Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Unit 74 - Assignment 1 Examination of the movie 'Unstoppable' and game development

Unit 74: Computer Game Story Development
By Dave Johnson
Part 1
Examination of the movie plot of 'Unstoppable'

unstoppable movie poster.jpg

Plot Synopsis
The film follows a day in the life of two railroad workers, Frank Barnes and Will Colson. Both have troubled personal lives and an initial dislike of one another, but must work together when the situation of a runaway train is accidentally created. After several failed attempts by the railroad company to stop the train, the two men take the situation into their own hands and devise a risky plan to avert disaster.

Plot Devices
The runaway train is the obvious device, triggering the events of the film.
Will's troubled marriage and willingness to prove himself a worthy husband and father

Frank's sense of loneliness, anger and disappointment at the railroad company’s treatment of him.
The failure of the railroad companies actions to make the correct decision.
Sections of the film
This is how I perceive the movie to be broken up into intro, middle and conclusion:

The intro of the film establishes the characters, plot device and the nature and genre of the movie. The first character we meet is Will Colson who is watching his estranged wife Darcy and son from a car. He is desperate to be part of their lives again but cannot due to a restraining order imposed by his wife. Calling her on her phone she deliberately does not pick up, and we learn that their marriage is in a very bad state. We then meet Frank Barnes who is also in a difficult relationship with his daughters. He has forgotten his youngest daughter's birthday and is struggling to make amends to her. There are legitimate reasons for both men's absence from their families lives though these are not revealed until later that day.
Due to the actions of the supporting characters Dewey and Gilleece, we learn about the apathy and negligence and egotism  within the railroad company. This is underscored by the fact that a public railroad safety campaign is in place. Dewey is in charge of driving the #777 freight train out of the railyard. He is informed from the ground by Gilleece that the points up ahead need changing in order for the #777 to proceed.  Rather than stop the train, get out and change the points, Dewey chooses to make a foolish decision largely out of laziness and apathy. He sets the train to coast at around 10 mph, leaves the cab and runs alongside the train in an attempt to overtake it, change the points and jump back in. Whilst running, the train's speed gear shifts automatically and the vehicle picks up speed. Struggling to keep up, Dewey slips and falls over. The train quickly moves away with no one in the cab to control it. The #777 begins picking up speed as it hurtles along the track whilst Dewey and Gilleece can only watch helplessly. Dewey is then forced to report the train as a "coaster" to Fuller yardmaster Connie Hooper. Connie immediately tells them to chase after it and calls lead welder Ned Oldham, who has not yet shown up at the yard, to go further down track to intercept the train at the nearest siding to #777's last known whereabouts
Meanwhile, Colson and Barnes board their train, the #1206 and begin their first working day together. This gets off to a bad start when the two find fault with one another. Barnes resents the younger Colson’s presence because the railroad company is laying off older workers to make way for younger operatives. Colson replies that he does not want to take anyone from anybody.They are initially unaware of the disaster that has been set in motion, preoccupied with problems in their working relationship.
Colson is chasing news of the situation on the court case and restraining order issued by his wife. His constant phone calls to his brother cause him to neglect his job of uncoupling the correct amount of freight wagons. This is noted by Colson who reprimands him for being careless.
Yardmaster Connie Dawson reports the runaway train to Oscar Galvin, vice-president of operations for AWVR, and coordinates with local police, sheriffs, and Police to ensure all crossings along the line are secured. Visiting Federal Railroad Administration safety inspector Scott Werner , who was scheduled to speak to a group of school children, indicates to them that the molten phenol and diesel fuel being carried poses an immediate danger. Meanwhile, the runaway #777 has made the news and becomes a quickly broadcasted story with stations reporting live on the events.
Connie, aware that the train is heading toward  highly populated area, suggests that the train be purposely derailed in a stretch of unpopulated farmland before it reaches the towns. Galvin, however, rejects the idea placing company financial losses over the potential loss of human life. Instead, AWVR comes up with is own solution: a lashup of two engines, #7375 and #7346, driven by 26 year veteran engineer Judd Stewart is sent ahead of the runaway train at a slower rate of speed,
