After Action Report – The Sisyphus – 23-24/2/18

We are back from darkest Docklands, having just completed the first run of The Sisyphus, our 1980’s-themed sci-fi espionage thriller game jointly with Broken Dreams. (we’ll have to come up with a snappier title for the joint projects – Broken Lances, maybe).

Sisyphus was unique and experimental in a number of regards; it was our first big experiment in higher-production-values game design, with a focus on spending a lot more on props, technology and venue; it was Antony’s first game as project lead; it was our first stab at including a lot of escape room/puzzle box elements into a larp of this size and type and it was on a boat.

The Lord Amory, in Docklands, is a scout site on a permanently-moored former Dutch coastguard vessel. The unusual venue added a lot to the atmosphere and certainly added a lot to the pain in both my knees and the top of my head at the end of the weekend, as the limitations inherent in numerous steep ladders made themselves felt.

Rob, Helly and I are all blessed by being the right height to maneuver on a boat. Antony is… taller.

Speaking of those ladders… we hadn’t considered the fun we’d have moving some of the larger props on and off the ship, and our profound thanks to those who offered their arms, shoulders and general help to us on Sunday.

We haven’t digested the feedback yet (indeed, I have largely slept since the event with one or two stops for refuelling) but overall I think we are happy with the way things went, especially with what looked like a pretty solid landing.

We learned a lot about the way puzzle/escape room elements work (and don’t!) in the context of a game environment, and how to use them. I’m also very pleased we didn’t use all of our tricks so we still have a few up our sleeves for next iteration. Knowing, as we did, that we had some proper cryptography geeks in the playerbase we felt confident about including some challenging coding puzzles, and they seemed to land just right. Some of our ideas were too ambitious in hindsight and needed more time to prepare or integrate; but each event is a learning experience around our own capacity just as much as the limits of venue or design.

Another thing we focussed on heavily and which worked very well was event sound design. Antony did a lot of work on that for Tabula Rasa, and brought the lessons learned forward into The Sisyphus to great effect. There was obviously the heavily 80’s themed music list and radio stations; but also a lot of work on voice mods (which built on what did and didn’t work at Odyssey), use of radios as diegetic tools, and sound effects.

last of all, elements of the game design were unusually strucured; I can’t give much away there, but all of us put a lot of work into design and “backstory” work to create situations and circumstances where themes echo and reverberate. Not all of them landed, but those that did, did like a 200lb bomb.

I have to flag up the amazing work on the catering too. I am normally very wary of catering events – it can go very wrong – but Rob managed to pull off an 80’s themed menu which was still able to cater for the numerous vegan and vegetarian players attending. And I personally will die for meat paste sandwiches and cubes of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks.

As someone for whom the early 80s are a lived experience rather than an intellectual puzzle, I found myself in turns amazed and appalled at some of the things we found and some of the things we uncovered. Some of it evoked a strong sense of nostalgia and some left me gladdened at how far we have come.

I think everyone knows what the line of the event was but a very close second for me was the following exchange:

“How do we stop it?”

“Well first, you build a coil around the universe…”

I know that a number of the players have good reason to shudder when they hear the innocuous sound of Yazoo’s “Only You”, but for me, this song (which we couldn’t use because the release date was eight months after our game run date) is far more apposite…