Watch out for the telepaths!

[this is guest post by Michal Oracz]

11 AM, according to the plan I’m having a short break for a cup of delicious coffee while working on a short text about the new edition of Witchcraft. A couple of completely new versions of the game lay in front of me on the table, next there are two secret projects for 2015, opposite them new add-ons for both Theseus and Hex.

I receive an email. I read it and all of a sudden the coffee is no longer delicious.

Today won’t be about Witchcraft.

Some time ago Ignacy wrote how you should always finish your game projects as soon as possible because even a small delay might cause it to be too late. Someone will do it before you. He or she will design an almost identical game and show it to the world first. All you can do then is throw your project into the trash.

It’s not hard to become paranoid in this business. We constantly have these threats hanging above our heads: “move it man or it will be too late!”.

Such was the email I got from Ignacy.

Subject: „
Content: „I think someone already came up with your game.” And a link.

As you can imagine I felt my heart jumping somewhere around my throat.

Click. I start reading.

Suddenly the coffee was no longer delicious.

I followed the link that lead to a description of a co-operational sf horror, “Aliens” themed game that is being developed. Just what I’ve been working on for the last few months. Maybe it’s just a coincidence of theme and genre? Maybe Ignacy made a mistake? I read on…

The game begins in medias res, oops. Each player takes control of one of the crew members, has his hidden goal that is or isn’t the same as the ones possessed by others. The crew searches the ship, repairs the damage, avoids encounters with aliens. Instead of aliens there are markers indicating that something might be ‘over there!’– movement in the darkness, murmurs. The monsters have their own card and development and breeding mechanics. In the game we’ve got escape pods, self destruction systems, we can barricade the door, research alien remains, secure samples, use special ventilation shafts, negotiate with other players. And so on…

Oh well. I read till the end. EVERTHING is the same.

First thought: someone really did design my game. Not a very pleasant feeling.

Then a moment of clarity. Alright, let’s have another look at this description. Carefully, sentence after sentence, board game photos and then work-in-progress game components.

The longer I looked into it the more differences I spotted. But my feelings were still mixed.

Not long ago I wrote about how I design games that I would like to play myself. Only because nobody else designed them. So if somebody is designing my dream game why do I have this unpleasant feeling? Why do I keep looking for differences and similarities with a growing nervousness? And inside I pray that this other game would be totally different than mine?

Have I lied in the earlier entry?

Well, no. I didn’t. There is a difference when you find your dream game BEFORE you spend half a year of hard work and AFTER you do it, am I right? I sacrificed a huge amount of my time and energy on this game. I honestly pray that these two games will be totally different.

I know that maybe all those similar or identical elements are just a small part of both of these games and the thing that is most important might still be different. I am aware how small a part of my game all these similarities are those, that have turned my coffee into a mug of undrinkable mud. These are just a dozen or so pieces in a box that will contain more than a hundred.

Maybe there is additional work ahead of me to change my game in many places. Maybe I will have to throw out a bigger part of the mechanics as I will be the second in line. Tough luck, I’m ready. I still have some time for this and I plan to finish this project until 2015.

Finally I look at the pile of my game materials, on the board, the tokens, the notes and the cards. I look on the codex of the project, describing the most important assumptions to be put to life. This is the essence of the game. This codex is the quintessence of the character of the gameplay. If the games were to be identical they would also have to have identical foundations, identical proportions of adventure and tactics, simplicity and complexity, horror and heroism – and so on. The author would have to have the same expectations from his game as I have from mine. If this would be the case than I have a clone, I can relax and throw all my work to trash. From then on I would buy only this guy’s games.

One thing remains. Do I still remember why I started to make this game in the first place?

Why? Because I love this theme. Claustrophobic sf horror – my favorite genre since… forever. Instead of ripping through hordes of aliens – you sneak through dark corridors, check each spot of the spaceship with fear hanging in the air, listen to every screech of the metal floor. You check out the monitoring. You research samples. You don’t trust your fellow crewman. It’s a small territory with limited resources, unknown danger and no hope for escape.

On my list of all time favorite movies there are two hundred claustrophobic sf horrors.

So since someone else is designing a game in a similar mood – can I not see this person as a soulmate? He has similar taste and views on games. All I can do is to keep my fingers crossed for his game and as soon as it’s out, buy it because it seems that it’s what I’ve always wanted to play!

What is left for me alone is to make a completely different game – however I already know the games will share quite a few mechanisms – it has to be the best adventure, claustrophobic sf horror game that anyone can imagine.

Then all that I will have left to do is to finish Space Scream – role-playing game in an almost identical setting.

Half an hour passed. My morning coffee time is over and so are my doubts and temporary confusion. I’m going back to work because the goal is clear.

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