Actual Play – Blue Gene: Pilot (3/31/2011)

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

Yes! The pilot of our new show, Blue Gene. The game is set in a Distopian 2059 where gene re-sequencing has changed the definition of human existence. Like the atom bomb, a vampire from his coffin, or artificial intelligence, once the genie was let out of the bottle it can’t be put back in, only that is exactly what our characters, LAPD cops, are required to do every day. Part of a special task force Siddig (Nittner) and Sloane (Rogers) are undercover agents who investigate, root out, and desequence illegal users of the re-sequencing technology, or as Siddig likes to call them: Gene Freaks. The mission just prior to the show went wrong, leading to departmental demand for an oversight from Internal Affairs. Enter Francis “Frank” Hunter (White), the douchebag from IA, who is ostensibly there to monitor the two officers, but like both of them, spends his time grappling with his own personal tragedies, in this case a dying father who refuses treatment.

Cast:

Kevin Siddig. A young and zealous cop who works his ass off to put “gene freaks” behind bars. He got the job because the LT Neil Garrett saw potential in him and was partnered up with a veteran officer Sloane. Siddig lives in constant fear however, of his partner discovering that he is in fact re-sequenced himself, the only thing that keeps him from being a paraplegic after an accident.

Sloane. A government man who’s been a cop all his life and eats breakfast in a diner called the Greasy Spoon that has pictures on the wall of his father and his grandfather as cops as well. For all his accreditation, the man is falling apart inside. His marriage is a failure and his new partner, though rash, shows him up at every turn, and the DA that he is fucking is using him. Whereas Siddig is a boy afraid of getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Sloane is a man with a crisis of his own self-worth.

Francis “Frank” Hunter. An asshole from internal affairs that feels every bit the part of big brother. He’s been assigned as oversight on Siddig and Sloane after a mishap on the last mission, but secretly using his access to the task forces resources to investigate a cure for his father, Curtis. Like Einstein, Curtis Hunter is the genius that invented the re-sequencing technology but refuses treatment from it because he sees the horror that it’s become in society. He’s dying and Frank knows he can be saved, if only the stubborn old goat will give into the treatment. And the question is, will Frank do it anyway, even if the old man won’t?

Supporting cast

  • Mallory Feliciano. DA. Dead sexy. Sleeping with Sloane and using him to pursue her agenda.
  • Danielle Covington. Reporter. Sloane’s ex-wife. Sloan’s nemesis.
  • Shaun West. “The” IT department. The in house cyber spy that Sloane uses to keep tabs on others. Proficient with disguises but very uncomfortable and awkward in as just “Shuan”.
  • Sophia. Cryptic informant who likes playing games with Kevin, forcing him to use the advantages of his resequencing to piece together the cryptic clues she gives him. Constantly threatening to reveal his secret. Siddig’s nemesis.
  • LT Neil Garret. The commanding officer which a soft spot for the rookie Siddig.
  • Curtis Hunter. Inventor of the gene re-sequencing technology and now it’s strongest opponent. Father of Francis Hunter.

Other bits

  • Inspirations for the show: Dystopic, Prohibition, Near-Future
  • Tone: Serious, gritty drama with doses of levity, as would naturally befit the characters’ necessity to cope.
  • Pitch: In Blue Gene, the characters are undercover government agents/enforcers who investigate, root out, and desequence illegal users of genetic resequencing in 2059 Los Angeles. Rated TV-MA.
  • Catalytic Event: The mission just before the start of the show went wrong, leading to a departmental demand for oversight.

ACT 1 – Opening scene

The show opens in a brightly lit conference room with LT Garrett informing his officers that in light of the last case, the department has issued oversight in the form of agent Francis Hunter. He also issued them a mission, to find the assassin(s) that killed Judge Brian Nolan. Several bits of evidence (the precise shots as well as the eidetic memory required to produce some of the information they had) gave the department a strong suspicion that re-sequenced individuals were involved in the assassination.

Siddig, being a hot head, immediately explodes when he hears about the oversight. He protests it vehemently (with a lot of “what the fuck, LT?”) and brings to light just how bad the previous case went in doing so. As well as the real need to have someone that keeps him in check.

