Sunday, 30 June 2013

Rough Ideas: The Interrogation

A suspect being grilled in the interrogation room
from the game, LA Noire by Rockstar Studios.
I am the Warden!!

There's a strange thing that happens in the creative mind. Defeat doesn't dampen it's spirit, but makes it stretch its muscles and try again. While I was initially thinking about going back and touching up a few older concepts (such as the Wildpath System devised for the EN World 7-Day contest a few months ago), something else has arisen to occupy my time. For now. 

I've been playing a lot of LA Noire for the past month and what I love (though I'm not very good at it) are the interrogation scenes. Reading facial expressions and holding people to direct evidence in a quest to obtain the truth and find the guilty party. Absolutely love it. Interrogation scenes can make for some of the best moments in a great series or movie (the best being those from the original BBC series, Cracker, with Robbie Coltraine) and I suddenly found myself wondering how to design a focused game for just such an idea. 

The first thing you need to eliminate is any abstract mechanic for handling lies or intuition. While I'm sure one is possible, what I'm looking for is a challenging game of deception and mystery where an abstract mechanic, such as dice rolls, assists rather than informs. In other words, players have to think their way through this game. 

Here's what I have. Each game has a minimum of 4 players; one is the Investigator, the remaining are Suspects. Each game provides a Case for the Investigator to solve and each player is provided with a write-up of the facts from their character's POV. Investigators receive a rough breakdown of the Case and provides a list of 3 pieces of Evidence (physical facts, such as fingerprints, eyewitness statements, etc.) while Suspects are provided with the truth about their involvement. Each Suspect is connected and potentially involved in the Case, but only one of them is guilty of the actual crime. One Suspect knows their guilt at the start of the Case. This means all Suspects must lie to their Investigator, who must decide if a player is lying or telling the truth with each question they choose to ask. 

When the Case begins, each Suspect must convince the Investigator of another Suspect's guilt while covering up their involvement/connections/related crimes. For example, in a bank robbery where a security guard was killed, one of the Suspects was the getaway driver. He/she has to cover up their involvement to avoid attracting the Investigator's interest because they can only choose one Suspect to take the fall. To do that, each Suspect (the players) must lie through their teeth and the Investigator must sift through the lies to uncover the truth and charge one Suspect with the crime. 

Let's be honest, what better tool is there for lying and intuition than good old fashioned human deception and detection. Unlike a murder mystery party, the answer is known to someone in advance and the onus is on the players to point at another Suspect for the crime. 

Aiding the Investigator are Confrontations, moments where a Suspect is challenged with evidence to break apart their lies. To do this, all characters have three resources: Empathy, Intimidation, and Motivation. At the start of each Case, players assign scores to each resource as they see fit and each point represents a d6 to roll against another character. Let's say the Investigator decides to confront a Suspect on their alibi in the hopes of forcing them to change their story (even if it's the truth) by using Motivation to "convince" the Suspect to do the right thing (or Empathy to play "good cop" with a Suspect or Intimidation to play "bad cop"). The Investigator can roll 1d6 for every Motivation they assign to the roll against the Suspect's Motivation roll. If the Investigator has Evidence to back up their Confrontation, they gain +2, while Suspects can apply a modifier if their story is actually the truth. If the Investigator rolls higher, the Suspect's alibi can no longer be used. If the Suspect rolls higher, that Evidence can no longer be used against them in this Case again. Once the Investigator uses those Motivation points, they're gone for the case, meaning it's wise for the Investigator to apply their resources wisely. 

This allows Investigators to blindly accuse their Suspects and abuse their power, much like real investigations or break down their lies step-by-step on the path to the truth. Remember, all Suspects have something to hide, but only one committed the actual crime. Or perhaps there's more than one guilty Suspect. Either way, when the Investigator feels confident enough to accuse a Suspect, the Case is closed and the Suspects reveal if the Investigator was right or wrong. 

There are still some details to work out and a game like this needs to be tested. It also means the game requires Cases for players to take on in advance with a web of connections, but the main emphasis is that the Suspects choose their own lies. All they're presented with is their truth (what they must conceal). Who knows? Maybe someone tries nothing but the truth, but that leaves them open for another Suspect to pin the blame in them. It's an idea that feels right in theory, what I need know is to draft up something concrete and try it out. 

For now, thoughts and feedback?