Posts Tagged Video Games
Over the past couple of months, I have been thinking about a game that, had I possessed the means, skills, finances, and opportunities, I would totally make. I decided to put my ideas onto this post, just so to have them down, and also so people can see them and comment on the idea, logistically and practically. I warn you – this may run long.
(I won’t get into the specific idea of the story, because I actually have it down as a pilot for a TV series, but I’ll detail everything else.)
Too many games today are gritty, dark, and gruesome. Don’t get me wrong – this is okay, but I would love to see more variety instead of egregious space or war shooters. Indie games may be on the right path, but many of them are about being quirky, retro, or “Art,” whatever that means. What I propose is a AAA game that has the scope of many of these shooters – with their variety of enemies, levels, weapons, and choices – but given a more light-weight, perhaps cartoony sheen. Think if Jak and Daxter 2 was infused with Deus Ex’s blood. More emphasis on a comic story than drama. In some ways, we used to do this all the time, but publishers went to where the money was. I think we can get back to the old PS1 days.
Imagine 3-5 characters, very different from each other, and non-human. Maybe aliens, or robots, or cartoon characters, akin to Conker. They’re sort of a team, but they’re really not; more like a bunch of characters thrust into a situation that they have to escape. Each character has different skills and abilities, but also think and act and control differently as well. Each level, or episode (I will explain this later), has you choose which one you want to ‘play’ as at first. This choice will change depending on the state of your team – let’s say someone broke his or her leg, or got sick. Then you can’t play as them. But for the most part you can choose who to start the level as. This allows for co-op play as well.
II. Goals and Choices
The main goal of the game is singular: keep your team alive throughout the entire game.
That’s it. If anyone dies or is left behind when you jump to the next level, you lose. You have to keep your team together. They can be tired, sick, annoyed, at each other throats – but no one can be killed. This sounds pretty straight-forward, except that keeping your team alive involves more than not getting shot.
Each level-episode involves making decisions that get tougher and more morally challenging as the game progresses. In Mass Effect, you more or less made choices that affected the world around you in order to save it. In this game, you make choices that emphasize the team instead of the world. So, to save a teammate, you have to decide whether you’ll, let’s say, assassinate a leader of a peaceful world, talk your way out of a hostage situation, or torture someone to get answers. The choices you make affect your morale (this also will be explained later) as well as the morale of your teammates. The choices are varied; sometimes, they’re just about idle chatter (very few cut scenes are involved; you participate in most, if not all, plot points), and sometimes they’re about life-or-death. Again, this is similar to Mass Effect, but instead of only choosing for Shepard, you have to choose for the variety of characters you can control.
This sounds dark, but remember, the tone is lighter, so more akin to maybe the first few Harry Potter books, or Ratchet and Clank.
III. Importance of (Understanding) Characters and Dialogue
You have to get to know your characters inside and out. You have to know their strengths and master them; and you have to know their weaknesses and work around them. This encompasses not only abilities, but dialogue choices and decision making.
For example, if one of your characters is very nervous and high-strung, but extremely smart, you’re not good in fighting areas. You have to do more running than combat – but, to be fair, your character can run pretty fast. You more or less dive and hide, and are fairly good at this too. Your dialogue choices depend on who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about. Repairing machines? Solving puzzles? You’re choices are geared towards the getting the correct answer pretty fast (while someone else would have more disparaging, unclear choices.) However, making those choices with a time-limit will make those choices more difficult to answer, as your character can’t take pressure. Another character will have to shout encouraging remarks (or, if the second character is meaner, “tough love” remarks), to control that characters “morale” and keep him relatively calm as he solves the puzzle.
Likewise, you can control a character that’s great at gunfights, but sucks at puzzle solving. You can choose a character that’s awesome at close-quarter fighting, but can’t climb complex platforms. And so on. But you can work at improving those weakness through a variety of ways.
