Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

by Ron Gilbert
Mar 26, 2015

One small design issues Gary and I are wrestling with is badges.

The two main characters in Thimbleweed Park, Detective Ray and Reyes, are both federal agents. As of yet, we've never called them FBI agents or specified what agency they work for, but they are real federal agents.

And occasionally this has posed a small adventure game design issue because they are federal agents and they have badges and guns. Why doesn't everyone just do what they say and answering any questions they have? If they want to use the photocopy machine, can't they just flash their badges and use it, rather than solving a puzzle chain to get a nickel? Let's ignore the fact that it's pre-debit-cards-1987 and why isn't everyone carrying some pocket change around at all times. Let's just ignore that for a moment.

Yes, Chet the survivalist out in the woods might be reluctant to let them explore his underground compound, and yes, Natalie, reporter for the Thimbleweed Nickel understands freedom of the press and isn't going to just answer any questions they ask, or do anything they want, but if everyone responded with "Not without a warrant", it would be highly unrealistic and, well, boring.

The sad fact is, in real life, most people will answer any question and do pretty much anything the authorities ask.

We've dealt with the largest of the puzzle issues that having a badge breaks, but we're always asking ourselves: "Why don't they just flash their badge?"

It's an interesting problem to solve. It's one of the things that makes this fun.

- Ron

Sofia Giotidi - Mar 26, 2015 at 13:47
You don't have to be realistic to make a game or a book or a film fun. You only need to be consistent in your craziness!

In some countries in real life, the "agents" wouldn't even bother to go outside their offices :)

One dead body under the bridge-> suicide-> case closed :)

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 27, 2015 at 19:42
I agree with you.

Mike - Mar 26, 2015 at 13:50
If you haven't named the agency, perhaps it's because it's so secret or obscure that nobody has ever heard of it.

In that case, it might make sense that people would mistrust their badges - "Department of Such and Such... never heard of that."

Gins - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:54
I like this idea.
Definitely a nut to crack, but a huge opportunity for running gags :)

Phaze - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:59
Ah this is a nice and fun idea! :)

Giskarrrd - May 03, 2015 at 10:16
I like that a lot, too. A department so obscure, everyone would keep questioning their jurisdiction :)

Lucas - Mar 26, 2015 at 13:51
Because of superstition is of bad luck for them to flash their badge when solving a crime. Of course, things could be easier that way but you dont want to know what happened the last time they flashed the babdges...

Dan - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:05
Maybe they could have left their badges in their desk drawers, because they aren't familiar with working outside their office (as suggested above) or because they have been ordered to carry out this investigation after their regular finishing time so they weren't prepared for this case.

Dan - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:17
The desk drawer (containing the badges) could be stuck. "So near, but so far away" - similar to the barred spiral staircase or the chainsaw in MM.

Sofia Giotidi - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:09
By the way in Greece last year
when some police men tried to get  for free some bottle of waters from a small street store, just because they were cops, the clerk and others attacked them!!

It would be funny if you could show them your badge in the game and the clerk has a funny reaction to this, so you need to try something else.

Generally it may be funny to let people try realistic stuff and get unforseen funny reactions

Jalte Sorensen - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:13
One has to think of what conspiracy theories, from that era, Chet can believe in (and which are still fun to explore):

* Mind control via the "star wars" anti-missile program.
* Aliens (yeah, used so much that is is almost meh).
* Ronald Reagan is a communist space-reptile and the cousin of Queen Elizabeth.
* The middle ages is a lie (that is an actual conspiracy theory).
* The Smurfs (or similar non-trademarked word) was created to spread communism (that is actually also a real theory).
* The world is not flat or round... It is in 3D!!! (or something even more stupid)
* Some predictions about the internet, that all laugh at.

oullr - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:17
I agree. Make it the "Department of Intra-Govermental Affairs", helping out the real guys.

Brian S - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:45
I could definitely see an inventory badge item being interesting, largely for humor, but perhaps with other purposes...

