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:
"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."
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.
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.