Hunter steps up to bat to put Siddig back in his place, says he is “here to help” and generally acts like a condescending ass. LT Garrett reminds Siddig of the “Nine reams of paper I had to fill out this weekend instead of enjoying my wife’s excellent cooking” and cows the brash officer.

The LT presents the officers some evidence (as noted above) that points to a re-sequenced suspect. Specifically, documents reproduced from memory. To which Kevin make some insensitive remarks that the LT could only look cockeyed at.

Sloan spends the scene distantly accepting the assignment and then focusing on the case the moment the information was revealed.
Perhaps to do his job, perhaps just to be an ass, Hunter is tapping away at an electronic device, taking video of the other two officers as they digest the case.

Title card

The scene fades and the Blue Gene title card, including stills from the opening scene just played is presented, along with some ninja magic from Lenny, piping the theme music through skype.

http://blackmesasource.com/media/music/BMS-01-theme.mp3

ACT 1 – Kevin Siddig

Who is in the scene? Kevin and Sloane
Where the scene is taking place? At the courthouse, in Nolan’s office.

What is the question of the scene? Will Sloane realized Kevin his hiding something from him when the informant Sophia shows up?
The scene opens showing Kevin impatiently fiddling with his father’s watch, that still doesn’t fit him comfortably while Sloane is examining more paperwork. When the secretary Patricia enters Kevin is immediately in her face demanding that she fess up with the information she knows about Nolan. The conversation stays pretty civil until Patricia asks if we have warrants to be looking though the judge’s paperwork, which really sets Kevin off. He rattles of a handful of random details, potential enemies that he probably has no reason to know (a hint at his own eidetic memory), and tells her we’re going to get in the bottom of this. Patricia is intimidated and Siddig looks like he might push it too far. This leads to Siddig and Sloane’s first on screen conflict.

Sloane take’s Siddig outside the office to cool him down and from the lobby Siddig catches that through the glass doors, across the street, in Sophia…watching him. Kevin launches into his well-meaning intentions (she’s the only one that knows what was going on in the judges life, we need her to talk, etc). Sloane counters that while the intent is good, the approach is bad. With IA up our asses, the last thing we need is to be harassing a courthouse official, even if it is a secretary.

Director: Across the street, Sophia begins very quietly beings folding a paper airplane. Carry on.

Camera angle effect. Sloan has his back to Sophia and Siddig is taller than him. At some point it appears that Siddig is just glancing up, but the camera zooms into his eye and we see the CGI budget spent on his eyes unnatural dilation, and then cuts back to him looking normally at Sloan again.

Kevin, very uncharacteristically, relents, and tells Sloane to go talk to her himself, he probably needs to cool off. At the same moment Sophia throws a paper airplane that flies through the front door that Kevin sees and desperately wants to get without Sloane noticing. Thus the question is called. Kevin acting reasonable?

Flip – Kevin wins. Director has the last word.

The scene closes as Siddig shows Sloane that his pulse is high (as the reading off his watch, but this is also because he intentionally made his pulse rise) and then walks off. Sloane is suspicious, but he’s not sure of what yet. The paper airplane include a cipher for Siddig to decode… but it’s only half, the other have is messaged to Sloane’s phone. Just because Sophia likes playing this game with Siddig.

ACT 1 – Sloane

Who is in the scene? Kevin and Sloane at the start, Frank walking in.
Where the scene is taking place? At the station, with connection Shaun West
What is the question of the scene? Sloane trying to dig into the work. Is it Sloane that identifies the first serious lead in the case?
Shauns office is zoo of blue illumination with incredible amounts of data zipping by.

Shaun (as noted above) is quite nervous talking to people. Disguised he takes on the role and can act confidant, but “naked” as he is in his office, with people inside asking information he is as awkward as a 7th grade boy during a slow dance.

The scene cuts in looking at Shaun and Sloan trying to decode the cipher, but there is only half of it. Shaun announces that just as Kevin is walking in revealing that Sohphia sent half of the cipher to both of them. Frank enters just as Shaun proposes that he could try and trace the call back to the sender and Kevin uses the “surprise” of Frank entering to accidentally spill his coffee all over Sloane’s phone (destroying it and preventing them from tracing it to Sophia). Kevin and Frank begin arguing about bullshit (Why did you startle me? Why were you started? You shouldn’t be in here? Yeah, why not? Real mature discussion) while Sloane focused on the broken code. What could he make of it?

