Electron Dance
13Mar/12Off

The Remnant

Remnant Image Alpha

I commissioned Jonas Kyratzes to create a trophy, called The Remnant of The Aspiration, for a Neptune's Pride game. Why?

Because what happened in that game should be the stuff of legend. It was a game where players co-operated and fought against the rules, a game where a galactic UN was created that arbitrated during disputes, a game which turned into a hunt for a criminal mastermind called "Doctor Terror" who threatened to wake the sleeping god H'Lug'Hr on the devil world Jabbah and bring about the Apocalypse. And after the dust settled, while the players were investigating the logistics of an end-game presidency, a shocking betrayal brought the game to a juddering halt.

I think I played the wrong match.

They Think It's All Over

In the comments on what I thought would be my final Neptune's Pride piece, Survivorship Bias, someone called Todd was looking for players for a Neptune's Pride game. It seemed like a nice idea to support it so I put up a post dedicated to gathering players and also kidney-punched ShaunCG of Arcadian Rhythms into taking part.

Once the game commenced, little updates trickled in via Electron Dance comments and I also hassled Shaun for additional colour. But something strange was happening. Here are some choice cuts from the comments:

"We have also established a sort of United Nations to help resolve disputes and maintain this fragile peace..."

"This morning, the Council voted for a peacekeeping force to be sent into red and purple territory to pressure them into accepting a ceasefire and for peace negotiations to begin (3 votes for, 2 abstentions)."

"There’s a race to see who can get to the devil’s planet first. If the good guys win, then war goes on, and mass suffering ensues. If the bad guys win, then reality pops like a bubble on the head of a thin needle, and everyone dies."

"But we have been playing the game wrong. It’s been wonderful."

Shaun has already written up his diary of the game and Joe Litobarski, who played the empire LiberalEurope, has also been putting pen to blog on what happened.

I'm going to give you a rough overview of what took place in the game but you should look up those diaries if you want the hot blow-by-blow action.

The weirdness really kicked off when LiberalEurope, suspecting the existence of an axis of evil empires he dubbed the "Northern Alliance", decided to concoct a "Southern Alliance" pact to counter. It was a theoretical thing, something he made up, a cool-sounding gang that had no members. But lies in Neptune's Pride tend to create their own reality. Six of the game's nine players signed up for the Southern Alliance which became the "Galactic Peace Organisation" with an online treaty. The treaty had rules that forbade GPO members from attacking one another and, if any GPO member were attacked, all GPO members were authorised to pile in and deliver punishment. It was like NATO but run by a bunch of clowns. Wait- what was the difference again?

The existence of the GPO led to a very different type of game. Warmongering was subdued and left to those who hadn't signed up. Two of the non-GPO members - empires RoboCaptain (game sponsor Todd) and Leo2k5 - attacked the third, Grand Space Lord Al. The GPO had no legal mandate to interfere, but LiberalEurope tricked the GPO into launching a strike for the good of galactic peace... and to further his own expansionary goals. But how could all of the GPO members contribute to the war effort? An "interstellar highway" of undesirable stars was used to route fleets from all GPO members to the front line.

Now the curious thing is this: at some point, the GPO actually crossed over from a house built on lies to something approaching genuine co-operation.

Neptune's Pride Map

Shaun, as empire CitiesInDust, had been role-playing from the start, inspired by Electron Dance's The Aspiration, and his example encouraged the rest of the players to give it a go; it also helped that a number of players were actually MUSH veterans. As the game progressed, role-play became increasingly important. A particular highlight was the search for Doctor Terror - was he myth or was he real? - who was believed to be heading for the planet Jabbah where the sleeping god H'Lug'Hr could be found. If awoken, the galaxy would be plunged into the Apocalypse. This lead to some great exchanges and my favourite from LiberalEurope's diary is GPO member Blueshift2k5's exclamation: Did Flarg the Mighty die for nothing?!

Eventually there was nothing left but the GPO and, aside from one member being eliminated for trying to subvert the GPO constitution, there was nowhere to go. Neptune's Pride demands a winner, but peace had been established. Plans were afoot to create a presidency and perhaps leave the game running forever in unfinished state, flipping the bird at the rules and proving humanity could overcome the game's cauldron of paranoia.

