Thriller Story Machine

When I research our project’s client,  Roblox, I found this game that is so simple and actually a “thrilling story machine”.

Mysterious Murder

There are always some thriller games come out after a while. Successful thriller games usually backed by strong narratives, and tell the story by switching between interaction and cutscenes, also known as the “string of pearls” method. Mysterious Murder, however, combining thriller game with multiplayer, which is quite a brilliant idea.

The rule is very simple:

  1. When a game starts, all players respawn in a same map.
  2. There will be one killer and one sheriff in the players. Others are innocents.
  3. When killer and sheriff don’t equip their weapon, they look like other innocents.
  4. Killer must kill everyone to win the game.
  5. Killer loses if killed by sheriff or not kill everyone within time limit.
  6. If Killer loses, all survived players win.
  7. If a sheriff shoot an innocent, both sheriff and the innocent die.

Each game I feel like experience in a 3 minutes murder case. Here are some notes about what make this game unique and quite addictive.

Realtime

I’ve seen some live game and board game using similar this kind of asymmetric design. Some of them are good, but when I play those, I always feel like playing a “themed card game”. Integrating this idea into a realtime first-person interface totally change the players’ experience. You can hear the footstep, the sound of someone being stab, or see a friendly face suddenly pull out a knife in front of you. The game use minimal design and create the horror atmosphere very well.

Abstract character:

Having just seen Scott McCloud’s comic about characters, I can understand now why some games can still appeal a lot of people even the graphic quality is like twenty years ago. In this game, I don’t think they do this intentionally, but abstract character – with permanent happy face – actually works pretty well. For someone who read detective novel or thrilling movie, we no longer see the blocky characters but project ourselves into the world.

That’s also why I can’t immerse myself very much in Left 4 Dead. I can’t “extend identity” to a character that looks realistic and  already have a clear personality.

Dramatics moment in every round

A well-designed multiplayer game always takes interest curve into account. This game also have a good interest curve during the 3 minutes gameplay. Player have to stay cautious to every other player, and as more dead body appears, the interest curve goes up. After the killer reveal himself, there is another peak in the interest curve. The killer may start hunting down the remaining players, or he can act as an innocent to trick others. 

Actions above the Necks:

“Improv-online-typing acting” is part of the game. You sometime have to convince other when one is suspecting you. When you’re killer, you may blame someone who is just close to a dead body, causing chaos among players.

Anonymous

In this game, everyone changes their code name after each round, and they don’t know each other’s account name in the game. This is very important because acting is part of the game, and anonymousness prevent players to think outside the game.

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5 thoughts on “Thriller Story Machine

  1. Jerry,

    This is an interesting thought. It sounds like a smaller experience that can be deeply engaging. I like the idea of every round being totally different but playing with the same people. I have played card games like this and I think they are great because you are in the same room and it requires a fair amount of improv acting. My question is how do you think we can achieve that level of engagement in an online game? Is it necessary to see each other face to face, or would that ruin the experience in your opinion? I feel like these games could be very popular among the casual gamer crowd because they seem pretty accessible.

    Good read,

    Casey

    • I would simply not mimic the experience in card game to an online game. The experience of a game like Mysterious Murder is the feeling of actually being trapped with a killer in a room. That’s why I call it a “thriller story machine”. The fun part of playing card game like this is to see your friend’s reaction in different situations. It’s interesting but far from the experience of watching a thriller. In this case, not seeing each other face to face is completely reasonable.

  2. Hi Jerry,
    I agree, the concept for this game, Murder Mystery, sounds like an interesting and fun interpretation of a familiar concept. Unfortunately, the game was down when I attempted to play. As you note, a game like this will consistently generate engaging stories and that is one of its strengths. There seems to be an interesting interplay between the way the rules and unknown factor generate suspense and the time limit. I would guess that the short span you mention, 3 minutes, makes for a frantic atmosphere and that the designers playtested the game with variant lengths. However, I can’t help but wonder what the game’s feel would have been with a somewhat extended time limit. The risk I see is that it may make it to easy to coordinate as a group to uncover the killer. However, if there were a way to disrupt this cooridination, I feel that an extended length could create a more organic suspense (and maybe stronger immersion) as opposed to outright panic.

    It is interesting that you touch on the the mandated anonymity each round. I can see how that has some advantages but I feel like there are some players that would enjoy the metagame of having a sense of a player’s identity either from knowing them outside the game or from previous rounds. If you gave player’s the ability to choose their in game nickname then that could really contribute to mind games (imaging players choosing the same tag as another player from a previous round and pretending to be him/her).

  3. I also didn’t get a chance to play it, but this is a direct port of an old “parlor” game that we used to play as children. The rules were exactly the same, but required a little finessing to work completely. First off, the killer and the sheriff could only attack when the lights were off. Second, when the lights were off only the killer and sheriff were allowed to move, so when they came back on and someone was in a different place they were automatically suspect. Third, there was a win state for the other players. Everyone could accuse a killer and send him to jail; the lights were then turned off to see if anyone else was killed.

    The game required players to really work within the system; it was fragile in that one player not following the rules could break it easily, and somehow that rarely happened. It seems the best part of the game, as you say with the digital version, was afterward when everyone would trade stories (“When Misty got murdered I swear I felt Justin bump into me, I was sure he was the killer, not the sheriff!”)

    Anyway, I’m glad to see a great game live on in a new media form. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks for turning me onto it!

  4. We’ve talked about this game before Jerry, on the bus. And to not bore you, I want to pick up on something else I noticed while reading your post.

    (shameless plug: my dice game was all about celebrating hidden enemies and allies! we should play it sometime! 😉 )

    I’m glad that you’ve picked up on abstraction and projection being a big deal: and that’s something I’ve picked up from reading as well. Literature is amazing because you bring your own contexts into the stories – the characters are firmly the way they look thanks to your imagination, and that’s a very powerful thing.

    i like that you’ve compared it to left4dead. I loved the game but as there’s less to imagine, my engagement was spent more on pointing at things and making them die than actively immersing myself in the world.

    This makes me wonder if the indie resurgence right now (remember the demoscene?) is really the gateway to more expressive, immersive entertainment. Especially with Mysterious Murder, which is such an emergent environment: the stories are created participatorially, via simple mechanics and even simpler graphics.

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