You’ve all read Boatmurdered, right?
A “Let’s Play” (or LP) is a narrative write-up of a game playing experience, preferably entertaining. Fans of Dwarf Fortress do this a lot – they’ll either play a game themselves and write up the events that occur into story form, or they’ll pass it between forums members with each writing a chapter for their part of the game.
This is not a recent phenomenon or one limited to the DF community. Or the Something Awful community, for that matter. Over in Paradox land, players of their historical strategy games have written up “After Action Reports”, aka AARs, in a tradition that goes back to tabletop wargaming. These probably started out as purely functional reports of the course of a game, but over time they’ve grown into elaborate alternate histories with characters and drama that don’t exist in the mechanics of the game ending up somewhere between a walk-through and fan fiction.
These stories give a look into gamers’ experience of the games they play – it’s not just what happens on screen; there’s all kinds of imagination at work especially in games that leave room for speculation, implication, and creativity. So sandbox games, building games, simulations, and even especially open-ended RPGs are perfect environment for this sort of thing. (I’ve even seen some Quake fanfic that … wasn’t terrible.) Well, it’s only natural for people to write down the stories they make & experience.
With Clockwork Empires we want to make a game that gives players just that kind of creative space and experience. And of course as game-players and creative people ourselves, these stories are just the sort of thing we love to enjoy & create.
So: could not the principle be applied in reverse? Sure, any game designer does this to some degree eg. “I want to make a game where you’re a hero and go on adventures and find a magic sword and fight monsters!” can be turned into a game simply enough; from story/theme to mechanics. Dwarf Fortress does this quite explicitly as a conscious practice; Zach Adams writes short stories that take place in a fantasy world then he and Tarn sit down and work out what game mechanics might support that story taking place.
We’ve done this too, in a few forms. On at least one occasion we sat down with a grid-mat and some dry erase pens and played out what amounted to a free-form tabletop roleplaying game of Clockwork Empires: It started with an expedition meaning to build a bridge, some wood getting chopped down, then spiraled directly out of control as a Mysterious Statue was discovered, found to spread Madness, dumped in a lake to contain it, then water from the lake used to create ale, then everyone was driven Quite Mad.
There’s a proper write-up of that one somewhere, but for now I’d like to share with you all a story of imagined Clockwork Empires gameplay I wrote while in a powerless cheap hotel in the middle of British Columbia. Join me, friends, for:
The Tale Of The Founding of New Sogwood On The Sour Coast
- Bollox Cogsbronze : Colonial Grade Bureaucrat of the Imperial Chartered Antipodean Trading Company, subject of Her Majesty The Queen of The Clockwork Empire
- Penny Widgetson : Naturalist
- Zebulon Brasstack : Engineer
- Kimberly Coalpipe : Overseer
- Ada Wheelsaw : Clerk
- Sgt. Egress Saltmill : NCO of the Imperial Army
The Ongoing Career of Bollox Cogsbronze
Let us, dear reader, follow for a short time the story of one Bollox Cogsbronze Junior Bureaucrat, Colonial Grade.
The Honr. Mr. Cogsbronze has successfully governed one colony previously (The Isle of Greater Bauxitewick, a begrudging source of Aluminium) and, with success in quelling revolting proletarians (nattering about indescribable shapes moving in stygian tombs) and ensuring the steady extraction of that metal valued for the production of Most Exceptional Zeppelin struts, is moving up in ranks and has taken upon his self to bring further glory to The Empire by governing the establishment of a new settlement. The objectives negotiated with the Colonial Ministry by the Company on behalf of the Honr. Mr. Cogsbronze and approved by the office of Her Majesty [in other words, chosen at the embarkment screen from a variety of options] are thus:
1. Establish a heliograph connection to bring Order and Communication down the length of the Sour Coast. [In game terms: Connect heliograph nodes from the top of the map to the bottom and ensure uninterrupted service for a period of time.]
2. Exploit a certain rumoured medicinal extract that comforts suffers of The Gout amongst other Unfortunate Maladies of Our Betters. [In game terms: Send naturalists to discover a certain medicine, and ensure X units are exported from the colony per season.]
3. To bring Order to the province, glory to The Empire, and honour to Her Majesty. [In game terms: Don’t make a mess of things. This a rather generic objective.]