But long-time Electron Dance follower Adam Wells, playing GPO empire Captain Wells, was concerned that someone, some day, could just log back in and take the crown when no one was looking. The rules would always be there, trying to seduce a player into the final win. And so Adam, with some GPO allies and not-quite-dead GPO nemeses, plotted a joint assault against LiberalEurope... his friend in real-life.

LiberalEurope, the original schemer and accidental architect of peace in Neptune's Pride, was slain during his sleep. Captain Wells won the galaxy, standing tall on the bloody corpse of his friend. We'll never know if the GPO survived this betrayal, because the game was over: at that point, every empire and the GPO itself ceased to be. Sounds to me like Doctor Terror raised H'Lug'Hr after all.

The moral of the tale? Our souls are ripe for gamification. The rules always win.

It Is Now

Thus I asked Electron Dance comrade and starving artist indie developer Jonas Kyratzes to create a "trophy" for this unusual match and he came up with the goods. I proposed it should be an artefact recovered from Mars, something I dubbed The Remnant of The Aspiration, since The Aspiration had met their demise there in the final struggle with Veret.

Jonas had his own ideas, of course. In Jonas' words:

Since the game takes a very removed, distant, clean view of war, I thought it would be interesting to create something very physical, rough, organic - a kind of reminder that behind all these icons and numbers there are real sentiences. The Aspiration was all lofty words concealing a vicious purpose, so I thought The Remnant should be an object that *almost* has meaning but which has been rendered incomprehensible by history and war. Seeing how the game encourages obsession and devious tactics, I tried to create a reward that matches the ultimate endpoint of all devious and obsessive empires: an encrusted lump of unknown substance whose history has been forgotten, found buried in a desert somewhere. A kind of anti-reward, really.

One week ago, I met up with Adam to hand over The Remnant in person, to congratulate him on his achievement.

The Remnant and the "award ceremony" are featured in the video below.

Much thanks to Jonas (have a rifle through his games collection and last year's Electron Dance interview if you have some time) and the players for sharing their game with us.

Next: Five of the players give their impressions of the game

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Comments (11) Trackbacks (4)
  1. Yes.

    I never really thought much of what we did, certainly not enough deserve a Thing (I’ll just capitalize words that I’d rather italicize). Then again, it seems like, the game deserved a monument.

    What happened in the game, meant something; displayed some aspect of the human innards, the guts that make us, the prostate that Drives us. I’m still just wondering what it was that we discovered.

    (Also, only 5 people joined the GPO at first. The orange guy in the corner kept invading Europe. Apparently, Hatred didn’t have elephants. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pSgQt2unF0 (pretend that ‘elephants’ is in blue, and that clicking on it will take you to that magic land of ‘Venice getting boned’.

  2. All multiplayer victories should be rewarded with meta-fiction-inspired trophies. Instead of money. If no meta-fiction comes from the match, the victory will be deemed hollow.

    I’m either starting a new branch of pro-gaming or Fight Club, somehow.

  3. Ah, demented (and possibly dangerous) internet buddies is all I’ve been asking for. Hooray!

    Seriously though, that’s an impressively cool award. Great work Jonas, excellent idea HM! Oh, and some more piccies might be nice.

  4. I have thrown out my degree certificate to make way for this relic on my shelf.

    This got me thinking about what other games we could ‘break’

    I mean like hack their purpose….Any suggestions? I know in the end I decided that the meta game idea was not gonna play out. But still, its made me think differently about games.

  5. I myself, with help from my clan, invented a meta game for BFBC2 that revolves around using tracer darts to be able to launch the death-dealing rockets. It’s incredibly fun and goofy, and produces tons and tons of ‘wtf’ moments. My favorites an opponent getting in the way of a rocket destined for me, dodging two rockets from point blank to stab an opponent (the medic can only walk, but can use his knife whenever), and others.

    Also, while this was certainly a novel experiment, this is hardly the first game to have been hijacked. In truth, almost every game in existence is a mutation of an older game. Mods, tweaks, meta-games, user-created maps (I’ve made a ww2 simulation map for Advance Wars, as well as a ‘tournament’ map where the winner of each ‘match’ can blow up a boulder thereby selecting the next match), agreements (no-camping, no grenade-launchers, no spawn-killing) etc.