While Shaun ran franticly around trying to clean up the mess from Kevin’s coffee and the others argued, Sloane hopped down in front of the computer and gave it a contemplative glance. Would he find the first lead?

Flip – Sloane wins and has the last word.

Sloane highlights the text, changes the font and finds out it is just a text file in a different font. “Decoded” the cipher revealed a list of addresses. The only person in the word actually working, solves the problem. Sloane grabs the file and with a tossing motion transfers the file to his pen drive. “C’mon, we gotta roll.”

(We had some product placement in this shot as well. Soda from Tab, napkins from Taco Bell, phone by Nokia.)

ACT 1 – Frank Hunter

Who is in the scene? Frank (the others suiting up in the background)
Where the scene is taking place? On his recently checked out computer.
What is the question of the scene? Does Frank’s investigation into the contraband re-sequencing technology (which he intents for his father) show up on the police logs?

A short scene where Frank is seen looking at all the personal files (including his own) and we see Shaun’s computer logging this access. Then when nobody is looking, Frank reveals his impressive tech savviness (he appeared something of a luddite before) and goes “off the grid” accessing files including the re-sequencing contraband technology and begins some simulations, modeling the effects of using the technology to heal his father. Frank is looking very suspicious.

Fan mail award for intentionally sliding his coffee away from his computer.

Contingency. Frank can only do this kind of research in the LAPD re-sequencing crime force station. A ulterior motive for him working with us? I like it.

Flip – Frank wins but the director has the last word.

Frank displays the kind of gene sequencing found by the department and compares it with his father’s genetic code, but from the audience’s perspective, it looks like he might be looking at a way to give someone a genetic disease. The camera cuts to a monitor in Shaun’s lab that it is monitoring access and shows all of his activity, except the access to the re-sequencing. He hacks that bit out.

ACT2 – Opening Scene

We’re kicking the doors down.
Who is in the scene? Siddig, Sloane, and Hunter
Where the scene is taking place? Some shitty warehouse where these things go down
What is the question of the scene? Can Frank sneak gene sequencing information out of the bust?

The scene opens with Siggig and Sloane meeting up with Hunter after having investigated a few of the locations on the list and getting nothing. This place though, has a guy outside shattering cinder blocks with a sledge hammer. The camera shows him struggling some and then injecting himself with blue serum and after a moment of shuddering smashes a block into dust. He sees the officers pull up and bolts. The chase is on!

I like tense drama, that is the meat of any show, but action scenes, those are the potatoes. I had a lot of fun with this one. All three of us split up. Sloane drove around back to cut him off. Frank went inside the warehouse to figure out what was going on in there and Siddig just chased him down on foot. I had some fun re-sequencing exposition as the guy threw a dumpster down in the alley in front of Siddig, who, after glancing over his shoulder to make sure his partner wasn’t in sight, just ran up the wall and did a flip off it over the dumpster to keep up with the guy without missing a beat. Sloane pulled around the back and cut the perp off. Trapped between the two, he used his manic strength to rip a piece of the warehouse sheet metal wall of and tear inside, just where Frank was waiting for him.

Inside, when the sledgehammer maniac runs the camera cuts to Frank who has been inside stealthily video taping the rest of the gang and getting access to their gene tank contraband. At that moment, he freezes, sees the guy who identifies him and yells “Cops!” Sloane and Kevin run in yelling “LAPD Motherfuckers!” and all hell breaks loose.

Questions revised

Frank – Does he sneak out some “pure” black market contraband?
Kevin – Does he forget himself and do some fucked up shit in order to save Frank from injury?
Sloane – Can he keep Kevin from using excessive violence on the “gene freaks”?

Flip – Kevin and Frank wins, Sloane looses and the director has the last word.

In the hail of bullets Siddig closes the gap between himself and Frank and draws down on what looks like Frank as he’s palming the contraband but when he fires actually blows away the sledgehammer wielding fool in the shadows, saving Frank and then as he turns away Frank palms the contraband.

