Monday, July 31, 2006

The Insider...

I thought that today I’d take a leaf from MC Etcher’s book, and post an idea I had.

As you’ve probably already guessed, it’s an idea for a videogame, but it’s different as, as far as I know, nothing like this has been done before. Maybe I’ve gone ahead and created a new genre.

First of all, the storyline:

The year is 1901. You receive an invitation to a ‘party’ hosted by a mysterious stranger. The invitation also states that the party is also a competition, with the winner receiving ten million British Pounds.

You arrive at the party’s location. A large, sprawling country mansion out in the middle of nowhere. You walk through the front door, into an ante-chamber filled with another 12 guests. As you enter, the door clicks shut behind you, and you hear heavy locks slide into place. A hatch opens on the wall. Inside are letters addressed to each of the guests, each reads:

Welcome to the game.

Hidden somewhere in the house is a chest containing the ten million. It also contains an artifact worth much more than money. The key to this house.

You have exactly 48 hours to find the chest, the money and the key, because in exactly 47 hours 59 minutes from now a deadly gas will flood the building. I’m afraid that it is fast acting and quite, quite fatal. Tread carefully, however, as my house is home to some quite ingenious traps.

You should also know that one among you is not entirely what he or she seems. He/She is employed by me to foil your efforts, and kill you one by one if He/She gets the chance. Out of all of you, He/She is the only one who has taken the antidote and is immune to the gas.

Your first clue is on the back of this letter, and not all competitors will receive the same clue.

It is up to you whether you want to share your clues and work together or go it alone.


Welcome to ‘The Insider’. A purely multiplayer game.

The point of the game, as you’ve guessed, is to find the chest and escape. The player (or players) who find the chest ‘win’. Points are also awarded for finding clues and solving clues. If no-one finds the chest, everyone loses and receives no points (except for the insider, based on how many people he killed, and how many red-herrings and traps he caused people to fall into).

Now, how this would work. Each ‘round’ of the game would last anywhere from an hour to six hours (set by the server). Also, at the start of each game, one player would randomly be assigned to be the ‘Insider’. The point of the game for him is to slow everyone down, spread mistrust, and of course, kill the other players.

The system would work where the ‘insider’ could only kill other players when alone with a single other player and out of earshot of the others. The ‘insider’ can also see the locations of various red herrings and traps.

However, at any time, any character can accuse another player as being the insider. If they’re right, the insider is out of the game and after a preset time limit, a new insider is picked at random. If they accuse wrongly, the accuser is out of the game.

The gameplay would be simple. At the beginning of the game, each player gets a clue, which leads to the next clue, and the next and so on. As the ‘letter’ states, players who find a clue have the choice of whether to share the knowledge or not.

This would add a lot to the gameplay as only the person who picks up the clue can see it. It’s up to them to tell the clue to the others, so a less than honest player, who read and understood the clue, could make one up to fox the other players, leaving them to figure it out while he runs off for the other clue.

For example, say the clue points to a loose floorboard in a bedroom, but one player receives a clue which points to the third floor. He could say his clue pointed to the first floor, and leave the other characters searching the bedrooms there while he shot upstairs to get the clue. However, in order to keep the game balanced and playable, the clues would be cryptic enough to ensure that at least some of them would require more than one person to figure it out. As in the above example, the other characters would find the clue eventually…and also, what if one of the bedrooms on the third floor is home to a trap? Far better to dupe someone else into searching for you.

They may also occasionally receive a clue that openly tells them to lie to the other players and look in a particular location for a hint that would put them ahead of the game…but again, maybe they’re just being led into a trap.

Each player would also have a set of ‘needs’, The Sims style, meaning they have to go to the bathroom, eat and rest. This is purely to give each player a valid, believable reason to leave the main group, giving them the opportunity to fake out other players and look for a clue on their own… and to get them on their own to give the insider access to them away from the group and set up multiple assassination choices. People gotta eat? The insider can poison some food while pretending to be on a ‘bathroom visit’.

The masterstroke in this (at least in my opinion) is how communication is handled. It’s done entirely by voice-over-net (In other words, real time talking, like over a phone), but you have to be standing near someone to talk to them. In other words, like real life. If people are whispering on the other side of the room, you might be able to eavesdrop. If they’re a couple of rooms away, you won’t hear them at all. In short, the volume of everyone’s voice depends on how far away from your character their character is.