They hope that the lashup will force train #777 to slow its speed once it makes contact. A 22 year old marine, Scott, will then be lowered by helicopter onto #777 in the hope that he can get into the cab and regain control. Things seem to go well as Stewart was able to slow down the runaway train and Scott is lowered onto the locomotive, but just as he puts his feet down on it, #777 suddenly begins to shove the lashup again, causing Scott, still connected to the cable leading from the helicopter, to be pulled back from the locomotive and crash into the windshield of the second locomotive, #767, which nearly kills him.
Scott is then lifted unconscious back into the helicopter as Stewart tries his best to slow the train down again. However #777 keeps on pushing the lashup faster. Realizing the plan is not working, the rescue team attempt to abort the plan and get the lashup into a siding. However, the speed that the #777 is travelling at causes the two diesels to jump the rails and crash. They explode into a fireball that kills Stewart.
#777 continues on, and the concern for the danger posed to the upcoming town of Stanton becomes real and apparent. The town features an incline called 'Devil's Curve' that trains can only take at 15 mph. Next to the track are several large fuel tanks that will ignite if the train derails and hits them. The size of the potential explosion would undoubtedly cause widespread damage to Stanton and the countryside beyond.
Frank and Will head towards the town of Fuller and Frank radios ahead into the yard. Up to this point both men have been led to believe that the runaway train is still just a coaster. However, speaking to Connie, Frank is informed that the situation has got much worse since they last spoke. Frank had been instructed to pull into a siding several miles back, but due to Will's error coupling the cars was unable to fit the train into the length of track. Connie informs the men that the runaway #777 is heading straight for them, and they must at all costs pull into a siding or be killed.
Frank and Will make it into an available siding just as the #777 speeds past and destroys the rear car of their train. Being an experienced and observant railroad worker, Frank notices a key fact as the #777 speeds by - there is an open knuckle (train car connector) on the rear car. Frank reasons to Will that they could uncouple the cars from their train and go after the runaway #777 long end hood first. If they could catch up to it they could couple their vehicle, apply the dynamic brakes and hopefully slow the rogue #777 to a stop.
Frank radios Connie to tell her about his plan, whereby she informs him that the AWVR now have another plan they are going to put into operation. The company plans to use a derailer to purposefully remove the train from the track by force. Unconvinced by the plan, Frank tells Galvin the the train is too heavy and is moving too fast to be derailed. Unwilling to listen to Frank's years of experience Galvin informs the men that the AWVR plan will go ahead and to desist with their own. Should they continue they will both be fired. Frank then reveals that he was already fired days ago - the company has written to him forcing an early retirement by AWVR with half benefits. Frank then openly admits that he feels that he has nothing left to lose.
Meanwhile outside of the town of Arklow, police have set up riflemen by the side of the train track. They attempt to hit the emergency brake, a tiny target obviously moving at high speed. They cease fire when they realize that the challenge of hitting the target is too great, plus extremely risky - the target is right next to a fuel tank.
Galvin's plan to derail the train outside Arklow fails as the train blows right through the derailers, just as Frank predicted it would. The #777 sends shrapnel shooting into police cars parked by the tracks.
Galvin cannot believe his plan has failed and is forced into relying on the scheme outlined by Frank and Will. Meanwhile the Stanton curve is evacuated in the eventuality that the worst possible case happens.
Frank and Will, both facing death, bond as work colleagues and friends. They reveal their difficult personal lives to each other. Will is estranged from his wife due to him jealously assaulting a man he believed was pursuing an affair with her. This instinct turned out to be incorrect along with the fact that the man was a police officer. He arrested Will and due to his frightening behavior his wife imposed a restriction order. Therefore Will feels lonely, confused and remorseful about the situation and the way he handled it. Now facing certain death he feels like he has everything to prove to his wife and nothing to lose. He has learnt something through the experience about protecting others and keeping loved ones safe - with the #777 headed for his home of Stanton, Will has more concern for his family than ever.
Frank in turn reveals his wife died from cancer 4 years earlier. Throwing himself into his job to cope with grief, he admits he has struggled to bring up their daughters despite loving them and having their best interests at heart. This combined with the forced retirement makes Frank question his life. With the safety of 100's of others at stake, Frank is prepared to give his own troubled life to save them. Also facing certain death, Frank calls his daughters and tells them he loves them,


