Nathanael Cole / Alliterated Games

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Musings on “Threat Escalation” with the Cannibal Contaion Mechanics

Some lunchtime thoughts…

If you’ve played monster video games and you’ve watched monster movies, then you’re probably quite familiar with the way that a good many of them build of the danger levels over the course of the experience. Rarely does the biggest and baddest monster just pop right out at the beginning of the movie or game. Instead, the heroes frequently have to overcome obstacles which start relatively minor, but which progressively and even exponentially increase in potency. In video games, for example, the bad guys get increasingly gruesome and more dangerous (I almost mistyped this as “gangrenous” there, but I guess that would work too) as the stages progress, and thrown in every few measures is an exceptionally strong “boss” type of menace.

One of the major features in Cannibal Contagion of which I am particularly fond* is the way the game implements this concept of “threat escalation.” Specifically, three game mechanics work to facilitate this, namely the Adversity Tokens, the Crazy-Go-psycho Meter, and the Infection tallies. As the session progresses, players should notice a definite increase in the inherent danger of the scenario. The Adversity pool increases by an increasing amount of income, allowing the CiC to throw bigger and badder Threats at the Survivors. As the characters call upon their madness and adrenaline to perform greater deeds, they spiral ever closer to the bottom of their sanity, towards that inevitable breaking point. And of course, since this is a zombie game, the threat of becoming one of them shambles ever so steadily closer.

As the game is played out and these three mechanics roll along, you can visibly observe the increase in threat and danger, and I love this, so very, very much. Each time I see it in action, it fills me with glee. So now that I’m working on a follow-up game using the same basic system of game mechanics (think: Shoot Em Up: the Movie: the Game), I’m currently mulling over some different methods of threat escalation. Obviously the Madness and Infection mechanics wouldn’t apply, because they are specific to the zombie genre, and rarely-if-ever present in gun-fu sh’mups. So what, then, could serve as that mechanic?

Perhaps a system of fucked-up meta-morality, a form of karmic retribution that the player knows is just around the bend, and the more bullets they fire and the more people they kill, the closer they get to that destiny? Or maybe some form of Shadow, a haze of disassociation that degrades the character’s connection to society and reality? Maybe a Weariness sets in; the more people they kill, the less they even care about “all of this,” the less “their mission” matters to them any more. Or instead, a mechanic that represents some kind of reward, a Payoff, a Score that will only be dramatically timed into the game when the appropriate number of bullets have been fired in an appropriately bad ass manner.


* and by “fond” I mean “really damn proud”

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