Posts Tagged ‘Medium’

About a decade or so ago, I’ve played in a convention game, which was not very good. It had been very instructive, and had stayed in my mind[1], and I think it’d make for an instructive example of something that most of us hear often, and accept: Medium matters. It matters if you tell a story as a book or as a movie, as a movie or as a mini-series. It also matters to a game if it’s played online or offline, with other people or solitary, and special care should be taken when taking a game that was designed in one medium and “porting” (importing) it to another.

The game had the GM, and about a four of us players, perhaps three, I’m not entirely sure. The player characters were held captive, and a man was “interrogating” them, making use of a virtualization tool, so that he can see the images we project with our minds, or perhaps it was just our characters talking – that part was a bit unclear. So he presents us with a situation, we are at X, and Y happens: We reach a junction, and fire opens at us, what do we do? Or rather, what did we do? You see, our characters infiltrated this facility, and got pretty far before being captured, so he wants us to go over what we’ve done and how we’ve done it.

Thing is, if what we narrated ended with us being caught, or we didn’t have enough time to think on our feet, or whatever, he, the GM and the person he was narrating, because in this case they are one and the same, would go, “No, that’s not how it happened” or “Why do you lie to me” before asking us to show him, again. Needless to say, it was mostly GM-fiat deciding things, and he didn’t give us all the roads we wanted [2]. Oh, we’ve had pieces of paper given to us, showing us the resources we’ve had at our disposal, that were found with us, that we said we had, etc.

After a while, after the GM had decided we had all the information we needed, I triggered an explosive charge and broke us out of captivity (see point [2]). We were now in the middle of a hostile facility with everyone coming after us. The GM kept with his “time-sensitive” pressure, giving us time to react, or penalizing us for time we spent thinking, as the players. And then we didn’t really know what we were meant to do, how we were meant to escape – where were our guns? We needed them. And then, all our characters died, and the session ended. And the GM talked to us a bit about the background of the game, the all-important background.

The game was modeled after an internet text-game, with MUD-like commands (Zork), /interact with…, etc. It’s also a puzzle of sorts, where through trial and error we find out who we are, the layout of the facility, what we did, etc. The missing bit is that one of the items in our inventory wasn’t really an item we had, or that did anything, but a lie/image created in order to hide the place where we hid our guns. And we also had to figure out how to take out the facility’s power-source later (as in, after breaking out).

This leads me to where the “port” had issues. I think you can tell how our “interrogation” was very much like a video game, complete with “Saves”. Every time we failed to clear a section, we returned to the last section cleared. But after all this time played, and unlike the internet game that always had this option, we were thrust into “real-time”. Now, our decisions were final, and failure was harsh. This may have been true to the in-game, but it was a drastic departure from the way the original game was designed. This was made worse by two things.

When you sit in front of a computer game that has saves, you’re more willing to take risks, it doesn’t cost you much. But even if it were a pain, you can pause the game and think. Most games let players talk for a bit, but we were really not given much time, at the table, with in-game events happening as we the players tried to discuss things.
Finally, the internet game was a puzzle, aimed at the players, and it was a puzzle that did not have time hanging over the players’ heads. The puzzle of figuring out that one of the items was not real, and was used to masquerade where our guns were – this is information our characters had, but we the players did not. The original game was there to challenge the players, but here the “challenge” was very problematic, as we had one shot, and we had no time.

Of course, the whole game was also horribly “Rail-roaded”, with us only going one direction at a time, ¬†and while in a text quest there’s some challenge in finding the right /interact command to continue, the real point of the game is figuring the fake item and its usage, and that you set the explosives in the interrogation room, it’d seem. Which made the whole experience a lot less fun. And the challenge was very “Gotcha!” [3]. I mean, the whole game-play the only thing we could basically do was figure out the “How” in a description, and then we all died.

[1] Then again, I have a known issue forgetting things, so don’t take that as too much credit for the game.

[2] The most extreme case of this was when we had a piece of explosive (see next sentence in main post) triggered by a key-word. I used it early, figuring it was on me/in the room, and it did nothing. But it was in the room! And later I did trigger it; when it fit the GM’s needs.

[3] It reminds me how in school trips you’d get told the following story, “A man went to the train station, and saw a woman wave goodbye to someone. He killed her, but didn’t go to jail. Why?” and you’re only allowed to ask yes/no questions. The answer is: “They were married, she faked her death and cut her finger to do it, and the husband went to jail for it. Waving her hand at the train station he saw her missing finger, and since he was already convicted of murdering her, he could not be convicted of it again.”
See, “Gotcha!”, it’s information that really comes out of nowhere.