Franks and Will's train the #1206 finally catches up with #777. With effort, Frank and Will are able to couple with the #777's rear car. However trouble strikes when Will, who performs the dangerous coupling, slips and gets his foot crushed between the buffers of the #1206 and the rear car. Frank mans the #1206's dynamic brakes and successfully begins to reduce the speed of #777. However, the train is still moving too fast to successfully navigate the curve.
Briefly they manage to slow the runaway train down but this is only a temporary achievement. The weight and velocity of the #777 causes it to speed up again, dragging the 1206 behind it. Frank and Will then have a flash of inspiration - although highly risky, they could go out and apply the brakes on each freight car to slow the #777 down. Due to Will's injury, Frank climbs from the #1206 onto the cars of the #777. Moving his way along the train, he applies the brakes on each one gradually lowering the overall speed and velocity of the train. The plan is to hopefully  brake enough to slow the speed of the #777 before the Stanton curve. At this point Frank aims to climb in the cab of the runaway engine and stop the vehicle.
Manning the brakes of the 1206, Will is horrified when the load ammeter of the train reports a drop from motoring to nothing. The dynamic brake then blows out, causing the #1206 to be dragged along behind the #777.

Will then uses #1206's independent brake to keep the train on the rails as it speeds through the curve. As it makes its way around this potentially lethal length of track, the speed causes the train to lean to one side, releasing several tonnes of steel pipe. The steel pipes land close to the large fuel tanks of Stanton, risking an explosion. Luckily this does not happen, despite the engine also taking out a number of electrical power poles.
The train makes it through the curve, but the fact remains that the train is dangerously out of control. Frank almost makes it along the roofs of the cars to the train cab but is stopped by a large gap that he cannot cross. It is not a jump he can make, so briefly all seems lost.
It is at this point that Ned, the welder from earlier in the story arrives in his truck.
Will has managed to jump from the train into the back of Ned's pick up truck and the two men drive onto a parallel road next to the line. With effort Will jumps from the truck to the #777, climbs in and is finally able to stop the train. Frank and Will finally meet Connie and along with Ned are treated as heroes.

In an epilogue to the story the fate of the characters are revealed :

Frank did not lose his job and was promoted to a higher role.
Will reunites with his wife and has a second child.
Galvin was fired from his job for making an incorrect decision and risking the lives of innocent people.

Part 2
Answering the initial Task 1 questions

Is Unstoppable just a film or is it a book?
Unstoppable is a fine thriller and action movie, but could easily be a book too as the narrative perspective shifts multiple times. This lends itself to the ideas of exploring individual themes, not being tied to one particular character. Admittedly there are two central characters, Barnes and Colson; there are however numerous supporting characters whose decisions directly influence Barnes and Colson’s thinking and drive the narrative towards the conclusion.

Who are the main characters?

frank barnes.jpg
will colson.jpg
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Frank Barnes -
A veteran train driver
Will Colson -
A train conductor
Ned Oldham -
A veteran welder at the train yard
Oscar Galvin -
The train company CEO,ex-yardmaster and chief decision maker
Connie Dawson -
A yardmaster AWVR

Who are the sub characters?

scott werner.jpg
Dewey -
A young train
Gilleece -
A young train driver
Scott Werner -
A train inspector assigned to help
Darcy -
Colson’s estranged wife

What are the various emotional themes of all the characters?
Frank Barnes - Paranoia, Anger, Grief, Heroism, Trust, Self Worth, Empathy, Love, Selflessness, Self Sacrifice
Will Colson - Paranoia, Anger, Heroism, Trust, Self Worth, Happiness, Love, Selflessness, Self Sacrifice
Connie Dawson - Morality, Duty, Doubt, Anger, Trust, Honour, Love
Ned Oldham - Anger, Heroism, Love
Oscar Galvin -   Paranoia, Greed, Power, Negligence, Redemption

Dewey - Apathy, Laziness, Complacency, Grief, Duty, Redemption
Gilleece - Apathy, Laziness, Complacency, Grief, Duty, Redemption
Scott Werner - Containment, Strategy, Duty, Morality
Darcy - Mistrust, Doubt, Anger, Fear, Love
Judd Stewart - Anger, Paranoia, Selflessness, Self Sacrifice

What are the various motivations of all the characters?
Frank Barnes
Frank is motivated by selfless motives.He feels like he has nothing to lose due to working a forced notice period and dealing with troubled personal circumstances. He feels mistreated by the railroad company, neglected and insulted as a person and an employee. A lonely character, his need to avert disaster is triggered purely by the wish to save others potentially in place of himself. As he tells Galvin, who questions his willingness to sacrifice his life: ‘I’m not doing this for you…...not for you.’