Success in these endeavours shall surely result in Enhancement of Station [prestige/trophies/titles for the player’s avatar], secure investments for The Imperial Charter Antipodean Trading Company [cash for the player’s metagame organization, useful for making things convenient in all sorts of ways], as well as bringing greater Order to the darkest reaches of the Southern Continent [reduces Chaos in the region, makes trading more profitable, etc.].
Glory to the Empire!
Landfall is made by a frontier-rated paddle steamship (‘The Coppered Lady’) of The Company [and is not under direct player control]. Construction materials, machine parts, weapons, foodstuffs, and booze are unloaded to a makeshift stockpile on the beach.
This first wave of colonists consists of a pool of common labourers, a few Company specialists (Penny Widgetson the naturalist, Zebulon Brasstack the engineer, Kimberly Coalpipe the overseer, Ada Wheelsaw the clerk), and a small unit of musket-armed footsoldiers with commanding NCO (Sgt. Egress Saltmill).
Rough shanties are built by the labourers, the soldiers set up some tents, commodities are neatly arranged, a perimeter patrol created. Most important of all, the flag of The Empire bearing The Holy Cog (may it drive our fate to The Divine Mechanic’s Great Plan) is proudly erected.
[This makeshift settlement construction is done automatically; the basics of people taking care of themselves should be assumed. Any construction they perform can be easily overwritten by the player.]
The governor takes stock of the known landscape. To the east: the sea. To the north: trees and swamp. To the south: forested bog. To the west: marshy woods. With all this timber there’s only one thing to do: start chopping.
[The player points a contextual command at the forest to the north to start woodcutting, then the overseer assembles a team from the pool of labourers to begin lumber operations; they grab axes and march to the north.] It must not be forget that we’ve come here for a purpose: the rumoured medicine. Ms. Widgetson the naturalist is sent to explore southward [via similar contextual command: click the forest > Send Naturalist]. She is accompanied by one footsoldier as a guard [and if it comes to it, the soldier can be sacrificed so the naturalist can escape danger. Naturalists are less easily replaced than conscripts]. Mr. Brasstack the engineer is ordered to set up a primitive Carpentry Workshop using stockpiled materials to process the expected influx of raw timber. He is not an architect, but his engineer training is the next best thing and these are simple frontier buildings.
[A note on the Carpentry Workshop: This is a largely unmechanized, artisan-style workshop. Production is slow, but anything that is made with lumber can be produced in time. Artisan-style workshops are useful for filling gaps in production chains and acting as a stepping stone toward more specialized and efficient industries.]
[We should take a moment to describe the character of our population: This first wave especially has personality qualities that help them survive with lack of luxuries and material comfort. Such qualities may be “Adventurous”, “Romantic Inclination”, “Pioneering Spirit”, and a few perhaps less positive in the eyes of Imperial Propriety like “Reclusive”, “Rustic Disposition”, “Of Criminal Element”, “Drunkard”; the colony will have little to offer its population to help cope with the primitive infrastructure for some time except a copious stockpile of booze.]
The first loads of timber are brought in from the forest by Mr. Coalpipe’s work-team. Timber is taken to the Carpentry Workshop and planks are produced by additional labourers under the watchful eye of Ms. Ada Wheelsaw. Though better-suited to keeping account-books, Ms. Wheelsaw may act as supervisor of the workshop due to her Station above the common labourers. Her exacting book-keeping skills allows production to proceed fairly effectively in spite of her lack of engineering and overseeing skill, though her mismatched training will not satisfy her personal ambitions in this role in the long term.
[In other words, someone working a job they have an inappropriate skill set for will become unhappy.]
Discovering A Specimen
Meanwhile, in the forested boglands to the south, Ms. Widgetson the naturalist busies herself exploring. It’s mostly bog. In due time she procures a sample from an unknown species of tree. Specimen in hand, she sets on her return to the settlement with her faithful guardian keeping pace. Her Romantic Inclination and Interest in Exotic Wildernesses enhances her mood.
[The player is notified via non-intrusive alert on the side of the screen that a specimen discovery has been made. But that’s just the start. Specimens must be returned to the settlement and further research performed to discover their true potential. Knowing that greater prestige is gained by performing research in their own settlement, our player begins a scheme to build a laboratory.]
