Storium – an asynchronous storytelling game

English: Role Playing Gamers at the Burg-Con i...

English: Role Playing Gamers at the Burg-Con in Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As time goes by, it becomes harder and harder for many players to get together for a game. Real life has a nasty habit of getting in the way. Gaming online using Google hangouts, Roll20.net and the like help by eliminating the constraint that everyone has to be in the same geography, but they still mean that everyone has to be free at the same time.

Storium is different. It is an asynchronous story telling role playing game. Whether you are a player or the narrator, you can take turns whenever you want. All you need is an internet connection and a smidgen of time.

At the time of writing, Storium has 36 hours left of its kickstarter campaign. I am a backer, a player and a narrator but have no other affiliation with the game or its publisher.

To start a game in Storium, you can choose from one of the pre-populated stories or worlds. More are being added each day as the kickstarter campaign rumbles on. Each of these comes with a set of ready made plot elements including characters for the players to interact with, challenges for them to overcome and assets to help them along their way. These plot elements remind me of Fiasco playsets in that they suggest a framework for the story but do not dictate the plot.

After that, enter the usernames or email addresses of people you want to join your game and invites will be sent out on your behalf. You can decide whether your game is open (and can be viewed by everyone on storium.com) or closed. New players can be added at any point during the game.

Players create their characters by choosing cards to define who they are and what they can do. Firstly, they select a card that defines their background – similar to a class. Then they define their biggest strength and their biggest weakness. Players can either choose from the options available or make something up. Each strength / weakness can be used 3 times. In addition to the defined strength / weakness, players also get a wild strength / weakness which can be defined when played. Lastly, the player selects a calling which is like a starter plot.

Characters, once defined, are submitted to the narrator for approval. The narrator can ask for revisions to be made or simply accept the character.

Once play is under way, the narrator uses the various plot elements to construct scenes. Using a location card, the players know where the action takes place. Character cards indicate who’s there. Asset cards show things that may be picked up. Challenge cards show difficulties that players must overcome to progress the story. Subplot cards can be picked up should characters feel motivated to solve them.

Players take turns in any order and can make more than one turn at a time. They solve puzzles by playing their strength / weakness cards and describing what they do to overcome the challenge. The outcome depends on the combination of cards played. If all cards played are strength cards, then there is a strong outcome. All weakness cards means a weak outcome. If there is a combination of the two, then the outcome is uncertain. The player who plays the last card narrates what happens for a weak / strong outcome. For an uncertain outcome, the narrator decides what happens. Even when players describe the outcome, the narrator can request revisions if necessary.

In between scenes, any players who are out of cards can refresh their hands and each player may only play 3 cards per scene which stops anyone from monopolising the story. Any player / narrator can make comments which appear in a commentary box beside the action.

The game plays very well. In some ways, it helps if your players are in different time zones because each wakes up at a different time and the story rattles along. You can only get out of a game like this what you put in, but we have had an absolute blast and it means I can play games with friends on the opposite side of the world.

It seems churlish to criticise a game like this because it does what it sets out to do very well. It would help if there were a more sophisticated way to browse ongoing games, maybe a search feature. There is no inbuilt combat or damage mechanism so it is difficult to simulate peril except through narrative. If you are into simulationist games, then you probably want to look elsewhere.

If you love storytelling games and you are having trouble finding a game, then this is an absolute gem. Not to be missed.

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Must focus… Ooh look! A butterfly.

“Facebook notifications iPad UX FAIL” $FB #iOS...

“Facebook notifications iPad UX FAIL” $FB #iOS #opinions / SML.20130111.SC.NET.Facebook.iOS.iPad.Notification.UX.FAIL.Opinions (Photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML)

I don’t know when the rot set in, but I do know it started happening a long time ago. In my first office job, we had two different types of computer. One was a fully fledged PC which sat in the middle of the office. Everyone in the office shared that one PC. When you needed to use it, you took your place, did what you needed to and left it.

You could only do one thing at a time and it was easy to focus.

