Monday, April 6, 2009

The Sap and the Heater: a Design Sketch

Monday, April 6, 2009
If you had a game with a wider range than basic military combat scenarios, you could create simple but interesting mechanics out who gets the drop on whom.

For example, you're playing your Chandler-styled 30's detective game and snooping an upscale hotel room crime scene before the police show up.
Unfortunately for you, the goons of your shadowy nemesis had the same idea and have just arrived outside the door.
Hearing the door creak, you could pull your .45 before they get around the door, maybe even shooting one of them through the door.
Here, the alert player is rewarded with scenario played his way, not according to a canned "thugs enter the room" cutscene. Or the goon steps into the room without seeing you, and so is still at your mercy if you get your gun trained on him first. He can try to draw but you'll always be able to react faster with a pistol already in hand. You are free to shoot him or try pumping him for some information before pistol whipping him/shooting him.

Say you didn't hear or see him, so he draws his gun on you and then tell you to put your hands up or disarm, if you were in the process of drawing. He drew first, now he has the upper hand.
Then you try a verbal feint ("look over there!") or persuasive argument, or a grappling move if you're close enough. Anything to get him to break eye contact or allow you to dive for cover--anything to break the "holdup" phase.
Disarming his weapon puts you back in charge; mutual disarmament might prompt a close-quarters fisticuffs. Only after these possible paths does the encounter becomes a more traditional pitched firefight.
Or yet again in place of a firefight, maybe you attempt a feint and are unsuccessful, meaning the goons disarm and sap you with a blackjack, leaving you to wake up as the police arrive (losing the potential clues at this location). This is a setback, but not a full stop/fail-retry game over.

The point of this design sketch is that every encounter need not instantly ramp up to a full firefight, allowing even a game mostly about shooting to have much more varied basic fighting. The game can still be nominally about shooting, but there is a lot of rich potential gameplay missed out on in most games in favor of always "cutting to the chase."

For reference, consider a clip from the original Miami Vice show. An actual expert shooter was used to act out an assassination, using a more realistic version of the sorts of balance of power-play just described:


Johnnyburn said...

I don't know if I agree with your premise, "More games should be like Miami Vice."

Well, actually, I think that you hit something with the comment about "cutting to the chase" too early. Also, I am surprised that you didn't say something about blowing the proverbial load, or "Games nowadays need more foreplay."

The mechanic that you are describing seems like a sort of Bushido Blade for gun-slinging, and I like it. It also could be implemented in a way where people who thought it was annoying could just button-mash through it and into the firefight. It might even be a good time for those sorts of players to slam their Go-gurt or tweet what level they are on.
Whoa. I did not mean for "slam their go-gurt" to be as dirty as this image would suggest.

Anonymous said...

Realistically, your average FPS player would love to have the chance to disarm an enemy if it meant he was able to torture him afterwards.

Torture gameplay, while obviously tasteless, could be pretty good too. The film Man on Fire explores that type of scenario pretty well.

Jack said...

Johnny: thanks for the comments; and yeah, I tried to avoid the obvious sexual comparisons to foreplay and the like.
My inspirations were largely the novelistic conventions of pulp and detective novels--Chandler, Hammett, et. al, the noir films they inspired, as well as the more typical gun pointing type activities that happen in movies. I think I'll end up posting that follow-up clarification after all once I get an illustration to go with it.

Ninjas: that's definitely a game to be made, but I can't say that I'm interested in it. Torture is morally repugnant but, perhaps more tellingly, I am "so over it." :)
I don't want to see any more torture sequences in film.
From the scandal of Abu Ghraib to the recently released torture memos, these traumas have impacted the national psyche so heavily it's hard to escape depictions of torture in film and television. And it showing up that often has robbed it of most of its power for me; watching the otherwise fairly good Body of Lies, once it came to the inevitable torture sequence I felt bored and exasperated.

Anyhow. The Punisher game proved that this sort of thing obviously has an audience, I guess it just doesn't sit well with me personally. Not something I plan to follow as a designer or as a player, but I think it's a good point to make.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I hear you. One of the cool things about this basic design is that it takes the conflict away from the need to kill 1,000 human beings to advance to the next area.

Steven Ohlberg said...

one thing i love about metal gear is that, once you learn how the game actually plays, you can actually pull off alot of similar tense scenarios. only thing it's missing is the ability to "put your hands up" when your weapon is de-equiped... :(

gauss said...

Hahah, yeah. Especially with the MGS4 iteration, it's a pretty impressively robust control scheme--off the top of my head I can't think of any other game that can handle as much shooting action as well as CQC hijinks.

Guess it's a shame that MGS4 refuses to let me play it for very long before getting locked into another cutscene, but that's a dead horse for another day.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I had an idea for a game similar to this a while ago. The game idea was basically Film Noir Detective in Space. The main focus was on gathering clues, solving space crimes etc, so the combat was more of the spice then the entire focus of the game. One direct gunshot would kill anyone almost instantly, so directly attacking more than one or two thugs was complete suicide- instead you had to sneak around them, confuse them, bargain your way out of the situation, avoid them, pick them off one by one, whatever. Guns, far from the first resort, were the big things to be wary of- the inspiration was to make the phrase "He's got a gun!" actually terrifying in a game.

As you progressed, you got holo-laser-shield things that deflected bullets away from you slightly (More and more as you upgraded them) while select bad guys got weapons that could punch through those shields, and so the RPG arms race would go.

Copperkat said...

@Anonymous: I could picture a genuine "Oh shi--" moment with a game like that. A really nice take on futuristic noir is the anime series Cowboy Bebop (which was influenced by blade runner). Bounty hunter would be a fun alternative to private eye.

But maybe this is all breaking some unwritten law, like "players don't look up". How do you give a player a gun, and tell him not to shoot it?

Video game philosophy, right there.

James said...


While you're right about "giving a player a gun, then telling them not too shoot it" I think playing through a long immersive game, players can be taught not respond to everything with violence.
Taking something like the GTA games as an example- the player is presented with a wide world to explore, and while interaciton tends to be limited to "kill" or "take mission" player behavior does change over the course of the game. While first few times you're dropped into the world its fun to go on a suitably bananas killing spree, players tend to find it dissatisfying after the first time- the missions are more fun, and rewarding.
If a games encounters give you the choice between "shoot first and ask questions later", or more sophisticated options as Jack mentions above, while a player might kill everything at first, they might feel more rewarded exploring other options.

Overall, I think to give a player a gun and say "Don't use it" (a la certain missions in splinter cell) is a blunt tool for influencing player behavoir. However, giving players more options and a wider reward system will lead to really immersive, rewarding games.

Anonymous said...

How do you give players a gun and get them not to shoot it? More realistic consequences!

If the bad guys have the drop on you, and you try to draw, you get shot.

If you get the drop on the bad guys, you could shoot straight away but you'd better be sure it is actually the bad guys first. Add a bit of ambiguity to things by having random bystanders, undercover police etc showing up. Shoot one of them and it's curtains for you. This will nudge the player to exercise a little caution with their weapon.

Also in real life, you can't just shoot someone because you think that they are a "bad guy". You can only shoot someone if that person is a threat to yourself or others.

Unless you're playing the "bad guy". In which case the consequence would be having to cover up the crime afterwards.

Outlander said...

It sounds like the I Am Alive team read this.

I hope it works out and, better still, becomes a trend.

sohail sheikh said...

I admire what you have done here. I like the part where you say you are doing this to give back but I would assume by all the comments that this is working for you as well.
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