by Ethan Hudgens Twitter
What is Become?
Become Artificial Investigation is an aesthetic and function tightly woven into a single concept. You take on the roles of self-aware Program investigators in a computer simulation of something approximating a Tron-ified New York in the 1920s. It is Neon-Pulp and whatever that decides to mean in you and your table’s collective heads, because the game encourages collaboration in both design and purpose of the System/City and the Mysteries there-in.
The game’s aesthetic also influences it’s design. Inventory management and actions all feel very computery with array addresses, run-times, and data integrity all playing a very important part of the game and narrative.
This all sounds very daunting. Would you mind giving some examples from media?
There aren’t actually too many comparisons to make. This game fits a very special niche that feels unique despite references to things like Tron or Reboot, or any number of pulp stories about detectives. It marries
the two ideas so completely and in a way I’ve personally not seen before. But look up Transistor by SuperGiant games, which was a very strong inspiration for the aesthetic.
And if this all sounds daunting, it isn’t. It’s one of those games that from the outside looks terribly complex but once you dip your toes into the systems and get into your first Test or Violence, things start to click and make a lot of sense. In fact, let’s look at Tests, because they make up a large part of the game.
I don’t like tests.
That’s fine! Because this one doesn’t even really have any wrong answers. Before each Test a number of boxes are drawn: the top row for “Opportunity” and the bottom for “Consequences.” You roll some dice, add some numbers, and if you beat the target number, you mark off an Opportunity and get to do one of the things you wanted to do, with modifiers. Like if you get one box, you might be able to unlock the door, while two means you get to do it without alerting security. If you don’t beat the target number you mark off a Consequence, and the GM asks what went wrong, or what happened to them as a result, as well as losing some Integrity (basically your health). Which I like. It means that you as a player get some agency in your failure, allowing you to decide on how you recover from the failure. Because you haven’t failed the Test yet. You get to keep trying until you fill up your Opportunity or your Complication boxes. And even if you fill out all the Complications, if you had any Opportunities those still happened meaning you likely still made some progress.
But what about that roleplay?
Become AI offers a very unique way to roleplay in its system in two ways. The first is just playing in the setting. Being an aware AI among Programs that simply go on with their programing is very interesting for both players and the GM. The second is Compulsions. Every character has a list of Compulsions based on their programming (basically their class in standard RPG terms). These Compulsions must be followed and are not voluntary. But you do get to add to the list or change a Compulsion anytime your character dies.
Oh yeah, you’re a Program. So when you run out of Integrity you don’t die. You just return to your Home Server, change/add a Compulsion and a couple other very important level up sort of mechanics. Dying actually makes your character more interesting and leads you to some interesting story points about the morality of “mercy killing” one of your allies because their Integrity is so low that they can’t run away from the hacker den full of programs that definitely want you dead. It should be noted that while you reboot after a crash, most non-aware Programs do not.
So you can’t die?
Well, you can. If you ever find yourself in a situation where your Compulsions are in direct opposition, it drives your character insane and they act wildly, losing Integrity every round until they Crash. If they Crash in this state, they are removed from the System, and that character is removed from play.
The feature of death not being a “big deal” (other than it changes basic functions of your character’s being, which is a great philosophical conversation) makes players much more willing to take desperate and dangerous actions, leading to more very exciting and high energy play. Which balances very nicely with the more mellow investigative phase of play.
Something something The Ship of Theseus?
So if you can change the very foundation of a character each time they die, won’t they eventually become a new person?
Are they even a person?
The designer, Dylan Grinder, has refused any pestering I may have thrown at his house via carrier pigeon.
But if you want to check out the game, there’s a couple places to see Actual Plays!
A One-Shot “Actual Play” over on Littlecuppajo’s channel run by Dylan himself. https://www.twitch.tv/videos/337829596
And there will be a two-shot “Let’s Learn” where Dylan is not running (so you can see how people learn the game) on https://www.twitch.tv/off_theTable on 11/24 and 12/8 starting at 4:30 EST.
If you’re interested, there’s currently a Kickstarter so you can get yourself a copy! If you back the project you will get access to the quick-start guide for your eyes to read.