Five Fires & Noir - Interview with Quinn Murphy

Hi Quinn! Thanks for answering a few questions about noir and crime fiction in games. First off, who is a favorite fictional sleuth of yours? Why?

Q: I am a huge anime nerd, So I really am a huge fan of L from Death Note. I like L because he is is willing to become anything to hunt down information. He is smart but so reckless he seems not so smart. I admire his marriage of intellect and bravery a lot.

Your game, Five Fires, focuses on characters involved in hip hop culture and art. What were your influences in film, music, books, games, etc? How did you incorporate elements of them into the game?

Q: Beat Street is my guiding point.  the tone, the characters, the themes -- everything points back to that movie.  Wild Style is also an influence. It covered much of the ethos and attitude of the culture.

A lot of integrating media into games is about establishing the look and feel and what tropes we are enabling.  I rewatch these two films a bit and compare the experiences I’ve had with the game to the experience I have with the films.

As for music, there is so much!  I love hip hop and am listening to it all the time. 

A book that everyone should read to get a feel for the birth of hip hop is Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang. Incredibly written.

You may not consider Five Fires to be noir, but there are some parallels. At its finest, noir and hardboiled fiction critique society, and shine a light on places where society oppresses and lets its citizens down. Five Fires asks players to analyze a city and the problems its inhabitants face with racism, economic discrimination and many other factors. How did you capture this in your rules, and what was most important to you when you were writing the game? 

Q: I want players in Five Fires to feel that they are ordinary people with an extraordinary method to relieve the tension and stress of their lives.  In the current version of the game, players move towards solving whatever problems they have in their lives. In playtest the game provides a platform for you to explore whatever issues you feel are important to you. So you can tackle having to pay your rent, and your scenes are about finding ways to make money. In the course of trying to overcome these obstacles you may accumulate stress, which is an abstraction of toll that life can take on you.  Take too much stress and you might be out of action for a while or take on more burdens. 

This is significant in Five Fires because each campaign (the game calls them Eras) is limited to a few session and you only have a few scenes each session.  just like in RL, your chance to make an impact is a small window. You don’t want to lose any time!

Creating art -- making songs, doing graffiti, breakdancing -- these are all ways to heal stress, but also build exposure and possible earn fame. In the new revision I’m trying to make the stress you accumulate connect to the level of art you have a chance to make; more stress is potentially more fame!

In the end I think the game helps you explore inequity by giving you a platform to describe oppressive systems in addition to a way to change things or at least express how your character feels about everything happening to her.

In Five Fires, how would you rank wanting the players to experience adventure, justice, disillusionment and betrayal? What kind of an experience do you want players to walk away from the game with?

Q: I want players to feel adventure before anything, and on the way there to feel justice and betrayal and disillusionment as obstacles which they can hopefully transform into art. I want folks to believe that their expression is a potent tool, and that their voice matters.

Thank you so much for chatting with me about your insightful and important game.

Thank you!

Ever since he was a kid, Quinn Murphy dreamed of being other people in faraway lands. He designs today while trying to hold that sense of wonder in his mind, capturing his thoughts sometimes on his blog and on twitter (@qh_murphy). You can find Five Fires Beta at and some of his other work at