Barnes doubts the nature of life and his railroad employers, embracing  the call to action when the lives of the town of Stanton are threatened by the train. It could be argued that as his daughters live in Stanton he also has a deep personal interest in the disaster being averted.

He, like Ned Oldham and Judd Stewart, possesses a wealth of knowledge that the younger railroad operatives and Galvin do not have. There is an air of superiority about him at the beginning of the film due to his anger at being replaced with younger workers. He does learn the value of trust as the story goes on, putting aside any animosity towards Will when lives put are in danger. In this sense, his motivation is driven by a rediscovery of the value of trust and teamwork.

Will Colson
Will is also motivated by selfless motives.He also feels like he has nothing to lose due to his crumbling marriage and troubled personal circumstances. He feels mistreated by the older railroad workers, constantly feeling like he is being picked on. As he tells Barnes - ’I’m sick of the new guy having to prove himself all the time. If you weren’t on my ass all the while, I might be able to think straight!’

His need to avert disaster is triggered purely by the wish to save others potentially in place of himself. He also has a deep personal motivation as his wife and children live in Stanton. In this sense he is motivated by the need to prove to them that he is a worthy husband and father. Despite making mistakes in their marriage he is a good natured man who still loves those closest to him. He even learns to trust Frank, forging an alliance with the older, more experienced man when all other plans fail.

Connie Dawson
The female railroad operative Connie is motivated by a sense of duty and saving lives. She initially tries to work within the railroad company's policy but loses confidence when their plans prove ineffective. Following this point she is motivated partly out of desperation and admiration getting to know Frank and Will over the radio and relying on their last ditch attempt.
Oscar Galvin
The railroad company director Galvin's actions are motivated by corporate greed, in contrast to an interest in preserving human life. In the middle section of the film the company is faced with the choice of destroying the train or attempting to stop it. As destroying the train and its cargo would mean massive financial losses, the company opt to attempt to regain control of the vehicle. When this fails, there is a sense that the railroad company must then do something to save face and the public's confidence.

Ned Oldham
Ned is also committed to doing the right thing and saving lives. His motivation is possibly more ego driven given how he makes his interest into the film - bragging in a diner about his wealth of experience. When the call to action comes, he not only rises to the challenge but berates those younger people responsible for their negligence.

Dewey’s actions trigger the whole narrative and set the story in motion. Following the accidental coasting of the #777, Dewey is reprimanded and left to watch the story unfold. He does have an air of a man who seeks redemption, this feeling being motivated by sorrow and fear.

Like Dewey, Gilleece is an accomplice to Dewey’s actions which set the story in motion. Following the accidental coasting of the #777, Gilleece is reprimanded and left to watch the story unfold. He does have an air of a man who seeks redemption, this feeling being motivated by sorrow and fear.
Scott Werner
Scott Werner is motivated by a duty to saving lives as well as being a middleman between the railroad directors, Barnes and Colson.

Darcy is motivated by a wish to see her husband live, and for them to reunite and solve their personal problems.

Judd Stewart
Judd is motivated by a duty to the railroad company, and his colleagues as well as innocent saving lives. He, like Barnes, possesses a wealth of knowledge that the younger railroad operatives and Galvin do not have.

Emotional Themes
Several characters go on a journey emotionally in the movie, and by the closing credits many lives have changed completely - most for the better, at least one for the worse. Below is what I perceive to be the major emotional themes running through the story, with examples of where they are illustrated.

