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Design Flow: Not The Game I Intended To Make


Hydro Hacker Operatives is not the game I intended to make. I had originally set out to make a Fate-based Cyberpunk game and wound up with a Powered by the Apocalypse Hydropunk game. But game design is weird like that, sometimes you set out with a specific idea in mind and bring it to light, but in most cases what you end up with is not exactly what you intended - and then there are times like this, when what you wind up with is only a shadow of what you started with.

A Little Something Different

Normally I spend my time providing you GMing advice, but over the years I have gotten into game design and publishing. I am going to be doing a series of articles, a design journal, to chronicle how Hydro Hacker Operatives was created. Along the way, I will talk about the decisions that went into the game and mechanics that represent those decisions.

Hydro Hacker Operatives

Well, if we are going to start talking about this, at least let me tell what the game is NOW. Then we can look back at how we got here.

Hydro Hacker Operatives is a Powered by the Apocalypse game set in a dystopian future where drinkable water becomes the most precious substance on the planet. Player characters are Hydropunk Robin Hoods stealing water from the corporate Water Authority, in order to save their neighborhoods. In future articles, we will get into the setting a bit more, and soon we will have something up at the Encoded Designs [1]website with more info and some art as well.

The Winding Route

Sage LaTorra is inadvertently responsible for this, which is somewhat ironic in that he co-created one of the most popular Powered by the Apocalypse games. Sage co-hosts a podcast, Another Question [2], and did a show on Cyberpunk [3]. As it turns out, I wound up disagreeing with parts of his show, which prompted me to do my own show on Misdirected Mark (Episode 157 [4]). On that show at 01:11:30 you can actually hear where this started. Chris and I were talking about Fate rules for a Cyberpunk game, and then the light bulb went on. I had an idea for a mechanic for how to do cybernetics.

From there, I started writing a set of Cyberpunk rules for Fate - a toolkit. I worked on it for a few months and developed all the necessary pieces: Character Gen, Cybernetics, Gear,  and Hacking. I called the toolkit Cybertek, after a great cyberpunk zine [5] of the same name from the late 1980’s. I playtested Cybertek a few times at home and at a local game store. All in all, it was coming along well enough.

What To Publish

In the Fall of 2015, I was meeting with the other partners at Encoded Designs and we were talking about Cybertek and how to publish it. There was some concern that publishing a toolkit may not be enough, that we may need a setting that was powered by Cybertek. The thought was that settings sell better than kits, so we sat around and brainstormed some ideas.

We wanted to do something that was not generic Cyberpunk. We knew that a Fate version of Interface Zero was in development at the same time, so we wanted to get a little distance from that.

 So we began to brainstorm ideas for a world where water was the most valuable resource. 
At about the same time, and here is the lesson for this week’s journal, I had been reading several articles about corporate water rights in California. Specifically, about a corporation bottling water for sale while the state was in a massive drought. It screamed Cyberpunk. So we began to brainstorm ideas for a world where water was the most valuable resource.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” — Louis Pasteur (loose translation)

Here is the lesson. Fill your mind with interesting things, news, music, art, etc. Those bits float around in there until you come up with a need for a solution to a problem. Then your brain will sort through all the parts and come up with  the most interesting solutions. I would never have thought of Hydro Hackers had I not started reading that article that popped up in my Facebook feed.

And Hydro Hackers was born…well actually the name we came up with was AquaPunk, but a few Google searches would confirm that was not a name we should use.

Creating Hydro Hacker Operatives

After that meeting, I diverted my efforts into creating a game about a world where water was the most valuable resource.  To do a little foreshadowing…

We will get to those in future journal entries.

In Our Next Entry…

Next time, I will talk about how I created a world where water was the most precious commodity, and the mechanical changes it would create.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "Design Flow: Not The Game I Intended To Make"

#1 Comment By Angela Murray On October 12, 2016 @ 10:47 am

It’s cool to see the story of the game getting compiled like this. I’ve followed along on the podcast from the seed being planted way back when, but it’s still easy to not quite see when the journey is taking a left turn. 🙂

#2 Comment By Phil Vecchione On October 13, 2016 @ 6:50 am

From the Podcast, you only see things week to week, but never all the things that happen in Slack and when we are hanging out. I am looking forward to talking about the decisions that go into the design, so that people can see the game evolve.

#3 Comment By Michael O’Connor On October 12, 2016 @ 11:37 am

I’m interested in seeing where this thing, that sounds loosely like a mix between Ice Pirates and Tank Girl, is going.
Bring on the rabbit hole, cuz I’m ready to see where this goes.

#4 Comment By Phil Vecchione On October 13, 2016 @ 6:53 am

Thanks. I have not watched either of those movies in years. I am going to have re-watch.

#5 Comment By Chris Shorb On October 12, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

Hi Phil – Have you read the Water Knife?


Right up the alley of the game you are writing. It’s about the Hydro biggest hack ever. It’s more post-apocalypse than cyberpunk, but a great read.

#6 Comment By Phil Vecchione On October 13, 2016 @ 6:43 am

I have not read the Water Knife…yet. I just put it on my reading list.

#7 Comment By Kingslayer On October 12, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

Sounds really cool. Of course, you had me hooked with the name: Hydro Hacker Operatives is so obviously H2O that I HAD to read the rest of the article. Looking forward to future installments!

#8 Comment By Phil Vecchione On October 13, 2016 @ 6:59 am

Hydro Hacker Operatives was totally not an accident. The early versions of the game had names like AquaPunk, Hydropunks, and a few others. A good friend of mine, Dave, worked out the Hydro Hacker Operatives name because we wanted to be able to abbreviate to H2O.

#9 Comment By Andy Warcoholic On October 17, 2016 @ 2:46 am

Wow, great job. You set out to rehash cyberpunk (which has been done 1 million+ times) and instead ripped off the plot from that old Tank Girl movie. Really creative.

#10 Comment By Ticom On November 22, 2020 @ 2:34 pm

So finally this shows up in my OSINT feed four years later.

Thank you for the kind words. Cyber-Tek is still around, 30 years later.