Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Mind Dunes of the Moon

I am immensely proud and thrilled to announce the release of my first episode for Cubicle 7 Entertainment's Rocket Age.
Enjoy Mind Dunes of the Moon.
Available at Drivethrustuff and wherever good Radium may be found.
I am enormously excited to find out what you think of it.

Grinding the grind: Gamifying the workplace

I work in the customer service department of a large Australian company. One of the key changes in customer service over the past 5 years (I suspect everywhere) is the transition from a service model to a sales model. The mechanism for doing this has been to gamify the work place. 
And here's the thing, it's being done really poorly. I have a deep interest in games, gaming and why we play them. I subscribe to the Homo Ludens theory that play is a primary motivator in the generation of culture. I also believe that when we are faced by a personal challenge, a key process in identifying, addressing and defeating it is to make it into a game.
So why are games in the workplace done so poorly?
Lack of definition
When you sit down to play a boardgame, watch sport, fire up your console or break out the polyhedrals with your buddies you know exactly what you are there to do. You are participating in a game. You either know the rules or you will be assisted by someone who knows them. The space you occupy is prepared for your upcoming gaming experience and you have a sense of the time allocation available for this session. You are also unlikely to participate in more than one game at a time and that game will be front and central. Try watching sport and playing D&D at the same time, doesn't work. 
In the workplace I see multiple, simultaneous games often with competing or contradictory goals. I see games that are initiated and often concluded without ever being defined. I see games that have poor design and single win conditions so that everyone who doesn't win has failed.
Games can be excellent in the workplace. Considering that I believe that everyone makes games out of their challenges in order to surpass them, the workplace should have games.
Firstly define your game. This game is to increase customer retention by 3%. Be specific. 
Let everyone know it is a game. All of your coworkers have played and enjoyed a game. I look at the enthusiasm for the sports tipping games at work and wonder what would happen if the same gusto was applied to the actual work games, evidently one is fun and the other is not.
Set a time limit and use it to drive performance. 
Keep the game front and central. Incorporate it into the workspace or it will be lost in the chatter. 
Make sure everyone knows the rules. Design games with multiple win conditions, Leaderboards suck in the workplace for absolutely everyone who isn't the leader. If lifting team performance usually means improving the results of the bottom 30%, will celebrating the results of the top 30% do that? Run one game at a time. If you have multiple initiatives, have them feed into the one game. This way it will be easy to remedy competing or conflicting goals.
Iterate. Change the game when you hit your time limit (but not before). Get feedback, fiercely prune out the un-fun and go again. If you are going to use themes, do it wisely. A recent example in my workplace was a game based on the Winter Olympics. No one cared. Playing as a nation on a leaderboard style game with a winter wonderland Russia did not resonate during a 40+ Celsius summer heatwave in Australia. 
I am interested in what you think. Does your workplace run performances games or gamify to increase engagement and competition (which incidentally I believe are competing priorities)? Do they do a good job of it? 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

It Looms!

Mind Dunes of the Moon, my debut episode for Cubicle 7 Entertainment's Rocket Age now has cover art!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Acceptance: A game about winning, losing and why it matters.

Acceptance is a game for four players as they collaboratively tell a story about winning and losing and why it matters.
I wrote it this afternoon.

It is a structured shared narrative game. Tell the story of a character winning an Award and the sacrifices and consequences that lead up to and follow their victory.

One player is the Winner. They have just been announced as the winner of an Award. What award? It is up to the Winner. It could be something small and domestic like a school fundraiser cake bake-off. An international humanitarian award. The announcement of the winner of a billion dollar military industrial contract.
Don't stop at the limits of the real. It could be the negotiated surrender of a mighty alien empire. A kite flying competition using nothing more than one's elemental control of the wind. The winner of the Elf Queen's hand in marriage. You choose.

The Winner then chooses a player to be the Eye, the person who should have won the Award. The Eye tells a tale, recalling a situation that exposes why they should have won the Award.

The Winner then chooses a player to be the Hand, the person who helped them win the Award. The Hand tells a story about how they sabotaged the Eye.

The final player is the Mouth, the character who chose the Winner for the Award. The Mouth tells a story about why they selected the Winner.

As the Eye, Hand and Mouth tell their stories the Winner hands out prizes if they meet the criteria of their roles.

Finally, the Winner shares their acceptance speech. The Eye, Hand and Mouth all have criteria for gifting prizes back to the Winner.

Then the game is done and it is time to select a new Winner and go again.

