Make-as-You-Play Games

Imagine games where you begin with little more than a blank slate, games where the rules guide your imagination in creating and defining the components and building and exploring the game world. Imagine games where you direct the story and each story leaves its mark on the game. Imagine games that can grow indefinitely, each new play enriching its content with your creations. These are “make-as-you-play” games.
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Star Charter - a Make-as-You-Play game of discovering new worlds and distant corners of the galaxy

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In my previous entry I gave some high-level hints about a new Make-as-You-Play game I’ve been devising. This game is called Star Charter. While set in outer space in the “deep future” and sort of a sequel, it offers a very different perspective on the vast galaxy than Deep Future. Rather than being a game where you play successive empires that rise and fall and invent new technologies, the scope is more limited and focused. It is also intended for a single player, although it might be able to accommodate multiple players.

The premise is there are nearly infinite worlds in the galaxy, once ruled under a single unifying empire, but they have become scattered and isolated since its collapse. A newfangled FTL technology more powerful than any previously known has emerged from the mysterious galactic core, first made available to a smattering of worlds in the inner ring of the galaxy. This technology allows for leaps of vast distances over a single person’s lifetime, leading some to take up a new career as a “star charter” and explore the now forgotten corners of the galaxy and rediscover bizarre worlds, reconnecting some semblance of interstellar civilization.

Games involve finding three new worlds, which will be trivial if you hug the sectors near the center of the galaxy, but becomes a greater challenge if you mean to spread out further and touch the outer rim of the galaxy, as the expense of going so far grows and grows. Fortunately, over time the long-distance travels of the star charters teach them how to expend their FTL fuel sources more efficiently and powerfully and, moreover, they establish artificial “space lanes," which can ease the cost of such huge leaps across space.

I will forgo the specific rules of play for now, instead focusing on components, setup, and a prologue that seeds some initial content and gives you some practice with creating worlds on the cards, the main component beside the galaxy map shown below for a somewhat advanced state of the game. I have also shaded here the three main rings of the galaxy: the inner, the mid, and the outer.

From gallery of rwinder

Initial Materials

To get started, I grab a pen, collect a few cubes in two different colors (you can use different kinds of coins too), print out the galaxy map (which looks like the above, but with only the sector hexes, their numbers, and the swirling supermassive black hole in the galactic core), and gather 18 blank index cards (my preference is half-size: 2.5 inch by 3 inch). The number of cards will grow in future games, but for now 18 will be more than enough.

Having a notebook on hand is also good if you want to extensively expand on the worlds you create.

Making the Deck

I start by creating a small box in the lower right corner of each of these cards and write in integers 1 through 6 on each such that there are three of each digit in the 18 card deck. These are my randomizers, which will be how we procedurally generate game content. I could also use dice, but that will change the distribution. It’s up to the player which is preferred. You can easily forgo numbering the cards if you have a handful of six-sided dice you’d rather roll!

The Prologue: Basics

I shuffle that deck and I will next create six starting worlds, one in each of the inner ring sectors 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, and 66.

Next comes the fun, creative part of the game, which breaks down into:
procedurally generating worlds
fleshing out their details (as much as you like)

While the game supports considerable creativity, it also allows the player to offload it and go through the procedural creation during play and do the “creative part” later if preferred. As you make worlds, you can even detail some of them and leave others for later.

In fact, as I make these worlds in this playthrough, I am going to sidestep naming and description by using a few additional creative short-cuts. My goal is less about expressing my creativity here than showing you the mechanics of the game so you can see how it is done. I plan to use random Wikipedia pages and the creative input from the amusing text generation game AI Dungeon.

Making a world uses a few tables I have created that describe:
the planetary biome
the global society
a list of 216 adjectives for traits about the world
a list of 216 nouns to pair with the adjectives to complete the traits about the world

With those pieces I will then add them to a card which becomes a part of the deck, to be used in future games. In Star Charter, these worlds can be your starting “homeworld” or a world you visit on your way to reach more distant sectors.

The Prologue: First World

I pull a random card from the deck and get ones of the 4s. I create a curved line going from top left to mid right to represent a “planet silhouette” and then write 11 (the first sector) in that curve.

I select a random biome by discarding the top four cards of the (very well shuffled) deck and these are the three 1s and a 6, which sum to 9. This is a “Radioactive” world. I write Radioactive under the 11, leaving room for a name. There are 21 biomes, some much more likely than others and this is on the rarer side. The biomes are a mix of realistic planetary conditions (such as are in our galaxy), theorized ones, and quite number of “sci/fi trope” worlds.