    Though, I suppose we were unique in producing a game that outright opposed the game’s logic. It was a co-operative game against ourselves, which is, just, incredible.

  6. I love the fact Adam’s reaction to: “I do believe that’s Joe’s blood infused in it.” was “Oh, excellent!”

    After much delay, the fourth part of my diary is up here.

    Note that I’m slightly exaggerating things when I say I let Adam win. I knew that, even if I moved all my ships into position, I would still almost definitely lose. However, I didn’t want to drag things out for another week, so I decided to ignore his forces knocking at my door.

    In terms of breaking other games… I have a couple of ideas. I’ll start contacting people by email.

  7. @mwm: I really wanted to make a little song-and-dance about the game as it went quite off-piste. Originally, I didn’t expect to be able to write so much about it, hence all the player perspectives have been bumped to Friday. I’m aware now – particularly in the wake of the fourth part of Joe’s diary – that I’m a little skew-whiff on some of the details but I think I’ll just leave the words be as it doesn’t bugger up the big picture. (I also didn’t expect that LiberalEurope could’ve been killed off in a single night; Neptune’s Pride just doesn’t kill you like that.)

    @BeamSplashX: I’m always scrabbling for weird ideas to raise Electron Dance’s profile. As I’ve done the trophy thing now, I’m sure every blog will be doing it in no time at all. Time for me to move on, right?

    @gnome: I hope to add a photo or two to Friday’s followup post, although I think flash photography highlights its contours too well and blanches away its strangeness.

    @awwells: Degree certificates are useless. Ask any modern businessman. “What I need is a free intern! Not some kid with a piece of paper demanding human rights and dignity!” As mwm says, I think there are plenty of games out there that get used and abused. There’s the strange case of Garry’s Mod, for example. It’s not exactly a game but can be appropriated as an environment of play.

    @LiberalEurope: Yes I can report that Adam is fazed when presented with an alien artefact, but not when I confess it is daubed in “human blood”. The fourth part of your diary is completely awesome reading.

  8. “It was like NATO but run by a bunch of clowns.”

    PLOLITICAL SATYR!!!

    (Sorry.)

    “Since the game takes a very removed, distant, clean view of war, I thought it would be interesting to create something very physical, rough, organic – a kind of reminder that behind all these icons and numbers there are real sentiences. The Aspiration was all lofty words concealing a vicious purpose, so I thought The Remnant should be an object that *almost* has meaning but which has been rendered incomprehensible by history and war. Seeing how the game encourages obsession and devious tactics, I tried to create a reward that matches the ultimate endpoint of all devious and obsessive empires: an encrusted lump of unknown substance whose history has been forgotten, found buried in a desert somewhere. A kind of anti-reward, really.”

    I think I love Jonas a little bit. That is really awesome. The trophy looks amazing and I am genuinely jealous! The video was a great additional as well, very amusing.

    I am going to try and post a follow-up to AR tomorrow that points to Joe’s latest and to this, and if I can I’ll wait until your follow-up is live, Joel. AR exploded earlier in the week thanks to RPS linking to our Mass Effect piece so I think a short post would be a wise end to the week anyway. :)

  9. the ultimate endpoint of all devious and obsessive empires: an encrusted lump of unknown substance whose history has been forgotten, found buried in a desert somewhere.
    In the sand, half-sunk?

  10. @ShaunCG: I couldn’t help myself on the SATYR. I didn’t realise you were on RPS this week, as I totally blank any Mass Effect pieces. I’ll be sure to tell Jonas he is loved. He’s trapped in a fight to the death with a Firefox bug in his latest game, Traitor.

    @Phlebas: Yep, you’re not the only one to pick out that =)

  11. Oh I’ll just drop in a little bit of background on The Remnant. I originally asked Jonas if his wife Verena could produce a picture as a prize. She does all the art for the Lands of Dream games (e.g. The Fabulous Screech) and, so far, seems to be the star of their Starving Artist cooking videos.

    Jonas said they could do something on a canvas but I was hoping for something a little more “trophy-like”, smaller, particularly if I had to send it on somewhere. That’s when a certain Kyratzes brain imploded, deciding to make an alien artefact. I was asked for some words to put on it, and that’s when I said the artefact should be The Remnant of The Aspiration on Mars, and the words would reflect that.

    And that is how it happened. I think. I should check the emails really =)