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Covert Design Diary 1
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
So, this game that I’m working on. Like all game projects, it's evolving rapidly, but the basic shape seems to have stabilized enough to be worth sharing. And if what we ship turns out completely different, then this will make an interesting historical document :-)

Current working title is COVERT. It is inspired by an old Sid Meier game called Covert Action (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_Action). Covert Action was a James Bond fantasy with a structure similar to another classic Sid Meier title, Pirates!; lots of minigames which all tie together into a world map and a core fantasy You travel the world, hunting down international criminals and thwarting their evil plots. I *loved* Covert Action, but it tanked in the market. Sid Meier (a clever guy) believes that the reason it tanked was because the different modes of play fought against each other (more details may be found in that Wikipedia article). That seemed plausible to me, but it also seemed like something that would be relatively simple to fix, by simply paring down one of the game's halves. Add a modern (non-RSI-inducing) interface, and you've got the core of a great design.

Of course, once I *start* making improvements, I can't stop, and we've already moved significantly away from that original idea. Instead of "paring down" the "action" aspect, we're removing it entirely. There will still be modular bits of interaction, but they'll all be (essentially) turn-based.

Perhaps more significantly, we're moving strongly away from the "James Bond" aspect. While we are still, at base, a story about exaggeratedly romantic international crime fighting, we're taking on some of the more problematic aspects of the "thriller" fantasy and making them part of the gameplay. You don't have to outgun the baddies, you have to gather enough legally admissible evidence to prosecute them. Well, you *can* have (turn-based) shootouts, or even use torture -- but there will be consequences both short and long-term. The more violent you are, the more violent the world you inhabit becomes. Enemies are more likely to use deadly force against you. And in between missions, your family life will eventually be stained by the darkness in your soul.

Paying off that last sentence is going to be *extremely* challenging, but I have some ideas I think will work. But before we can test them out, we have to finish building the core gameplay, which will take a while yet...

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I like the "world reflects your morality" bit. Reminds me a little of Good / Bad Stuff in the Amber RPG, where it determines both your 'luck', and how people react to you...

I like hearing "turn-based" and "consequences"! But I'm wondering if those consequences might conflict with the "exaggeratedly romantic" setting. What if players go into the game thinking they're supposed to act like James Bond or Jack Bauer?

*Ideally*, they have a visceral emotional reaction that gets them thinking about the wider implications of violence.

I can't guarantee that, of course. No Art pleases everybody, and that which attempts it comes out bland.

There are marketing implications, though, that I'm going to need to ponder for a while... Thanks for bringing that into focus early!

That sounds very cool!

or even use torture -- but there will be consequences both short and long-term

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE have the torture victim divulge false information to mollify the player which then completely screws up the player.[*] And/or results in the death of the victim before you get all the information you need. And/or somehow taints the prosecutability of the information they have, such it make things harder on the player.

[* Do you know the story "King of the Wurras?" out of MIT's LARPing (AG) tradition?]

And in between missions, your family life will eventually be stained by the darkness in your soul.

You could... invite... the player to consider his/her family's safety and to do things to prepare for an assault on his/her family. Shouldn't be hard to lure the player down a path to paranoia, accidental firearm deaths, etc.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE...

All those things are already part of my plans. But if torture *never* produced (apparently) useful results, at least in the short-term, then I think it would fail both as a game mechanic and as rhetoric. The trick is to show just enough of the appealing side that (some) players follow it down the rabbit hole into confronting the madness.

Do you know the story "King of the Wurras?" out of MIT's LARPing (AG) tradition?

Nope, but I'd love to hear it!

You could... invite...

The events you allude to were already part of the plan. But those ellipses of yours have sparked a useful twist on them. Thanks!

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