Jul 04

FT Top 100 Films 62: GHOSTBUSTERS

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FT Top 100 Films

Can you review a film by the quality of its spin-offs? Let’s see. I’m not talking about The Real Ghostbusters the significantly less real cartoon incarnation of the who-ya-gonna-call guys. No, I am going to a much darker place. The Ghostbusters Role-Playing Game.

Licensed games, be they computer or RPG’s have a pretty bad reputation. In the role-playing arena it was often an excuse to staple fiendishly complex game mechanics on to a huge mythology (Star Wars, Tolkein) and let the nerds fight it out. The problem was that the more ham-fisted these mechanics were, the less likely you could ever play a game resembling the source material: the rules would directly prohibit it. But that was okay because those games were not strictly designed to be played. They were aimed at fourteen year old billy-no-mates fans of said source material who liked seeing how strong the Hulk was compared to Thor.

The Ghostbusters game, by West End Game had a slightly different problem. Coming out six months after the film, and pretty much ignoring the cartoon, it was left with next to no source material at all, except a two hour film which had pretty shaky made up science. However these were the people who had invented Paranoia, a game which was much more entertaining to read than play, so they chose a different route. It was a big box which had a pretty slim booklet in it which contained pretty much one instruction.
“Do whatever you like”.

They knew that this unfettered role-playing (in the proper sense of the concept) might not go down well with the purists, so it also included a dice. With a Ghostbusters symbol on it instead of a one. No complex rules about what happens if you hit someone, no complex psuedo science about crossing the streams (great urinal advice notwithstanding). Just think of a character, and go have an adventure and, if there seems to be some sort of conflict where you want stuff to be a bit randomised – throw the dice.

Standing against everything that role-playing games were in the mid-eighties, the Ghostbusters game reminded everyone that this should all be fun. In content it resembled the film, all smart-arsery and big ideas, with its heart in the right place. Not only that, the designers walked away with a tenner for nearly nothing, without pissing off the punters. Best game ever, best film ever. (Bar another 61 to go of course)

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