“Okay… a game controlled entirely using an electric kazoo. I think it might be doable.“
Ideas are weird and wonderful things. Since I started this blog, I’ve been torn this way and that way wondering what the best place to start is, mostly because my mind just doesn’t know where to stop.
I’m going to make a game that takes the rigmarole out of learning music.
I’m going to make a game about home invasion.
Oh wait, Jason Rohrer already did that.
And he’s way better at this than I am.
I’m going to make a game about being a conscientious objector.
Oh God, that sounds terrible.
So then an idea started to develop, one that actually sounded interesting, fun, and almost feasible.
“A multiplayer rpg with an element of subterfuge – you have companion characters, ala Dragon Age, Baldurs Gate, Planescape etc – but secret button pushes, conversations and manipulations will covertly add subtle subtext (to interactions) and result in a tug of war between the player characters to gain the favour of the (non player) companion characters. In these styles of games, you generally have your relationship with an npc given as a numerical plus or minus value, but in this, it should be purposefully obfuscated, and subtle nuances may or may not be read into what you talk to them about.”
Thanks brain! I like it! This sounds different and fun, but can you scale it down a bit? I’ve been thinking about doing something small, twee, and inspired by the already written word.
“One room AGS games distilling the best bit of a work of literature into a single room puzzle.”
The fact that I’d had The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on my mind led me to coming up with this idea where, combining the two.
“Game idea: Mexican standoff simulator.
You play one character in a six person standoff and have to talk the other five people into shooting each other and not you so you can walk off with Bill McGuffin’s treasure.”
I think I like it! It’s do-able, and can pretty easily be drawn together in something like Adventure Game Studio as a one-room game.
Mechanics: if we’re making a gun game which is predominantly about NOT shooting people and simultaneously, not getting shot – it’s going to have to focus on social manipulation and a web of character intrigue. So a bit less Good/Bad/Ugly and a little bit more Reservoir Dogs.
Let’s call it… Standoff.
It’s worth at this point mentioning that this whole creative endeavor was inspired, at least initially, by visiting the ‘GameCityNights‘ tour when it visited the MAC (Midlands Art Center). What a wonderful evening that was – full of discussion, debate, games, ideas, lovely people and some genuinely brilliant commentary and stand-up style malarkey (mostly about death and the perpetuation of the Fifa series) from important GameCity bods Iain and James.
There was a returning event called ‘Modern Playing‘, which was sort of a continuation of the original ‘Nights’ but in a more ‘game’ focused evening – I decided, that it’d be most proper to bring something along with me, and seeing as the Mexican Standoff Simulator idea was on my mind, and I thought that between a friend and myself, we’d be able to prototype it in the space of a weekend.
It’s only AGS! I’ve made rubbish prototypes in AGS before! What could go wrong?!
Everything could go wrong.
Starting making the thing on the 14th of September with the intention to show it off on the 18th, it quickly became apparent that my collaborative partner, Holly, was pretty unwell and unable to really contribute. I soldiered on, making the graphics, putting bits and pieces together, designing the social puzzle elements, etc.
We DID however, manage to collaborate together a little bit about the character relationships and interactions. It worked as thus:
- One character is an undercover cop, and secretly is in a relationship with another character.
- That other character is vitriolic, and if he could, would shoot everybody.
- The remaining character has information about the first character’s secret identity. However, thrust headfirst into the standoff situation, you don’t know ANY of that, and it only becomes obvious through conversation with the other characters.
The aim of the game would be that in the brief social interactions you’re allowed with the other characters (you can talk to each one only once – against the grain of most adventure games, it was decided that in a Mexican standoff situation, no-one would really like to talk about the same stuff more than once), you have to hit certain triggers that would encourage the npcs to shoot each other, but not you.
We though it may be interesting – should the very limited prototype actually receive any significant attention – to evolve the idea outwards, and create a system where character relationships are procedurally generated.
On the Wednesday of Modern Playing, with a prototype video game without any actual content in it, I briefly despaired, before deciding, ad-hoc, to create a rough “analogue” version of the game as an improvised multiplayer social game. Characters would be briefly sketched out on cue cards with an rough idea of their thoughts towards other characters (the characters were very reminiscent of those from the original game, only with a few modifications to accommodate a lack of a distinct player character). The “content” absent from the single player game would be generated by the players themselves. Also, guns would be replaced by bananas, for colour/flavour/potassium.
Once each player had a cue card and a banana,
they’d be given 60 seconds to convince the other players not to shoot them.
After the 60 seconds, the shooting starts – they’re asked to complete a private ballot, and then told who shoots who, the remaining one/two players are deemed winners and given a pat on the head (I should have bought sweets).
It worked! A lot of people were genuinely interested why instead of a computer with fancy shiny graphics and the like, I’d bought half a dozen bananas and some cue cards.
Also of interest were my credentials for boasting having an 100% organic game.
The small group who played were pretty eager and excited, and there was significant level of enthusiasm for the game, despite it’s evidently ad-lib feel – including some brilliantly half arsed death acting. I was asked by one guy if I’d like to bring it along to a local monthly board games meet, and told that it was very reminiscent of Werewolf or The Resistance (I’ve heard good things about The Resistance, but I’ve not played either, woe) – albeit with a few interesting mechanics.
But I don’t think I’m done yet.
I really like the idea of turning Standoff – in it’s improvised multiplayer variation – into something more akin to what we were thinking of doing with the single player version – by adding procedurally generated relationships.
I’m thinking at the moment of creating a rough phone/tablet app, the four players put their names in (or, if they don’t know each other that well, the colour of the top they’re wearing), and then, the app would randomly generate a series of interlinking relationships between their fictional standoff characters, and spiel off four separate character info sheets for each player (I was thinking maybe using a ‘read this, then press the screen and pass it to the next player’ function would be sensible).
Once all four players know what they feel about the others and any secret gossip they know, a timer starts, (and someone yells STANDOFF, I think that’s important), and everyone quick-draws their bananas and commences yammering at each other, trying to convince the other players not to shoot them. After 1/2 minutes have commenced, the app will make a ‘bang’ noise, and then the screen will be passed between all four players for the private ballot, then the tablet will re-iterate what happened next for the players to act out, then announce a winner/s!
That’s the plan anyway. At the next Modern Playing, I’ll hope to bring both the original single player prototype and the procedurally generated digital multiplayer variation along.