Max - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:55
Oh, simples - I suppose they could flash their badges around if they wanted to, but it probably would be a tad bit counter-productive seeing as how Thimbleweed's beloved hero-dog-mascot (it once dragged two babies out of a house on fire!) was tragically ran over just last month by a guy who turned out to be an FBI agent speeding through the town. And our agents hear that story before they even enter Thimbleweed as they stop to refuel at the local gas station, of course... ;)

Ron Gilbert - Mar 26, 2015 at 14:56

sven - Mar 28, 2015 at 02:52
Maby they ran the dog over themselves.

Manuel - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:00
Maybe the badges were stolen througout the game?

Damian - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:01
Well, she left hers at the polish. She's clearly very tidy and meticulous, and her badge got stained with blood in the last case. She thought he'd bring his bagde, so she was not worried.

He couldn't find his badge. His dog took it and buried it in the backyard, so he couldn't find it.
He was not worried bacause he thought she was bringing her badge...

Shit happens... :P

(Btw: who's who?)

NRGDEAD - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:01
Wasn't there this sci fi con going on? These badges are sold there. So why would I believe them?

Randy - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:07
Badges were disfigured (chewed by dog/rat/squirrel, kindergarten class painted over during career day, mangled in station kitchen garbage disposal, mix-up in new badge change-over due to recent federal regulations with the new ones saying "Defective" instead of "Detective" - anything  so they look somewhat suspicious when shown) or temporarily lost (locked in boss's safe for some reason, mailed away as proof of federal employment when ordering some kind of awesome equipment, left in other pants which were sent to the laundry) resulting in different reactions until they are found/replaced (if ever).  Possibly even some kind of side quest involved - or comedy of errors as they appear but something else goes wrong.

Dominik - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:24
Although there were some very cool ideas in the comments why they could not flash their badges I would rather be able to flash my badge. I mean: You should feel like a federal agent, no? Than you have to be able to flash your badge in anyones face! "F! B! I!" In your face, damn it! But the responses could vary...

I would solve the problem two fold:

1. Sometimes badge flashing action should be even necessary to make people co-operate. It could make for some interesting puzzles and intensify the feeling that you are a bad ass agent.

2. Puzzles that would break if you could just flash your badge could be resolved by the same means X Files did it (by the way, everyone heard of the new six episodes that are heading our way? Yay!): By making people distrustful or a-holes or anti-government or blind or dumb or ghosts or CIA agents or just smashing the door in your face.

Be creative but please don't take away the badge action. Pretty please? :-)

Derek - Mar 26, 2015 at 15:32
There's some good ideas here already. Here's is my 2 cents.

You could make use of the crying wolf trope. Perhaps there was someone who pretended to be feds prior to their arrival and now everyone is burned and doesn't believe that they're actually federal agents. This adds the possibility of comedy beats, mugging to the camera, etc as the agents deal with incredulous townsfolk.

Peter Campbell - Mar 26, 2015 at 16:50
During the kickstarter campaign the detectives were described as "washed up", so maybe they screwed up a big case so badly or got caught planting evidence/taking a bribe or something like that and they had to turn in their guns and badges, were suspended indefinitely without pay and are now working independently as private detectives.

Brian S - Mar 26, 2015 at 17:04
Perhaps, "washed up" literally, as in, some boating or rafting mishap - had to swim to shore, lost their badges in the process.  Perhaps something connected to the waterway under the bridge...

Peter Campbell - Mar 26, 2015 at 21:03
From the most recent map chart, the game does seem to begin underneath the "Bridge" where the dead body is found, so maybe the detectives did somehow end up being literally "washed up" along the riverbank.  The bridge looks like it has train tracks at the top of it, so maybe they jumped from a speeding train?  Or maybe they were thrown?  Or maybe it's like "Stand By Me" where they were walking along the train tracks and have to jump off to avoid getting run over.  But then the female detective wouldn't be able to light a wet cigarette, and this is such wild speculation and maybe we're taking this washed up thing a bit too literal and I just wasted everyone's time who actually read this entire rambling post lol.

Dan - Mar 26, 2015 at 17:12
Dirty Harry threw his sheriff's star into a lake because he hated his job.

