12 votes

Can we make talking as much fun as shooting?

1 comment

  1. kfwyre
    There's a 90s adventure game that I think is a good example of what he's going for here: The Last Express. It's a point-and-click adventure game, and it's very clunky by today's standards, but the...

    There's a 90s adventure game that I think is a good example of what he's going for here: The Last Express.

    It's a point-and-click adventure game, and it's very clunky by today's standards, but the bulk of the gameplay is social deduction. It takes place on the Orient Express in 1914 and runs in a sort of pseudo-realtime, which fits with its setting. Because you're on a train, it's constantly moving and comes to certain stops at certain times of the day. Characters move about the train according to their own schedules (e.g. going to the dining car at dinner time) independent of your own actions. Whereas in most games the game world is sort of in a perpetual pause that's only advanced by player actions, in The Last Express you inhabit a world that advances without you.

    A good example of this is the game's inciting incident. You are invited onto the train by your friend, but instead of boarding at the station, your character hops on late, while the train is en route, so you miss the beginning of the journey. You then travel to your compartment to meet up with your friend, only to find that he's been murdered, with his bloody body on the floor.

    As a player, you have a couple of different options. You can choose to leave the body on the floor, hide it in the foldaway bed, or throw it out the window. Each one comes with different consequences. If you leave the body on the floor or hide it in the bed, his body will be discovered when the conductor comes to make your bed for the evening. If you throw it out the window, his body is found by police, who later board the train to search it.

    The neat thing is that, as a player, you can completely fail to even realize the body is there. If you board the train and, instead of going to your compartment, decide to explore and talk to some of the other passengers. The game's real-time passes and the body is discovered by the conductor even though you as a player never even saw it.

    The entire game proceeds like this, and in fact much of its design is centered around the idea that, as a player, you won't necessarily know everything you need to in your first go-around, so the game's failure states are used to be instructive. Every time you mess up a major event (such as not dealing with the body), the game gives a mini-ending, often revealing to the player some important information, and then rewinds its clock back to give you another chance to address things knowing what you now know.

    The cool part is that, by using social deduction, you can avoid some of these bad endings altogether. The game has a complex social and political landscape, as you are on a train in Europe on the brink of World War I. Different characters with different nationalities, allegiances, political beliefs, and reasons for being on the train are all present, and if you learn enough about them you can better navigate the game proactively rather than reactively.

    For example, this is somewhat spoilery, but at some point someone will try to blow up the train. If you haven't found any clues that hint at this possibility, the train will simply explode, right on cue, as the game's internal timer reaches the end of the bomb's countdown. It can feel completely out of the blue. On the other hand, if you've been paying attention to certain clues in the environment and you understand certain character motivations, you can come to the conclusion that it's going to happen before it does, which gives you time to find and defuse the bomb.

    It's not a perfect example of what the video discussed, given that the dialogue in the game is all pre-scripted, and your only choices with regard to it are who to talk to and when, but I feel like it fits the spirit of what he's going for because the game is fairly socially dynamic and its gameplay directly complements, if not outright creates, much of its narrative. The game doesn't come across as a standard A-Z plotline that the character moves through beat by beat (though there certainly is some of that), but instead a much more fluid experience based around your specific player actions.

    That said, I can't give a blanket recommendation simply because the game is frustrating to modern sensibilities. It lacks conveyance and a sense of direction, and a lot of its deductions are based on historical knowledge regarding the political landscape pre-WWI, which is a niche knowledge bank to draw from. Furthermore, repeated failure is far from fun, especially when you're not sure where the game is trying to point you even after an ending. I very much enjoyed the game and think it's a classic, but it's definitely isn't for everyone.

    4 votes