Download a copy of Acceptance: A game about winning and losing and why it matters HERE.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Bandit Country Fiction: Cafe Cola

So we’re sitting out front of Cafe Cola, a rusted iron clad shack nestled into the indistinct fringe of the Dantokpa Markets. The miracle of African demarcation and deep understanding of territory means that we are somehow separate from the bustling flood of shoppers. Benoit leans over to clink bottles. “Did you know that Cotonou means `Mouth of the River of Death’?” We are both wearing backpacker tourist gear. Loose button shirts, shorts and sandals. Packs with Canadian flag patches.

He shifts on his yellowing plastic chair. “Most of the slaves passed here on their way to the New World. Prisoners of war sold to the Portuguese. And even now, it is still a market.”

I can smell herbs and leafy vegetables, yams, meat, fish. But mostly I can smell people. African sweat.

Benoit is a native of the French sub species of European expat. Clinging to the cracks of a Post Colonial Africa that is industriously paving over the ghosts of recent history with alternating bricks of war and commerce.

“This is the birthplace of Voodou. One of the better models of human conflict, yes? People have been competing here for as long as there have been people. See how we are not heckled? We are at Cafe Cola. If you took two steps from here you are in a different land. You have crossed a border. Africa is borders.”

We share an easy silence and watch the markets pulse. Women haggling over piled trestles, children working the crowd for dropped coins and the ever flow of colours and smells under a smog of two-stroke fumes. I am told that Benoit originally came to Benin as a part of the security team that oversaw the transfer of French nuclear waste for storage and disposal in the 80’s. But it is hard to wear one hat in Africa. He soon went off the radar and was no doubt stitching new borders of his own.

Across the alley, glimpsed through the passing crowd, a young man is erecting a collapsible satellite dish and then pegging up a dirty sheet to conceal it. Benoit stands; “It is time.”

Saturday, 8 February 2014

My Mars, Seven Pillars.

My Mars is the Woomera rocketry range 500km North of where I live where, most recently, the secret British stealth drone Taranis stretched his wings. Named for the Welsh God of Thunder, did he know that the last time the British brought thunder to this remote and beautiful desert it was in the Antler series of surface nuclear tests in 1957 at a place called Maralinga? 
My Mars is the moment when Lawrence turns back to rescue Gasim during the crossing of the Nefud and what he says upon his return.
My Mars is Gunga Din sounding his bugle from atop the Thuggee Temple, alerting the approaching highlanders to an impending ambush, even though it means his doom.
My Mars is the Pyramid Mine and the secret it conceals and Quaid who rebelled against himself to activate it.
My Mars is the sound of thousands of spears beating on thousands of shields brief moments before the final assault on Rorke's Drift.
My Mars is the Great Trunk Road, where a boy can be both a pawn and a player in the Great Game. And it is the Ox and Bucks light Infantry, the Red Bull on the Green Field who were a promise to Kim by a lost father.  Which was the regiment of my grandfather who was lofted on wings one dark night to capture a bridge named Pegasus.
My Mars is just within the threshold of The Room in Tarkovsky's Stalker because ultimately everything that we want whether it should be or not, is in that room.
These are my Seven Pillars. Will you go with me to Mars?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Collaboration and Creativity

My latest writing project is part of a shared series of Episodes for Cubicle 7 Entertainment's Rocket Age, forming a connected Serial. I am writing the third Episode. This is a watershed for me because this is the first time that I have written in a collaborative environment. Sure, any time that you are obeying the canon within an established work you could claim to be collaborating but in terms of the creative experience, the work itself is a silent partner. 

So how am I going to approach this? We hammered out some broad guidelines during a Skype group chat. Each writer takes the GM and players through an exciting and adventurous episode and then hands them off to the next writer. We have set some contextual and thematic threads to better bind the Episodes into a Serial.

I plan on taking the advice of the Destiny design team at Bungie. My Episode starts with an ambitious Goal. Now, I'm not going to tell you what it is because, well, patience is a virtue. You may however deduce my goal from my process below.

Then I set out some Pillars. I will reveal that they include Mars and Deception. My Pillars set the criteria by which I judge my effective and entertaining interpretation of the Goal.

Next I go looking for Postcards. I look for images that catch my eye and demand to be part of the Episode. They help with locations, characters, descriptive details and often help me visualize a sense of scale for the key events. Postcards are also a metric for continuity.

At the same time I am working on the Pallette, the thematic and emotional landscape that I will map to the Episode. 

Postcards and Palette are a great opportunity to look well beyond the genre conventions that are expected of a Rocket Age Episode. I started by looking at Sci-Fi Mars art and found some great stuff but it felt like generic video game art designed to encapsulate space into RAM sized levels. I don't have that limit so I want more.