Characters, in this fake game, are more fun and “goofy” then the typical brooding protagonist. They should be expressive and endearing and verbose. They should be “funny” – not in dumb ways, but in a way that makes the player smile. The dialogue and flow of the conversations are geared towards fun instead of angst, but still important to get the plot points in as well as develop the characters. There are definitely dramatic moments in the game, but it is balanced by lighter banter as well. Dialogue that works well enough to keep people from skipping it, as well as important enough to pay attention to.
The second point is important, as to limit hand-holding and tutorials. If the dialogue and characters are strong, there will be no need to have characters repeat directions on what to do or fill the game with in-screen prompts. Yes, it would require playing often and it would discourage long waiting between play-throughs, lest you forget what to do next. But the game should be fun enough to keep the player engaged.
To make dialogue work in this fashion, I imagine the player you control can’t begin the dialogue; NPCs would have to say something, which prompts a dialogue tree or wheel for responses. I suppose there could be some points when you can comment on something first, but those moments would be scripted.
VI. Morale and RPG-Stat Building
Morale is, essentially, the state of your characters’ emotions at the time. Morale is constantly changing, depending on the situation. In a gunfight, the soldier will gain morale when he fights well, or lose it when he fights poorly. The high-strung character would simply lose morale unless he escapes the gunfight. If things get worse, he loses morale faster. Morale effects how your fight, think, perform actions, converse with people, solve puzzles, and gain stats. High morale allows you to shoot better, punch harder, dodge faster, climb marvelously, and solve puzzles with ease. Low morale causes wild aiming, missing punches, slow movements, falling when climbing, making puzzles harder, and slower stat gain.
You start the game with stats based on your character. The soldier has fairly high stats in shooting, but fairly low in problem solving and maybe social communication. The smart guy has high stats in puzzle solving, but practically none in close-quarter combat. The full range of stats have yet to be determined, but I thought about the following:
1) Gun Combat
2) Melee Combat
3) Stamina (length of time you can exert strenuous tasks, like long term climbing, sprinting, critical punches, etc.)
4) Climbing (determines what you can/can’t climb – ladders are low, trees are medium, brick walls being high)
5) Jumping (how far and high you can leap over things)
6) Puzzle Solving (focus on fixing equipment or devices to progress)
7) Intelligence (more about observing the world around you, allowing better uses of the environment, not needed for progress)
8) Social Discussion (ease of talking with people, whether on your team or not; allows a variety of commands)
9) Social Comprehension (observing social cues/ticks/behavior and exploiting them/using them to your advantage, akin to LA Noire)
10) Stealth (ability to sneak past enemies, cameras, etc.)
There certainly can be more.
Morale “trumps” those stats. If you have high morale, and high gun stats, you’re basically shooting head shots all day. If you have low morale, however, your exact gun stats won’t be affected directly, but you’ll have slightly worse aiming prowess in battle. If you have low morale, and you have low gun stats, you’re pretty much screwed in battle. Low morale affects choices in dialogue, stealth, and ability to solve puzzles as well.
Morale is based on essentially everything you do, say, and see. Talking to your team casually, during down time, boosts morale, so you’ll want to talk to them as often as possible. Talk about the past, shoot a few jokes, maybe make a pass at a potential relationship partner (this may make someone else jealous!). The better, empathetic choices in these conversations will boost morale even more (although it may not be the better choice to progress through a level). Again, it requires real understanding of your team, individually, and the state they’re in. You may have to console a teammate who saw his first person killed, ever. You want to be comforting, but if the enemy is coming, you may have to push him harder than needed. That affects his morale, but it also affects yours.
The stats can increase by many means. The more often you put the high-strung person in a gunfight, the more comfortable he gets, changing the amount of morale he’d lose. Give him a gun and keep him shooting, and he’ll get more gun combat experience. Even having him casually talk to the soldier about shooting and gunfights improves the gun stats, and in the down time you can “train” the high-strung person with weapons. This is across the board, too – talking to other teammates and “training” them can improve all the stats incrementally (what we may call indirect experience), which may be safer and easier that thrusting a character into an area where he has to be forced to use an ability he’s not good at (direct experience). You get more experience with the latter, but you also may get killed, or something could happen that would destroy a huge chunk of morale, which is counter-productive.
