Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In development: mem:RE - 4th glimpse

Real-Time Rules:
Given that mem:RE is intended to be run as a real-time spy thriller, here are the rules that will help support and capitalize on the real-time approach to make the game a new, exciting, fun and memorable experience.

I. Missions Run For 3 Hours
When you start the game session, the players should have at most an hour to prep their agent sheets.  During this hour, allocating their Memory dots and deciding on how to use any Recognition should be tackled as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This however also means that if players take too long, then you should move to the actual Mission Proper immediately and inform them that the clock has started.  If they waste time focusing on other things, fiddling with their devices and the like, then let them.  Just remind them, the clock is ticking.

I recommend having a visible countdown somewhere nearby.  One option is to use online resources such as http://www.timeanddate.com/timer/ or perhaps ios apps such as T-Zero Countdown Timer to have a constantly counting down reference that the players can easily see.

It is imperative to also announce the time remaining whenever dramatically possible.  Simply calmly intoning, "One hour, fifty minutes left..." can jolt the players to take more exciting risks and dangerous options to keep the game fun.

II. Not All Actions Are Instant
Bear in mind that some actions the players may declare SHOULD consume some time.  For example, a player might mention "I'll stay outside the restaurant and keep watch until the target shows up."  If such actions are declared, you should a) Determine how much time before the desired result actually does happen b) Determine how long the player plans to do the action in hopes to achieve it.   c) Tell that player he's engaged in doing it, and will have to wait for that amount of time in the game.

So, for example the player opts to, "Hack the system to break in."
You might determine, "Haacking will take twenty minutes."
If the player says, "Go for it," then he is busy hacking while the player waits for 20 minutes before she can rejoin the game.

This adds a layer of desperation in the game which isn't typically found in others.  Players very quickly sense the importance of a single minute and at times might even opt to "try something that can be accomplished faster" which over-all adds to the desired sense of urgency in the game.

III. Be Sure To Match Senses With Events
When player characters are physically separated in terms of locations, players should feel as if they can perceive or experience events in a way that resonates or implies the presence of the others nearby.  For example, if one Agent tries to kick open the door, when you cut to the next player, be sure to mention the sound of something heavy banging against the door within the vicinity.  When the ambient sounds of traffic can be heard outside, try to incorporate that in the description of what the characters can hear in their area.  Immerse them into the scenes to help them grasp the "real-time-ness" of it all.  I even go as far as changing the lights to reflect different locations, and describing how something brushed past their feet when I know my dog is actually hunkering around the gaming table.

One highly suggested approach is to have a key song or music track to play just before the game starts.  Sort of a signal that the Mission is about to begin.  And once the game is done, perhaps to play a "closing credits" song that clearly defines the Mission is over.

IV. No Breaks
Part of the 3-hour limit of each game session is the fact that you should, to the best you can, avoid any breaks once the mission starts.  If the player needs to use the bathroom, for example, or wants to grab a smoke, then ask him if his character is doing the same.  And if so, then they can go for it while you describe their character doing the same.

I even once asked a player, who insisted his character was going to have a cigarette, to explain to me where he was getting the cigarettes while at the mission.  So he described his character going to the nearby convenience store to buy some.  I told him the length of time he'd smoke was the amount of time to go in, line up, pay, and head out.

But as the action picked up, he threw the cigarette and ran back to join the table.  Which sort of was like him throwing the cigarette and running to join the fight.

V.  Time Runs Out
The moment the game is down to the last fifteen minutes, be sure to play it to the hilt.  The intensity should rise.  The action should be crazy.  Or perhaps the secrets are now being spat out.   But once the timer runs out, you have two choices:

a) You keep going and give the Mission an ending to be proud of.  
This works best if the players have earned it.  If the players are so caught up in the session that none of them are breaking out of character anymore as they struggle to find solutions to accomplish the Mission, then throw away the timer for that final finale scene.

b) You Abort
The Agents suddenly seize up, drop down unconscious, and the game session ends.
If you can, pack up the game stuff and leave.
Or maybe simply collect all character sheets and put the game stuff aside.

And yes, ignore any questions they may ask about the game's story.
That's to be best explored in the next Mission.
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