Constructing an Airship Port & the Nighttime
With timber coming in and the carpentry shop in operation, the stockpile of lumber grows steadily. Bollox Cogsbronze, governor of New Sogwood, orders blueprints drawn for three new buildings: a wharf suitable for fishing (to establish a stable food supply), a small wooden zeppelin tower (Which can only moor the lightest of airships), and a limited supply of metal plates are slated to be turned into a Charcoal Kiln to secure higher-quality fuel from the plentiful timber supply. Mr. Brasstack lays out foundation lines for these new structure, each in turn, then takes on management of a construction crew pulled from the pool of common labourers who have otherwise been chopping wood, hauling timber, and operating the carpentry workshop.
[Rather than workers being given tasks, task are created and workers assign themselves to them. When workers are in short supply those tasks that have to do with keeping everyone alive and the colony not exploding are prioritized, though if the player chooses they can manage these priorities more closely.]
The naturalist Ms. Widgetson, upon her return, places her specimen into the stockpile. With the day’s mission accomplished she sets to a well-deserved fulfilling her human needs, beginning with food and drink. Indeed, the onset of evening compels most of the colony to break for their meal. The common stockpile holds great stores of Saltfish, Hardtack, and Imperial Export Ale – hardly stimulating fare, but it is about as much as the lower classes can ask for. The population otherwise soothes the aches of primitive existence with a few kegs of the IEA.
Drinking & Marriage
A small drinking-party commences due to the lack of anything better to do. [Simple facilities, simple pleasures; frontier towns are historically notorious for substance abuse.] People mingle and quaff their booze. Ms. Widgetson finds herself in conversation with the NCO, Sgt. Egress Saltmill, and upon finding a shared interest in Exotic Wildernesses and due to her impulsive Romantic nature, skips the process of Courtship entirely and proposes a Marriage with Sgt. Saltmill. Surprisingly, he accepts. As there is no priest of the First Imperial Church of Divine Mechanics, the settlement’s Clerk, Ada Wheelsaw, is selected to perform the ceremony. She does, and all drink more. The colony gains prestige for its first marriage and the mood of all is improved by the party, though Mr. Kimberly Coalpipe (Traditionally Minded, he is) objects to skipping the proper Courtship period and informs Mrs. Widgetson of his feelings on the matter. She is upset by this insult and her attitude, previously positive due to being in the same landing party, cools toward Mr. Coalpipe. (At least she did not marry below her class; imagine the scandal!)
Night falls, the party ends, and most everyone but a few sentries stumbles back to their shanties and tents, including the newlyweds who claim a shanty of their own. The crude accommodations will lower moods, particularly for the Professional Classes, but they shall have to do for now. Those who were too Drunk to find their homes will sleep in the open and be in poorer shape and mood the next day.
The night passes quickly, seemingly only a third of the length of the long day of work before [because it is]. A sentry spots strange lights moving with seeming intelligence among the marshy trees – he spreads Rumours to the other sentries, causing some Fear of the surrounding wilderness to spread among soldiers. These rumours will spread to others, come daybreak.
[The day-night cycle will likely be important for varying the pace of colonial activities, as in the Children of the Nile city-builder’s use of flooding or a certain Starcraft 2 mission’s zombie attacks tied to day/night. In addition to a generally contemplative down-time, the night enables creepy supernatural activity.]
The Next Morning, Work Anew
As the specimen procured the previous day cannot be researched without facilities, the newly-wed Mrs. Widgetson heads back into the forest with her guard to find more new Discoveries. She is, besides, more accustomed to field-work than the idleness of the laboratory. Her progress, like most of the colony, is slowed somewhat by her Hungover state.
Building a Laboratory
With the zeppelin tower prioritized and completed, a Special Shipment of laboratory supplies is requested. [UI flow: Prestige > Special Shipment > Laboratory Supplies > Small Shipment. This is a prestige-activated power; that wedding is paying off.]
Near-instant communication of Special Shipments is not possible until the heliograph line is connected. This order shall have to wait until an airship passes by, as it soon shall with the ensign of the Imperial Merchant Airship Corps snapping merrily on the highest spire of the Airship Port. Further, fuel-grade charcoal created by the freshly-constructed iron Charcoal Kiln will encourage traders and Imperial Aeropickets to transit New Sogwood as a fueling station.
