eyebeams: (Default)
Having seen Watchmen yesterday I think it's appropriate to talk about Aberrant. Like the comic version of Watchmen, Aberrant is a product of its time and like it, it shares a narrative that only really works in its chosen form. I've picked Aberrant as a triumph because in my opinion, it is the only superhero game that ever transcended homage. Champions and Mutants and Masterminds certainly have their charms, but their core settings are clearly devoted to emulating the genre. Aberrant extends it.

In 1998 the Galatea explodes. In the world of Aberrant, this is taken as the probable origin of novas: superhumans capable of manipulating the quantum substructure of the universe. Their powers reflect their psyches; the Fireman was a firefighter, for instance. Quantum control is a function of the Mazarin-Rashoud Node: a new brain structure that grows as the nova gains power. The node has side effects. It streamlines the nova's body into superheroic proportions and makes him or her resistant to poisons and drugs. The nova has to eat a lot. And of course, the nova earns Taint.

The minutiae behind novas is one of the most engaging parts of the game, and one instance where the RPG form is important. You'll be playing a nova, so you need to know how they eat, how they react to drugs and beyond typical problems, what they fear. In Aberrant, finding these distinct elements works hand in hand with verisimiltude in the setting; all heroes have the same basic origin, which might seem to be a weakness, but this lets elements like Taint and the nova metabolism into character portrayal as a way to not only center immersion, but act as common conditions, prompting in-character bonding an empathy. Taint is the kind of thing that would almost definitely fail in a traditional comic; it's too gradual and isn't faithful to the character stasis that superhero comics just can't seem to transcend. Taint's mechanics are straightforward and workmanlike (so are the rest of the game's mechanics, which function well, though not showily), evolved from World of Darkness concepts, but porting this over to supers really is brilliant. Taint is one of the things that keeps Aberrant from being a mere alt-history/SF exercise.

The facts of novahood are just the foundation; they're integrated into a powerful, diverse setting. Novas are fully integrated into pop culture and have twisted the world into something that exaggerated its deficiencies, but a nova's nature alienates him or her from the milieu.  Novas can't get drunk. They need special ,medicines. There are nova separatists like the Teragen. The combined effect is something mainstream comics wouldn't come close to emulating until Grant Morrison's run on the X-Men, and even then, all of those elements wer eultimately wiped from Marvel. The world of Aberrant accelerates through multiple avenues, but always with a sinister subtexts. What do novas have in common with normal people? How much of the favour they get is really based on fear and desperation -- an ongoing culture shock for which the novas themselves are ultimately responsible?

The setting isn't flawless. There's some embarrassing memetic DNA in there (the first woman to be president is also a Libertarian, saving us from the madness of the age!). There's also not much of a central artistic thesis to the game, but I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. RPGs are loci of expression, with broad penumbrae of interpretation. Games that try to be better focused are almost always victims of cliche. To me, the real question within the game is: What do we owe each other in a state of cultural alienation? Novas have a culture of masks, but unlike most comics (though like Watchmen), the mask isn't really a safeguard and a gateway to a freer identity, but a prison.

This is why Aberrant is my favourite Aeonverse game.
eyebeams: (Default)
Having seen Watchmen yesterday I think it's appropriate to talk about Aberrant. Like the comic version of Watchmen, Aberrant is a product of its time and like it, it shares a narrative that only really works in its chosen form. I've picked Aberrant as a triumph because in my opinion, it is the only superhero game that ever transcended homage. Champions and Mutants and Masterminds certainly have their charms, but their core settings are clearly devoted to emulating the genre. Aberrant extends it.

In 1998 the Galatea explodes. In the world of Aberrant, this is taken as the probable origin of novas: superhumans capable of manipulating the quantum substructure of the universe. Their powers reflect their psyches; the Fireman was a firefighter, for instance. Quantum control is a function of the Mazarin-Rashoud Node: a new brain structure that grows as the nova gains power. The node has side effects. It streamlines the nova's body into superheroic proportions and makes him or her resistant to poisons and drugs. The nova has to eat a lot. And of course, the nova earns Taint.

The minutiae behind novas is one of the most engaging parts of the game, and one instance where the RPG form is important. You'll be playing a nova, so you need to know how they eat, how they react to drugs and beyond typical problems, what they fear. In Aberrant, finding these distinct elements works hand in hand with verisimiltude in the setting; all heroes have the same basic origin, which might seem to be a weakness, but this lets elements like Taint and the nova metabolism into character portrayal as a way to not only center immersion, but act as common conditions, prompting in-character bonding an empathy. Taint is the kind of thing that would almost definitely fail in a traditional comic; it's too gradual and isn't faithful to the character stasis that superhero comics just can't seem to transcend. Taint's mechanics are straightforward and workmanlike (so are the rest of the game's mechanics, which function well, though not showily), evolved from World of Darkness concepts, but porting this over to supers really is brilliant. Taint is one of the things that keeps Aberrant from being a mere alt-history/SF exercise.

The facts of novahood are just the foundation; they're integrated into a powerful, diverse setting. Novas are fully integrated into pop culture and have twisted the world into something that exaggerated its deficiencies, but a nova's nature alienates him or her from the milieu.  Novas can't get drunk. They need special ,medicines. There are nova separatists like the Teragen. The combined effect is something mainstream comics wouldn't come close to emulating until Grant Morrison's run on the X-Men, and even then, all of those elements wer eultimately wiped from Marvel. The world of Aberrant accelerates through multiple avenues, but always with a sinister subtexts. What do novas have in common with normal people? How much of the favour they get is really based on fear and desperation -- an ongoing culture shock for which the novas themselves are ultimately responsible?

The setting isn't flawless. There's some embarrassing memetic DNA in there (the first woman to be president is also a Libertarian, saving us from the madness of the age!). There's also not much of a central artistic thesis to the game, but I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. RPGs are loci of expression, with broad penumbrae of interpretation. Games that try to be better focused are almost always victims of cliche. To me, the real question within the game is: What do we owe each other in a state of cultural alienation? Novas have a culture of masks, but unlike most comics (though like Watchmen), the mask isn't really a safeguard and a gateway to a freer identity, but a prison.

This is why Aberrant is my favourite Aeonverse game.

October 2011

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