Bring the Drama

Crew Private Eye Case File

Drraagh stands by the window in his office, looking out at the sky. He takes a deep breath and then begins to speak. “So, I’ve been talking about alternative angles the past few times I’ve gotten down to talking lately, and that’s brought a lot of new concepts to bear that people may not be quite used to. I mean, I heard a term the other day, BFI. Brute Force and Ignorance, basically the idea of… well, to quote from the old Will Smith movie ‘Wild Wild West’,

shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more and then when everybody’s dead try to ask a question or two.

“Instead, there are ways to play games in a more cerebral approach. Stories like this happen all the time, but in games, it seems like a physical opposition is the thing we run into a lot. There are three main reasons that I see this happening. The main reason is that everyone can participate in a physical confrontation while not everyone might be able to do things in another way. Second is that in a lot of inspirational material (movies, videogames, etc) this is the moments that people talk about, the big set piece moments that we see built up to keep the visual effects in business. Just look at this clip of some video game set pieces  or an in-depth analysis of some of Mission Impossible film franchise’s set pieces. You can begin to see how these moments play into building the drama and tension of a movie while still making it interesting for the action elements.”

“So, why don’t we see a lot of this in games… Well, it does depend on the game,” Drraagh adds as he looks away from the window. “But so few are designed for drama, unless everyone is in on it. If you make a video game, you have to make those capabilities in it to be there from the beginning all the way to the end or you end up with a break in the design. Just look at Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. You could social and sneak your way through the majority of the game and then you get to the end where you have to fight a number of bosses who can be quite tough, especially if you don’t have combat focused skillsets. So, that shows why you need to be consistent in the design elements you choose to show for the games you want to tell, but let’s focus on the tabletop style for a moment since this lets us play a bit more freeform in the stories we tell.”

Drraagh chuckles a little as he moves to sit down at his desk. “There’s a scene from the movie Phone Booth, as we can see here where they talk about the tension of the gun cocking:

Now doesn’t that just torque your jaws? I love that. You know like in the movies just as the good guy is about to kill the bad guy, he cocks his gun. Now why didn’t he have it cocked? Because that sound is scary. It’s cool, isn’t it?

This is something we don’t see in a lot of the games I’ve seen, because when it gets to the point of an opponent being there people want to kill it. We don’t get a lot of standoffs, but I think part of that falls into the design styles of the story teller. The set pieces give us some dramatic, chaotic scenes where there would be some strange setups and the like, but there are few times we can get the sort of characters being held hostage or the like without players trying to turn to dice to get their characters to get the upper hand. To quote from someone else that I saw on the topic,

A dramatic standoff (as opposed to a stalemate) happens when action by either side will precipitate an event that is unacceptable to the acting side. If you can build that situation, you should have a dramatic standoff.

So, the example they use is something that’ll happen if you kill the person, like bombs set to a dead man switch. Another example that you see sometimes is the ‘If I don’t contact them at a certain time, a thing will happen’ be it release of incriminating information or someone killing a hostage or any other corrupt things. Basically, the idea is that even if they kill the character, bad things are going to happen. If you want to be really evil, you could also make it so that that person is the only one who knows something so you need to keep them alive long enough. For example, maybe they know the code to disarm the bomb that will destroy the city block, but if you somehow happen to take control of the situation, they’ll give it to you.”

He pauses and looks across the desk, nodding slightly, “Of course, to have these dramatic moments, you need to be able to have players that want to have them. Sure, it’s not something that may always happen, but if you talk to your players and decide with them the kind of story you want to tell, you might be able to solve a lot of these sorts of problems. So, working with people, in the end, gives you the idea of how they want their stories to be. Are they going to be twisting and turning alliances, power struggles and such, like a Game of Thrones episode, or are they looking to blow off some steam after a hard work week and just want to play a power fantasy where they blow some dude’s head off with a shotgun… This is why you ask first, so that you can all be on the same side of the story, not trying to herd cats into a story you want to tell. Makes your job a lot easier, allows them to give into the story a bit more… everyone wins.”