Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Game Translation: Metro 2033

This is a first-person shooter with some serious survival horror leanings based on a book written by Dmitry A. Glukhovsky where humanity in Russia have retreated into a series of subway stations after a nuclear war with America. You play a character called Artyom has to get help from the Rangers before his Home Station is overrun by mysterious creatures known only as the 'Dark Ones'. On the way he must deal with mutants, Nazis, Communists, and ghosts as well as strange psychic attacks that he barely manages to throw off.

This is a hard game because it tries to play things realistically. There's no Pause-Game-Inventory-Search and then Click-Button-To-Accept-All here. You must painstakingly hover over the item you intend to pick up that is on the person and then pick it up before moving to the next item. This is really painful, not to mention dangerous, when people start shooting at you while you do it.

The easiest way to model this in a pen and paper game is to simply describe the person, their clothing, and any obvious equipment and then let the players describe what they're taking / searching in the order that they take it or search it. Generally they can get it all on board so you won't have to count it down round by round but if someone is searching a body while their friends provide covering fire or if you just want to ratchet up the tension you could certainly go into rounds. This would work out particularly well if the first few times you decide that something will attack them on, say, round 3 and that they'll only get the first few rounds to gather things up.

Artyom also has to use a gas mask and in poisonous gas and irradiated areas you have to ensure the filters don't run out before you either a) replace them, or b) move into a safer area. To make matters worse, your gas mask can become cracked and damaged and leak in some of the nasty stuff which will then quickly kill you. This is trickier to do as it's yet another timer (and time is a tricky thing in roleplaying games) so you're better off using a rule of thumb such as that each filter lasts an in-game hour unless you're planning to give them VERY short-term filters in which case you could count it in minutes. If you're doing it in minutes, an egg timer that can be laid on its side while you're describing rapid events can work out quite nicely. That way the players eyes can be glued to the running sands.

The enemies are pretty iconic (Nazis and Communists) but you still sometimes feel a bit bad killing them when you overhear them talking about their kids. You're somewhat armoured by the fact that it's a war zone and this is just what soldiers have to do sometimes so it's not as disturbing as it would be if they were civilians or police officers. This is the kind of dark and gritty world where making players hesitate about killing people is a good idea, especially as stealth could well be an option.

Reloading is realistic. No Click-Button-And-It's-Done. Oh no, you get to sit through the animation and hope you have time. Since reloading takes time (and most games actually do include a reloading time), to duplicate this effect you'll need an ammo counter per gun and have the players erase or tick them off as the bullets are used. Yeah, it's a bit of extra fiddliness but it works for an apocalyptic resource-centered atmosphere.

Silencers aren't precisely silent and the enemy won't ignore it if it is used nearby. It'll make enemies suspicious and alert, perhaps prone to checking out what happened, but they won't automatically know someone's shooting. This is pretty easy to do. If they fire the gun, treat it as though they made an unfamiliar sound and have the NPCs make Listen checks. If they fail, they don't notice it. If they succeed, they heard it but don't really pay attention to it.

You can still carry however much ammunition you like although you're limited to only a few choices in weaponry. So carrying capacity is kind of applied. In a game like this, though, bullets (being currency as well) definitely matter so you'd be best off creating an ammo counter and ensuring it is consistently applied.

Broken bottle and other ground clutter can really ruin your stealth which is easily modeled through modifiers to a character's stealth checks if they move across it. Also, there's a number of traps that you'll notice if you're careful but if you're running for your life or in the middle of a gunfight than you'll probably plough into them. Again, make them roll a modified Perception check unless they're specifically walking through an area and paying careful attention.

Well I feel safe.

Enemies are certainly supernatural horrors, often tough as nails, and can damage you quite easily if you let them. Luckily you have a quick natural healing rate so if you can grab some breather room you'll heal up. While having tough monsters (high Damage Reduction, Spell Resistance, Armour, and other such details) isn't too difficult, characters in games that don't have Cure Light Wounds are going to be in trouble. This shouldn't be as much of an issue as it sounds, however, if you allow stealth as a feasible option because combats take so long that the players really shouldn't be wading through multiple hordes of enemies. Especially not in this sort of game.

Flashlights and night vision goggles both run on battery power and will slowly tick out and leave you blind unless you use the hand cranked generator to re-power them. Re-charging them is easily done unless you happen to be in combat at the time. Again you could use a timer but you're better off being pretty vague about it since its something that they should be able to do so long as they remember it. Heck, it could be used just for flavor. When they take a break you could just mention that they recharge everything. You don't really need to dump them blind in the middle of a battle.

A campaign based around Metro 2033, or including elements of it, should appeal to Tacticians who are most likely to make the best out of bad situations, using stealth and cunning to back up combat strategies to achieve their objectives. Action Heroes will love the adrenaline-fuelled combats, dangerous situations, running for their lives, and getting involved in some exciting decisions, but may well find themselves running low on ammunition unless they really love the idea of a Knife Party.

Explorers may well waste some of that ammunition and a chunk of time taking a look at things that they probably shouldn't, but at least that's sure to add to the horror feeling as they will actually pay attention to those creepy little cues you have sprinkled around like Easter Eggs. They're also more likely to remember those creepy warnings you gave about certain locations a few sessions back because their main drive is to see something new and explore odd locations.

Investigators won't have so much to do but you could keep them satisfied with clues about Life Before The End as well as details on What Happened Since so that they can piece together the location's history. They're the ones most likely to figure out why that station was abandoned if you give them th chance. Doing it like this will also pay dividends with any Explorers, of course, who'll find the location all the more intriguing. Not that most players won't benefit from interesting back histories, it's just that these guys and, to a lesser extent Explorers, are the ones more likely to piece it together.

Communicators will love the idea of the world and likely get quite excited by the whole thing but will make it play out differently if they get their way. Their excited by people and how they live and survive in such a place and will want to spend long periods of time around the fire swapping tales with Rangers and just living a day in the life of a survivalist in a post-apocalyptic future. A little bit of this is okay, just make sure that they're aware as a player that the primary focus of the game is on completing stated objectives.

You can find the trailer for the game over here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Metro 2033 series used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Half Life 2, Silent Hill, Project Zero, The Suffering, Skyrim, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Dragon Age 2, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Skyrim.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.


  1. That's very cool indeed. I think I'll b e clicking the link to see what else you've done. The closest I've come myself is realising how bad a GM the guy running the Witcher 2 is...