Actual Play – Blue Gene: Episode 1 (4/18/2011)

Director: Leonard Balsera
Cast: Sean Nittner, Rich Rogers and Scott White
System: PTA

Scheduling this game has been a bit rocky. All of our schedules are pretty crazy AND we didn’t think to immediately schedule the first show after we finished the pilot. You could say we were waiting to see what the studio said about it…but that is way to meta.

We started a bit late (8:30) I think but all agreed that we didn’t need to finish and episode in a single session, which was a good thing, we didn’t get anywhere close (finished the first act and half of the second).

So this is what you missed last time on Blue Gene.

Screen Presence:

Kevin: 2
Sloane: 1
Hunter: 1

Act 1 – Opening Scene

A dark briefing room.

Lenny likes opening up the shows with our worn out LT telling us how much he hates his job and giving us a case. This time he also mentioned that there was no mention whatsoever of ramifications for the excessive force used on the last case. Kevin thanked him for having our backs but he denied it, turning to Frank he said “you must know the prince of darkness himself, to get you guys out of this mess.” Frank just nodded and we moved onto the case:

Javier Rolston, a MMA prize fighter had recently shown up on the radar as a potential re-sequencer. His last few bouts had ended too quickly and the speed of his fastest punches and kicks were breaking records left and right. Within human capacity? It was hard to tell.

I decided, perhaps to complicate things, but also to make them more personal that Kevin adored this guy, thought the world of him, and refused to admit that he could have re-sequenced.

Act 1 – Kevin Siddig

I had wanted a basketball scene since last game and this seemed to be as good a time as any to have one. Sloane and Siddig were playing ball down in the precinct gym (which, by the way, I decided was Kevin’s personal set). Siddig’s style was fast and accurate, Sloane was efficient with his energy, charging straight down the line and checking Siddig out of his way to make the shot. As they played the banter made it clear that a) whoever had the ball got to talk and b) whoever won the game, won the argument. The argument? Could Rolston possibly be a gene-freak or was this just wasting our time? Kevin, in his heart wanted to believe in Javier, Sloane didn’t care, this was just a job and we were going to do the job.

When the ball went out of bounds Frank would pick it up, add in his two cents and then toss it back in.

Flip – Director wins. Kevin has the last word.

Kevin was doing everything he could to suppress his abilities in this game. First off, he didn’t want to cheat and second, he couldn’t afford to create any more suspicion. His act worked to well though, and when the score was tied up with one point to go, Sloane powered forward, delivered a brutal quip about Siddig letting it get to personal, and then knocked him on his ass to shoot the final shot.

We flashed back to a earlier Siddig, out of shape and a little portly, chasing a perp down the street and running out of breath. He watched as the perp scaled up a nearly sheer wall in bewilderment and looked down at his father’s watch, which fit his heavier wrist perfectly.

As they were all walking out, Siddig was the last to go. He casually tossed the ball from full court and dropped it through the hoop, nothing but net.

Act 1 – Sloane

Sloane likes to get the job done, which is a good fit for Rich, who likes to move the story as well. He framed the next scene in the skybox with Sloane, Siddig and Terrance, a promoter. We agreed that as we were undercover agents, our cast had to be very versatile and excellent at taking on whatever role was necessary. Suddenly the show got a very “Burn Notice” feel to it.

Sloane showed up as Joey Sloane, manager for an up and coming fighter Kevin, aka “Cujo”. The promoter of course didn’t want to put an untested fighter anywhere near the championship fight but with some bribes and a little showing off, Sloane convinced him to put Kevin on the card, albeit not fighting Rolston. Most importantly though, we got invitations to a big part happening in a few days, where every who’s who would be there, including Rolston’s manager, Tyrone Northway.

Flip – Sloane wins and has the last word.

As Will Smith said when he first joined MIB: “I make this shit look good.” As did Sloane.

