Many many moons ago when multiplayer PC gaming was pretty much just LANs or hot-seat sessions, I used to play in a rather epic PBEM RPG campaign. For those not old enough to have partaken in this particular initialism, PBEM stands for Play By Email, an evolution of the age old Play By Mail system of gaming in which players from around the world would take part in the same campaign by exchanging letters.
The campaign I was in was set in the universe of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series. The central conceit of Amber is that there are two true worlds, Amber and the Courts of Chaos, and myriad shadow worlds that are reflections of the real.
In the campaign I took the role of a shadow world H.P. Lovecraft who discovered that everything he’d been writing about elder gods, alternate planes of existence and things that should not be was entirely true (though not in the way he thought), so he formulated a plan to walk between the worlds and build an army of Lovecraft shadows and other like minded loons to lay siege to the Courts of Chaos.
Needless to say, after over a year of emailing back and forth it didn’t go too well, but I had a grand time sending and receiving my little stories about my own losses and triumphs as well as those of the other players with whom I interacted. This was my first real taste of asynchronous multiplayer.
Asynchronous multiplayer is an interesting thing. The idea of being able to play with other people when and where you want without them having to be online is great, but strictly asynchronous gaming has its flaws. The PBEM model meant that the turns took as long as it took for the last player to send in their missive so one tardy person could slow the whole thing down, and writing your piece could often take a long while as well, as emails could sometimes span thousands of words due to the fact that detail in PBEM works much in the same way dice rolls do in a table top game – the more detailed a description the more likely the outcome.
Due to these factors the game that took us over a year to play could probably have been completed over a leisurely weekend if all of us had been face to face or if there had been some type of actual interface other than just email involved.
It’s this last reason that makes me very interested in Conclave, the most recent Kickstarter I’ve sunk money into — not because I particularly want to play this particular game, but because I want to see if the idea works.
The idea behind Conclave that has me so excited is a seamless transition between synchronous and asynchronous multiplayer – if all of the players are online at the same time, turns take place in real time, if they’re not it transitions to asynchronous and send the turn to the other players much in the same way Frozen Synapse or Words With Friends does, for example.
The fact that the game will be playable on any device that can support a HTML5 browser is also very interesting, making it a virtually omnipresent way of playing both synchronous and asynchronous games. Whilst the very old school tile based nature of Conclave has no special appeal to me other than some pleasant Gold Box nostalgia, I find the ambition worthy of both praise and donation. It will be interesting to see what, if anything comes from the developer’s ideas and innovations.