in their corner of the galaxy?).

    Now, if only they made a game like this, in reverse. Instead of absolute emptiness, it would be like Dwarf Fortress, and hopelessly complex. I get this warm fuzzy feeling thinking about game-changing events coming out of seemingly thin-air, because of an anomaly in probability or from forces beyond our comprehension.

  2. It’s fascinating, as ever, to see everybody else’s write-ups of the game. I am quite amused by the mention in the pub conversation of Adam’s shrouded invitation to join in with sticking the boot into Joe. I could see what was coming but decided that the role I was playing just couldn’t permit it. I stupidly did not even think that Adam would’ve been asking the same question of other people too. I was the UK to his US, foolishly believing in the ‘special relationship’. So it was a genuine surprise, and slight shock, when mwm and Adam snatched a few of my worlds and sent me heavy-handed if apologetic warnings to stand back and let the carnage happen. More than a few turtles shed their blue armbands that day. ;)

    @mwm: I didn’t hate you. I didn’t actually hate anyone in the game at all, at any point, though I distrusted blueshift for quite a while. I didn’t get second place but I’d long ago stopped using the leaderboard as anything other than a yardstick for checking my economy and industry remained competitive. So really, I was just happy that the two of you wove your victory into the game’s fiction, including using the threat of force to keep the pacifistic space turtles under control. ;)

  3. I just returned win7 to a previous backup in prep to install the master of effects some scifi rpg. Now I have the microsoft fuckoff-paying-user message “this copy of windows is not genuine”. Yes it is you twat. I am kind of offline until I sort this out.

    I will rejoin the conversation once I’ve reinstalled all of windows and my applications from scratch. Jesus christ.

  4. @mwm: Thank you for perhaps the largest comment written on the site. I’ve probably written an enormous one somewhere myself which is longer, so you don’t get a bonus prize or anything. Not that I think Jonas wants to create another Remnant. What I find interesting is that no one really understood how anyone else felt.

    Simple example – Shaun thought that everyone was having a great time, even when losing – but RoboCaptain hated LiberalEurope with a passion. There’s also the fact that Adam was killing himself towards the end with stress but that probably wasn’t appreciated so much by others (when you are a proper aggressor or in trouble and defending, that’s when you need to be on point and careful not to fall into OCD ten second fleet checks like me). And the idea of “peaceful co-operation” is, in fact, a slight lie: Shaun’s analogy of the US/UK relationship sounds bang on.

    In terms of “random events” are you suggesting about proper formal game randomness (you roll a six) or chaos that arises from the rule fragility, that if someone presses the wrong button – easy to do – half a population goes up in smoke?

    Personally, I think the best ending for your game would be if LiberalEurope had taken Jabbah as Captain Wells was about to win; then the game would end precisely as Doctor Terror raised the dreaded god. The galaxy is lost: GAME OVER.

    Shaun: I actually find the ending of the game sort of tragic, that – as a galaxy – it would bode ill for the future and the CitiesInDust reaction more affecting that I’d expected. It’s so sad.

  5. “Personally, I think the best ending for your game would be if LiberalEurope had taken Jabbah as Captain Wells was about to win; then the game would end precisely as Doctor Terror raised the dreaded god. The galaxy is lost: GAME OVER.”

    Like I said on Arcadian Rhythm somewhere, I thought that that exactly was going to happen, for a couple days. If you press the ` key, an info menu pops up. On there, is a counter, and it says something like “turns remaining: xxxx”. If you do a little math, you find that each turn is 10 minutes (makes you feel stupid for checking every ten seconds, huh? …Okay, I did it too, a little. ), and so can see how much longer the timer has for you. Well, I saw that the counter was ticking down to a few hours after RoboCaptain took Jabbah. That, freaked me out.

    When I refer to probability, I’m talking about the real-world version of dice. I remember hearing on some Discovery channel special, that at any moment, some freak accident at the molecular level could destroy the Earth. Of course, the chance of that are fatter than Albert. There is a very real cause and effect here, and absolutely no chance involved, however we as humans can not understand this, so we use charts and calculators to predict the likelihood of a certain outcome.

    For example, if the game government enacts an entirely appropriate legislation, banning the use of hazardous materials in consumer goods, which benefits almost everyone, the people get safer environments, the government gets cast in a good light, the company is forced to adapt to a newer more efficient technology (they just wanted to wait for this product to run its course), and so on. However, along the line, one person is laid off. This one person, against all odds, manages to obliterate the tri-state area with his big one.

    It’s not practical of course, but it’s an interesting idea. Maybe, when computers are so advanced that there’s no more p’s left to put in, and no more triangles that can fit, things like this will happen.

  6. In london your never more than a few feet away from a strip club. Especially in clerkenwell.

  7. Wrestling with installing Windows 7 and Mass Effect over the weekend took its toll on my writing time and so this week’s post is running kind of late. I can tell you its title has the acronym LOTD and, no, you’re not going to be able to guess it.

    @Maurice, The Correction Nazi: I think something like you’re arguing is workable – it’s a knife-edge designing between frustration and welcome surprises – but I think in the end, yeah, it wouldn’t be Neptune’s Pride. Sheldon Pacotti certainly believes the future is in simulation complexity (Cell: Emergence was built on this) and Dwarf Fortress has obviously charging down that direction.

    @adam: I wouldn’t know anything about that, obviously. (For those who haven’t listened to the podcast, this “strip club” comment refers to the podcast intro.)

  8. The question is, will large-scale developers, when they run out of ‘regular’ features to put in, go deeper into complexity and simulation, or simly cut budgets and prices? There has always been this fear of innovation, and when Ubisoft releases a fully-fledged, half scavenged, then-AAA title for 20$, will anything else be able to compete? Of course, it probably won’t e nearly that cheap, since the price controls, already being forced upon us, are going to be in full effect.

    Really, and this has probably been explored before, but what happens when hardware ability stabilizes, or when the new technology coming out is too expensive for mass production? I just don’t see any good reason to keep the masses of programmers around, except for the occasional patch. The classic excuse for calling a rehashed game anything but a DLC or expansion, graphics, will fall to the side, and people won’t have any reason to continue buying games on a regular basis. Not that that’s true, on either side of the relationship, but that’s definitely the way many, if not most, people will turn.

  9. I don’t know… there’s always somewhere else to go. Megabucks are now in the casual mobile and social space and I imagine that’s where EA and Activision etc. are likely to end up when it seems AAA mainstream/console might be appearing to dry up. A pertinent article is on the last Link Drag (I also forwarded it to RPS and was linked from there last week) about how we’re losing the ability to play complex games due to the rungs of the “gaming literacy ladder” being removed. No one is making complex games any more.

    Perhaps this points to a potential resurgence? I don’t know. Predicting this stuff is like trying to predict when the British weather. If it was the Japanese weather, that would be heaps easier.

    Hardware ability, though, has stabilised over the last decade with console development pausing – which publishers and developers are quite happy with. The constant cycle of having to learn new hardware and target multiple versions of the same platform is gruelling and expensive. I guess we’re due for a new “next gen” soon, but we’ve also got the threat of OnLive and its ilk too.

    But there’s definitely a problem with the ballooning AAA cost, like footballer salary, it cannot continue forever. You’re just not going to be able to make enough sales to cover the outlay. DLC is an attempt to stave off this impasse but, really, it’s a short-term patch. Costs continue to rise; that has to be dealt with somehow.