Siboot is an unconventional game in which the player engages the other characters in conversation in order to learn information crucial to winning the game. The conversation is carried out in an iconic language called eeyal in the game, but based on my SympolTalk design, which I describe here.
The player converses with the other characters in order to develop their relationships. The three fundamental relationships are affection, trust, and dominance. Since each character has a different personality, the player must use different approaches with each one. The player’s objective is to wheedle information about third parties from the interlocutor. The conversations are nothing near as simplistic as the conversational trees often used in videogames; the goal here is engage in a lengthy conversation that develops the relationship in such a manner as to increase the likelihood of the interlocutor to cooperate with the player. This can involve improving the interlocutor’s relationship with the player or – just as valuable – degrading the interlocutor’s relationship with another character.
The crucial test in Siboot comes each night, as the characters go to sleep and dream. In their dreams, they fly through a weird mental world shared by all, and encounter one another. These encounters can be ignored or exploited; a character can initiate dream combat with another. In this combat, they each project one of the three mental auras providing the foundation for the ESP that links all the characters. Those three auras represent love, trust, and dominance. They hold non-commutative relationships with each other in combat (rock, scissors, paper). When the two auras of the two characters meet, the superior aura enfolds the inferior one, which is captured by the player. The end result of dream combat is that some characters lose auras and other characters gain auras.
Each character begins the game with a random mixture totaling six auras. In order to win, a character must obtain a balanced set of nine auras, three of each kind. This imposes a structure on dream combat: you know what you need to gain, but your knowledge of other character’s aura counts is deficient. If you knew the entire aura count for another character, you could easily predict the aura that character is likely to project in dream combat. Knowing what they’ll project makes victory a certainty. But you never know the entire distribution of auras, so you need to gain more information. This is why conversation is so important: each character has partial knowledge of the aura sets of others. If you can get some of the characters to tell you some of that information, you’ll be better equipped for dream combat.
Siboot will be enhanced with a collection of several hundred interstitial stories. These are short tales involving other characters, presented in full text, in which some socially challenging situation arises and the player must make a choice between several possible reactions. That choice, in turn, will affect the player’s relationships with other characters. These are simple one-shot experiences, so I’ll need a lot of them.
Siboot will be preceded by a novella that I am currently writing. It is derived from the original 1987 version of Siboot, but much expanded. This novella presents the deep background for the game, which is, briefly, as follows: On the planet Lamina there were seven continents, each of which independently developed an intelligent species. These seven species frequently fought, and their wars became increasingly destructive. The advent of nuclear weapons scared them into launching an idealistic effort to colonize the planet’s moon. The colonization effort was purely symbolic; the moon itself was a desert, barely capable of supporting a population. The challenge of survival on this moon would, it was hoped, force cooperation and ultimately amity between the seven species. But not long after the colony was established, the seven species fought a devastating nuclear war. The few hundred colonists were stranded, without any idea of the situation on their home. This shock nearly triggered disastrous internal conflict, but a brave fellow named Siboot somehow united the colonists and launched the effort to survive without support from home.
Siboot’s greatest achievement, however, was the discovery of eeyal and the dreamworld, which turned out to be the source of his mysterious charm to members of other species. Over the years, Siboot expanded his understanding of eeyal, and trained others in the art. After Siboot died, he was replaced by one of his acolytes, and a tradition was established that leadership would pass to the person most competent in eeyal.
Meanwhile, back on Lamina, civilization slowly recovered, and after some decades the colonists made radio contact with the home world. Something remarkable developed: because they had developed a harmonious society, and because they were “above” all the bitterness of the nuclear war, they became a beacon of hope to the people of Lamina. Their leader was dubbed “The Shepherd” and acted as arbiter of all inter-species disputes, a task undertaken with such a sense of responsibility and integrity that the Shepherd’s decisions were always deferred to, and the Shepherd assumed near god-like status among Laminans.
The development of eeyal continued through the years, and by the time the game begins, the language had grown to be powerful enough to be used for general communications between colonists. The dreamworld had been discovered, as well as dream combat, and a new system had been developed under which dream combat would decisively demonstrate who had the greatest powers of eeyal. Thus, the Shepherdship would be awarded to the character who achieved a perfect set of three of each of the three auras. This is the situation of the game.