Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Shattered Mirrors: Introduction (#1)

So, Across the Endless Sea is finally finished, published, and out in the world. I wrote a game! It’s still a surreal feeling, and more so every time someone actually buys it or a game designer I respect helps to spread the word.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check the game out at

With that project now done (pending expansions, etc), though, I find myself looking for the next project.

And there’s another very specific mini-genre/set of literary motifs dear to my heart that I’ve wanted to see a good game about for years.

I love stories about children travelling to fantasy Otherworlds.

I always have. From the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland to the poignant darkness of Pan’s Labyrinth, there’s something about that archetype of crossing the threshold between the mundane and magical on a bildungsroman-style journey that speaks to me.

Now, there are already games about that.

The main one I’m familiar with is Heroine (I watched it played once, but didn’t get to play), but it’s more Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland than what I’m picturing.

Because the stories about these Otherworldly coming-of-age journeys taken by children that I love are those that center on family. Stories about children with a lost mother or father, or estranged parents, or some other intimate familial trauma in their background.

Stories about children who find the members of their broken family doubled by creatures and figures in the Otherworld, and through their journey find some resolution of their troubles.

I’m thinking of Song of the Sea and Kubo and the Two Strings as recent examples of this motif, though casting the net wider also draws in works like Pan’s Labyrinth (the doubling isn’t explicit, but it’s there: Captain Vidal and the Pale Man, for example).

So once again I have a desire for a game that is far too specific to already exist, and thus no recourse but to design it myself.

So: Shattered Mirrors (name extremely placeholder, please suggest something better).

I think this will be a smaller game than Across the Endless Sea: more intimate, and for fewer players.
This time it absolutely is a game about playing specific characters, and owning them and their secret pains.

Once again I think I’m going to borrow the basic language of playbooks and moves from Vincent Baker, as well as borrowing some of the ideas about distributing narrative authority/responsibility from Polaris. I also feel like this is going to be a very structured game: with a sequence of scenes framed by the various playbooks in specific order, playing to find out how things happen rather than necessarily what happens.

But those are thoughts for a future post. For now, like last time, I want to talk about design intentions.

So, my goal is to create a game that captures the sense of poignant longing for a family that is whole again that is core to the various source texts. I want antagonism to come from all characters, for everyone save the child to be culpable in the breakdown of the family, and for villains to be people who are hurting in their own ways.
  • I want forgiveness and empathy to be the way to resolve problems, not violence and not rage.
  • I want it be GMless, so all the players equally own the messy family drama that unfolds (and so I can play).
  • I want it to build messy and broken family units whose love and issues both feel real.
  • I want it to evoke both how magical and threatening the world is as a child, and the reality of children’s complexity and capabilities.
  • I want to make use of ritual phrases. I really enjoyed them in Polaris, and I think it’s a shame more games don’t use them.
  • I want to do something interesting for a mechanic. Perhaps something like Endless Sea, perhaps something new. I haven’t yet decided.
  • I want to playtest it sometime in August, and hopefully release it for first-stage playtesting on my Patreon by mid-September.

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