V. Levels (Episodes) Breakdown
For this game, it may be better to think of levels more like episodes of TV than chapters of a book. Each level-episode even has a title card and a teaser cutscene, which introduces the threat/issue in an amusing or dramatic way. Then the “level” begins, you choose your initial characters, then proceed.
Depending on the episode, something occurs that you have to deal with. Early episodes are easy. You have to shoot your way into a building, or protect an important device. Later episodes have you tending to a sick teammate during a zombie attack, or deciding whether to simply escape a base that’s being targeted for destruction, or help the people inside. One episode I envision include a complex mind-game with a brilliant psychopath who has a teammate hidden away, and you get to decide whether to negotiate, apply pressure, torture him, or flat out kill him and find the teammate yourself. A lot more complex episodes can be created, which can alter the dynamics of your squad and affect morale quite a bit.
There’s no achievements. There’s no rewards for doing the right thing, especially when “the right thing” becomes meaningless later in the game. There’s only survival, and if you do something wrong, or something you regret, you have to live with it. There’s no right answer, no “Paragon/Renegade” binary point building. Just what you feel you have to do to live.
The game utilizes Cover-Based Shooting, Melee Sighting, Stealth Mechanics, Environmental Observation (Scanning), Dialogue, and Puzzle Solving. I’ll break down each one in detail.
Cover-Based Shooting is fairly straight-forward. One button causes your character to go into cover. Trigger buttons pulls your character out of cover and the other trigger button shoots. There are grenades and variety of weapons. There are also little things, like cover that’s breakable, and cover that’s moveable. You can roll or dive to another cover area as well. You can shout commands OR words of encouragement to other teams, to alter their morale in battle, especially for people who can’t shoot well or are too busy doing something else, like fixing an elevator. Even shouting “Stay down!” can give the morale a tiny boost, making their “puzzle solving” of the elevator that much quicker. Say it too much though, and you become annoying, and morale goes down. Plus, you distract yourself when you need to be blasting away.
Melee Fighting I’m still working on, but it would be a combination of timing-based fighting like Batman: Arkham City and combo-based fighting like God of War. During melee battles, you can run around the area freely, and you can punch, kick, block, grab, jump, and roll, as well as perform combos. This works against most thugs. When dealing with trained fighters, or fighting in REALLY close combat (like, inside a trailer park), this will not work. So you have to get close up with them. Holding a trigger button while unarmed puts you in “fighting stance”. When enemies swing at you in this stance, you automatically dodge. You have a “dodge meter,” based on stamina, that allows you to continually dodge while in the stance. When it goes to zero, you’re vulnerable to get hit. If multiple enemies are swinging at you, or you’re dealing with an enemy that will not let up, your dodge meter drains faster. You have to get in a series of blows, or stand still, to regain your dodge meter.
As you’re automatically dodging in fighting stance mode, you can press the various punch/kick/block/grab/jump/roll buttons to try and execute combos and counters. If an enemy swings a punch and you dodge it, pressing “punch” returns a quick punch to the face or stomach. Grab snatches his arm, and punch begins a beatdown, kick will knee them in his stomach, block will put a squeeze on him (choking him), grab again will throw them, and roll would slam them into the ground. There’s inherently a number of combo moves like this, as well as there being combos for both in “fighting stance” and outside of it.
