Porcelain Dolls with No Bones

June 15, 2012

Potential spoilers for Prometheus (2012), Moon (2009), Sunshine (2007)

These three movies are porcelain dolls; on the surface, they have great beauty with strong cinematography, very intellectual ideas, the correct somber tone, and strong acting. But underneath, the very structure of these movies, the script, has no support, no bones.

The script weaknesses for each movie are rather different. Moon had no second act, only a first and a third. Sunshine created an antagonist from thin air to pad its third act (and also suffered from some logical problems). And Prometheus had useless characters and obtuse character motivations.

I lump these three movies together mostly because they are attempting to emulate the serious, somber sci-fi of the late 70s and 80s, where auteur cinematographers and directors brought a “realistic” look and gravitas to a genre that was (is) seen as cheesy escapism.

There are plenty of other websites that have their own summations and explanations for Prometheus, such as:

A breakdown of the symbolism in the movie and a defense for its quality...

A critique of the movie on all of its weaknesses...

And a tongue-in-cheek summary of David's role in the movie.

But while these defenses and criticisms are all well and good and thought-provoking, in the end, these movies lack the proper plotting, characterizations, and structure to make them real sci-fi classics.

The Art of MCing

May 31, 2012

I ran an absolutely awesome game of Monsterhearts at Kublacon on Sunday. I don't need to blog about that, except to say that the players were the reason it was awesome. They were fully into the genre, fully into the game, and fully into cooperating and collaborating.

My Apocalypse World game was not so awesome, and it was mostly because one player (playing the Battlebabe) was getting visibly frustrated. I don't blame him; I take full responsibility, and these are my reasons:

The Sitch: I gave the Battlebabe player a "quest". Go get some stolen things from the Hoarder for me, and I'll pay you.

Problem: Poor, inorganic setup. Terrible, bland, generic, and worst of all, impersonal.

What I should have done:
Tell the Battlebabe player the real situation behind the "quest". The NPC wants the stolen things to start a coup. What did the player think about that? What side did the player want to be on? The NPC wants the player to use his favorite bar as a home base. What did the player feel about that? From there, springboard into something the player cares about instead of plain, boring, ole money. This would have also put the player in the middle of the action, and the Battlebabe should always be in the middle of the action.

The Sitch: Another player highlighted the Battlebabe's Hard -2 stat.

Problem: A -2 in any stat means that the player would avoid using it at all costs. Since it was highlighted, that means the player can only depend on one stat at all times for experience.

What I should have done:
I should have advised the Battlebabe player to use the Hard-2 stat as much as possible, with the caveat that it would place his character in more dangerous and problematic situations. But that would be good, because I had highlighted his Cool stat, the stat that gets him OUT of those dangerous and problematic situations. He would be basically making his own trouble to get out of, and doubling his experience.

In other words, coach the player to make his character more awesome.

The Sitch: The Hoarder was another player, and the Battlebabe player was clearly uncomfortable working against her.

Problem: Apocalypse World can handle having two players go toe to toe against each other, but the Battlebabe player didn't want to do to that. Whether it was respect for the other player, a lack of interest in playing a jerk, or habits from traditional games, the player clearly saw no way out of his situation. The Hoarder didn't want to cooperate, and he didn't want to be aggressive against her, so he stalled and stalemated.

What I should have done:
I should have negotiated a quick manipulate roll between the Hoarder player and the Battlebabe player to push the action forward. I should have intervened between to the two players to negotiate a way out of the stalemate, to get the players to compromise even if their characters didn't want to. I had given a little speech at the beginning about the difference between player knowledge and character knowledge, but this was a real situation. By bringing the players to the discussion, the game would have become cooperative and collaborative, not antagonistic.

I not only feel bad because a player was frustrated when he should be having fun. I also fear that he'll walk away from Apocalypse World thinking that it sucks and won't try it again. In that way, I did the player and the game designer a mild disservice. I can only work harder to be better.