I have always felt that Pulp Sci-Fi like Rocket Age is Colonial Pastiche. It describes a brave new frontier that is open for business and intrigue and the Empires of Earth will flood in to lay a claim at the heels of the brave. You could call it the Wild West writ large but it is so much more than that. It is the Great Game. It is Kim and the Soldiers Three with a healthy dose of the Jungle Book. But isn't it Burroughs' Carter and Tarzan? Well, yes it is but I can't find as many photographs of Barsoom as I can of India. So if you are unsure, Mars is Colonial India. That is where I will find my Postcards.

For my Pallette I wanted some visions of Mars to reinforce my Goal and I decided to turn to film. I want Desperation so I watched Verhoeven's Total Recall (1990). Probably not the first Mars to come to mind for Rocket Age but this is Palette not Postcard. I love this crimson Mars that is an airless prison concealing a breath of salvation. Hmmm.

My next Mars is found in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). A place where rebellion begs for heroes but at what price? The Arab rebellion against the Ottomans hits a vibe with the Caste shakeup resounding from the arrival of Humans on Mars.

My final Mars is the marriage of desperation and inevitability. Where better than Zulu (1964)? What happens when the ground you stand on becomes the front line of a war and duty forbids retreat?

How far am I through this process? Early days. I have to watch and note the films, refine my library of images and keep my colleagues up to date. If you have any suggestions or want to know more about my process, let me know.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Rocket Age: Radium fueled tales of interplanetary adventure

Back in November I wrote about Busy Times. Late last year I wrote the Reddit award winning Flower and then turned my writing attention from the child like Garden Realm to the dark and gritty place where the wants of the first world meet the needs of the developing world in Bandit Country.

At the same time I joined the hallowed fraternity of freelance writers and was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to write for Cubicle 7's Rocket Age. I look forward to posting more about the fruits of that labor when it completes publication. 

Busy Times are back because I have been supremely fortunate enough to be asked to write for Rocket Age again, this time as part of a collaborative episodic campaign. This is exciting beyond measure because Rocket Age is an excellent game with a strong sense of purpose and a steady hand on it's guiding principles.

My first encounter with written science fiction as a pre-teen was the Big Three of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke but my visual experience was Starwars, Battlestar Galactica (original TV) and Flash Gordon. Quite a juxtaposition. 

My preference for written Science Fiction drifted through Gibson and Sterling's Cyberpunk to Ian Banks Culture Novels and Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos. My preference for Science Fiction visually and experientially has drifted back towards the roots. 

If you want a primer for everything that is awesome about Rocket Age, check out the Republic Pictures serials, short episodic films that preluded a feature film and primed the audience for the fun times ahead. They peaked from the mid to late 30's, the Rocket Age setting. Radar Men from the Moon is a great start.

Check out Rocket Age. Blast your jets into the deep, wide skies of opportunity. And keep a RAY gun strapped to your hip.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Bandit Country: Modules

Below are the Modules used during a session of Bandit Country. These Modules interact to form the rules and guidelines of the game and to give the Moderator (GM) some useful tools for creating real-time content if they prefer a more sand-box style of play.

A minigame that Players use to create Consultants. Already described here.

This hub module informs all other modules in the game.Tempo generates random numbers for resolution, included as part of a 7 digit number string. These strings can then be used for resolution such as in the Risk Module and True/False booleans for navigating the Consequence and Opportunity Flowcharts.
Tempo also manages Risk mitigation projects used by Players to avoid Consequences.

A flowchart used by Players to Define Objectives, Assess and Address Risks and then Apply controls and assets to complete Activities and Recruitment. A reflexive Review component of the Risk cycle encourages the Consultant to identify Opportunities.

A flowchart used by the Moderator to track outcomes for failed Activities and Recruitment. It outputs Complications and Trauma, the immediate outcomes of failed Risk Mitigation.
It also maintains The Dossier; the evidence that the Consultants leave behind when they take Risks. As The Dossier grows the chance of capture and intervention grows. 

A minigame for Players. They can use this module to arrange and rearrange their recruited Assets to better serve their Objectives. Clever Network play might just keep the Dossier out of the hands of the Authorities. Or keeping the Consultant out of the hands of the Authorities if The Dossier is revealed, at the cost of burning the Network.

Drawing from the number strings that feed out of the Tempo Module, the Review component of the Risk Module and the unfavorable outcomes of the Consequence Module, this Module generates real time Candidates (for recruitment), Situations (Risks) and Objectives.