Each game is generated randomly, although there’s an option for a ‘dungeon master’ to create his own treasure hunt and write his own clues for friends.

So as an example of how all this would work, lets imagine we’re playing the game.

Imagine my character was picked as the insider. Everyone has their letters and everyone reads their clues. Again, it all works on trust. Who knows if people are reading their real clues? What if one person has solved the clue by listening to all the others’ clues, to which his clue makes the meaning clear…but makes one up before running off the get the clue himself? Of course, he needs to come up with an excuse to get away from everyone else.

The inclusion of an insider also stops friends from playing the game and agreeing ahead of time to be honest with each other and help each other out. What if the friend you’ve agreed to team up with is the insider?

Anyway, the clues have been read, and everyone’s agreed that the clue has something to do with, say, fire. There are multiple fireplaces in the mansion, so as the insider, I suggest we split up. We have a limited amount of time and we can cover more ground individually.

Then the paranoia sets in. What if one person finds the clue and refuses to share it? What if my clue points to the exact location of the clue and I want to run off and find it alone? So it’s agreed people split into twos…which is exactly what I want. I go with my partner to a particular room, and stab him in the back. I also hide his body.

I return to the group to find three people have found a clue. Of course, they ask where my partner is. I tell them that we found our clue, but then he said his first clue told him who the insider was, and went off to find confront him and kick him from the game. I didn’t go with him, because I got the feeling he was lying and trying to lure me into a trap. If he was telling the truth, he should be back any minute! Don’t worry!

Again, think of this. Eventually everyone will realize that the character is dead. But who killed him? Everyone was in twos, and didn’t know the location of everyone else. What if the Insider killed him before he managed to confront and accuse him? What if he was simply led into a trap with a false clue? Obviously, I’d be a prime suspect, but at this point, who will risk leaving the game to accuse me?

Everyone quickly gets wrapped up in a web of lies and half truths. I could be lying. I could also be telling the truth, but what if I’m telling the truth, but what I was told was a lie? It’s a great situation where everyone has to work together to escape, but no-one can really trust anyone else. Because everything is handled by voice-over-net, you could easily tell someone you ‘overheard’ character A telling character B that he knew character C was lying because of what you heard from character D.

Anyway, back to the game. The clues that were found all say something about water. (Don’t ask me why I’m sticking with elemental clues here, they could easily lead to a loose floorboard in the cellar). As the insider, I happen to know that there’s a trap in the swimming pool, so I say my clue says something about ‘getting in over your head’. The water must be deep. Where could that be?

We find the pool, and someone jumps in and finds a lock-box on the bottom, only when they lift it, the whole pool becomes electrified.

Ooops, what a pity.

So there, you get the basic gist of the gameplay. It’s a veritable buffet of mistrust and paranoia. Part Clue, part ‘saw’, part ‘Murder in the Dark’.

Would anyone want to play it?


Miz S said...

Now THAT'S an internet game I could really get into.

MC Etcher said...

It's very good! I'd buy it. The two biggest problems would be:

a) People are assholes. Everyone would want to be the Insider. They would attempt to exit/re-enter the lobby until they were assigned as the Insider. (This exploit could be blocked by the programmers).

b) People are assholes. Everyone who wasn't the insider would keep accusing everyone around them, so that they could be 'randomly' assigned as the Insider. (Yes, even if that booted them from the game). A limited amount of re-enters per hour could help this)

Or... Perhaps all of the human players are investigators, and the Insider could be a very savvy bot or human player working for the game company - like some MMO's have human DMs for some scenarios.

Or... the Insider could be a human player, but only one who had proven themselves not to be an asshole, based on the ratings awarded them by other players over time. Like the Ebay sellers rating. Also problematic.

Great game concept!

Paulius said...

That's the only problem with multiplayer have to play with other people (IE Assholes).

However, the way I'd fix those problems:

a) You'd join a server which would pick players randomly for each game as soon as enough players had joined. Once the game starts (Where the insider is chosen), if you leave that particular game, you can't rejoin it.

b) You can only accuse someone a certain number of times per game. Like once an hour.

I like the idea of the feedback system though. Only problem with that is, you guessed it...people are assholes...and would issue de-merits at random to piss people off.