Monday, November 11, 2013

Experience Regency England with Jane Austen and Never Leave Your Couch

If you have ever read a Regency novel and wished you could be in that world, I have some exciting news.

Right now, a woman named Judy Tyrer is creating a way for you to do just that.

The game is Ever, Jane and it's an online role-playing game. What that means is that you go online and create a character to live in this virtual world. You interact with other characters, try to better your character's position, and basically immerse yourself in this fictional world.

[caption id="attachment_371" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Three ladies and three gentlemen in period dress. The current character selections for the demo program. Character customization is expected to be part of the final project.[/caption]

Online role-playing games have been around for a while, but they mostly deal with fighting and the like. Ever, Jane takes that concept and drops it into a village in the English countryside during the Regency.

A Chat With The Creator

I had a chance to sit down with Judy Tyrer and talk about her new venture. The interview is a bit long, but gives a great deal of information about the game. You can also scroll down for my initial thoughts on playing the game, the potential of the project, and why this is such a cool KickStarter project.

Why did you choose Regency England for your role playing game?

The Regency period is fascinating because of the way society clung to traditions.  The upper classes were terrified after the French Revolution and instead of opening society, they locked it down.  The social traditions provide a wonderful backdrop for a game allowing people to build status by doing all the socially correct things (morning visits, leaving cards, having just the right depth of bow or curtsy for the circumstances, etc).

I completely agree! This is one of the reasons I love writing in this time period. The accuracy is, of course, important for immersing yourself in a historic culture. What types of research did you do to construct an accurate Regency World?

I am still doing research and need to do a lot more.   The game was based on the novels themselves in terms of setting up the rules.  Beyond that I have a bevy of books from "Jane Austen: The Illustrated Treasury",  "The Jane Austen Handbook", "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew" (though I left it somewhere and need a new copy),  "Jane Austen: Game Theorist" (not history, but fascinating), "Jane Austen: Good Manners", "Georgette Hyer's Regency World" and of course all of her letters as well as her novels.

In addition I have Annabel, who lives in London and whose ancestress lived during this period (a book is about to come out on her I believe, she was reading proofs at one point) and has a treasure of interesting personal family stories and insights.  I often search the web, of course, and wikipedia is always a good source for references (I don't trust the articles as much, but they always link lots of great resources to check out).

I have some of those books! How will the game allow users to immerse themselves in Jane Austen's world?

[caption id="attachment_372" align="alignright" width="289"]The screen capture shows game controls and options. Interacting with one of the other characters.[/caption]

Ever, Jane provides a sandbox based on Regency Period England in which they can meet other characters and develop their own stories together.  Gameplay is based around a set of personality traits.  So the first decision a player makes is what kind of character they want to play.  Well they choose status above all else as Mr. Collins or will they choose Happiness, as Marianne does?   But you must also choose what to sacrifice to improve.   Mr. Collins would probably have sacrificed Happiness while Marianne certainly would sacrifice Duty.  These initial choices set the tone for your character and help you make decisions.

We currently have invitations and gossip in the prototype.  Invitations allow you to raise whatever trait you are working on, but requires strategic thinking.  You need to understand the motivations of the character you are inviting for if you try to improve your status with someone who holds you in disdain and either rejects or begrudgingly accepts out of duty, your status may decrease instead of increase.  

Gossip allows you to relay events from the world in a way that can either boost your friend's reputations or destroy those of your enemies.   You can embellish the truth or, as Mr. Wickham does, outright lie.  This pulls player into the story further as they must participate in events in order to have things to gossip about.   If a player is being gossiped about sufficiently, they will get a notice that someone is looking at them strange, or other hints that will let them begin to wonder who is saying what about them.   If I am lying about you and you find out, by asking one of the people I lied to, then whatever damage I was trying to do to you, perhaps lowering your status, will comeback twofold on me, lowering my status instead.  And the more people who hear about the lie, the more devastating the results.   I shall probably have to move to another village where no one knows me.

