Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Game Translation: Clocktower 3

Clocktower 3 was a really interesting game with a pretty decent storyline.  They even managed to make the anime-style archer transformations at the end of each chapter not feel completely out of place in a survival horror game.  It follows a slasher movie styled series of chapters where the main character, Alyssa, must avoid individual serial killers while finding the lost trinkets that will lay the killers' ghosts to rest.  Only then can she undergo a mysterious transformation to get a special bow with which she can shoot them dead. 

It begins when Alyssa Hamilton, 14, returns from boarding school against her mother's wishes to find her mother missing.  A mysterious man drops a few cryptic hints and she explores her mother's house until she finds herself inexplicably transported back to WWII to cope with the first of the games' serial killers who has a giant hammer.

In order to progress through the game you must find certain objects, solve puzzles, and flee from the serial killers.  While fleeing from the serial killers, Alyssa may need to evade (run around) them, knock them down, or get a certain distance away and then hide.  Her holy water can stun the serial killer but only for a short period of time.  It's important to note the hiding places about the levels as you go.  If you keep re-using the same safe haven, you're more likely to be spotted.

In a roleplaying game, expect a lot of stealth rolls.  It'd be a good idea to use modifiers depending on the tactics used by the players to encourage them to actually think about potential hiding places.  If there is no logical way for a person to remain hidden from someone searching for them then you should force them to run away or otherwise evade the enemy.  Therefore Dodge and various Athletic skills may also be important.  As this is a roleplaying game, they will have more options for evasion and might drop things in the enemy's way or scale walls to get into windows and hide inside.  Encourage this as it ensures a more variable play experience.

Also ensure that you try to introduce the serial killer stumbling across them in as many distinctive and interesting ways as possible.  You want the players to experience a 'Damnit!' moment rather than be frustrated by the serial killer randomly running in through the door.  Have them jump down from a second storey window, kick open doors, or even have the players stumble across them doing something themselves (perhaps with a chance to sneak past them).  It's also a good idea to foreshadow it even if it means the players get a chance to hide before they come through.

Bear in mind, though, that the stealth aspects may not be possible if you have more than one, or two, characters involved.  Have you ever tried playing hide and seek with grown ups in any room of your house?  Or even the whole house?  There's generally only a very few hiding places that can fit an adult and most of them aren't very good.  This game style really is begging for a solo game.

As for how often the serial killer arises, well, that should be up to you.  Often it's best to leave it up to opportune moments but that might make them too infrequent.  A good method would be to roll a d20 and then time those minutes in real time.  When the timer runs out, the enemy comes across them.  Perhaps add a few minutes if the players ditched the enemy a fair way away from where they currently are but don't play too kindly with them.  You could even tell the players that you're using a timer method and make them worry.  As each minute passes, they will realise that the chances that the enemy will spring at them will increase.  When it hits Minute 19, they know they'll be sprung.

The players may try to meta-game, but since you're using real time rather than game time they can't justify that their characters would figure it out as the pattern in-game.  After all, twenty real time minutes can range from thirty seconds in-world to two hours.  Considering that the number of real time minutes are also randomised - yeah.
This has to be one of the creepiest moments in the game.
Innocent victims of those serial killers haunt certain areas and with terrify Alyssa, potentially causing her to panic, unless she gives them an item of sentimental value which will lay them to rest.  Be sure to come up with sympathetic victims so that the players feel a sense of achievement from giving them their mementos.  Also let the mementos and the ghost's actions tell a bit of a story so that the players can also learn a bit and indulge their curiosity.  The hauntings should be one of the main events so ensure they're more than just window dressing.  Think about the ghost stories you've read or some of the murders you've heard about and see if you can work in some more of the interesting details into their stories.

You can find information on dealing with panic meters and having enough to do in the Game Translation of the rather similar Haunting Ground.

A campaign based around Clocktower 3, or including elements of it, should appeal to Explorers as they tend to like to be voyeurs and poke around the various houses.  They'll be especially interested if the protagonists are drawn to a wide variety of locations as this grants them a more diverse experience with places they've never visited.  So throw in some time travel to modern history or send them across to rich and poor locations to ensure that there's plenty of comparison and diversity.  Investigators will want to know what happened to the ghosts they meet and how they died.  Put in some foreshadowing before they meet the serial killers so that they get some time to guess about what they might be facing.  They get to feel clever AND you get to raise anticipation.
Action Heroes might be all right with this if they can get an adrenaline hit from running and evading enemies, in which case the focus should be drawn to the serial killers, and perhaps the ghosts themselves might also be a bit more violent.  Generally, though, Action Heroes who like evasion like it in small doses and most won't want to have to rely on it for everything.  Most Action Heroes absolutely despise having to hide from their enemies and have a real desire to get up front and personal with their enemies.  These players will end up frustrated and find it demeaning to have to play such a vulnerable protagonist. 

