Why Not Games




Syphilisation Update - 2020-06-21

You can read about what Syphilisation is here and the manifesto for the game here. You can subscribe to the mailing list here.

Work Done

The first major feature of this week was on diplomacy. I put in a couple of small wars for asserting status over other players and for pushing compliments on other players. I also updated conversations to work with the current diplomatic system. Now, you start a minor campaign to open a conversation and then, once the conversation is open, you send traders back and forth for bonuses. Earlier you would largely ignore the other players and my hope is that this will push players to engage with other players some more.

The second major feature for this week is personal projects. Each of the players have flaws that drive how they are to play and one of the goals of the game is to try to overcome those flaws before the end. Right now, this plays rather like a classic 4X science victory, albeit flavored by the tech and currency systems of Syphilisation. Also, as the game is not winner-take-all, I'm building this to encourage players to think about other players when doing this and to try to help other players complete their own projects to overcome their flaws as well.

I tried playtesting the previous week's features a bit this week, but I couldn't do so properly because of how unstructured the game's parameters currently are. The focus of the upcoming work is to get those in shape. The game right now doesn't flow together. All of the parts were added piecemeal and so it's hard to see how things actually play out. The next week is bookmarked for restructuring the parameters anyway, but it's a little sub-optimal to also have to run a bunch of feature tests as well. However, this seems to be the best way to get everything done.

Finally, I wanted to talk a little about this Twitter thread by Zach Gage. I have yet to listen to the podcast episode he discusses, but I wanted to write a bit about how something like Syphilisation interacts with genre conventions. Established genre conventions are key to managing complexity in the 4X genre due to the raw number of rules and the raw amount of data. These conventions also make it harder to buck established trends in the genre. However, I think an important next step is to note how impactful it then feels when the conventions are bucked and how delicate you can be in bucking them. Small changes feel large when people don't expect them and large changes feel monumental. The difficulty here is in managing the complexity, but the reward is how insane things can feel. A fundamental rule change like the orders of Old World makes the entire game feel fresh and new, even if the game doesn't challenge any of the core principles of the genre.

I feel successful parody actually stays within the lines of the genre being parodied, but challenges a few of the core conceptions and so, despite staying close to the source, feels like a revelation. Ideally, it shows the player an unexplored expanse of space left for the genre to explore and that is an exciting thing for the player to see. On that note, Syphilisation avoiding terra nullius in the eXploration and eXpansion phase is almost a cosmetic change, but the idea of not being able to just go and plant a flag in new space feels like much more than it is. The non-deterministic tech tree is a subtle mechanical change, but feels very different. Actual major changes, like refusing a winner-take-all win state is mind-blowing, even if it's not actually that much work. I still haven't fully grokked what it is to play non-competitively. The rigidity of the genre is exactly what makes it so ripe for parody and so valuable to challenge. Deciding to make an anti-colonial 4X game immediately guarantees me a strong selling point. I don't need to worry about building out any other hooks or impact moments or bells and whistles. I just need to deliver on that promise.

Interesting Fact

For today's fact, I'm going to put down a simpler one than usual, but a quote that I feel fits right here and right now. This is the start of Jawaharlal Nehru's speech at midnight when India officially gained independence.

"Long years ago... we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. At this solemn moment, we should take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and the still larger cause of humanity. At the dawn of history, India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?"

- @murthynikhil

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Written for Why Not Games.