Age and Ageism
  • There is a pervading theme in the film concerning age, experience, wisdom and the treatment of these qualities by society. Frank faces ageism by the railroad company when he is given forced retirement despite being a valuable employee. The younger Will faces the consequences of this when he takes up his position at the railyard due to the paranoid and angry atmosphere. Dewey is younger but his inexperience causes the problem at the centre of the story. Will’s heroic actions redeem the younger generation of workers and help to restore a sense of trust and respect in the workplace.
  • Will Colson's anger and frustration at the way his life is turning out.
  • Frank Barnes anger and frustration at the way he is treated after years of service.
  • The overall feeling in the railyard is angry, which leads to negligence and apathy. This sparks the disastrous events of the story.
  • Will's wife and Frank's daughters being blinded by their anger towards the men.
  • Frank's fear at the prospect of early retirement and the difficulty of living his life without his wife.
  • Both Frank and Wills fear of the death of people close to them.
  • The overall  fear that Galvin’s plans has gone wrong and the consequences of what may happen if Barnes and Colson’s plans fail also.
  • The public's reaction to the disaster along with the rail company's fear of how the world will perceive them.
  • Will’s paranoia that he is a bad person, an unfit husband and father and poor at performing his job.
  • Frank’s paranoia at being replaced by younger workers.
  • Will trying to call his wife to express his distress at what has happened between them.
  • Frank calling his daughters to tell them that he loves them, in case his plan fails.
  • Both men's selfless wish to save others and their home town.
  • Both heroes eventually redeeming themselves and regaining the love of  their families.
A sense of responsibility
  • Frank and Will learn to trust each other, respect each other and work together
  • Dewey learns that taking shortcuts isn't always helpful and learns to be responsible.
  • The rail company learns that it needs better decision makers leading them to fire Galvin at the end of the film, replacing him with Connie Dawson.
Accountability and consequences
  • AWVR place potential financial damage above human lives. The film makes it clear that the right thing to do isn't always the most easy or profitable.
  • Dewey learns he has take full responsibility for triggering the events, despite the potential event that he could lose his job. We see from the epilogue that he does, ending up in a fast food restaurant.
  • In a positive way,the consequences of  Frank and Will's accountability restores the good in their lives.
The nature of heroism
  • Frank and Will learn that they still have value as human beings despite one confronting ageism and the other languishing after his arrest. They both rediscover the heroes inside themselves when what they have left is threatened.
  • Ned, along with Frank, proving that older workers are invaluable due to their wealth of knowledge. They show that the railroad company cannot function without those who truly understand the rail network and consequences of staff negligence.

When are the beginnings, middle and end of the film?
The beginning of the film occurs when Dewey loses control of the #777. Frank and Will spend their first day working together and the animosity and mutual dislike towards each other is revealed. The #777 is reported as a coaster to the train yard and local news teams get hold of the story.

The runaway train quickly changes its status from being a coaster to being considered a real threat - its speed picks up dramatically becoming a potential disaster rather than a problem that could have been controlled. The AWVR railroad company put various plans into action to contain the threat. These all  fail. Barnes and Colson put their own plan of chasing after the train and slowing it down into action. They learn to trust one another.

Barnes and Colson catch up to the runaway #777 and manage to slow its speed. They then switch on the braking on the freight cars to also create further friction and slow the vehicle. They successfully navigate Stanton Curve when Ned turns up. Using Ned’s pickup truck, the men race to the front of the train where Colson is able to reach the cab. He regains speed of the train eventually stopping it,  and the two men are treated as heroes along with all those who assisted in the operation.

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What is the relationship of the two main characters, does it change and why?
The relationship between the two main characters is initially one of animosity, dislike and mistrust. This is based on an early altercation in the railyard when insults referring to age are mentioned. The older workers are suspicious of Will due to the railroad’s  policy of forcing retirement of older workers to replace them with younger ones. Naturally Will takes offence at their attitude towards him, reasoning that their prejudices are not his fault or problem, they are theirs.
When Will neglects his duties this seems to reinforce Frank’s idea that younger does not mean better. The two argue finding fault with each other - one for being sloppy at work and inexperienced, the other for being too hard, cold and pernickity. As such the men work together through a matter of duty rather than through a sense of friendship and respect.
The two men initially feel that the only common ground between them is a workplace. They are different people from different backgrounds with vastly different levels of experience. As an audience however, we have seen what is going on behind the scenes with both of them. There is a large difference here which is not apparent to either - the way that each man is managing his stress at work. Barnes is able to compartmentalise his personal and work life, whereas Colson has not managed to do that yet. His inner turmoil leads to him taking and making personal phone calls when he should be concentrating on the job in hand. Barnes observes this, and it thoroughly needles him that a railroad worker can be so careless, particularly the scene involving the number of freight cars that need detaching. Again, as an audience we can see that Will Colson is not as bad at his job as a man like Dewey whose negligence causes a major incident.