A Trader Appears
Soon after the kiln, the construction crew completes the fishing wharf and a portion of the labour pool takes up fishing. Coincidentally with the completion of a wharf [though not really a coincidence of course], a wily Foreign Trader from Stahlmark steams to dock. Foreigners, of course, are not to be trusted – particularly the cabbage-loving lager-drinkers from Stahlmark who are always embroiled one land war or another*. They do however provide important markets for Imperial Goods, and everyone needs to refuel. The trader offers iron, pickled vegetables, and mercenaries for hire.
(* On the bright side, it could have been one of those bearded Novyrus peddling about, hold filled with stinking seal pelts.)
Iron is purchased, useful for constructing additional charcoal kilns (perhaps even machine parts, if a metals workshop is set up). A handful of Stahlmarkian mercenaries are hired on seasonal contract; they will extend the patrols of the small force of Imperial footsoldiers to help assuage the fear created by rumours of moving lights in the swamps. A few loads of fresh charcoal are sold.
[Fear slows down work and makes labourers more unhappy when operating in Wilderness associated with that Fear. It helps to have lots of soldiers, as much to show the people that they’re well-protected as to show them what they’ll get if they don’t Get To It.]
A first wave of immigrants appears in a steamer (‘The Brazen Forbearance’) flying the Empire’s flag. [First immigrants: prestige bonus event!] In addition to a gaggle of the usual lower-class labourers, there appear from The Professional Classes an additional overseer to assist the over-extended Mr. Coalpipe, an Architect to take over the construction tasks Mr. Brasstack was not trained for, a Scientist to assist in the newly designated Small Field Laboratory (awaiting components to arrive by Special Order by airship), and a single Aristocrat of the sort young and desperate enough to seek out Fortune and Providence in a newly-established Colony: The Dame Fannie Violet Peridot Carbonvale (Scion of the Brixton Sedge Carbonvales who, it is said in hushed tones, lost the greater part of their family fortune in that unpleasantness surrounding the tragic explosion of the Great Zephyr; a manufacturing defect in the aluminium struts, it was said by some; others claim it was the work of an agent from the République Mécanique).
Dame Carbonvale is a Big Game Hunter who, with assistance from her loyal servant, seeks to, naturally, hunt exotic game. The privilege of her Station means that hunting is exactly what she’s going to do no matter what the colony actually needs. She immediately demands accommodation befitting her class, lest she be forced to compose a strongly worded letter to the Empire Times about degrading conditions found on the frontier. This would be a highly inconvenient strike to the colony’s prestige, so a large wooden house is designated for construction. It’ll have to do.
* * *
A Hasty Conclusion And What Mysteries The Future Holds
This is getting long. Let’s wrap up with some take-home questions:
- Are those lights the natives of the swamp? How will they react to all this clear-cutting? Can they be reasoned with?
- Can the heliograph line go through this dismal swamp? Will the plank roads and patrols suffice to provide logistics in spite of restless natives or will the colony have to save up and purchase some short-range transport-zeppelins?
- Is there any dry ground to do some proper farming on? Will the labouring class not stop dying from outbreaks of Bloody-Lung Swamp Boils?
- Once Mrs. Widgetson discovers the rumoured medicine (plus several new species of beetle and an industrial-grade wood-tar), can a plantation and refinery be established to export enough to ease the burden of Our Betters in the Home Counties AND cure the toiling classes of the colony of Swamp Boils?
- Will this damned aristocrat get herself killed off or will she slander the good name of Bollox Cogsbronze and the Antipodean Trading Company if she doesn’t get her way?
- Will Mrs. Widgetson be killed by natives after she mistakes one of their young for an Important Specimen and will Sgt. Egress Widgetson (formerly Saltmill), in a rage, lead a retaliatory raid and foul everything up?
- Will Bollox Cogsbronze ever purchase that manor-home nestled in the green hills of the Home Counties? Will he be honoured enough to earn a place in the House of Lords by the Queen’s favour? Or will his brains be eaten by sleeping horrors that do not sleep but could not be said to truly live?
Find out for yourself in a rousing game of *Clockwork Empires*!