My Idea Debt: Project G

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 Written by Steve

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. 

When Hex first started going to conventions, we often ran a game called “Project G.” The blurb hinted at something dark and mysterious, maybe an espionage or conspiracy game. The actual game was anything but, frequently turned into a LARP, and never played out the same way twice no matter how many times we ran it. People seemed to enjoy it, and it was rare that we didn’t fill up all (exactly) seven player slots, especially for cons we’d run it at in previous years. We didn’t have a lot of repeat players (once you know what’s really going on it’s not easy to replay as if you don’t), but a lot of people told their friends about it and encouraged them to give it a try. 

Since there’s a chance (however slim) of Project G eventually moving from the “Idea Debt” to “Actual Product” category, I should probably provide a spoiler warning for anyone who doesn’t want the possible future surprised ruined. This post will reveal many of the secrets of the mysterious Project G. If you want to enjoy the magic yourself if and when Project G gets published, you should stop reading now. You can always come back to this post in a few years once you’ve given up on my getting the damn thing done. 

Project G was one of those game ideas that just came out of a random conversation. Me, Leighton, and several people we went to college with were sitting around my apartment talking about whatever random bits of pop culture floated through our heads. At some point, we started talking about a certain classic American television program about a group of people stranded on an island. You’ve probably seen it. Someone raised the possibility that the reason these people never managed to escape the island was because there was a traitor in their midst who was sabotaging their plans to return to civilization. It was really the only logical explanation. 

As people started suggesting likely suspects, we realized the truth: every single person on the island was secretly trying to sabotage the castaways’ attempts to leave the island. 

The Girl Next Door (born Dorothy, but now living under an assumed name) wanted to return to Oz, and had spent years tracking down the exact island where a storm strong enough to open a gateway there would occur. 

The Movie Star (born Norma Jean, and now living under her second assumed identity) was running from the CIA because she Knew Too Much. 

The Millionaire had lost his fortune in a bad stock gamble the morning of their three-hour tour. On the island, he’s still treated like a king. Back on the mainland, he’d have to face life as a poor man.  

The Millionaire’s Wife just wants to spend some time with her abandoned love child from the affair she had with a beautiful glowing man from the sky (the child grew up to be a mighty sailing man). 

The Professor set the whole thing up to see what kind of society would develop when seven people from different walks of life were thrown together on an uncharted island. Most of his inventions are just standard appliances covered in bamboo coconuts supplied by the headhunters (actually research assistants) on the other side of the island. They also supply the “recharged” batteries for the radio and manufacture many of the news reports as part of the experiment. 

Or so he thinks. The Professor is just a puppet. The real architect of the whole thing is Little Buddy, who hides his superior intellect and superhuman traits behind an act of incompetence. He planted the idea in the Professor’s head so he could use the island as the incubator for a new master race. Even the “guest list” was carefully created by our would-be superman: the most desirable woman in the world as a concubine; a girl-next-door type to actually raise the children and provide some variety in the gene pool; his mother and the man he assumes is his father so he can finally get to know them; and of course the scientist to do all the work required to keep the “experiment” running. The Skipper was an afterthought, and is merely a mildly competent sailor.

Or so he thinks. The Skipper may not look like much, but he’s a highly-trained intelligence operative who knows exactly who his Little Buddy is. The Skipper had enough of master races during the war, and he’s not about to let the would-be-patriarch breed (or leave the island) without a fight. 

As we figured out why each person wanted to stay on the island, even if it meant sabotaging the others’ attempts to leave, someone suggested that this would make a great game. So we started running it at cons. A lot of what made it work was presentation: players who read the mysterious blurb and signed up were greeted by two very serious GMs (we rarely tried it with one because even though there were only 7 players, it always got insane) who administered a “personality test” to determine which character they would play. As we handed out the character sheets, we warned them not to open the coded folders they were in until we gave the signal. When everyone had a folder, we’d tell them to open it, give them just enough time to process the character names, and cue the music (a familiar theme song). Then we’d watch the expressions go from amusement to something else (depending on the player) once they got to “the truth” section of the character sheet that told the secret backstory. 

One of the most fun aspects of the game was that most players (unless their backstory revealed otherwise, of course) assumed that they were the (only) saboteur with a secret and everyone else was more or less the character they knew from the show. When all the other characters’ secrets started coming out, the fun really started. After the game, which sometimes had munchkins and sometimes had aliens and sometimes had coconut power armor, we’d have everyone read their secret history. The order of the first four didn’t matter much, but the last 3 had to be Professor, Little Buddy, Skipper.  

Since the original game used the real character names, we filed it away as something we could never actually publish, though we did do a half-assed Project G demo kit for our Knomes to use. At some point later, I had a change of heart that was partly inspired by Tom Carson’s book, Gilligan’s Wake, which oddly made some of the same (we thought) weirdly specific connections we’d made. Even though Carson used the names from the show, the book made me realize that these characters were archetypal enough that we could easily use “code names” like the ones above and everyone would know exactly what we were talking about. The whole thing also falls firmly into the “parody and satire” category, which would theoretically protect us (though in reality “they can afford more lawyers” would probably be our downfall). Banking that the IP owners would either never find out about Project G or send us a C&D before suing me for everything the student loan people haven’t already taken, I started updating the old demo kit into something publishable. Then I got distracted by magical hobos and sharks and a whole new game system and never got back to it. 

So where does Project G stand? Since we got so much mileage out of the concept back around the turn of the century, it’s hard to consider it bad idea debt, but it does technically fit the definition since I occasionally go back to it when I should be doing more productive work but rarely do much that will turn it into an eventual product. It could become A Thing relatively quickly since all I need to do is change the names to protect the guilty, turn some terrible old writing into something readable, and add some GM advice and fluff. The main thing holding it back is that it’s such an old idea (I think we ran the first game in 1999) that it’s hard to get excited enough about it to actually put work into it. I’ll occasionally remember it, read through what we’ve got, and remember how much I love the concept and how much fun we had with it, but something shiny and new always distracts me before I get any Grunt Work done. If it does get done, it’ll probably be either because I’m looking for a reason to put off a new Big Project that kind of intimidates me at a time when I’m not excited about any new ideas at the moment. If it doesn’t get done, at least I’ll always have the memory of The Skipper and Little Buddy in a Frank Miller-style brawl to the death aboard a helicopter made out of bamboo and coconuts. 

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My Idea Debt: Project G.
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