2007-10-12: in praise of the text: Bliss Stage (Ignition Stage)
Folks around here and the Forge, Story Games et al are a tremendous resource for game designers. However, a part of the process we are a bit less good at is helping each other render those amazing games into comprehensible, interesting and well-written texts. There are notable exceptions. I'm thinking of the Burning Wheel crew, and others, who approach the editing and presentation phase in an extremely professional manner.
This task is one of the hardest parts of the process, no lie, so of course it is difficult. But it is also one of the most important parts. Because of this, I am going to take some time to single out exemplary games in this regard. I'm again at that stage, for Sign in Stranger, myself, so this is pertinent and aimed at myself as much as anyone else.
So, let's talk about Bliss Stage (Ignition Stage).
From the simple, grabby cover to the clear but stylistically delineated fonts and layout, this text is approachable and understandable. Ben takes the hand of the reader from the first sentence, and outlines his task as well as giving the reader an expectation of what to get from reading the text and playing the game. Please note that Ben is a close friend, and I am a playtester and contributer to the game. However, I had no part in the layout, and I stand by my words.
Hi! My name is...
Ben introduces himself to the reader by name. Now if we started having every game start the same way, we'd drown in a sea of monotony, but it fits here. Ben makes the text an ongoing conversation with the reader. Later in the text, Ben gives four sample players for the reader to possibly identify with—each at a different level of experience with the game and gaming—and they also address the reader. The sample players also allow Ben to address various issues (such as inexperience at the table, or finer points of the game) with a different voice than his authorial voice, allowing more texture to the experience of reading the text and giving the reader a different "in" to the information.
Meat of the text
This is a text book of good organization. The chapters break down each stage of the game. Charts are clear and understandable. Each chapter has an intro to each character type, which breaks up the monotony of reading rules with an emotional "hit" on what it's like to play the game. These also function to position the character types in the mind of the players. And each chapter has examples and summary. The structure of play in Bliss Stage is unusual, even for a hippie game, with players handling multiple characters, scenes being set up as fall out from other scenes, and characters (anchors) being responsible for in-game narration that shapes the experiences of other characters, making a mini-roleplaying experience occur within the frame of the story.
This is stuff that needs clear explanation. Ben gives it.
At the end of the book, Ben breaks the tone he's established and presents tips, advice and approaches to playing the various types of characters and gm'ing the game as short essays. He makes this transition by having the sample characters tell the reader what and why he is doing this, and then bidding the reader farewell. This gives him the freedom to move from the game text step-by-step reference structure, to flowing missives on the game, what it means and the underlying issues at the heart of play—based on his experiences and those of others, not imaginations about what it could be like. Also included are fictional text pieces from the points of view of the various characters types. These tell the reader what it feels like to be inside of those roles. Readers are hit on different channels: given both intellectual coaching and emotional jumpstarts to play. It is very effective.
So if you are writing a game right now, I recommend you hie thee hence to take a look at Bliss Stage. This along with Troy Costisick's Power 19 and Outlines and Checklists are going to be my bibles as I begin the final descent with Sign in Stranger.
2007-10-12 13:57:33 Emily
My critiques of the text are that it is extremely plain. This is a selling point to me, but does not realize the full potential of the game, and would not sell it in venues that it is meant for: the anime hobby shop, online, at sci-fi and other conventions. It cries out for a glossy, full-color cover with lavish illustrations in the style of all the shows it is inpsired by. Which, of course, Ben is working on.
Ben, don't lose the clarity of your text in fancying it up, however. Though I am curious to see whether you will have to adopt another aspect of this voice. I can see you taking a more EXCITED tact with the glossy pix, though that would mean having to re-write the whole damn thing again, and of course you're about to be gainfully (externally) employed, so that might put a crimp in your style. Man, I envy the time you've had to work on this. :)
There are typos, which I'd be happy to point out.
I am hard pressed to find others right now, but I urge others to add their critiques here. Ultimately, that will help Ben more than continual blandishments.
2007-10-15 15:23:42 Vincent
Bliss Stage is very well written.
I'm not in the hard core of the game's target audience, so what do I know, but I think that the hard core of the game's target audience is going to connect with the text and have no trouble with it whatsoever.
2007-10-22 02:42:17 John Harper
This is a typography issue, which possibly no one cares about. If so, that's cool.
The monospace typeface for the player voices is ugly and no fun to read. This is a shame, because that material is wonderful. It deserves a much better treatment in the next version.
I understand the design aesthetic behind a type choice like that. In my opinion, it is an aesthetic whose time has come and gone, with few great successes. If you absolutely must have a mechanical, machine-readable look, there are other (much better) choices.