I select a random society by discarding the next four cards (2+2+6+5) giving me a “Collective” society. I write Collective under the Radioactive biome. As with the biomes, there are 21 societies which broadly describe ruling governments at a global scale. Collective is a catchall for one that generally is communist and has a strong sense of shared identity among its inhabitants. It is one of the more common societies.

Now that we know some big features of the world and its inhabitants, we can get some more specific traits. I find that two traits of an adjective and noun pair usually work to give enough additional character to a world.

I discard 6 and 3 and 5, which I check against the adjective table indices and get “Small” and then discard 3 and 5 and 4, which on the noun table gives me “Magic”. So, our first trait is “Small Magic,” which I can keep as is or use to suggest another idea that this pair inspires. I can also write “Small Magic” on the card and save for later figuring out what it means (in my case by using AI Dungeon). But for now I move on to the next trait.

The next discards are 4 and 2 and 3 (“Illegal”) and, after shuffling the full discard pile into a new deck, 4 and 2 and 2 (“Designs”). This seems aligned with the magic in the first trait (i.e., illicit sigils for dark purposes), but once more I leave it just as “Illegal Designs” for now.

I next can give this world a name. I usually will just think of an amusing name that lines up with one or more of the traits and use that, but lately, I’ve been trying to break that habit and instead do the following: visit Wikipedia and hit the random page three times and select the name that strikes me the most from the three. When I do that this time, I get:
• Bernard Janvier (
• New Government Degree College, Rajshahi (,...)
• Amanita Alitpes (

While Janvier is not bad sounding as a world name, I think I like Amanita the most, so I choose that as the name for my world.

Finally, in the upper right corner, I place a box and draw a 0 in it. This signifies it is one of the original worlds. This box will however come into play in later games when it comes to adding up the amount of fuel needed to travel from sector to sector. I also draw a underneath it, as this represents it is a hub world (or the first world discovered in a sector).

I draw a small box in the lower left and write the first page of a notebook (p1) in it to indicate this where I will keep notes on Amarita. Those who are sharp-eyed will note that I have already made a mistake and changed the n to an r! Not that this really matters, so I go with it…

I am working on some prompts to help guide the writing if they are needed, but for expediency as I said, I decide to let an artificial intelligence describe the world to me. I use AI Dungeon’s custom prompt and give it the details on Amarita (its biome, society, and traits) and demand an explanation. This is what it told me:

Amarita is a small magic-emitting world, and the most interesting place to visit. And it is also the most radioactive. Very few people live here, and those who live here are not allowed to leave. The society is a strange one, with no real government and only a 'collective' to run things. The inhabitants are a very strange mix of people, and the whole world is right out of a horror story. Very few people are adventurous enough to explore it, and even fewer still will return alive.

Not genius, but serviceable. It’s a place of extremes. I like the “right out of a horror story” idea. Too bad it didn't arrive at where I would have taken it (my idea being more of a voodoo theme), but that's what you get when you hand over the work to an AI.

The final card looks something like this:

From gallery of rwinder

I also draw a in the sector on the galaxy map and write in the name of the sector, which I decide will just be the same as the planet. This means my galaxy looks something like this now.

From gallery of rwinder

The Prologue: Remaining Worlds

I discard the world I made and repeat this entire process five more times for worlds in 22, 33, 44, 55, and 66. Not to run through all the above again, here’s what I end up with following the exact same procedure.

Bear in mind the world names are courtesy of random Wikipedia pages, and the descriptions are the "brainchildren" of AI Dungeon.

NAME: Sciomystis
BIOME: Gas Giant
TRAITS: Sacrificial Service, Psychic Politics
EXPLANATION: A gas giant, the most volatile planet is actually the only inhabitable world in this planet. The native populace is a psychic cult that worships a strange god known as "The Great One". The planet is covered in the highly toxic gas known as methane, making the native humanoid lifeforms rather volatile and unpredictable. The planet is divided by powerful warlords that want control over the powerful psychic forces on the planet.

Editorial: Hmm…a planet within a planet. Well, the AI is not perfect. The rest seems kind of good.

NAME: Baylor
SOCIETY: Monarchy
TRAITS: Mediocre Medicine, Retro Decorations
EXPLANATION: This planet is named for the wife of the ship's doctor, a Dr. Charles "Cheddar" Baylor who was once a respected member of the Federation of planets. After he lost an interstellar gambling battle to the evil Lord Rostov, he was stripped of his rank and banned from ever practicing medicine again. The planet has been uninhabitable for decades.