However, as you deal with more and tougher enemies, they can themselves dodge and block and counter. (This is kinda similar to CQC in Metal Gear Solid, but easier to execute, especially when your stats are high enough). You have to play back and forth with them, attempt to overwhelm their stamina with yours. If your Social Comprehension is high enough, you can “scan” enemies to determine their health and their dodge meter, and use that to determine how best to wear them down.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that a good portion of the game is NOT about winning a gun or melee fight, but surviving it. So you may have to distract a much stronger and powerful fighter until your method of escape arrives. Sometimes you do have to clear out a room, or best an opponent in fisticuffs; sometimes, you don’t. You have to pay very close attention to the story moment to determine what you need to do. And you can use the environment to your advantage, especially with high Social Comprehension stats. Maybe break the floor underneath someone, or have him accidentally punch an electric unit. Remember, the key is surviving, not winning. Sometimes you have to lose gracefully, or surrender to an overwhelming force.
Stealth Mechanics are based on your stealth stats. Someone with low stats will be very noisy even when walking, can’t lean against walls or peek around corners, is loud when jumping and has trouble utilizing environmental objects to their advantage (like throwing cans as a distraction). High stealth stats can do pretty much all of that, plus some pretty nifty stealth moves, like mirror an enemy’s movements behind his back, prop oneself up in alcoves above enemies, and “estimate” the cone of vision for security cameras. Controls are similar to cover mechanics, and you have to stay out of enemies’ eyelines and keep quiet. Nothing too complicated here.
Environmental Observation, or Scanning, is based on the character and your stats. I’m not sure if this should be similar to Metroid Prime or Batman: Arkham City, but there should be a mode where you “see” various objects around you that can be used to your advantage. Like fire extinguishers can be used for melee as well as exploding in shooting-based combat, or pipes that can be climbed in stealth or broken for weapons. (Maybe color code them?) This becomes important in later episodes, in worlds where the environment doesn’t make a lick of sense. You have to pay attention to how NPCs use the environment, maybe scan this, and then you can use them later.
Scanning also applies to objects and people that can be used for dialogue purposes, which ties into Social Discussion/Comprehension. Like LA Noire, you can pay attention to physical actions of people you talk to, in order to determine the best dialogue decision. High Social Discussion stats mean more dialogue options – you can play into gray areas instead of yes/no type responses, showcasing a better understanding of the conversation. That will also open up some fun choices, like telling jokes or asides to teammates, or pulling someone to the side and telling them a different piece of information. It’ll allow for giving toasts, praise, or encouragement, or even taunts, threats, mindgames, and screaming matches towards various antagonists. This can be mixed around. If a teammate says something that bothers the person you control, you have a choice to say something about it or keep quiet. Keeping quiet may keep the other person’s morale up, but it will probably lower your own.
High Social Comprehension allows for observations of the person you’re talking to and the surrounding environment to assist in better responses. If you’re told some piece of information, this may alert you that this is probably a lie, based on the tone of voice or facial tic. You may want to respond with anger; however, those high stats will also alert you to the NPCs around you that may be eager to pull a weapon; you then may wish to diffuse the moment cautiously instead.
Sample dialogue (safe situation): Bob and Mary wait at bus station for the next bus to a further point in the level. You control Bob, who is now bitter from events in previous episode.
Mary: Bus taking a while, huh?
Bob: (Low Social Discussion stats give you only two options – a “positive” response or a “negative” response)
- C1: Uh, it’ll be here soon, I guess. (Boosts Mary’s morale, may lower yours.)
- C2: When it comes, it comes. (Lowers Mary’s morale, may raise yours.)
(Medium Social Discussion stats net you some more responses)
- C3: Wonder if everyone always waits this long. (Boosts Mary’s morale, may lower yours.)
- C4: You can see if there’s a schedule somewhere. (Lowers Mary’s morale, may raise yours.)
(High Social Discussion net you all 6 responses)
- C5: Maybe it got lost, like me in your eyes. (Obvious joke, maybe raises both morale.)
- C6: It’ll arrive in another four minutes. (Only available if you scan a bus schedule beforehand; raises morale.)
Or, you could not respond. Might lower both character’s morale, though.
