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Friday, February 23, 2007

Never Trust The Machines

Neuroshima Hex! is boardgame based on the Polish role playing game, Neuroshima. A review of the board game brought it to my attention.

Both sound great. A shame it seems like nobody carries it. The backstory is very cyperpunk wasteland noir ... Mad Max meets The Terminator with what seems like a dash of I Have No Mouth thrown in the middle. Here's what really caught my eye about the RPG:

Neuroshima relies on the division of the gameplay into something the authors called Four Colours, namely steel, chrome, rust and mercury. The choice of a particular colour is made by the gamemaster (the decision can be consulted with the players in order to enhance the game experience) and determines the mood, atmosphere and the type of events/characters present in the story. The name of the colour itself implies the kind of gameplay it will symbolise. These colours are:

Steel - this kind of gameplay is characterised by a slighly optimistic attitude towards the world. The aim is to raise the spirit of the characters by showing them that the war with the machines that is going on may be a difficult one, but it is not unwinable, and that humans, when strong and united, can build the world anew. Example of a story: a unit of soldiers dispatched from the Outpost is sent to build a bunker and establish a relay base far in the north in order to plan a counter-tactic against Moloch's advance south.

Chrome - is characterised by a hedonistic attitude. The characters are supposed to enjoy anything that is left from the world after the war and the story is supposed to allow them to do that. Example: the characters are offered a well-paid job by a local ganger boss who extorts wares from local tradesmen. Their job is to drive around the county and pick up the extorted items and trade it for drugs.

Rust - a depressing, pessimistic mood. The characters will encounter rust, dilapidation and ruin everywhere they go. All the elements and NPCs of a story played in this mood are supposed to put the characters down and destroy their spirit. Example: the characters, badly wounded after a gunfight and robbed of all their possession find refuge in a village which is constantly raided by gangers. The characters' quest is to repel those attacks, but the enemies outnumber them and are well equipped, whereas the characters have nothing to fight with.

Mercury (Quicksilver) - the most depressing side of the game; usually stories played in this mood end with the death of all the characters. The aim of this mood is to show that any kind of action undertaken is futile and that the war is already over, hence all the people are already dead, which is a fact they just need to realise. Example: a group of soldiers stationed in a bunker is awaiting an attack by mutants. They are well-armed and trained, but there is a mistake in the intelligence they were given and they do not know yet that they are seriously outnumbered. The attack commences at dusk and it is already too late to retreat, so the characters decide to seal off the bunker, hopeful that the mutants will not be able to get inside and simply go away. The mutants attack the bunker with chemical weapons instead. The characters do not have enough gas masks to go around. As an effect, those strong enough will kill the weaker ones to get their masks, not knowing that the mutants will blow up the sealed entrance the following morning.
-- Neuroshima [Wikipedia]

That's freaking awesome. The last option is the kind of bleak scenario gamemasters generally dream about but most players would revolt in fear of losing their preciously levelled up heroes. In a way, this goes beyond the idea of "losing as part of the narrative" or even permadeath. Permadeath is just a point in which you have to restart the whole game. "Losing as narrative" is just a way of saying "winning isn't the only way to promote the plot".

This is "you're quite possibly going to die and the world is going go on without you" - as I assume these events would be maintained within a larger campaign. However, there's also hope and victory - but at some point there might be doom. Not doom as in wrapped around experience penalties or respawns - just good real honest to gosh hopelessness.

It brings the whole immersion of death to a whole new level. Permadeath is usually padded by always trying to give the player a fighting chance. Death is because the player got too eager, too anxious or too stupid. This is different. This is - oh, sorry, that mission description was all wrong. You're stuck and there's nobody to help you. The game just lied to you. You didn't screw up - other than trusting the machine.

There's lots of situations where I could see this being completely infeasible. Single player FPS games, for instance, which rely more on autosaves than any other genre. It would require something non-linear where the player could stay in the storyline but still have to start from scratch. Still, quite enticing.

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Weefz said...

Urgh. Sounds unbelievably depressing. Some gamers may like it but I prefer my gaming to be about escapism. There's too much "You trusted x and they lied to you" in the world as it is.

We are going to die and the world is going to go on without us. I get no joy in pretending this is the case as well.

OTOH, Fallout was pretty bleak and I enjoyed that. Can't really remember the outcome.

Josh said...

Fallout also had an undertone of humor to its bleakness.

And certainly, I wouldn't go for the dismal doom as the norm - or even the majority - of gameplay in most any game. Some games would never work well with it - but I'm reminded of the recent American Dad episode where the "game always gives you an out." - and maybe that's not always a good thing.

In an RPG frameset - I just think it's interesting to frame a campaign so that players can't get too attached to their personas.