Editorial: This is much more specific than the previous entry! I gather Lord Rostov is from a Dark Souls game (from Googling) but not sure who Charles "Cheddar" Baylor is. I guess an AI original?

NAME: Thamanin
BIOME: Desert
SOCIETY: Monarchy
TRAITS: Hostile Discipline, Antique Mysticism
EXPLANATION: The Thamanin monarchy has a history of harsh treatment of its people and is known for the collection of vast amounts of wealth by a small, greedy elite. The society is theocratic and the king claims a divine right to rule. The society is very traditionalist in its values and the government is very top-heavy with a monarchy. The monarch is well-versed in the ancient art of war and as such the society is highly xenophobic on the subject of non-human immigration. The planet has a large number of ancient ruins that date back thousands of years before the human-worshipping Thamanin came to rule the planet.
The planet has an environment that is hostile to life. The desert climate is very dry and hot, and toxic. Most of the world is covered in desert, and most of the non-desert areas are actually the most biologically diverse regions on the planet. The few human settlements are in the non-desert areas.
Most of the human population worships the God of Wealth. According to legend, the god once came to the planet in the form of a dragon and in the form of a man. Both forms are considered equally powerful. The God of Wealth is also considered the Patron God of Assassins and Thieves. He is a popular and powerful God.
The primary industry is the extraction and export of a highly acidic magenta liquid called "Sin," the production of which is subsidized by the government.

Editorial: I particularly like the part about the magenta liquid export.

NAME: Crownhill
BIOME: Desert
SOCIETY: Monarchy
TRAITS: Terrifying Beliefs, Mega Construction
EXPLANATION: The planet Crownhill was once a small and obscure world. It never had much to offer, but that all changed when the planet's only royal family began construction of a palace that could rival any in the known universe.
The royal family soon gathered a great number of followers, and the planet flourished.
However, this all changed when the royal family was ambushed by a group of rebel fighters. All except for the royal princess were killed. The rebels demanded that the king cede his power, and the palace immediately became a fortress. The king answered by personally leading his own army in an attack against the rebels. More than a million men and women died in that attack, and the planet's economy stopped blooming. The royal family's army of bodyguards and mercenaries became so large, that it had to establish itself independently. The planet now has its very own private army. You are currently on the planet's only mountain, known as The Holy Mountain, where the royal family worships its god, Aghlor. The god's name roughly translates to "one who causes fear", in the language of the day.

Editorial: Really?? Another desert monarchy? At least the name and traits are distinct. Also, the description is nicely detailed if a little inconsistent (is the king killed or isn’t he?). I also enjoyed the bit about Aghlor.

NAME: Illustre
SOCIETY: Democracy
TRAITS: Honored Individuals, Oozing Seasons
EXPLANATION: The planet Illustre was once one of the wealthiest and most prosperous in the known galaxy. It had a great commercial empire, a great warrior race, and a highly advanced culture. It was a Golden Age for the planet.
However, greed and corruption took over. The merchants began selling off the planet's assets to the highest bidder. The warriors, the greatest of whom was a planet-wide hero, betrayed the kingdom, and the entire planet was ravaged by famine and war. The planet was abandoned.
However, not all was lost. From the depths of the planet, an ancient civilization rose, built on the principles of individual freedom and prosperity. These people left the planet and colonized other worlds. They are also known as the Free Citizens, or the Free People.

Editorial: I’m kind of disappointed the Oozing Seasons didn’t make it into the description, but this is mostly coherent. It also sounds like the kick-off of the real game of Star Charter, which I will discuss in the next blog entry!

But before I go, I also draw in some dashed lines between the stars on these hub worlds. This simply indicates that these sectors are highly connected. It's more "cosmetic" for these inner worlds, as the FTL technology is very cheap to move around the core, but these “space lanes” will make deeper exploration of the galaxy easier.

From gallery of rwinder

In the next blog entry, I'll play through the first game to give you an idea of the rules and how they work.

The Make-as-You-Play Genre

This is a stub for anyone encountering this blog for the first time. If you are unfamiliar with the whole "Make-as-You-Play" game concept, I'd recommend the following links:
Welcome to the Make-As-You-Play Games Guild! – an overview of the genre at the Make-as-You-Play Games Guild
Making Games as You Play – the inaugural blog entry on the topic
Deep Future – a representative game in the genre about interstellar conquest
Big Picture – a representative game in the genre about making hit movies and flops
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