The OGL wildfires have inspired me to get back to game design. Ever since I released Insomniacs I’ve been slowly poking at a new game. I’ve written some blog posts about it back when it was a nondescript pulp adventure game. That iteration mutated into my best practices for running Star Wars with Cortex Prime. I posted a lot about car chases, and some of that design work made it into Super Bandit. I’ve thought about this unformed game a lot (four years if you count that first blog post), and worked on it very little. I’m writing about it now to put it out into the world, to add that weight of accountability.
Its working title is White Line Nightmare, and it’s absolutely, unapologetically a heartbreaker. I intend to to file off the sharp edges of games I otherwise enjoy and combine things I like into one place, all against conventional wisdom and common sense.
But hey, it’s got some art already! That’s the most important thing in game design.
You’ll play criminals, wastrels, and rebels who fell through the cracks in the world. Unable or unwilling to claw your way back into society, you’ll lurk, forage, and fight amongst the rusting bones of offline America, trying to stay one step ahead of your tragic and violent pasts.
You’ll deliver wistful monologues while staring out at wild and desolate vistas and you’ll tangle with cults, crews, corps, and cops in a quasi-futuristic caricature of our own current dystopia.
This Sounds Like One of Those Sad Games
That intro above does have a bleak sadboi vibe, and that’s me trying to get out in front of my own gaming proclivities. I design games as a form of exorcism – I say as much on my itch.io page – but what I’m trying to evoke during the design phase is often at odds when I bring it to the table. We’re just so happy to be gaming that although we might want to explore bleak retro-70s sci-fi dystopias, we naturally gravitate towards something more like power metal cyber future.
If I write White Line Nightmare more grimdark than I intend to and then dilute it with excited gonzo at the table, it should all work out.
Eh, only sort of. It’s cyberpunk in that it posits a setting where life is cheap, technology is advanced, and rampant capitalism has elevated a sliver of society at the cost of literally everyone and everything else. It allows us more creative freedom for creating characters and heightening reality without the pressure of adhering to a historical or strictly modern context.
It’s… the 70s?
The road movies of the late 70s and other carsploitation films are a huge part of White Line Nightmare’s vibe for me, but locking the game itself to some quasi-fictional 197X felt too much like trying to play a mood board.
The Rough Edges
I mentioned above that part of this project is sanding down the rough edges and pain points from past gaming experiences.
- Handling shifting player attendance through support for anthology-type games.
- How to make police response more than the empty threat of distant sirens without derailing the session into a GTA 5-star wanted level murder spree.
- Separating personal roleplaying incentives from broader character advancement.
- Player-facing rolls – I’ve waffled quite a bit but after a lot of hard experience I think I’ve finally come down on that side of the fence.
- Aligning the rules and the fiction and the choices players make. This is permission for minigames if the minigames reinforce the narrative. Everyone loves minigames!