Damian - Mar 26, 2015 at 17:59
She has the badge with her (she has the obligation to take it with her), but it was given to her by a fellow detective whom she used to date, but was killed in an investigation (she had to move to another city because of this).
Now, every time she sees the badge, she gets sad. So she refuses to take it out of her pocket, because it affects her job.

He has a badge with him too, but it's not his real badge, but a toy badge that his nephew traded for the real one without him knowing.
He's now ashamed of take it out and make a fool of himself.

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:06
I think the detectives are there as anti pirate-measures... :P

JP - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:08
Ideas (not knowing intimate details of the story obvs):
1) Write in some sort of cover story that means they have to keep their true identities secret.
2) Write in a recent incident in the town's history where a con artist used a fake FBI agent identity to trick everyone; nobody in town trusts the agents.
3) For the gun issue, maybe one of the agents has some dark underexplained incident in their past involving guns, and they refuse to carry one even though they're legally allowed. Dunno how realistic that is for either character.

These are all pretty heavy weight narratively and not easy to just patch in.  Good luck!

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:58
3) They could be idolizing MacGyver (he was sensible and refused to use guns).

zombocast - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:10
X files will be back on the air this season. We can ask them about where they keep their badges

Ben Henson - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:49
There could just be a running joke where everyone thinks their badges look fake.

Then there could be a character who is dressed in agent costume for thimblecon who flashes a badge and people think it's real.

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:54
That sounds funny! :-)

Ben Henson - Mar 26, 2015 at 19:11
Or maybe no one believes the real agents because they have been burnt by the agent consume guy and they are all like "I'm not falling for that again!" when the agents show their badge.

One puzzle could be stopping the fake agent, by sabotaging his costume or something.

Joost - Mar 27, 2015 at 04:03
And later on a newspaper ad, promoting life-like badges. Maybe they show a phone number, and they just take your money.

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 26, 2015 at 18:52
FBI could be short for Forsaken Badges Investigators...

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 26, 2015 at 19:14
Perhaps they were undercover at an underworld black farmer's farm and a holy badger mole ate their badges...?

Perhaps they lost the badges in a poker game with agents from Homeland, U.S. Marshals and so on...?

Perhaps there were budget cuts so they have to create their own badges, but hadn't have the time for it yet...?

Perhaps the citizens refuse to acknowledge the federal government (I saw it in an episode of The Mentalist)?

Karl - Mar 26, 2015 at 19:21
So about that nickel ... I know you told us to ignore it, but is that because you were merely being illustrative (I know we're probably walking the fine line of spoilers here)? Because I am curious how you might view such types of puzzle -- i.e., making the player work to obtain something that, in real life, they might be expected to just simply have or easily obtain -- within the context of your Rules of Adventure Games. This isn't to call into question what you're planning for the game, but more just to obtain more insight into your thoughts on adventure game design. Some typical examples of this might be needing to find your house keys before being able to leave your house, or having to swipe a pen or pencil from somebody.

Anyway, thank you again for this unique opportunity to "peek behind the curtain".

Ron Gilbert - Mar 26, 2015 at 19:37
I think it's OK for players to be looking for a nickel. I often find myself (in real life) not having change, so it's plausible that the characters in the game might not either. What I object to in adventure games is if the only nickel in the whole universe is in New York.

Brian Ruff - Mar 26, 2015 at 20:55
Sam & Max had to jump through quite a lot of hoops to get stuff done, but it was still fun to pull out the gun or badge once in a while. Hopefully the gun/badge can still be part of a puzzle or a constant joke like no one takes them seriously, or thinks they're just dressed up for ThimbleCon.

Daevin - Mar 26, 2015 at 20:58
Their badges were cheaply produced (the agency had some budget cuts recently, and there's NO WAY they would reduce their coffee budget) and, as it turned out last week, 87% of them contained traces of asbestos. So they had to be recalled and for the time being, all agents are stuck with just slips of (recycled) paper stating that, yes, they totally are agents.

jeepika - Mar 26, 2015 at 21:38
So, Meteor Police do carry badges but these Feds are sooooo special they don't need to show their shiny little tin pride ever? Ok, I'll just trust them word.

vegetaman - Mar 26, 2015 at 22:16
Depending on the locale, I could see a more backwoods type area or maybe a small town really either not caring or in fact being downright hostile to people with badges.

