In the film industry, if you take off and make a labor of love project you hope like hell that a distributor picks it up and it gets seen in arthaus cinemas around the country. In the already borderline-cottage industry of role-playing games, you fall back on word of mouth and producing a great game that does one thing particularly well. Hence, the joys of the Indie Press.
Of late, there’s a few indie games that have been close to my heart. Fiasco, the self-described game of “Big dreams and poor impulse control” is a narrative game designed to replicate the heist-gone-wrong films for which I have such a fondness: Three Kings, Blood Simple, Fargo, A Simple Plan. Fiasco is very true to its source material, and it does a great job of putting people in the position of making tremendous plans and watching them all go to hell. Of particular interest as a writer is their use of a two-act structure that hinges in the middle on what they call “The Tilt”. The Tilt is that moment where everything falls apart – the triggering activity that sends the plans into their death spiral. It is a game for fans of schadenfreude, which rewards people who are willing to screw over their fellow players. Just as it should be.
Zombie Cinema is another well done, genre specific narrative that I’ve played a lot of lately. Like Fiasco, it’s designed to replicate a specific style of film (I’ll leave you to figure out which). In this case, the narrative scenes are played out against a track that progresses the zombies’ presence within the story – from scattered news reports to total apocalypse. The players also move up and down the track, pushed around by the outcome of their scenes. Those players who fall behind are eventually consumed by the oncoming tide. Of particular interest to me is their method of randomly creating characters using role and attribute cards – addicted housewife, noble beggar, cheerful survivor. It creates some interesting dichotomies that allow for interesting characters and maintains everyone as normal people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.
So there it is, a couple of mini-reviews of Indie Games I love, and more importantly, why I love them as a writer. If you’re interested in narrative games at all (and if you’re not sure, I recommend a visit to @@SITE to review the elements of game theory – I don’t want to discuss it here), or you’re curious about the storycrafting process of these particular types of tales, you owe it to yourself to check them out.