Thursday, May 31, 2012

Game Translation: Tex Murphy Series

In celebration of the Kickstarter bid to create a sequel of this wonderful series, I'll begin with the Tex Murphy series with a focus on Pandora Directive. You play Tex Murphy, an old-school private investigator in 2043 where nuclear radiation has turned half the population into mutants. You've been asked to locate a mysterious professor, Thomas Malloy, which leads him to deal with events involving a serial murderer known as the "Black Arrow Killer", the so-called Alien crash-landing at Roswell in 1947, and the ancient Mayan civilisation.

It's partially an interactive movie where you move around in first person mode to examine the scenery, pick up clues and solve puzzles; then it switches to movie clips in conversations where you get to pick one of three conversational options based on short attitude-based statements, show the person clues, or ask about clues or people.

You have total freedom of movement and can lie down, crouch, stand up, or stand tall, to aid in your search of the various locations. This allowed the designers to hide clues in drawers, under desks, besides bins, and on top of cupboards which gives a real feel of immersion.

This could be integrated into a campaign by requiring players to mention specifically where they're searching and how. You'd probably need a rough sketch of a floorplan and would need to give quite a bit of detail into how the room is set up - ideally described in an interesting and entertaining way. In Pandora Directive, when you look at an object, Tex describes it with a dry wit, and you could also include this so that when players say: "I search the bins" you say:

"The slightly charred inside of the bin is filled with the burnt out butts of cigars and cigarettes, more than anything else. Huh ... they're cuban. At least he had a hobby."


"Ugh gross! Icky roaches and used tissues. Not a whole lot more."

You don't have to mimic the searching player's character voice, as you'll never get the internal monologue right, but you could develop a campaign style or mood through the use of your descriptions.

In Pandora Directive, conversations are often entertaining and each character is richly drawn which really encourages you to keep talking or try out other dialogue options. There's also a big element of surprise in how the conversations progress and this keeps you engaged - whereas a lot of other games that try the same technique tend to have more boring dialogue with more filler. Avoid that.

Often times in campaigns, conversations with NPCs are allowed to go on for longer than usual with not a whole lot of movement. You can always spice it up by letting a secret slip, revealing an unexpected character trait, or saying something in a way that helps put the pieces together. You can also end it by having NPCs get a phone call or have something else to do to keep the plot moving. Leave them wanting more. It also prevents them from watering down the facts they got in that conversation with a whole bunch of waffle and helps them keep important details fresh in their mind.

Pandora Directive is an adventure game but the puzzles always make sense. It might be a ripped up letter that needs to be pieced together, jigsaw puzzles, photographs that need to be scanned for clues, combination locks, timing a run around an office corner to mop the floor and thus trip and knock out a security guard ... y'know, things like that.

As far as campaigns go, prop it when you got it, is the best advice for this. Puzzles can be irritating if there's nothing visual or tangible to play around with. A ripped up letter would be boring to piece together with dice rolls but can be a fun and easy exercise if you allow them to piece together with their hands, perhaps using sticky tape.

Pandora Directive also provided two difficulty settings, Entertainment and Game Players mode. On Entertainment Mode, you could access hints and bypass puzzles by expending some of your points which you couldn't do on Game Players Mode.

Rather than making the decision for them, it's a good idea to simply ask your players for their preferences. In Entertainment Mode you could either give them a points system to purchase hints or use a Clue Token system where they have to solve puzzles or clue trails on their own to get more Clue Tokens to spend on harder puzzles. Also ensure that you offer incentives to players who solved certain puzzles in an allotted time or within a certain number of moves - whether clue tokens or re-rolls or cookies. Anything really. Players like their rewards.

The other form of puzzles are the combination puzzles. Tex Murphy's are more intuitive than most but they still wouldn't work unless certain items were lampshaded by being pick-up-able while most items were not.

If you want combination puzzles, first poll your players. Some find them very groan-worthy and would much prefer to find their own unique solutions (you could then have your combination options within the past few rooms and nudge them to it if they can't think of anything). If they're keen, then you'll need to point out which items in various rooms they'll need to put in their inventory for later, especially if you're going to make some items puzzles in their own right (such as sneaking the pen from the guard). In a roleplaying game, players could theoretically pick up hundreds of things in any one room and might not think charcoal was a necessary thing to take unless you point them to it.

A campaign based around Pandora Directive, or including elements of it, would certainly appeal to Investigators with enough to keep Explorers and Communicators on the edge of their seats as well. It's not really an Action Hero or Tactician type of game though they might still enjoy playing with the old Noir detective tropes, especially if you did include a few car chases and gunfights to break the so-called 'monotony'.

If you'd like to take a look at the trailer to learn more about it, you can check it out here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that the Tex Murphy series used, you can find them here.

You can also find the games themselves, ready for purchase, over at Good Old Games. I'd recommend it. Even though it's an older game it's withstood the test of time well enough to still be worth playing even with jaded high graphics eyes.

Hmm, for the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Dead Island, Left for Dead, Fall Out 3, The Sims 3, Half Life 2, Prototype, Skyrim, Deus Ex, The Last Express, Realms of the Haunting, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. Those should be enough choices for now. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Dead Island.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far (more useful if you're coming to this article later on), you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

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