Play-Testing: Stateless

Hello all,

being nudged by an email from the creators of SN, I decided it was time to go public too. I present to you my idea for a world, the space-opera action-comedy-drama, Stateless (

So far only the short opening sequence and the short space travel after that are playable, but you can replay them as many times as you wish, taking different paths (there are a few). The space travel part is what the actual game will look like most of the time, but with a lot more Sometimes cards in the space deck. The storyline in the beginning is what the main storyline will look like. There will also be factions, four main planets to travel between and many things to do on them too, but all in good time. I tried to go for less repeatability (right now space seems repeatable, but there will be many more space cards later), and also there are no Basic qualities that increase directly by use. There are also no restrictions to the stories you can play - you can be a mechanic and still try to pilot the ship in the special cards for piloting. Only the duty cards that give you money as reward are skill restricted, and you’ll always have at least one option. But I also tried to put at least one more path for every card.

Finally, as I write this I decided to give you guys the opportunity to use the spaceports of the Core Planets, so now you can also fly around indefinitely, trying all space cards and raising your skills without having to replay the intro storyline. But you always have this ability too, through a Restart card.

So, tell me what you think, tell me what you’d like to see in space, and who knows, you might see it one day :)

Oh, and be careful with the alien artifacts, they are dangerous… (there really are some already)

This is a very interesting story, and I’m glad to see a sci-fi game out (although I’m a little annoyed that mine wasn’t the first…). The cards are well-written, and the story seems very realistic thus far. However, there is one minor detail that has been bugging me. Even though it says I’ve been getting experience in mental/tech/etc., my stats for those don’t seem to be rising when it comes to the cards. What I mean is that, despite having gained a few experience in mental, the text after playing the Claustrophobia card still says Mental 0. If you want the stats to rise, you should probably set them as Sidebar Abilities.

Other than that, though, it’s a very engaging game and I’m glad I tried it!

Three suggestions:

  • Double-spacing your paragraphs will improve readability.

  • Find a different color/bolding/italicizing scheme for OOC messages to the player.

  • You spend a lot of time telling the player what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, etc.

(Examples: “You hang back from the hatch, listening to the sounds of battle coming down. You have to act fast… but the prospects for [the pirates winning] are chilling.” “The maintenance shafts are not your favourite place, but you swear you won’t come in here again if you come out alive.”)

This is disorienting on two levels: it stunts the player’s ability to impact the narrative, and it jars the player out of feeling engaged. It also comes across as ‘flat’ – undescriptive, without affect, emotionless. You could instead try describing what the player is seeing without a lot of emotional overlay. You could also try including voice-part NPCs earlier; they can be a way to inject value judgments into the narrative.

(Example: "The maintenance shaft yawns in front of you, lightless and deep. From below comes the sound of many rats skittering across steel cables. ‘If we get out of here alive,’ says Daniel, ‘we’re never going down there again.’ ")

[color=#009900]As BasicAbilities. :) SidebarAbilities just appear in the sidebar - BasicAbilities appear in the sidebar and increase through use.[/color]
edited by Alexis Kennedy on 10/10/2012

CharlottePike: The experience qualities and the actual skills are not Basic abilities, like Alexis noted, on purpose. When you end a space trip and land on a planet, you go through a storylet that tests all your experience qualities against a preset threshold (at the moment - 6). If you get a success on one of those tests, you also get a point of increase in the respective skill/stat. It can take you a few trips to get an increase in a skill you want, and the more you use it, the higher the chance to get an increase on every trip.

Gordon: I’ll take your comments into account as I continue writing.

Thank you both for trying out the game.

This world is very interesting and strangely reminiscent of a particular cult show… I think I will enjoy it. That being said, I don’t know if it was intentional or not but I couldn’t move on until I chose every option on the “Touching Down” card. If it was intentional, it seems a little weird to be required, if it wasn’t, I think you have the branch to move on set to require 0 experience in everything right? You may want to either let people carry over the experience or make the option to move on clear out the experience gained. Having to choose every option kind of breaks the flow of the story.

On that note, this world does seem very promising, and you would have a die hard fan in me if you changed some of the writing around like Gordon suggested. All of the instructional text is great and very useful, but having it running together with the actual story text creates a disconnect. If you put [ ] around your text, it italicizes it and makes it a different color, which is how Fallen London does OoC text and instructional text. Now, an even larger disconnect in the story happens when you have a whole card that is instructional/OoC text, it really hinders the flow of the story. I would recommend either working it into the story, like rumors that the character heard of what things do or dialogue of somebody telling you with a short OoC comment in [ ] telling the player what the applicable qualities are. I did this in my game towards the end if you want to play it below. The same for character creation, have somebody asking you what you do in life or even make it yourself reminding you, it will really help with the flow of the story.

