Sunday, May 15, 2011

Genre Mining: The Differentiated Duo

Since we’re looking at mining the spy movie / TV show genre, it makes sense to look at examples of protagonists that number more than one (as in the Lone Spy / Super-Spy campaign premise) because, well, we normally have more than one PC when gaming.

Duo Dynamics

Having two regulars as the primary protagonists works well, because the tendency is to have the two characters capable in all the areas they’re expected to be good (much in the same way that the Lone Spy is a well-rounded agent) but normally those two are differentiated in different ways.

Some of the classic TV shows are good examples of this:

I Spy

The two characters involved were Kelly Robinson (played by Robert Culp) as an international tennis player and Alexander “Scotty” Scott (played by Bill Cosby) as his tennis coach. Both are considered equal agents, with Culp’s Robinson being slightly more senior.

However, Cosby’s Scott was a multi-lingual conservative Rhodes scholar, while Culp’s Robinson was a more athletic, think-on-his-feet agent closer to the mold of James Bond. Both were portrayed as mature adults, however, and tended to make poignant observations as often as they dropped light-hearted witticisms. And the banter and chemistry (on and off screen) between the two were fantastic.

Of note is also the cover story: I really found the cover story here – tennis players – refreshing. Including that in a game premise adds a layer of Bruce Wayne / Batman to the story, instilling a layer of tension (keeping a cover story during a mission) in the course of the game.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Here we have Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin as field agents for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.)  -- an agency with agents from all corners of the globe apparently acting in the interests of the world at large.

Solo is suave, confident, with a relaxed style of charisma. Kuryakin is enigmatic, thoughtful, and intensely guarded.

In addition, both would subtly and boldly push forward the ideological premises of their native countries in the course of their missions while remaining heroic and intensely professional.

The Avengers

There were several teams of the British Avengers TV show, but the ones that I really saw were the John Steed – Emma Peel and the John Steed – Tara King duos.

For me, the most memorable formula is the experienced professional + talented amateur combination personified by the John Steed and Emma Peel period of the series.

John Steed is the picture of the classic British gentleman: impeccably dressed, outwardly conservative, seldom perturbed, incredibly knowledgeable, effortlessly cultured, and – of course -- skilled in a variety of agent skills: combat, vehicles, etc.

Emma Peel is one of the early feminist heroines that broke the damsel-in-distress mold: strong, independent, a master of multiple combat disciplines, a genius in various scientific arenas, and constantly dressed in far-from-conservative outfits that – to this day – hold her up as a fashion icon.


In essence, having a duo allows the players to have player character who are more or less equal (an certainly capable of taking on a mission on their own) yet allowing some space to differentiate themselves from one another NOT in terms of capability but in terms of style, personality, and focus.

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