Games-within-games: a guest post by Nick Bradbeer

Nick Bradbeer was on the team for both runs of Allied Games’ “Wing and a Prayer”, and if he didn’t coin the term “tasklarp” he was there or thereabouts when it was first used. (I’m pretty sure it was pre-dated by Lauren Owen using the phrase “joblarp”, for what it’s worth.) This is a Facebook post of his that I wanted to keep somewhere I could find it, and he generously allowed me to. The photo is by Mira Strengell, the words all his.

Like Starbuck. But a guy.

“For various reasons, today I am reminded of the finest LARP I ever got to be a part of: Odysseus. And in particular, the way that the games-within-a-game beautifully reinforced characterisation in the main LARP.

I got to play Cavalry, who was Basically-Starbuck-But-A-Guy, and hotshot, showy pilot. We flew fighters by operating a two-seat Empty Epsilon installation on two laptops in the mockup fighter cockpits. EE is pretty simple, the pilot can decide how fast the fighter goes, and turn left and right. The WSO can raise and lower the shields, select the target for your lasers, and load and fire missiles. That’s more or less it for complexity of controls; everything else is co-ordination with the other players; with the other fighter pilots to make sure you’re engaging different targets, and with Flight Control back on the mothership, who can see further than you can and can vector you to intercept long range targets – or call you back urgently when the fleet needs to jump away.

But even within that simple level of control, you could really sell character. Whether it was Nat calmly co-ordinating the flight’s attacks over the radio, me cracking wise with Flight Control, or the beautiful moments where I’m told someone looked at the long range plot, saw one fighter and correctly asked “is that Cavalry?” based just on what it was doing. (Flying backwards through a small cloud of enemies, probably.) The controls are simple enough that it was possible to fly solo and feel like a real hero.

I’ve rambled about Odysseus light and sound design before, and how they were great for drawing you into the game, but I think there are important lessons to be taken from the minigame design. Minigames need to be easy enough that anyone can “be good” at them, but with enough space there to sell character – it needs to be something that you don’t get punished for not playing optimally. And systems which would be far too simple in a computer game make for ideal LARP minigames.”

A couple of folk have responded to Nick’s post, as quoted below:

“Having room for characterisation inside the simulated task is so damn important – it’s one of the reasons why I’m not fond of encounters statted to push players to the limit of their ability in games, and wary of organisers who seem to focus on it as desirable for anything other than dramatic setpieces.Odysseus could have lived or died on the choices the organisers made for how to represent these in-character actions, and they absolutely made the right ones. God, but it was SO GOOD and everyone bought into each other’s characters in a hugely satisfying way” Theresa Austin, via Facebook.

“You’ve very cleverly described this sort of characterisation through the ways in which you operate a seemingly very simple system. In theory there shouldn’t be that much variation in how you interact with such a basic flight simulator and yet it was rich with the quirks of the different pilots.” Nat Saunders, via Facebook.

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