Doug - Mar 26, 2015 at 22:31
Yeah,  i remember one of the cool things about Full Throttle was the feeling you could bypass puzzles by random violence.  Helped establish your character too.  Of course you didn't actually bypass anything...

As for badge flashing,  a character might be rectlant to always flash their badge,  since throwing their authority around heavy handedly is not the best way to breed cooperation and trust.

Jammet - Mar 26, 2015 at 23:10
The way around the badge problem would ideally be circumstantial and humorous.

Like a thief having stolen that luggage.
The card was confused with one looking ALMOST identical, from a spy toy set.
The card needs to be used to open a lock, and then it breaks.

Something like that.

Jammet - Mar 26, 2015 at 23:18
Actually, wouldn't it be hilarious if they lost their cards somehow and had to replace them with ... something like it? It could be a puzzle of it's own. A picture, a piece of plastic, a marker pen, scissors.

And you could actually have them *show* off those cards, and people can respond with varied answers.

"Oh. Of course! How can I help you?"
"Oh. Of course, how c-...."  "... wait. What's with this crummy card." "Never mind."
"You it's a crime to pretend to be agents, right?"

Or other serious, offended, silly, stupid responses. It could even be a running gag like in the Broken Sword 2 game, where you can talk to everybody and offer them to shake hands ... to give them a small electric shock. And everybody has a completely hilarious and bogus way to decline ...

Jonny - Mar 27, 2015 at 00:20
I thought up a scenario that would allow the "not without a warrant".

Whenever asked, the agents will not have any badges or warrants because they have actually forgotten them in their other pants.

MadBMan - Mar 27, 2015 at 02:31
Work with your restrictions and make them fun. Give players a badge in the inventory and allow them to flash it but achieve nothing. People can be cooperative without being helpful. E.g. "I'd like to help you but I don't know how to override the money lock on the machine. "
As for why no one has a nickel, why does it have to be a nickel. "The machine is from Japan. It only takes 100 Yen coins. We can't change the money lock without voiding the warranty, so we have to wait for the technician from the vendor. "

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 29, 2015 at 09:55
Good ideas.

MadBMan - Mar 27, 2015 at 02:40
What if the agents have names that sound fake so that people think the badges are fake. The first name of one agent could be "Agent", or maybe "Argent". Or one agent has a fake sounding name and the other has lost the badge. Losing the badge could be in the game.

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 29, 2015 at 09:56
Argent and fake sounding name sounds good! :-)

Paul - Mar 27, 2015 at 05:11
How about if the bureau changed the badge designs and our heroes didn't get their new badges yet? So yes they have badges but not legit in some peoples eyes. The gun problem.... They have guns but no ammo or the safety is jammed on. Or it's all locked in the trunk of the car and they lost the keys :)

Dominik - Mar 27, 2015 at 06:13
I know this post is more about badges, but what about handcuffs? I'm not sure if FBI agents carry hem with them but it could make for an interesting puzzle. Maybe you cuff someone to a pipe or something and he's willing to be handcuffed cause he thinks it's just a toy. And everytime you walk by he says something like "You know, I can get out of these any time I want" or "Haha, very funny guys."

Handcuffing innocent inhabitants of Thimbleweed Park to a pipe to get a completely unremarkable object (a nickel?) is definitely something I would like to do in the game ;-)

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 27, 2015 at 19:40
Could be good.

Tomimt - Mar 27, 2015 at 06:28
My opinon of the matter is: don't let reality come in the way of a good story. Sometimes realworld solutions can be a bit mundane, like a cop flashing his badge in order get co-operation, but in a story the narrative can be set so, that the badge, or any other real life procedures, has less meaning. Think about Twin Peaks for an example and how little REAL detective work actually happens in it, when detective Cooper uses his bizarre methods of investigation.

Only thing that really matters is, that the solution should be logical in the context of the game. The story itself has to be a logical continuation where character behaviour is set in certain way. And if that path is followed the things that happen in the story are accepted, no matter how unlikely they would be in the realworld. It's one reason why well done action films work, as if the internal story logic is sound, then the unbelievable action scenes work too.

