There's a phrase in writing: "kill your darlings." Whatever part of your writing you find most precious is also probably the most self-indulgent . . . and needs to be erased.
Right before I released Karma v3.0, I was walking my dog and thinking about all of the possible feedback I would receive from playtesting, discussions, and editing advice. I asked myself, "What is my darling? And what is the one thing I don't want to change?"
There were two:
Here I am, almost one month after I finished v3.0, considering how I can kill both of these.
I want world creation to remain, but it's clear to me--from a design, marketing, and creativity perspective--that my game needs something of a set world. No game can be "every world", and when you leave things too general, people project their biases and assumptions all over it. This makes for messy advertising and gaming; people don't get what they expect, or group members make different assumptions and it leads to confusion.
Over the past few weeks, different experiences, feedback, and inspiration have started to feed into a specific setting for my game. I'm excited by the setting. There's nothing else out there exactly like it (as far as I know) but it retains a strong flavor of cyberpunk while also saying something about the cyberpunk of our time, and not remaining stuck in the 1980s.
(I will find a way to balance this setting with letting groups create the details of their specific world through the tools already available; there's no way I'm completely ditching a process which has worked and excited so many.)
As the setting has developed in my mind, it's become clear that form must follow function, i.e., mechanics will need to adjust to feed into this setting. One of the biggest adjustments? The game isn't about karma or morals per se . . . it's about identity. It is about the way oppressive systems want to dictate what the "right" identity should be, and how polarized groups pressure you to sacrifice independence or complexity for groupthink. It's about living in a world of information and social media where everyone is happy to tell you their opinion of who you are--and then base all of their actions on the idea that their perception of you is 100% right, even when clear facts would reveal differently. It's about playing characters with 3 relevance markers, a gamified way of exploring the idea of intersectional identity.
This dovetails with the idea of team ideals. Teams will still define their ideals, but when they betray that identity for power or success, the tracker will count down to the fall of the team.
The thing is...this battle for identity doesn't fit with the idea of karma.
So I need a new name for the game.
That one darling I really didn't want to kill...I will need to kill.
I have no idea what I will call this version of the game. I will wait until I finish my development of the new setting and tweak the mechanics to align with it. It will probably be a good time to change the name, since it will also be the moment I break away from Shadowrun completely.
I've toyed around with the idea of making a legacy version of Karma in the Dark available after I switch to the new game, so those who want to play a Forged in the Dark version of Shadowrun can. After all, I'll always love Shadowrun and I can see myself wanting to return to a Shadowrun/Blades experience.
I just have something different to say in my own design.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.