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GAMBIT Spring Prototyping: #5

Following the events of our previous meeting, we decided to branch off in a somewhat different direction. Our black box labyrinth mechanic worked well on its own, but we had reached an impasse as far as incorporating it into a larger system. Matt encouraged us to use the ideas generated in playtesting as a jumping-off point for other game concepts. He also suggested that, as we did with the black box labyrinth prototype, we might consider starting from a fictional premise (like a myth) and try to generate a set of verbs or mechanics that fit with that premise. For this session, we spent a lot of time brainstorming and came up with a wide variety of different games.

We first reexamined the narrative of the labyrinth, turning to the original myth ( ) for inspiration. We listed possible protagonists associated with the story, as well as verbs that define them.


When Matt reviewed our concepts, he suggested that we might be adhering a little too strictly to the narrative of the myth. He proposed that we instead isolate narrative elements and turn them into mechanics in an otherwise original game. As an example, he described how a game could be made of the Icarus myth simply by adopting the following rules:

1. Use wax and feathers to make wings.
2. Wings allow one to fly.
3. The sun melts wax.

With a few other elements from the myth, such as negotiating with birds for feathers, one could make an engaging game that is simply evocative of, rather than a didactic retelling of, the Icarus story.

We quickly tried brainstorming with other myths and ideas, and came up with the following premises:

1. A game in which you, an office worker, go to work in the morning only to find that your building has turned into a huge labyrinth. Elements from the myth are incorporated, but the myth is never explicitly stated. Perhaps the line between fantasy and reality is blurred - you fight the Minotaur with a stapler, leave post-its to find your way rather than red string, etc.

2. Related to the labyrinth story, we also thought of a variant in which the Minotaur is the player character. There would perhaps be a first-person running segment in which it was not clear that you were playing the Minotaur until the very end. On a more lighthearted note, there could be a fun mechanic where you capture sacrificed youths and eat them. Since the Minotaur will eat only virgins, the youths will invariably tell the Minotaur that they're not virgins. The goal is to interrogate the youths until you're sure that they're lying, a la Phoenix Wright. The game would involve much bluffing about naughty business.

3. A game in which you wake up in a cot in an abandoned hospital, and must drag your IV drip and heart rate monitor around with you. We were thinking of our black box prototype, and how the feeling of a knotted string running through the player's hand evoked a heartbeat. The goal of the game would be to accomplish a task without exerting or frightening yourself too much, as the player has a finite number of "heartbeats" until they die.

4. We recalled a Pre-Colombian myth about a flea trying to deliver an urgent message. As he travels, he comes across a frog who offers to swallow him and continue running so that the message will arrive faster. The frog then comes across a serpent, et cetera, and so on up the food chain until there are ten animals all stacked inside each other. At the destination, each regurgitates the other until the flea emerges intact with the message. As a game, this could be a sidescrolling race in which the object is to find creatures that are larger and faster than you, and avoid ones that are too slow. Certain creative combos could yield greater success. Getting to the end would be fairly simple, but the challenge would come in replaying the game and trying to beat your top score.

5. The last and most fruitful idea we discussed involved the story of Odysseus in the cave of the violent cyclops: Odysseus, trapped in the cave with his men, manages to blind the cyclops with a sharpened stick, but they still have no means of escape, for the cyclops seals the cave entrance with a huge boulder every night. In the morning, when the cyclops lets his flock of sheep out of the cave, he runs his hands over the backs of the sheep to make sure no men are sneaking past. Odysseus, seeing this, ties his men to the undersides of the sheep, and then grabs onto the belly of the biggest sheep with his bare hands. The cyclops is unable to feel the men, and they escape successfully.

We were interested in a stealth game where the enemy only has one (extremely keen) sense. Most stealth games make use of many senses - sight, predominately, but also hearing (of footsteps, sneezing, etc.) and perhaps smell (in Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake would smell foul if he hid in the trash for too long). But we liked the idea of perhaps isolating these senses so that a player had to think creatively in order to disguise himself. For example, getting past an enemy who relies only on touch may require digging through a pile of textiles or debris in order to come up with an outfit that makes you "feel" like a sheep. You can look as ridiculous as possible, but as long as you feel right, you'll succeed.

We also wanted to make the protagonist small in order to preserve the feeling of the original myth and also to challenge the player to use objects in interesting ways - for example, the protagonist can hide himself under a bowler hat or perhaps use a chopsticks like stilts.

Here is a list of the enemies and their senses:


Eye Man
He has a single all-seeing eye. When dealing with vision, it's easy to fall into the rut of simple disguises. But there are ways to innovate with this enemy. One idea involved sneaking in front of a projector, carrying objects that gave you the shape of something that blends in with whatever is being projected (our idea was that the antagonist might be watching a nature film, and so the player would disguise himself as an animal). So while the unblinking Eye Man is watching the screen, he sees a silhouette that seems to belong to the film he's watching and doesn't bother to turn around. Dealing with silhouettes also pushes the player to think creatively, using objects like canes, fans, and salt shakers to make, say, an elephant silhouette.
Some other ideas include optical illusions, colorblindness, or taking advantage of his lack of depth perception. You may also need to visually mimic the behavior of something you're impersonating.


Ear Man
This guy can only hear. Some possibilities for him include using kazoos or buzzers to imitate creatures. Or, perhaps use recordings to make him think something is happening in his house. Maybe you can also record another creature talking, then play back the phrases generated to have a fake conversation with Ear Man. You'd have to pick which recording to play at every conversational juncture, and if the exchange doesn't make sense, he won't buy it (somewhat like the insult duels in Monkey Island).


Nose Man
Maybe you can wear someone's cologne to impersonate them. Or maybe roll around in pepper so that he sneezes when he smells you. Maybe he has bad allergies, and you can use this to your advantage.


Tongue Man
This was our trickiest challenge, and we're still hesitant to approach the idea of Tongue Man. You may need to impersonate a bowl of soup, so watch him carefully in the kitchen and see which spices he uses. Maybe he'll try to eat you, but if you cover yourself in thai curry or sriracha, he'll spit you out. Or maybe there's an ingredient missing from his kitchen that'll give you a clue to his least favorite tastes.


Hand Man
Hand man is most similar to the cyclops in the Odyssey, since he tries to feel his way around everywhere. It will be important to blend in to your environment using touch. It may be as simple as hiding under something (a sheep) but you may need to cobble together a "sheep-feeling" outfit from a glove and some q-tips. If you need to protect yourself from him, you'd need something spiky or hot. A sticky thing could trap him.

At the end of this meeting, we began developing a paper prototype of the forming-silhouettes/Eye Man scenario, although it's at an early stage and could still use a good deal of polish. In future sessions, we may try adding one or more other enemies to the scenario, with the hope that the interaction between the sets of rules for each of the senses/enemies will create a more compelling game than any single rule set would do.

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