Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Game Translation: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood was a playstation adventure game following MI6 agent John Cord who is captured on assignment and trying to figure out who betrayed him as he is forced to recount his history to his torturers.  Almost every mission - which is positioned as a flashback of an event he struggles to remember - ends with a transitional scene showing Cord being interrogated.  The plot is interesting, the characters nicely acted and interestingly woven into the gameplay, and there's a variety of cool things to say and do.

This adventure game slowly folded science fiction elements of a new power source and robots into an alternate cold war history.  This allowed two distinctive styles to blend together in a way that felt creative and new.  The best way to do this is try to really believe in your game world and think about the flow on consequences of the changes that you bring into your game world.  This doesn't mean that you should force everything to be rigorously scientific (this game certainly doesn't) but a few thoughts on what a certain change in reality would realistically cause can certainly help add a certain amount of depth.

The game itself begins in a search for a man called Kiefer in an alleged uranium mine but as you continue through the location you start to see hints that all isn't as it appears - particularly when you come across a large futuristic laser machine.  It turns out that the mine isn't for uranium and the workers are instead experimenting with a compound / power source called tri-nepheline.

I liked how the science fiction elements were slowly discovered in-character rather than whacked in front of the player characters almost at once or during character creation.  It creates a sensation of layers and revelation which is generally a more interesting method of providing information on how a game world differs from our world.  It wouldn't have worked out so nicely if Cord had been there to see if tri-nepheline existed. Consider whether certain elements of your game world might best work in shadows to await character discovery rather than revealing it to them all at once.

The locations are also richly drawn with a certain logic to the room placement.  While you can always use some wacky locations for a game, it's a good idea to try to ground the game in reality by planning out the areas, where necessary, in a way that provides some real world consistency.  It's generally more interesting to feel like you're exploring an actual mine, after all, then just running through a ramble of locations that you could have just as easily dreamed up.  You can look for floorplans or maps on Google Images as they're ever so often uploaded into the internet.  You could also do a little real world research to add a few touches to make it feel like you've researched the whole lot.  Simply sitting down and considering what such a location would need to be viable (like toilets) can help as well.  Don't get too stuck on the research, though.  It's a tool not a requirement.  You're not writing a book.  Your players would prefer a less stressed Storyteller than guarantees of deep research.

It may also help to map it out so that you can refer back to the right room positions if it's an adventure that's likely to see them going back and forth.  You don't necessarily need the map so they can clear it room by room (although you can do that using a mixture of stealth, infiltration and combat options) but just so you can evoke a sense of place and help them feel like they're exploring someplace new.

A lot of the dialogue holds hints of the main plot to come and a number of sub-plots surrounding it which lends the story a certain mystique which really adds to that spy feel.  I, personally, love when games use ambiguous spy talk so describing a location as a place "where ships go to die" certainly piqued my interest.  Using appropriate metaphors and being a bit poetic can really bring this on board.  You just need to watch a few spy movies, especially 1960s ones, or read books on espionage to pick up some interesting turns of phrase.

When in doubt about adding a touch of science fiction,
pick a bright and shiny colour.
The game mixed up infiltration, stealth, and shooting enemies, and that's a pretty fun mix to bring into an adventure game.  You'll need to put a little bit of thought into the various locations so that there's plenty of scope for a diversity of different actions.  Too much combat and it ceases to feel like espionage.  Stealth is where you just keep your head down, stay quiet, and ensure you use surrounding equipment and architecture Infiltration requires the odd locked door, guard, or trap to bypass that requires a bit of forethought, planning, and a bit of cunning.

Oh, social options and conversation work a treat as well.  There's a section in In Cold Blood where you pretend to be someone else and that gives you a grasp of what the mine is like as people, and interactions with them, generally lend a deeper feel to the whole situation.

In Cold Blood generally keeps the puzzles rather easy.  You could script some easy bypasses yourself, or let the players rely on dice rolls, but in a roleplaying game your best bet is to simply be more open to the off the wall antics and plans that players sometimes come up with.  This is the game where a particle accelerator is used as a glorified crossbow, after all.  If the plan seems like it could theoretically work with some good old-fashioned handwavium, then go for it.  The players will feel clever, the game will maintain its flow, and you'll get some stealth and interrogation for your buck that'll be enjoyable for players who don't want to strain their brain while playing a game (enough rhyme, for you?).

A campaign based around In Cold Blood, or including elements of it, should appeal to Tacticians due to a diversity of issues, problems and possible solutions that they can apply to the various situations.  Action Heroes can work out only if they can appreciate that diversity.  Simple run and gun Action Heroes will find it difficult to have fun engaging with the game without spoiling it for the other players / Storyteller as they will generally prefer full on assaults that don't suit this style of game.

Explorers will like the well-drawn locations and the chance to explore exotic locales.  They're also the ones most likely to require a detailed map so that they can peek into every room and will need some interesting diversions to keep them having fun with some of those rooms.  Investigators will doubtless enjoy the intrigue if you play it well not to mention the chance to get involved in some espionage.

Communicators won't find it as enthralling unless you switch focus occasionally to the more social encounters - forcing them to interact with people, forming alliances and uncovering affiliations during conversation.  Not only interrogations, mind you, but also through general day-to-day conversations.

If you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. There's no TV Tropes page, unfortunately, so you'll need to play it yourself or seek out an Actual Play.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Cold Fear. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be either Left For Dead or Cold Fear.

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

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