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Sounds, well, depressing, which is exactly as it should be. But does it work? Ferry has been revising and testing the game for over a year, and in one of his most recent tests he took the place of a player, instead of GM, so he could see what is was like on the other side of the table.
"You never know with play tests," says Ferry. "Sometimes nothing works and it's just embarrassing. But this time, it really felt like a complete game."
Predictably, he won at his own game.
"It was actually kind of out of the blue, because the other two players' characters were really involved in each other's stories. They were at each other's throats the whole time, and my character was kind of on the side doing his own thing. But to reach his life goal, I had to rat on them. So I went for it, and it worked; I got to describe what happened to the femme fatale and how I achieved my life goal."
Ferry's character, chosen from the character and attribute lists provided by the GM, was an "aggressive doctor," whose life goal was to legalize abortion, not out of any altruistic feminist impulse, but to save himself from prison.
"One of the two other characters [in the playtest] was put away for life, and the other committed suicide as part of being ratted on," Ferry says. "The father of the femme fatale was the governor of California, and one of the other characters was a paranoid FBI agent who was [spying on] the governor and blackmailing him and stuff."
The FBI agent finished his character's story by describing how he leveraged his political capitol against the governor to get him thrown out of office. Ferry used this as an opening for a little circular storytelling, describing how his character made sure a politician more in favor of abortion was elected to replace the governor, thus achieving his life goal and getting the girl to boot.
Ferry has commissioned brooding, black and white art for the game's eventual publish, which may or may not involve game-specific material, but for the time being all that's required is a deck of ordinary playing cards and imagination. He continues to play test the game and is now offering the latest version as a PDF on his own site, and hopes to eventually publish it in book form at lulu.com. Where it (and his game design career) goes from there depends on how well it's received, but so far it looks promising - quite unlike a noir storyline.
"One of the things that attracts me to film noir is they really allow the ending to be tragic and depressing and downbeat, which I really like," he says. "It feels real for some reason. All crimes in noir have to be punished. And that's one of the places where my game differs, because in my game, you can actually achieve [your] life goal if you're the only one left. But everyone else gets the downbeat ending and depression and death and stuff."
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.