The coldness between the two begins to thaw when they reveal more about their private lives to each other. They realise that they both have more in common than they realised due to loss in their personal lives - Barnes has lost his job and  wife, whilst Colson is danger of losing his marriage, wife and daughter. Feelings of empathy and respect begin to surface when the two realise their lives have similarities. The older Barnes offers the younger Colson life advice which he gratefully accepts. Both men also bond when they realise they are the last hope to stop the runaway train.

By the films concluding sequence, Barnes and Colson are a team fully depending on and trusting one another. They must work together due to a combination of intellect, experience and technical ability. Even the younger Will surprises Frank when he has the brainwave of applying the brakes on every freight car.

By the end of the movie the two view each other as equals, both gaining personal rewards from their heroism. Frank regains his job and his promoted along with regaining the love and respect of his daughters. Will is redeemed in the eyes of his wife and rebuilds his marriage.

Part 3
Creating a game from the movie 'Unstoppable'

The natural initial reaction is to consider that ‘Unstoppable’ would be an action based game, as the runaway #777 is a source of energy and tension. Colson and Barnes are also involved in a number of action sequences involving stunts and death defying moments. However I feel that this would be the incorrect route to go down as each action sequence is very short and would not lend themselves well to control from the player. Furthermore most of the action sequences do end negatively - the very reason that Colson and Barnes plan is put into action is that every scheme before it ends badly. What would this mean to the length of the game and the relationship with the player? It would be a very odd game where most levels or stages purposefully ended in failure with no way of altering the outcome. I would imagine this would create negative feelings within the player as any gameplay decisions are ultimately outside of their control.

We could possibly make the game one long chase sequence, or make a game from the film’s conclusion (the sequence involving Colson and Barnes attempting to slow down the rogue #777 ). We could even devise a game based purely around Ned’s perspective of chasing the train in his pickup truck. Fun ideas to visualise admittedly, but when we consider what gameplay obstacles or challenges the player might face, the grow boring quite quickly.

The other genre we could consider is a railyard simulation where you must attempt to devise strategy and clear the train tracks. This idea is also interesting but leaves out two key aspects that make the film work - tension and character development.

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Telltale Games format uses dialogue choices to determine how the game plays out

Therefore after careful consideration of suitable genre and the films structure, I think an adventure similar to the titles produced by Telltale Games may work. This idea appeals to me heavily initially for two reasons - the first is that the movie is more character and dialogue driven than action driven. The story has emotional heart and content, bought out by the dialogue conversations between the characters. It would be very interesting to make a game where the correct dialogue choices build relationships or the the incorrect ones widen the gulf. The games produced by Telltale are built on this principle - responses can either create trust in people, leading them to help you, or create mistrust leading them to see you as a threat. Both of these criteria will affect the way the game plays out, leading you to puzzles and conversations you may not have on a second playthrough.

As the progression of the ‘Unstoppable’ narrative is based on a) decision making and b) developing trust between each characters. it makes sense to adopt this as a platform to build a game on. It is easy to imagine how navigating the conversations could affect the overall ending of the game. We as a player would also be able to build an emotional response to the story - with non player characters either berating or praising the player decisions, it would be interesting to influence the outcome of the story.

