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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Movies I Would Play

There are plenty of connections between movies and RPGs. They're both concerned with character and story, and both are forms of entertainment, albeit one is active, one is passive. I happen to watch a lot of movies, mostly because I have given up on cable/broadcast TV as a form of entertainment. Between Netflix and services like Hulu I can satisfy my passive entertainment itch pretty well, especially now that Netflix supports streaming on many gaming consoles. About the only things I miss on regular TV are some sporting events, like March Madness.

Anyhow, I often find myself comparing movies to games, and thinking about which movies would make good games. Here are the movies I would play in a heartbeat. The movies themselves may not be great works of art, but most games aren't either.

Pulp Action: The Mummy

The Mummy (Widescreen Collector's Edition)I seem to drift back to this movie for gaming inspiration on a regular basis. There's so much to love. A nice little historic vignette to open things up. Great introductory scenes for the interesting and varied main characters. Strong but not overwhelming NPCs. Burning boats. Ancient ruins. Cursed treasure. Romance. Gun fights. Evil undead. Tricks and traps. Witty banter. The list goes on and on. If a game I ran turned out as engaging and entertaining as this movie, I would die a happy GM.

One of the greatest features of this movie is every single character is fully engaged. The main characters have differing motivations and stakes in the story, and each pursues their own goals with gusto. The NPCs, from the spineless Beni, to the foul prison warden, to the secretive museum curator, are well developed and interesting, without overshadowing the leads. When the GM and players engage with this level of intensity, it raises the entire game to a higher level.

Sadly the subsequent movies in the series were much less entertaining. The second retains some of the fun of the first, but after that... well, it's just not the same.

Horror: Alien

Alien (The Director's Cut)
Don't let anyone fool you. Alien is a horror flick. Sure it takes place in a Science Fiction setting, but the heart of the movie is all about the horror. The movie is a suspenseful ride punctuated by a few scenes of pure terror. I think the only reason Alien would be tough to game is the body count. With only a single survivor, I think many players would be frustrated as the death toll rises. but as a one-shot survival game it could be quite entertaining.

One of the things I like most about Alien is the underlying grittiness of the movie. There are no slick, high-tech solutions, only improvised solutions and quick thinking. The PCs are forced to deal with the fact that they're facing an unknown force that they may not be able to defeat. Once the ferocity of the Alien is exposed they, quickly change their strategy from opposition to escape. They also split the party, with expected results.

Western Tombstone

TombstoneWesterns often focus on single characters instead of ensemble casts, but Tombstone, ostensibly the story of Wyatt Earp,  has a collection of colorful main characters. From the game-perspective this movie is about much more than gunfights. The characters and their relationships are the true focus. This includes bonds between the main characters themselves as well as their ties to their enemies.

I view Tombstone as a great example of party creation. The main characters (including the late arrival Doc Holiday), all have strong ties to the rest of the group that assure cooperation. The characters are also well-developed and competent. One could also argue the Tombstone GM engaged in bait-and-switch tactics, since the initial story is about retiring and settling down. In my view this is a good example of bait-and-switch, and it's clear the GM talked to his group beforehand, since the swap became a central focus of the story.

So there you have it, three great games... er movies. If you haven't engaged in the 'what would this be like as a game' exercise, I encourage you to give it a try. After all, movies have been telling us stories far longer than we've been sharing them via RPGs. We could learn a thing or two from the film craft.
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