Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Game Translation: Gears of War

Gears of War is a third-person tactical shooter that heavily relies on a pretty decent cover system.  You play a member of Delta Squad, a military unit who are desperately trying to defeat a subterranean race of creatures known as the Locust. You are Marcus Fenix, a former prisoner and incredibly muscular soldier who looks like he's been popping steroids for breakfast from an early age.

Cover is a vital element of this tactical shooter so the first thing you need to consider when creating your campaign will be ensuring your game system's rules provide enough attention and benefit to using cover. Luckily most systems I've read which are in the simulationist vein have something in there on cover. Best to print out those rules and pass them out to your players. They'll take that as a bit of a clue. Especially if you don't include any other rules in the print out (except perhaps higher ground rules).

If you really want to play a Gears of War-style campaign, I'd come up with some excuse for regeneration (and huge muscles), perhaps involving genetic modification or chemical spills. Then, if you're playing World of Darkness rules you could take the werewolf regeneration rules. If you're using some sort of D20 variant, Fast Healing equal to level should work out fine. Stipulate that the healing factor only kicks in when the character is resting and you'll have players seeking cover so that their characters can hide and watch their health tick up - just like you need to do in the game when that health indicating cog appears in the bottom corner of the screen.

Remember that if you want to be true to the videogame (rather than just playing a game like it), you need to go science fiction but with a very Earth-like setting. I mean, I didn't even know the game was set on another planet (Sera) when I played it because all of the architecture and much of the flora looked pretty Earth normal to me. I had assumed that immulsion had just been found on Earth. Therefore keep most of the descriptive elements pretty modern (rather than futuristic) and ensure that the players know that simply evacuating the new planet is as unthinkable as simple 'evacuating' Earth. This is the characters' homes now. The fact that the characters can be baseball-playing heroes living in homes much like our own (before the Locust attack, that is) should help reinforce the kind of player protectiveness that comes from having your own home world attacked.

This is neither a "Simply shoot things" game nor a "Sandbox game". Therefore ensure the players have very specific, very simple goals, that should generally be broken down into sub-objectives. The first game ordered you to descend into the Hollow within the planet to detonate a Lightmass bomb but between the start and finish there were a lot of other objectives -- some of which only appear once a certain event occurs to the characters. Having a leader speak to them over the radio can help with this as they point out new duties and obligations.

This is a game that would work well with miniatures. Cover, after all, is a big thing. If you're going with this, I'd recommend creating chest-high walls out of paper that is shaped to look like Locust-cover points (metal fences) or rubble. In this way the players' miniatures may be moved up behind the cover, as can the enemies, ensuring everyone knows where the cover is and just how much protection it gives. Since all you need is a printer or, at worst, some folded up coloured paper, this should be easy to do. You could also use fish bowl decorations, doll house furnishings and real world rocks if you want to go all out.

Create an enemy the players don't have to empathise with. This game isn't about the "Horrors of War", in terms of sympathetic bad guys on the other side of the fence dying cruelly. The bad guys are BAD. Making them alien-looking creatures that spend their whole time attacking people with hardly an overhead Locust comment for colour, ensures that the players can gun them down and feel good doing it. If you're using a game with some kind of Morality system, scrap it, at least in terms of killing Locusts.

I like to imagine these guys are watching a Christmas pageant.

This is a game designed to be epic. Use massive setpieces. Have a monster swallow them up and make them tear their way out. Have them rush about on crumbling ledges above a bubbling pool of Imulsion. Have them outrun an explosion which nips at their heels and threatens to blow them through a wall. This is an action game. Go all out.

Anyway, a campaign based around Gears of War or including elements of it, should appeal to - you guessed it - Tacticians and Action Heroes the most.

Tacticians will love the cover system, complicated killing strategies (i.e. that giant worm thing) and focus on teamwork.

Action Heroes will love the explosions, gun play, running sequences and occasionally quite Big Bads that need to be taken down.

Explorers would enjoy the strange places, the apocalyptic wastelands of the cities and the underground places rich with odd architecture and alien beings.

Investigators won't have much to do here so throw them a mystery as part of the through-line to keep them interesting.  Something like "What happened to your wife?" might help if they're still pretty keen on combats.

Communicators won't like this game.  No real chances for social manipulation.  While they might find much to like if they double as one of the other categories, odds are they won't really like it.

If you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Blood Dragon, Tomb Raider (the latest), Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Dishonoured. If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it'll probably be Tomb Raider.

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. Yay! I like what you’ve done with this, especially the setting stuff. Establishing the right mood initially is going to be important. How would you handle the balance of enemy types and frequency to get the right feel? It’s always a tricky one to do in horror, for example, so I’m interested in your take on that.

    I think in terms of Investigators, there’s some potential for doing intelligence-gathering missions or higher-level strategic planning, but they’re not really quite in the genre so it’s a stretch as you say.

    Cover is definitely going to be an issue, so having some level of detail is important. I think you probably want something with at least a distinction between light and heavy cover, and ideally that gives a way to model the difference between going to ground and firing from cover.

    In terms of combat, pluses in choosing a system would also include a way to model overwatch, firing against a charge, charging dug-in enemies, and suppressive fire. The squad aspect of Gears seems like coordination of covering fire, reload times and luring out foes should be mechanically useful.

    Given the quietly futuristic setting, you could probably justify regeneration a couple of ways. Genetic mods are definitely an option, and nanotech has a similar feel. In both cases, perhaps failsafes suppress the system when you’re highly active to prevent interference with vital functions. Maybe they cut off if your blood CO2 gets too high to avoid crippling you, because they also pump out CO2.

    If you don’t want actual regeneration, you could probably get away with rudimentary personal shields or even self-repairing armour. Ducking away gives the power packs time to recharge.

    As I recall there’s also some very brutal close combat mechanics with the sawblades and stomping. You may want to suppress that on the players’ side, to keep them from getting randomly one-shotted, but you could allow coup de grace rolls against downed enemies. To model the rev-and-slice sawblade attacks, you could allow a two-part attack: the first round roll is to ready your weapon without being interrupted, and then in the second round you can make a much more effective attack (better critical chance, maybe even an auto-crit, or an instakill if you’re going for weak hordes). But that will be a bit system-dependent.

    1. All good tips and advice here. As for enemy types and frequency, I fly by the seat of my pants so I would play it by ear and see if folks need MORE or BIGGER or a brake pad.

      Gears of War is also quite good for brake pads. Quiet times when nothing attacks to get you ready for the next action sequence.

  2. Votes for Dishonored or Blood Dragon. Also props to both yourself for a great write up and Shimmin Beg for a great response.