The other kind of computer wasn’t really a computer at all. It was a dumb terminal, connected by cable to the massive beast of a mainframe in the basement. Again, you could only do one thing at a time and almost everything involved submitting a job that would get executed overnight. In the morning, you received a print out of the results. When things happen that slowly, you make damned sure you don’t make mistakes.

When I started programming, it was a similar story. At first, I wrote Adabas Natural programs on the mainframe. Everything I did took place on a terminal screen. Later, I moved on to program PCs, but they still ran DOS so there was little or no scope for multi-tasking.

Along came Windows with its promise of releasing the shackles of single-threading. When it first came out, it was so unstable that trying to do two things at once was like playing Russian roulette. On an operating system that crashed if you left it alone long enough, let alone loading it up with running applications, saving your work every 10 seconds became second nature.

But slowly and steadily, Windows improved and applications along with it. Instead of Single Document Interfaces (SDIs), now applications could have many windows open. The first web browsers could only show one website at a time. When tabbed browsers came out, you could have loads open.

Somewhere along the way came email. Then social networks. Somewhere in between came notifications. Most applications now have some sort of auto-update feature.

Someone’s sent me an email. Adobe Acrobat needs updating. Auntie Maud has posted on Facebook; she’s lost her cat. Ooh look, Stephen Fry‘s following me on Twitter. Ooh – another email. Windows needs to apply updates. A reminder – I have a meeting to go to. Another email. It’s OK, Auntie Maud’s found her cat.

Modern life can easily turn into a sea of distractions and it builds up over time. To start with, it’s nice to hear about something cool your friend’s found on Kickstarter. It’s great that you can read your email on the train. But it’s also very nice to sit down, relax and read a good book.

The wisdom of crowds

NXNEi - Day 2 - Kickstarter.com

NXNEi – Day 2 – Kickstarter.com (Photo credit: Jason Hargrove)

The idea of a collection of people chipping in to raise enough money to make something happen is not a new one. Charities have relied on the concept for years, as have mutuals or building societies. The earliest documented such endeavour is Ketley’s Building Society which grew out of the inns, taverns and coffeehouses of 18th century Birmingham.

The funds in that case were for building houses, but similar societies cropped up to pay out money in the case of misfortune such as bereavement or loss of limbs at sea. The members paid a small subscription hoping against hope that they would never need of the society’s services. Many famous modern insurance companies can trace their roots back to such humble origins.

Mention crowd funding to most people and they will not think of charities, building societies or insurance companies. They will immediately think of crowd funding websites. Just as Amazon and eBay have revolutionised selling over the internet, so have kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com have taken crowd funding to a whole new level.

By combining the reach of the internet with the viral effect of social media, crowd funding websites are ruthlessly efficient funding models. If your target audience likes your pitch, you will probably get funded. If your target audience looks at your pitch and gives a collective “meh!” then your funding deadline will pass with nary a whimper. Successful projects tend to snowball as stretch goals are reached adding more and more swag to the booty on offer.

I recently took part in funding this kick-starter project which went on to become the third most successful ever. It is fast becoming a poster child for the kind of innovation that crowd funding can unlock for successful pitchers. In this particular case, the pitch was for plastic miniatures (used for war-games or table top games). The original funding target for this project was $30k. They went on to raise about $3.5m

The upfront costs in making tooling for plastic miniatures is ruinously expensive. The ongoing unit costs per miniature are very low. Funded traditionally, it makes for a risky business because you never know how many units you will sell and whether you will cover your initial outlay. Crowd funding is perfect because if there is no interest for your product, you find out without spending a fortune. If you are lucky, you will end up with a runaway success.

I believe that crowd funding could offer a much more efficient mechanism for companies to build the right products. Using the same kind of mechanism, product managers could design pitches for new products. Salesmen (or maybe even customers) could commit to delivering a certain sales target. If the project reaches the profitability target, it gets funded.

There is even scope for the project to work in reverse with the consumers designing the pitch and when enough people say “I’d like one too” – a company takes up the mission of delivering the product.