Sample dialogue (tense situation): An antagonist holds up a gun against a NPC’s head in front of Mary. You control Mary. Here, dialogue is timed. You have to respond quicker or things may turn for the worst. (OR they could turn for the better. Again, totally depends on the situation. Morale here mostly depends on what occurs AFTER the scene is over.)
Antagonist: Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill him.
Mary: (Low discussion stats)
- C1: Because you can’t just kill a living person!
- C2: NOOOOO!
(Medium discussion stats)
- C3: I can give you a hundred good reasons, if you just let me.
- C4: Let him go, take me instead. I know you want to.
(High discussion stats)
- C5: Because you’re better than this.
- C6: If you let him go… I may make it worth your while.
Or, say nothing, and try your hand at subduing the antagonist yourself. This may be almost impossible to do without getting the NPC killed (which lowers morale.)
Climbing and Jumping might be best mixed with Stamina; or, better yet, Stamina is a better reflector of those stats that separate.
Puzzle Solving (may need a better name) is about figuring out how to, well, solve puzzles that are important for progressing in the game. Things like hacking computers, diffusing bombs, restoring electricity – any encounter that usually prompts some kind of mini-game. In this case, if you have low stats in this, the encounter is presented as is – or as a complicated version to the player. Diffusing a bomb, for example, is just a bunch of wires and mechanisms. If your stats are high, however, the encounter is “re-envisioned” as something easier. That bomb is, to the viewpoint of the character, is a simpler task of, let’s say, easy math problems, or a simple pattern. Intelligence helps here. You can use Intelligence to, lets say, observe books or paintings, or how buildings are built or how cars are designed. That way, if said bomb was attached to a car, and you “scanned” a car prototype, it would make solving the bomb puzzle easier. In other words, Intelligence focuses on methods and ways to understand the world you’re in, but doesn’t hinder actual progress – although it might make it easier.
VII. Set Pieces
Everything listed above is all based around Set Pieces. Imagine the cool, cinematic moments from Uncharted 2; now, multiply that by 100.
Set Pieces are climaxes to various episodes, which requires all the skills you developed for your team and all the information you learned about your world as well as quick timing, thinking, reaction, and communication. Set Pieces are high octane moments of shooting, fighting, and stealth. It’s an all-the-cards-on-the-table moment, when buildings falls and things blow up, where enemies are everywhere and a few random objectives stand between you and survival. You have to shoot, talk, sneak, and fight your way to victory.
Example: an entire level took place on a huge airship, only to realize that the airship has a nuclear bomb set to crash land on a large population. The airship is on its way down. You have to fight your way to the teleportation escape pods as the ship burns hotly with set fuses. Pieces fall apart and (OCCASIONAL) QTEs pop up, in order to dodge some pieces and grab onto ledges if and when they fall underneath your feet. You have to diffuse other charges to slow down the decent; and plead with people not to abandon their posts to keep the ship up as long as possible. Even then, you have a choice – do you even bother to save the ship? Have it change course? Try to just save the people on board? Or only your team? Even your squad is conflicted. Do you pull a teammate away from a device he’s trying to fix or let him finish as time ticks away? Everything comes together at this moment. There’s a chance, a REAL chance, people will have to be sacrificed.
Yeah, it’s quite a lot, and it’s completely and utterly theoretical wishful thinking. But I think if a company focused on the core story of a game, and toned down the over-wrought world-building details, the nutso cut scenes, and AVOID FORCED MULTIPLAYER, then this could be doable. A lot of what I mentioned is in place in a ton of other games, so the only thing needed is a universal, direct vision.
