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Narrative Imperatives

Okey, so, inflexible linear narrative imperative. Thrilling I know. SSO is a narrative game, the intent is to tell the story of your struggle with a deranged human/alien/computer/crew with as few rules interactions doing as many jobs as possible. Now, I've mentioned in this blog already my feelings about boardgames with designed primarily linear narrative, its been done excellently but fails often, requires more resources than I have available anyway and is considerably easier to do in other mediums and often considerably better. So my narratives have to be non linear and non inflexible, I have no control over which order Missions and the Challenge Cards that trigger them occur, nor would I want such control. For example a standard Challenge Card is 'Vent Oxygen' which causes the ship's oxygen to drain at an increased rate. Now, within the context of a sci-fi horror game oxygen going missing from the ship's supply could be the result of malicious A.I. intentionally venting the oxygen directly into space, it could be an unregistered crew member or alien breathing additional oxygen or a paranoid crew member syphoning off and stockpiling oxygen supplies. In game design I have a few options to represent this situation, either the 'Vent Oxygen' comes with a full set of flavour text explaining its source and method of solution (and I don't want anyone to think I'm against this solution, if SSO does well enough I'd love to do a much more narrative Betrayal at House on the Hill in space version) or it comes with almost no explanation, leaving players to read in the storyline; 'Vent Oxygen' follows A.I. shutdown, "oh god the A.I. is going to suffocate us all!", 'Vent Oxygen' follows stalking shadows "oh god something we don't know about is alive and breathing our air!". Originally Challenge Cards went 100% the second route, a basic title, series of events and a triggered mission. Which is a good example of how easy it is to get too close to what you're writing. For myself, I'd written 24 challenge cards and 6 missions triggered off them, imagined their order, their source, their response. To me 'Vent Oxygen', 'Sinister Noise', 'Airlock Shutdown', told a clear and specific story, but not necessarily to other people. Even with a playtest group of the smartest most imaginative R.P.ers you'd care to meet something extra was needed to hang some story on. Added to that, the game has a sense of atmosphere and hopefully, humour, that I could hint at in the rules but shape much more effectively with Challenge Card flavour text commentary.

So an early addition came in with characterful names for crew abilities and short flavour pieces on the Challenge Cards. Now the computer of the S.S.O. is helpfully upbeat at ironically unhelpful moments, the Captain is stoically driven and outside entities get put in their two pence every so often.

On the subject of 'Vent Oxygen', the original mission for 'Vent Oxygen' involved players ensuring crew did not consume more than a specified level of oxygen, which was fiddly and required additional bookkeeping. So I had a simple choice, leave players with a fiddly bit of additional rules or come up with a new mission. The one thing I can always do for free is re-write the game elements. So, new mission it is, now 'Vent Oxygen' is followed by a mission requiring crew to build up personal oxygen levels to allow the ship's oxygen to cycle.

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