After guy dropped, the others bolted, Siddig starts shooting them (to kill) and Sloane tackles him to prevent him from killing them. The remaining perps bolt, getting away. A three way shouting match starts between Kevin (I’m doing my job), Sloane (you can’t just kill them) and Frank (you are letting them get away). In the tussle, Kevin flips Sloane over, forget’s his strength and slams him into a wall of crates using what looks like jujitsu. When Sloane steps up and recovers he spits out blood…and a tooth.

Technology introduced: A modified rifle that although single shot, can be fired faster than a fully automatic weapon by a genetically re-sequenced individual.

Act 2 – Kevin Siddig

Who is in the scene? Siddig, Sloane, and Hunter
Where the scene is taking place? On top of a building, hanging one of the gene freaks upside down from the building while Sloane interrogates the guy and Hunter watches them.
What is the question of the scene? Does Kevin’s behavior force one of the other officers to ask him why he hates criminally re-sequenced so much?

Flip – Director wins and has the last word.

We interrogate the suspect, find out he’s a delivery guy and Kevin promises to protect the kid (Jacob) if he gives information and then sells him down the river (handcuffing him to the roof and then calling his allies and telling them the are all going down)

Memorable quote: Frank: “Siddig, what did I say about this kind of thing…If you drop another man?”

Cheesy quote: Kevin: “Either we get the drop or you get the drop”

After the interrogation Frank had enough. “Siddig, what have you got against these people?” They got into a fight (as Siddig does) about how the re-sequencing has created two classes of people, the haves and the have-nots.

Kevin “You want to de-sequence them? You want to arrest them? Fine by be. I’m all for it. But if one of those sons-of-bitches are between me and finding out who is behind that assassination, they are going down!”

Frank “Hey, they are still human beings, and you’re still a god damn cop, so act like one”

Kevin looks down and adjust his father’s watch. He is cowed.

Act 2 – Sloane

The call from Mallory

Who is in the scene? Sloane, Mallory (on the phone) and Jacob
Where the scene is taking place? On the phone, walking up to the top of the building
What is the question of the scene? Will Sloane have mercy on Jacob.

A phone call between the District Attorney and Sloane. “Hey baby, been a long day”. We see her talking sexy to him while at the same time sorting depositions. She is clearly a powerful woman. Both of them are distracted however, as Sloane is making his way back up to the roof where Jacob awaits his fate.

Killer line:

Mallory “Long days make for long nights”
Sloane: “Hrmmmm” (perfectly understated)

As he gets up to the roof, they plan a meeting for the night and she tells Sloane he has an present at his apartment. They part with him in front of Jacob, looking pathetic.

Is he going to shoot Jacob in the head or set him free?

Flip – Sloan wins, director has the last word.

In a pain moment of mercy he uncuffs Jacob and throws him a fake ID and cred stick. Take this and disappear. Then he de-sequences him.

Act 2 – Frank

Who is in the scene? Frank and Curtis Hunter
Where the scene is taking place? In the hospital, father and son talking.
What is the question of the scene? Can Frank sway Curtis towards accepting the re-sequencing treatment.

After a discussion of poor hospital food they quickly move towards the possibility of re-sequencing, which just fills Curtis with disappointment and despair.

Curtis needs to keep doing good (helping on cases) and Frank needs him to take the treatment. Who’s needs will be put first?

Flip – Frank wins and has the last word.

Father eats crow. “No dad, you’re killing an innocent man.” Frank leaves him the vial of blue gene serum to remind his father that he has every ability to find a cure for him, whether his father likes it or not. He takes copy of his father’s medical data and tells him “You get strong enough to walk down the station, and you can start working cases with me.”

Act 3 – Opening Scene

Who is in the scene? Mallory and Sloane
Where the scene is taking place? Sloane’s apartment
What is the question of the scene? Will Mallory convince Sloane do justice.

Sloan showers (we see blood mixed with water going down the drain) and as gets out Mallory rings the doorbell. When he answers it Mallory is there and she just mounts him. The scene does flash cuts of their angry sex and then opens back up in the aftermath.