Make sure you know your player's wishes.  If it's really not their thing but you're super-motivated, ask them to do you a favor by playing through a short adventure of 1 - 3 sessions set in this gameplay style.  Most players will be open to this and will suck it up to make you happy if you make it clear what these particular sessions are about (refreshing your batteries, getting something out of your system, etc.)  It's when they're forced into a game they don't enjoy with no reasonable objective to it that they can become resistant.

The same goes for Communicators who will find little meaningful social interaction and no methods to socially influence any situation they face.  Politics will not work here and their character is meant to be more of a cypher to explore the strange situations rather than a character expected to have new angles revealed through a crucible game like Silent Hill.  If you're truly keen, mix in some Blackwell style conversations where you actually have to use the mementos and gather information to convince the ghosts that they're actually dead.

Tacticians are uniquely positioned to be good at it but their tendencies may end up sucking the fun out of it by carefully measuring their distance from hiding holes and turning it into a bit of a mechanistic series of encounters.  If they're into horror, they may be more willing to play fast and loose and buy into that sense of vulnerability and confusion.  Otherwise, they may find their inability to control or predict any of their enemies to be more irritating than fun - especially since their tactical responses are quite limited.  If you're running it for one of these then distracting them with their other interests and downplaying the serial killers so that they're more like a force of nature than a constant threat would be preferable.

You can find the trailer for the game over here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Clocktower 3 used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, In Cold Blood, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Silent Hill: Downpour, Castlevania 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or In Cold Blood. If no one picks anything by next week, it might be Silent Hill: Downpour as this time I'll likely have finished it.

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. There are a couple of ways you might be able to tweak things for group play, although I agree that with the hiding places issue it'd be tricky to actually run them as a party. At least if it's set in a house - industrial or natural settings might actually offer more scope for that if they all duck behind the same machine, shrubbery or some such.

    The first would be giving the PCs walkie-talkies, or something similar, so they could operate independently while staying in contact. If you're feeling cruel, use actual walkie-talkies, which could be overheard and attract monsters - the classic film thing where a worried voice crackling over the com to ask if you're okay alerts the beast to your presence. A kinder option would be in-ear comms with whisper mikes, or a combination of video feeds and digital maps, or even mobiles using text to stay in touch. A high-tech setting could let everyone access each others' biometrics so they'll know when you're running, scared or hurt. Supernatural settings could allow telepathy, remote viewing, seeing through someone's eyes and so on.

    A related thing (which might work particularly well for PBP or PBEM) would be having them work together, but at a distance. Maybe they're all trapped in different versions of the same house (inspired by Conrad's Fate), so they can change each others' realities by manipulating their own surroundings. Maybe certain places, like mirrors or a chalkboard, allow them to communicate - or maybe they all sense each other in their heads, perhaps being AU versions of the same "person". There could even be a way of passing crucial items between realities, which allows for some fun with something like a key (which might look different in each reality).

    For a slightly more action-friendly version, you could allow the characters limited ability to fend off enemies. Maybe there's a reserve of willpower, or a depletable magic item, or piece of tech with limited power, which will delay them long enough to escape, or temporarily discorporate them (depends what they are, really).

    In a location with interconnection and a number of players, you could also allow the other players to help out by manipulating the surroundings. A simple one would be creating a diversion to draw the serial killers away, either subtly (perhaps a fake cold-call on the phone) or, if they’ve been detected anyway, more directly (knock something over to pull aggro... risky but brave). Getting a bit fancier, they could mess with lighting, machinery, lock and unlock doors and windows, drop items from a window or down a rubbish-chute. In the multiverse version, changing something in one reality could change other realities, though not necessarily in a very straightforward way, especially if the realities don’t map exactly. Or imagine a time-separated game, so altering a blueprint in the past reality could create a new door in the future one...

    If you fancied offering a slightly more puzzle-based game you could just ramp that side of things up so the players are solving puzzles cooperatively throughout the house, or across a number of realities. You’d have to play up things like electrical circuits, water systems, security systems and so on. Maybe there’s small dumbwaiters – or pneumatic tubes! – so they can pass items around, but not travel in them.

    Okay, now we're diverging pretty far from the source, so I'll stop.

    1. All cool ideas. There's nothing wrong from veering from the source material to make it work for your group (or in this case, any group). Your comment has made me think of how modern tech can really help people play split games.