Act 1 – Frank Hunter

Hunter’s scene was set in very pricey restaurant, with himself and Daniel Covington, Sloane’s ex-wife. I was channeling Kevin a bit as the scene rolled on. The longer he talked to Covington, the larger I made the font for his character concept: The “douchebag” in Internal Affairs. It ended at 18 point, bold.

They met and Covington was pleased to see that Hunter was a man of taste (as well as means). She ordered the most expensive wine on the menu and then didn’t drink a sip, just to make a point.

The both wanted something from each other. Frank wanted eyes on the manager Northway and for her to lay off Sloane. Danielle wanted to be made an official police informant and see some of Hunter’s confidential files. The real question became whether or not her would give out gene sequencing information.

Flip – Hunter wins and has the last word.

Answer, hell no. He made her and informant and then immediately started piling on the demands. Convington would be one busy girl.

Act 2 – Opening scene.

Sloane and Shawn in the computer room, viewing the interface. Shawn tells him it’s going to get hard to Rolston, he’s protected by Northway, who watches him like a hawk. Also, chances are very good that Northway is dirty, really dirty.

Act 2 – Kevin Siddig

As soon as the promoter mentioned a party, I knew I wanted to make a big scene of it. Cameras flashing, newscasters doing interviews and all the important people in one place. I think I placed every person in the game except the DA and the LT (only because I couldn’t figure out a way to put them there)

We had some awesome hob nobbing of Hunter and Covington putting on a show as reporters and being familiar enough that Sloane nearly lost his own act. He kept it though and managed to meet Tyrone and get into his good graces, only moments before Kevin blew the whole place up. Could Sloane keep his cool, despite the distraction of watching Hunter and Covington whispering in each other’s ears?

I had been wanting to start some crazy shit for a while and this was perfect. Kevin had walked in in his boxing shorts to the party, which had a boxing ring in the middle of it and Javier was showing off some moves for the camera. Kevin goaded Javier into fighting him right then and there in an unofficial bout. Could Kevin put up a good fight with a world class fighter and NOT show off that he was re-sequenced?

Flip – Kevin and Sloane win, and Director has the last word.

Yes and Yes.

Sloane pulled off his cover miraculously, so much so that he snubbed his ex out of getting the story (other reporters flooded in while she was distracted). He talked to Tyrone and made a deal for their two respective fighter to have an official match.

Kevin did his best to keep up with Javier without looking too good. We had some cool scenes watching Javier through Kevin’s perspective, moving in slow motion and learning his moves on the fly as they fought. To make it look viable, Kevin cheated. He looked to Sloane for the nod and then turned off his repulsor so that a kick to Javier’s neck would drop him. The fighter saw this though and in a lighting fast move elbowed Siddig’s controls, breaking them and thus making it look like the malfunction was an accident. He looked up bewildered at Siddig “You gotta keep it in the ring man.” A message Kevin wasn’t fully sure he understood. One thing was certain in Kevin’s mind though, Javier is re-sequenced. A hero has fallen.

What rocked

Though we didn’t finish and episode, this session moved along pretty well. All of our scenes had solid direction, often with the questions being obvious.

Sometimes I feel like games keep the players at bay from the awesome, as though once they have done the awesome, their won’t be anything left to reward them with, so we have to keep teasing them with the chance of getting the awesome but never (or rarely delivering). Imagine a dragon riding setting where the players never get on the back of a dragon. This game is the opposite of that. We’re not playing nobody characters try to make it big, this last case showed that we are playing the “best”. Sloane and Siddig are THE re-sequencing team, and Hunter is THE guy to make their operations possible. We’re the stars, and we do thing like the stars do, like break our way into a championship MMA competition and cheat our way up to fighting the champion. That is awesome stuff. Mulder and Scully got nothing on us…well except for Gillian Anderson and David Duchovney, but still!

Lenny made a very good play in using his opening scene to advance the plot. It was an exposition scene that revealed another complication. It was pretty short, but pointed us at Tyrone and gave the case a little more oomph. As the players are chiefly concerned with their own issues, having the director pushing plot points onto the scene is very important. I dug it.