Mallory presents Sloane with a file (her “present”). A list of corrupt officials (all moving money around illegally and giving each other illegal favors) that are too hard to touch. Judge Nolan is on that list. “I can’t do anything about this problem Sloane, but you can.”

Hrmmmm.

Mallory butters him up and Sloane takes the hook. He’s doing her dirty work.

Act 3 – Kevin Siddig

Who is in the scene? Siddig, Sloane and Hunter
Where the scene is taking place? The Greasy Spoon
What is the question of the scene? It got complicated

I realize now the scene question should have been “Does Frank start warming up to Kevin”. That would have given the scene some direction. Instead it was a scene that started with some downtime, the three guys eating breakfast at the Greasy Spoon diner and talking about women. Kevin opened with a disturbing discussion of cats having sex and Hunter quickly started interrogating our personal lives (as he should). When it was clear that we were dragging though Lenny pointed out what this scene needed was the obligatory guys kicking the doors down with Tommy guns, only in this case it was genetically re-sequnced humans doing a drive by.

Kevin got to have a fun moment of seeing the cars a split second before the started opening fire and slamming both Hunter and Sloan’s faces onto the table to protect them from the hail of bullets…which he could hear were coming from guns modified with ultra responsive triggers (as presented in the act two opening scene.

The chase was then on! Kevin jumped on his crotch rocket (of course he drives a crotch rocket!), Sloane jumped in his squad car and Hunter hopped in his ultra fuel efficient compact. It was at this point that we decided that repulsor technology was prevalent, which means Kevin get to have a “flying” crotch rocket. Awesome!

Questions:

Kevin – Can he prevent Sophia from leaking information about him?
Sloane – Can he prevent excessive collateral damage during the chase?

Flip – Kevin wins, Sloane loses and the director has the last word.

Kevin got another action scene. Like the speeder bike chase on Endor, he and the gene freak raced through a construction site, repulsing between steel pylons at breakneck speeds. A favorite moment for me was when Kevin did a hard turn and the repulsor field from his bike smashed into a metal stud, collapsing it. Finally he went up a few levels and as the gene freak thought was was about to get away, Siddig took a swan dive off the building with his bike and brought the replusor flied down on top of the car he was chasing, crushing the engine block with the momentum of his “bounce”, crashing both vehicles.

Watching (and video taping in fact) the whole scene was Sophia, the informant who told Kevin he just kept giving her “sooo” much good material to work with. She was disappointed though, Kevin hadn’t followed up on her information. She wanted him to play the game!

Though I won the flip, I though the most appropriate way for Kevin to get his way in this situation was to do what Sophia wanted and play her game. Instead of arresting (or and probably brutalizing) the perp he just waled over to the car as the guy was opening the door and kicked it back in, denting the frame in the process and trapping him there till other officers could arrive. Kevin mounted back up on his bike and headed back to the station, to decode the “real” cipher.

Sloan meanwhile was chasing down another car and had him locked down. With nowhere else to go, and full of desperation, the perps turned their vehicle headlong into a city bus and plowed into to. The camera cut away from the bus just as the car hit, but we soon knew from the presence of ambulances on the scene that many were injured or killed in the crash. It wasn’t Sloane’s fault, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t thing it was… or that the reporter Danielle Covington who showed up to get the story. But Covington isn’t just a reporter who wanted the hot story, she wants justice an accountability!

Act 3 – Sloane

Who is in the scene? Sloane, Hunter and Convinton
Where the scene is taking place? The aftermath
What is the question of the scene? Does Danielle convince Sloane that he is responsible for Siddig’s actions

Just as Sloane was closing the door to get into Hunter’s car (his own was wrecked) it got stuck at the last moment and the camera panned down the a jack boot on a woman in body armor. Convington, ready to go in the most dangerous, was going to get answers. “Aren’t you supposed to protect the people of LA? Is this what you call protection? Here, look what your partner did [revealing some footage of Kevin before he pulled his hyper reflex moves but were dangerous just the same]. That man is a rabid dog, he’s been a rabid dog you started working with him.”

Flip – Sloane loses and has the last word.

Convington berated him for a time until Hunter had finally heard enough (lord knows Sloane felt bad enough he wasn’t sticking up for himself) and told her that Sloane was tired, injured and had work to do, and then took off. Sloanes head filled with self doubt!