I understand what you are trying to do with only gaining applicable qualities when you land, but you may want to lower the difficulty checks while on the ship. I found myself rather discouraged by failing on EVERY card except the last one when testing Tech and I had this issue myself in my game, so I know it can be disconcerting when someone asks you to change the difficulty but it makes the story more enjoyable in the long run. You also may want to play around with Quality Change Descriptions a bit, another issue I ran into. For the actual stress and injury qualities is says “you have gained 1x Injury/Stress,” which is the default message for players, but it seems a little weird to itemize something essentially intangible so if you put something like “You have been injured!” or “You have become mentally taxed…” in the change description of the qualities, it helps.

I’m sorry for dropping all of this on you but this world really, truly, has a lot of potential and I want to see you succeed! I promise you will have a true and large fan base if you follow the suggestions Gordon and myself put forward. One more thing I forgot, it would be a good idea to write an exit branch into all the opportunity cards. It decreases the possibility of people getting stuck and allows people that are intimidated by seeing the “almost impossible challenge” message to run away.
edited by Kitsune on 10/11/2012

Ooh, sci-fi! I don’t think I’ve seen a StoryNexus game in that genre yet.

The graphical style is pretty nice.

Starting card:
-Piloting the tanker is not that hard. Considering the old boat can’t move much faster than State 1. Those two sentences sound like they should be one – the second one is a fragment.
-After all you are travelling to the Great Science Academy of Hindal! Needs a comma after “all”.

I do have to agree with Gordon Levine that the narrative is a bit too…personal would be the word, I guess? There are an awful lot of emotional and value judgments forced on the audience, and you use an awful lot of exclamation points.

How important is the “destination” quality? From “the smart guy” option, at least, it sounds like it’s somewhat central to my character arc. Perhaps it should be promoted from to a sidebar quality, if so?

One is physical […] The other is to your nervous system This sounds a bit strange to me. The nervous system is physical, for one thing, and the “one…other” usage implies parallel structure, which the “to your” breaks. Perhaps just say “mental” instead? That fits more with the “stress” imagery, I think.

(that is to say - you are trembling with adrenaline and you’re ready to jump on anything that moves) Hm…I don’t really associate this with mental stress – again, it sounds more like a physical thing. Also, adrenaline is generally a positive thing (albeit generally activated in negative situations). It seems to contrast with the flavour text for the “stress” quality, I believe. (That “you’re” doesn’t need to be there, either – as-is it’s somewhat repetitive.)

a hospital, where you’ll have to spend […] money to fix yourself Aw, we still don’t have universal healthcare in the future? :-(

The removal of those can still leave you a memory - a cybernetic limb, some prototype nanobots in your blood or other sophisticated bodily replacement, that will permanently lower your susceptibility to injury. Hm? The sentence structure here is kind of confusing. Cybernetic implants aren’t memories – perhaps you are referring to some other gameplay concept that will make more sense when I get to that point? (Also, that last comma should be a dash, to close the tangent.)

The later part From context, I believe this should be “latter”?

That’s a rather lengthy tutorial speech. I don’t particularly mind (since it’s clear you’ve put a lot of effort into this and it’s going to be a big gameplay mechanic), but others might.

“More fun?” card:
-As you look around you the ship shakes violently again. A comma is required after “you”.
-At the end of the row the cargo bay hatch opens to a rusty vertical staircase up to the bridge. Comma needed after “row”.

Quality challenges in the prologue (before characters have a chance to train them up) can be a bad idea – all challenges are luck-based in this engine, remember, so players have no control over what happens, which can lead to a feeling of powerlessness and confusion. (It also makes the completionists sad, as they can’t see both results and have no control over which one they get.) It’s not a universal rule or anything, but it is something I’ve observed. If you want to introduce players to the mechanic, something that the Zero Summer guys did was give the challenges a 100% chance of success, even with a quality at 0, and I think this works fairly well as a “tutorial” kind of thing.

By the way, success text on that card:
-The good thing is you’ve never seen him before Comma needed after “is”.
-Then you see the blaster in his hand and the red badge on his shoulder Comma needed after “hand”.

“Now what?” card:
-possibility that the crew will win the battle… But the prospects This is even more nitpicky than my other observations, but, if you use ellipses as a conjunction rather than a full stop, I’m pretty sure the next word shouldn’t be capitalized, as it’s part of the same sentence. So that “but” shouldn’t be capitalized here, for example.
-You will go up the ladder, blaster blazing, and will kill the pirates. Then you’ll see if there is anyone else alive, and then you’ll check if any of the living can pay you for this heroism. The second “will” and “then” are unnecessary.
-You can probably cause some minor power surge without blowing the ship up, that will make them useless. This flows awkwardly…the comma either shouldn’t be there, or the sentence should be split, I think.
-No Science option? :-( It’s generally annoying if one playstyle is objectively less useful than the others, since it inhibits roleplaying and the like…but I guess it makes sense if you can’t find any story justification. Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to use my sciency skills later. (All the options are high-risk, though, yikes…)
-Failure text for “Like the rats”: It smells very oily and you wonder comma needed after “oily”.

“Dealing with stress” card:
-You have been through hard times and it shows. Comma needed after “times”.

…Stat upgrades are random chance? That seems rather excessively grindy and annoying.

They really need to trim that Ego of theirs. “Ego” shouldn’t be capitalized, as it is not a proper noun.