NylonGamer - Mar 27, 2015 at 07:30
so the game will unlike MM feature dialogs like in your newer adventures?

prbalbontin - Mar 27, 2015 at 08:48
I think having the badges in the inventory, at the beginning of the adventure, would be as awesome as looking at all that gold Guybrush had at the beginning of Monkey Island 2. It would make for a very iconic item and as a player you will want to use it all the time, just to say "Hands up! SCUMM agent," the same way Guybrush said things like "I want to be a pirate." I would love to read every funny excuse people have to say when you flash the badge and it doesn't work.

I think a good solution, besides the tragic death of the beloved Thimbleweed mascot, would be bureaucracy. Yes, Ray and Reyes have badges, but people keep refusing to cooperate because they just don't buy it or have all sort of excuses. In order to enforce the law, Ray and Reyes need to call the agency and ask for warrants and such, and that is a bureaucratic mess that involves dealing with a kafkian/TerryGilliam-esque phone operator. Of course, warrants will always arrive after the puzzle for what they are needed is already solved.

Having contact with the outer world (the agency) will help defining the characters (like in Maniac Mansion, where you could contact the external world by mailing things). Twin Peaks did that all the time, first with phone conversations and, later, with David Lynch itself playing the role of the boss visiting the town. The phone conversations with the phone operator can provide background information about the players, clues for some puzzles, all sort of jokes, and so on and so forth.

Dan - Mar 27, 2015 at 12:04
It would be an interesting gag for sure to see how useless the badges are in any dialogue, but how useful they are instead for breaking a door or for utilizing it as a paper weight for example.

P.S. Reminds me of Mr. Bean diverting almost everything from its intended use just to make a sandwich.

Jackie - Mar 27, 2015 at 14:20
I had the same problem in a book i wrote. The main character was a cop who worked with his partner. I made the protagonist to have the philosophy of "save the badge for emergencies; because people act and talk easier with a common man, and closes around cops"

Just an idea!

Oleg - Mar 27, 2015 at 14:44
Let them flash their badges I say, but every time they try to coerce cooperation with them, there should be some hilarious reason why the NPC won't accept it.

Also the perfect inside joke would be one of the characters telling another: "Don't be a shit-head" at the start of the game.

Low - Mar 27, 2015 at 16:42
Thimbleweed Park is not under the jurisdiction of the federal agency because, since 1787, the little town has exploited a nifty loophole to stay independent from both the US and the Canadian law authorities. The only accepted law authorities are the local police and a Methuselean judge who still dresses like a founding father.

The corpse has been found just outside the town and that gives to the US federal agency the right to investigate, but the town itself is outside their power and the two agents can ask questions only because the local police has generously conceded a bit of informal support to them. As a result, they can ask for things but what they get is up to the people they interact with.

Actually, Thimbleweed Park is somewhat disputed between USA and Canada. For unexplained reasons, each country would like to pass to the other one what seems to be a quiet but hot potato.

prbalbontin - Mar 27, 2015 at 18:14
I wish there were an "I like" button to support this idea :)

Mattias Cedervall - Mar 27, 2015 at 19:37
Sounds good.

Reverendo - Apr 14, 2015 at 18:40
I really love this idea!

Zombocast - Mar 27, 2015 at 16:46
Just make the whole course of events take place during the thimblecon convention. Conventions typically take place over the course of 3~5 days a perfect timeframe for solving a murder. People will be also dressed in costumes, simply give each NPC the dialog of "great costume", you "arent real FBI agents" "I have a badge just like that at home"!

Bobe - Mar 28, 2015 at 10:08
Simple and to the point.  The other suggestions are trying way too hard.

NPCs in adventure games are always so stubborn.  When you want credit from the Shopkeeper in MI, there's nothing you can do to convince him.  Yet he walks to the Swordmaster every time you ask.

I can imagine a similar scenario with the badge.  The badge *should* be able to get you immediate access somewhere, but instead you have to do something to satisfy some power-hungry towns person like "prove" you're a real agent.  Guybrush could hold his breath for 10 minutes, so one of the agents can do a handstand for 10 minutes.  It's a dialog puzzle.