Parting words

Frank: “If I was married to a woman like that I would kill myself”
Sloane: That was my ex-wife.

Act 3 – Francis Hunter

Who is in the scene? Siddig and Hunter
Where the scene is taking place? Back at the station
What is the question of the scene? Does Frank see Kevin as a potential ally (as a sympathizer)

Frank witnesses as Siddig puts the the two pieces of the cipher together, from memory. There is a nudge nudge, wink wink moment.

Siddig “You can’t tell Sloane. Something are best left unknown”

Frank realizes that Siddig transcribed it from memory, just as the re-sequenced individual that transcribed the Judges schedule (in the first scene) did.

Uncoded the cipher reveals the names that go along with the addresses, all people related to the people who were wrongfully put in jail but judge Nolan. As posse of people who want revenge.

Act 4 – Showdown

Who is in the scene? Siddig, Sloane, and Hunter
Where the scene is taking place? An abandoned apartment complex
What is the question of the scene? Will Kevin make a promise to a gene freak…and keep it?

We bust in, dressed in swat gear ready for a raid but find sive re-sequenced criminals with a hostage in hand. Tensions are high, guns are nearly drawn and threats are made. All of them know they can drop all of us, but that we have backup.

The negotiation go pretty poorly. They aren’t scared of us and Sloane and Hunter probably won’t survive the fight. A woman makes us an offer. They will stand down if we root out the corruption in this city.

Flip – Kevin wins and Director has the last word.

Kevin make a promise to the woman, he swears that action will be taken. The come peacefully and just as they are put into the squad car tells them they are going to rot in hell. They are just like drug addicts, they will tell someone anything they want to hear to get their way.

Directed at Siddig “You’re a part of the problem.”

Closing

All three of them being chewed out by the police chief for the crap we pulled on this case.

Ending shots

Kevin in the gym working off steam. Frank doing genetic research. Sloane holding his head in his hands.

Yay, we won. Yay, there is no joy.

What rocked

This game as made of win. PTA, especially with these three guys, was on fire.

Edit 4/14/2011 – More thoughts on this.

PTA does this magical thing in that if forces you to think of every scene in terms of “How can the characters grow?” “How can their relationships change?” “How can the plot unfold?” Questions like “Do I hit the punk?” or “Can I arrest the guy?” are never really questions unless they ALSO answer one of the previous ones.  Which means we can narrate all these cool action scenes, or shouting matches, or seduction attempts but cards don’t start moving until we’ve put a meaningful question on place.  Sometimes that question is a conflict, at least in the traditional sense, but sometimes it’s just a personal decision (Can Kevin believe that a couple of gene-freaks might actually be telling the truth?).

I find that in so many games the questions that the dice answer are not the interesting ones.  Do I hit? Do I get away? Do I win? It leaves the effect up to the players whim.  Take FATE for example.  I can compel someone to do something dumb, or to get in a fight, or whatever, but that doesn’t mean that the fight changes their character.  Maybe it does. Maybe they finish the session and say, “Damn, my character is different now, I’m changing an aspect to reflect that.” And then I think I’ve struck gold.  But that only happens some times. In PTA it happens EVERY scene (or close too it).  We’re always learning a little more about what makes the character’s tick, or how they will change (or not).

Related to the above, because the question is never the obvious one “Do we solve the crime?”, but instead “How does solving the crime change us?” it means we can play the game an never really worry about figuring out the mystery.  Througout the session one or more of us would say “I think we need someone to discover a major clue in this scene” and then they would, because that is what the show needed.  We hardly ever really cared about what the clue was, except as fodder for the next scene.  So we had several scenes of doing cop things, without ever having to worry if it was the right move.  It was WAS the right move because it was the interesting move.

When I compare this to my Dresden Cop game I feel like it’s still D&D dungeon delves by comparison.  Sure my Dresden game has lots of juicy bits, tough choices and killer outcomes, but fundementally I’m the “storyteller” and the players are there to watch their characters do cool stuff.  In PTA we’re all collaborating to make something awesome.

What could have improved

The game was long, kept Rich up till past 4 AM. All of us were tired at the end (except Lenny, who was wired at the end).