What could have improved

This is the second game where I’ve bet against myself, giving the director fan mail for me to lose a conflict. It seems like there is something wrong with that situation, because if what I want is the lose condition, that that should be the win condition, or something like that. As is, it seems a little like we’re using the cards to determine possible outcomes, but with no particular agenda. I’m all down with losing (clearly, I’ve bet against myself twice) but I think players should want to win their stakes, otherwise they don’t become win/lose options, they are more like either/or. Hmm…

I wanted to do more with Siddig’s flashbacks, I want to reveal how he became re-sequenced and why he hates “gene freaks” so much (which by the way, I don’t know yet, other than vaguely it being attached to his father and that he used to be a “normal” cop).

I’m kind of “meh” about screen presence. I always have been.  I understand occasionally having call outs to specific characters (like Xander in the The Zepo) but as a general format I think the character with the most compelling story is going to take center stage. Also the notion that win less if you are less important seems weird, it seems that you should have less scene instead.  Anyway, just kind of strange mechanic to me.

4 thoughts on “Actual Play – Blue Gene: Episode 1 (4/18/2011)”

  1. So in the playtest draft we have, the term “conflict” has specifically been taken out of the lexicon, which I think is perhaps the best improvement between versions. I think you might be holding on too hard to the baggage that word brings to the table.

    Like, in the Hunter/Covington scene, they both had mutually aligned interests – she wanted on the case and to get closer to the group’s business, Hunter wanted to use her skills to find stuff out for him. They both wanted the same thing. So the scene question revolved around something else – whether or not Covington could get an extra bennie on her way to the inevitable outcome.

    So there need not be a sense of definitive win/loss, just of yes/no. The scene question is just that – an issue-related question that we, as the audience, want to know the answer to, but also want to have suspense over.

    What you’ve been indicating is that sometimes, you’re pushing for “no” as the answer rather than “yes”, that’s all. I don’t conflate that with Siddig losing.


    Re: the flashbacks – we still have more of the episode to play. You have a chance yet. But I wouldn’t mind seeing it spelled out more gradually, either. You have this tendency, I’ve noticed, to want the Ten Thousand Simultaneous Awesomes. Which is a great kind of energy that I love, but bear in mind there’s also the One New Awesome Ten Thousand Times in a Row, and shades in between. 🙂


    I agree that PTA’s metaphor breaks down around the term “screen presence”, because it’s supposed to do a lot of things. There’s the actual effect of the mechanic, making it more difficult for you to get your answer to the scene question or last word and affecting the degree to which you influence the episode’s pacing. Then there’s the “social contract” side of it that the book talks about, that asks you to play a certain rating in a certain way.

    Sometimes those two anchor points play at cross-purposes. But that’s for playtest notes, and for the designer to figure out, and for us to cheerfully absent ourselves from any obligation to solve that conundrum.

    1. So there need not be a sense of definitive win/loss, just of yes/no. The scene question is just that – an issue-related question that we, as the audience, want to know the answer to, but also want to have suspense over.

      But if that is all there is, why not just flip a coin for each question. I mean the mechanics of screen presence and edges and fan mail and budget exist to create a structure where every player (director and cast) can effect the outcome. So if I’m given tools to create a result (specifically getting more red cards than the directory) then I want to think that result is meaningful.

      You may be right, I might be caught up in the term “conflict”. There seems like something is just not right when I’m not waiting in anticipation for the card flip.

      On a related note: When I get into the ice cream business, I’m going to make my own flavor called Then Thousand Kinds of Awesome. It will be absolutely inedible 🙂

  2. great AP
    You knocked this AP out of the park, man! I appreciate the work you put into this.

    I think Lenny has a point about you and the ten thousand awesome, except it really MADE the big scene pop to have so many things happening at once.

    I really adore this game and the story we’re cooking up together.

    1. Thanks Rich.

      Regarding all the awesome, I think Lenny was referencing my trying to get flashbacks into the show rather than the final scene at the party. That big showdown where we paired Siddig and Javier, Sloane and Tyrone and Hunter and Convington together was a ton of fun.

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