Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Game Head: Sam Spade

As an exercise to stretch my brain, I often look at things in the world around me, and wonder, "How would I make this into a game?"

Chris Crawford has said:

"Verbs are all-important in game design. They are the allowed actions, the permissible commands that are available to the player. A good set of verbs allowes players to do everything they would need or want to do."

Last night, I watched "The Maltese Falcon." A Sam Spade game should be more than just punching and dialog trees. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought, if a player were Sam Spade, what verbs are available?

I quickly brainstormed a (partial) list:
Walk, mock, fast-talk, punch, slap, kiss, argue, threaten, smoke, flirt, confront, dirty-trick, demand...

Why on earth do I have smoking in there? Sam seems to smoke when he's flirting, or when he needs to calm his nerves. Sam is a passionate, very id-driven guy. Suppose Sam has a passion-meter. When he's arguing or feeling threatened or used in some way, his meter would go way up. When his passion meter is high, he's more likely to threaten, confront, punch, or slap someone. When his passion meter is low, he's more likely to mock, fast-talk, dirty-trick, or flirt. He kisses women, regardless of his spirits, though he seems most fond of going for the bracing, passionate kiss.

So, Sam is investigating his case, but the options available to him will vary by mood. A player can control his mood by the choices he or she makes. More than one approach is likely to get a player around a certain impasse, though there are a few dumb things you just don't want to do. Sam can mock and fast-talk the police, but it's a really bad idea to threaten them. One way the player can deal with this is to light up a cigarette when the cops show up, so Sam can mellow out, and not blow his top. Amusement also calms him down, so a little playful mockery may be in order, as well.

Are you angry Sam or rakish Sam? Or are you somewhere in-between?


Greg said...

Yes, I like this... particularly "smoke," although you'd get some flack for that.

For digital games in particular, it's useful to think in terms of "verbs," particularly since actions are mapped directly to UI controls--I think it's a less useful framework when thinking about boardgames, say. But in general, it's certainly useful to ask (as Chris does), "What does the player -do-?" rather than "what's the story" or "what IP am I exploiting (or building)", which seems to be the usual framework under which designers operate.

Tess said...

greg said:
Yes, I like this... particularly "smoke," although you'd get some flack for that.

Oh yes, this absolutely crossed my mind. It's interesting, I've played games where you can engage in almost every other vice in the book: drinking, gambling, prostitution... you can even kill people. But I can't think of a single game in which I can deliberately smoke -- except for Second Life -- and that's only because a player chose to enable this possibility.

Tobacco smoke makes me physically ill, and I would never dream of doing anything that I felt encouraged people to smoke, but I don't think for a moment that such a game would encourage smoking. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people who wouldn't see it that way.