Nor Treblig - May 10, 2015 at 16:41
@Bobe: To be fair: There is a very specific reason why the shopkeeper keeps visiting the Sword Master...

cornholio1980 - Mar 30, 2015 at 05:08
I've read through all ideas now, since I found the problem fascinating, and also did come up with a couple of possible solutions myself, but this really seems like the easiest and most natural one. Plus it could make for some great comedy. Great idea, Zombocast! I'd love to see them going with that.

badde - Mar 27, 2015 at 21:31
Sandy says OH  ; )

Nat - Mar 28, 2015 at 17:01
The agency they work for hasn't been authenticated yet; damn bureaucratic red tape.

dada - Mar 28, 2015 at 20:13
In real world people are scared of authorities but if you watch Poirot or Colombo everyone though politely is lying all the time and for the stupidest reasons. But also in reality people like to withhold information even if they're not guilty of a particular crime,  there is always something they are guilty of and many good lawyers recommend not talking to the police guilty or innocent because in the best case scenario it just won't help you in any way, in the worst you get convicted.

But do they have to be feds? Private detectives/ bounty hunters sounds more romantic. FBI gives me this sort of serious bureaucratic retarded csi vibe.

Dan - Mar 29, 2015 at 10:54
That's right. Many people don't want to get prejudged or they are ashamed of something, even if they are completely innocent in legal sense.
Besides witness statements can deviate from the real occurrences because people sometimes misinterpret what they see.

In Day Of The Tentacle for example Dr. Fred doesn't remember the safe's combination although he seems to want to assist you with saving the world. So you need to videotape him while he opens the safe asleep.

By the way: The internal revenue agents in Day Of The Tentacle actually flash a badge, but Dr. Fred is still sleepwalking.

Laoena - Mar 29, 2015 at 11:31
This situation only becomes a problem if you want it to be. Sure you can whip out your gun, but then you enter the class of criminal, and not an agent. As for the badge, just make it the same as if trying to talk to someone at the start of a conversation. All that happens is that the person now knows that you are an agent.

As far as the copying machine is concerned, it couldn't give a shit whether you have a gun or badge. It won't make a copy unless you cough up a coin.

DuphusDigital - Mar 29, 2015 at 11:44
Just have their badges stolen in the beginning, possibly by Ransom.

Soong - Mar 30, 2015 at 05:09
- The badged could be stolen by a three-headed monkey at the beginning of the game.
- The game could be taking place in Germany where there are no police badges, just paper IDs for policemen and those are easy to fake.
- There could be a puzzle at the beginning of the game in which both badges get damaged and become unuseable.

Seriously, though, I really like Zombocast's suggestion a lot.

pmarin - Mar 30, 2015 at 06:23
Obviously they need to maintain a low profile in this case if they want any collaboration from the citizen and not make angry the local police which in such small city they are all related.

mr. T - Mar 30, 2015 at 06:36
A classic would be of course: "That's not a real badge!" or "Yeah my son can make one of those too".

I would probably have the characters lose their badges after their motel rooms had been broken into by local hoodlums, or by fanatical ill-mannered gamecon visitors who thought some über famous stars were residing in those rooms (badges are invaluable costume props of course and therefore free to "loan"). After that incident the characters would always have to explain their non-badgeness and those hopefully amusingly varying attempts would accumulate during the game as a running gag of sorts. Of course, this approach would make them seem a bit goofy.

Pretty fun design puzzle actually.

Dr. J - Mar 30, 2015 at 11:55
I like the idea that FBI stuff is locked in the trunk etc. and can only be retrieved later in the game through solving puzzles. And, agree:  people could be upset if police is visiting.

PrinzJohnny99 - Mar 30, 2015 at 12:52
Easy. They are undercover agents.

Jack - Apr 01, 2015 at 11:37
A general tip is to openly bring up these faults in the game. ("What?! Doesn't ANYBODY have a single spare nickel???")

This make things more believable, and - in case it gets crazy - humorous.