Multiple perspectives
One of the other key points that needs to be taken into account with ‘Unstoppable’ is the multiple narrative perspectives. Many personal lives, actions and consequences are addressed within the larger scope of the potential disaster.
As Telltale’s games are episodic and deal with a different character each time (with each one contributing to the conclusion of the story), this makes it a perfect format for an ‘Unstoppable’ game. I can imagine playing an episode in the high pressure offices of AWVR negotiating as Connie, then switching to inside the cab of the  train to play as Frank or Will. I can also visualise mini-games or puzzles that are typical of the adventure genre - Connie could solve a puzzle organising lengths of track or freight on an AWVR monitor, or have Frank solve a small task involving a sequence of controls to make the train accelerate or brake.
It would also be interesting to have episodes based around characters who do not appear much in the movie, and see what was going ‘between events’ in the film. Ned Oldham, full of bravado and the archetypal urban cowboy, could allow us to meet townsfolk, rail yard engineers and news anchors. Playing as Oscar Galvin could allow us to see first hand the corporate ramifications of doing or saying the wrong thing - not exactly a bad guy, he is certainly rash in his thinking and accountable for at least 1 death and 1 serious injury.

A game based on Unstoppable could follow the Telltale format and look at the overall story from numerous character perspectives

Countdowns and tension
There are clever and creative  methods that games have used in the past to create a sense of tension or imminent trouble.  ‘The Legend Of Zelda - Majora’s Mask’ had a plot that revolved a demonic moon about to collide with Link’s planet. Time was measured in a counter at the bottom of the screen - three days of game world time equated to one hour of real world time. If the player was unable to stop the collision before then, time would rewind and the player could try again. Similarly, the games that Telltale produce offer the player a limited amount of time to make each conversation choice. This applies pressure to the player and makes any imminent threat seem very real. The player has to think quickly, do or say the right thing and try to maintain a cool head in the face of danger.
I think that using a similar system with an ‘Unstoppable’ game could make the train’s threat seem very real. Perhaps all decision making in the game could hinge on this sense of time. Make the wrong choice and the time meter will continue to speed along - make the right choice and it will slow down for a while. Or alternatively each episode could have a time limit set on its completion. Fail to clear the chapter within the allotted time limit and the player will have to restart from the last checkpoint.

The Legend of Zelda - Majora’s Mask uses a timer (seen here at the bottom of the screen) to measure the time remaining until disaster strikes.A similar timer could measure how much longer until the 777 collides

Without this ‘sense of time’ the threat of an impact  to the player  would be seriously diminished. As the 777 races towards the town of Stanton every character knows that each minute is a precious chance to avert disaster. Why not reflect this in game?

A clock keeping watch on the time left when relationships are not working out could also be an interesting game to play. It is easy to imagine the excitement and stress a player could feel when dealing with a character whose trust you have lost. Searching for helpful characters and objects whilst seeking out puzzles could also ratchet up the tension. This in conjunction with a ticking clock would accurately reflect the predicaments portrayed in the movie and lead to quite an immersive movie / game experience.

Action sequences
The question remains of how action sequences from the film would be represented in the game. As stated before we have to consider a few issues regarding this:

  • The action sequences in the movie where characters carry out some kind of physical tasks are very short
  • They are also quite sparse throughout the whole film. There are only a handful of sequences that lend themselves to game play:

  • Scott attempting to land on the roof of the 777
  • Will coupling the train after backing onto the 777
  • Frank running along the roofs of the freight cars
  • Ned pulling up alongside the 777 in his pick up
  • Will jumping onto the 777
  • Will stopping the train

  • The overall focus of the film is emotion and a change in Frank and Will’s relationship rather than constant action sequences

Due to these considerations, I propose that to add arcade action elements to a dialogue driven adventure game I would add quicktime event sequences. The way these QTE’s work is to require the player to input a sequence of quick commands in a short time limit to trigger the next section of the game. As there is an element of pressure on the player to act quickly, this would successfully communicate the ideas of quick thinking seen in the movie. The QTE’s would be short and sparse, but the player would not be able to move on in the game until they have completed them. Failure would mean dying and restarting the sequence, so they wouldn’t be necessarily be unchallenging.

The QTE’s would be those events in the film listed above. For the game’s final act and the film’s conclusion, the narrative would automatically switch between Frank and Will requiring each to complete a QTE to trigger the next character’s sequence. I think that leaving this dramatic arcade sequence until the end would also provide a satisfying finale for the player.  

Telltale games often feature quick time events to add action into the drama and puzzle solving

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