We are adding dinner parties, where status is shown by who enters the room first and who sits next to whom.  These are wonderful events for gathering gossip.  They will have mini-games such as cards and other parlor games fitting the times.

And we are adding balls where everyone will be hoping to dance with the suitor of their choice.  The balls will require correct gowns, carriages, sufficient dance instruction, etc.  There will be spontaneous balls after dinner parties, small country balls, servant's balls (they like to dance too), and the grand balls at the estate.  If we get sufficient funding to add Bath and Brighton, we will add public balls.

The gentry starts Ever, Jane at either Mr. Button's School for Boys or Mrs. Hatch's School for Girls where they learn the necessary skills for coming out and entering society.   From there they can travel back to their home villages.

Immersion itself comes from the story and the involvement you have with other players.   My current character is at Mrs. Hatch's because that is where her two older sisters went.  She will likely spend the first few days homesick and meeting friends that will help her take her mind off her family.   I hope she finds a partner in crime who will bend the rules with her as she has never much cared for being the goodie two-shoes types her sisters are.   She has chosen Happiness and could care less about her Reputation.  I suspect she'll be losing more Status than she gains over time unless she matures.

Other than the upper KickStarter levels, will there be a way to attain higher status such as titles and estates?

Estates and Titles are available for purchase or as part of a higher level subscription.  The economy is not yet designed, but as one raises in status, one's income increases making it easier to support more servants and family members.   Our idea is to leverage the hierarchy of the world with a hierarchical subscription model and augment that with the ability to purchase items that aren't in your subscription level if you want for a special occasion.   I don't want to limit players abilities to participate based on real world wealth, so we will need to have some form of advancement through the merchant class, perhaps requires a generation to move up into the upper gentry.


A Trip Through The Basic Game

You can download the basic game from the KickStarter project page. I took about an hour to play around and see what the game was like.

[caption id="attachment_373" align="alignleft" width="358"]A view of gameplay with the scenery in the background. A view of gameplay with the scenery in the background.[/caption]

While I play multiple styles of computer games, I've never been interested in the first person role play games. (Those are the games where you see as if you are the person. If you've ever played Sims, you know you can see all the characters from an aerial view. In Ever, Jane and games like it, you see as the character.) Learning the controls is taking a bit getting used to, but is becoming more second nature.

I walked around a bit. Learned about writing invitations and the like. Then I took a walk with a group of other players. We viewed some of the countryside and had a chat. Imagine a really involved chat room where you get to create a Regency persona. It was more fun than I expected it to be as we talked about views on love and marriage, Napoleon, and America's recent addition of Louisiana.

I suppose I must confess that I had to open a side window and Google some things to make sure I was getting my history in order.

I haven't yet gotten to spend enough time in the game to see much about the invitations or the gossip actions, but it is a lot of fun pretending to be walking around in the early 1800s.

Since many things are still in development, there isn't a whole lot to do, but the potential is very evident.

The KickStarter

If you aren't familiar with KickStarter, it's a crowdfunding application that allows people to seek funding for their projects. People put an idea up on the site and they have 30 days to reach their funding target. Ever, Jane is just such a project.

They have created a demo to allow people to see the potential of the project, but they are currently seeking the funding to create the full scale game. You can see the KickStarter project page here.

Why It's Awesome

I'll be honest in that I don't know how much I'll get into Ever, Jane as a player. I've never played the role-playing games like before, so it might not be my cup of tea. But there's a reason it's worth supporting even if you don't think you'll play the game.

It's revolutionary.

You can read more about the unusualness of a female oriented game written by female programmers in this GeekMom article. But the gist of it is that this game is breaking new ground. If there are more female oriented games and programs, there might be more girls interested in coding and programming.

I have a degree in Computer Science, and I can tell you, there weren't many girls in my classes. Even fewer in my field. It's been a while since I pounded out syntax instead of synonyms, but I remember the days well.

It's also a brilliant way to reach an entirely new group of people with the charms and awesomeness of the Regency period. I'm always a fan of that.

So check out Ever, Jane. And if you see Regina Audley walking around the village, be sure to say hi! (That's me!)


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