The spaceport card: the spaceport is the place to start expeditions, trading runs or patrol missions A comma is needed after “runs”, since it’s part of a list.

Uh…I thought I was going to Hindal so I could visit something there? Why are my only options to go to other planets? Or perhaps that’s just because the game is unfinished…

Anyway, interesting. It seems like pretty soft sci-fi (closer to Star Trek than Mass Effect), which doesn’t interest me as much as hard sci-fi, but it still looks interesting. We haven’t seen much of the world so far, but I would be interesting in seeing more of it. As Kitsune said, definitely has potential.

(Sorry if I come across as terse. The post is lengthy, so it helps to use shorthand.)

Now that I’ve had more time than the space between classes and food to play, I rather enjoy what you’ve done with the abilities. I was expecting something a bit more along the lines of Fallen London, where they raise more directly, but I’m catching on to your method. I’ll definitely continue this game.

Wow, a lot of input this time :)

It seems I have to brush up on my punctuation, I have misplaced a lot of commas. Also, some of the strange constructions are a product of my own way of thinking, which is mostly in Bulgarian, so it doesn’t come through properly in English. I will try to fix my writing style so that I tell the player less of what the character is thinking, and more of what is happening around him/her, so that the player can think for himself (and for the character).

There are two main points that I want to explain about how I see the feel and mechanics of the game, so you can then tell me what you think.

The first one is also the reason for the problem with the large number of “You fail in this challenge” results. I want the actions in the game to be free to any player, no matter how skilled they are in the particular task. Everyone has to deal with new things at times. I can’t (and don’t want to) use the Fallen London approach of doing repetitive actions to train up a skill, and then use it to do other repetitive actions that this new level of the skill unlocked for me. I can’t because I have to make a large number of cards for this, and this will take too much time for me. I don’t want to, because I think this is a repetitiveness that is worth removing (no offense to Fallen London, it’s still a great game).

So, I make all actions visible and available to all players, and thus most of the time a player will see the “almost impossible” chance estimation. I understand that this is a psychological thing and that it lowers the competence (and fun) of the character in the eyes of the player. But I would never penalize a character for trying to do something very hard, and the intro storyline continues to victory over the pirates whether you succeed or fail in your checks. It’s about the story and the fun that the player has while trying to do hard and impossible things, and then seeing the amazing successes or spectacular failures of his character’s actions. To put it directly: in very little of this game I plan to REQUIRE a success from the player in order to progress, and in no part of it I plan to make success a requirement for having fun. So what I’d really do (if I could) is remove the estimations and result messages of success and failure, and leave the player to judge how his/her character will do at a task based on their skills, and to just accept the resulting development, no matter of the actual skill-check result. Unfortunately I can’t do that.

The second point comes from the first, and concerns skill increases. I agree that the current solution of having a card that tests all the experiences of the player one by one is slow and repetitive to do at the end of every space trip. I’ve been thinking on some alternatives, which I will share with you if you want. For now I’d like to rationalize my choice of this system, which again differs from Fallen London (which for me is baseline, because I haven’t played many games of this sort). I want to make a game in which the player will focus on the actions (flying a ship, going to a specific planet, trading, etc.) instead of the actions’ consequences, which are skill increases. The journeys around the Core Planets do not change the character constantly and inevitably, they do it randomly. The idea is that the game should not be played to get higher skills; the skills you get as a reward from the game should be used to make the game more fun. Again, this is a piece of the mindset of the player that I want to set in a different way, and it’s hard with the inevitable “You succeed!” and “You fail!” that are given to said player. I want to make the player believe that he wins whatever happens, because the story of his character will not be stunted if he fails in an action!

A minor addition to this point is that I want to restrict the skills to a low number, like 10. So 10 should be slow to get, while in Fallen London it’s a matter of minutes. But this should not be frustrating to the player, because the aim of the game is not to get to 10, it’s being a spaceship captain, even if your skills are at 6.

I think I’ll end this rant here and let anyone that has the patience to read it through. In the meantime, I have made some corrections to the style of the cards in the introductory storyline, trying to push them in the direction you all pointed out. I’ll be grateful if you try it out one more time and tell me if I’m on the right track.

Have you played Cabinet Noir? It is another Failbetter official game and the stats are slow to increase which seems to fit the idea you have for your game more than FL. You can find it if you go to Fallen London and hover over the Fallen London name at the top or at (though SN as a whole is REALLY slow right now)

I will go back and play again a little later and I understand the complexities of English for a non-native speaker, and I applaud your success because I would have never known if you had not said anything.
edited by Kitsune on 10/11/2012

Now that we’ve turned monetization on, worlds like this one that have playtesting threads can request if they’re ready.

You can work out whether a world is ready for monetizing here:

I was forced by the circumstances to take a break from writing Stateless, but today I got a support message stating that the game is broken. I looked into the matter and it looks like a lot of storylets have gained the Key of Dreams requirement. I will be going through the cards later today and will clear all the content that should be available. This may well be the cue for me to start writing again…

If you’re planning on coming back, I’ve got Injuries 13 and nothing’s happening.