1) The Silent Protagonist
Video games have improved leaps and bounds in such a short amount of time that it’s inexplicable why so many shooting games, first-person or third, still utilize the same tropes and gimmicks that seriously should have died out in 2001. Topping the list is having a completely mute protagonist. Developers design this blank slate figure so the gamer can project him or herself onto the hero, but it’s really an excuse to avoid actually creating a charismatic character worthy enough to save the day. Not to mention the shortcomings of a blank slate; how awkward is it for a female gamer, playing as Gordon Freeman, to be flirted with by Alyx Vance? Let the protagonist speak for him or herself and present opinions on the world around him or her – it’s flat out stupid that the characters around you are screaming obscenities, yet you adhere to a vow of silence.
2) Melee Attacks Being Stronger than Shooting
The attempt to give close-quarter combat an edge or an advantage has led to the proliferation of some baffling results – namely, that a punch, a kick, or a knife stab has equal or superior power as a shotgun blast. Never mind the fact that any gun fired at close range has more stopping power than from a distance, this anachronistic concept defies all logic in an imaginary world gone mad with technological weapons that can shoot through walls and armor that can soak up damage like a sponge. Melee attacks should stun, disarm, or weaken a baddie, but unless that weapon is a Halo Energy Sword or something like that, close-quarter fighting should really consist of “retreating” and trying again.
3) Poor Jumping/Leaping Mechanics.
Metroid Prime redefined what it meant to jump in a first-person shooter. So why haven’t games copied this? They steal everything else for the most part (I’m looking at you, Resistance 3), so why is jumping still a shitty thing to do? Third-person shooters aren’t much better, although at least you can physically see the character as he leaps, but nine times out of ten, it’s directly to the hero’s death, with mechanics that alter with every single leap. (Nathan Drake’s jumping is particularly egregious. Sometimes he leaps like an overweight child, other times he’s gliding through the air, Mario-style.) The dying 3D platformer may have taken the art of quality-jump mechanics with it, which makes the potential new Mirror’s Edge sequel a hellish endeavor. Not to say the first one worked out all that well (despite loving the game).
4) Limiting Weapon Capacity to Two
There’s nothing wrong with limiting the number of weapons you can carry; after all, being a character that can lug every weapon ever is indeed a fairly unrealistic (if convenient) option. However, why in the world is the limit, always, always, at two? Maybe for the heavy weapons, sure, but there’s no logical reason your character couldn’t carry around four to six regular pistols-sized weapons. Some games play around with an inventory system – Deus Ex: Human Revolution comes to mind – but Halo’s limitations kinda makes me wonder why Master Chief is considered a hero in the first place, and Nathan Drake may want to invest in a second holster.
5) Terrible Non-Playable Friendlies
Large-scaled, intense gun fights are always exciting, but you can’t blame being shot in the head when you’re too busy wondering what your computer-controlled teammate is firing at. Why waste graphical power on gun-toting NPCs that are as useless as the civilians you’re trying to save? Bad AI is always a problem, but it’s worse when the badguys are semi-clever while your team is less effective then a box of rocks. What’s worse, as you delve deeper into a game, said teammates, more often than not, disappear. The need for the player to be hero may trump everything else, but at least spend the time to make your squadmates competent to a fault. And try to think of practical ways to remove them from the equation when approaching the endgame. Kill them off, send them on another mission – something that takes the taste out of watching a soldier waste good ammo blasting at a bush.
6) Bullet Sponges
Stupid badguys are one thing; stupid badguys that are essentially robots-built-of-diamonds are another. I’m not sure why, or how, enemies manage to take in so many bullets with minimal-to-no reaction, handling a barrage of attacks with nary a scratch, yet a few bullets at you kill you practically instantly (this goes doubly so on hard/insane levels of difficulty, which suggests we really need to change how we think of challenge levels). Bullet sponges are pretty terrible all around. I understand the need to maintain a certain level of consistent conflict, but opening up the type of reactions to being shot would be a step in the right direction, instead of watching someone soak up bullets like the blob.
In the past few weeks, I’ve received a number of hits and views due to some wonderful connections I’ve made through Twitter and emails. To which I say: welcome! Thanks for the wonderful comments and observations.
The purpose of this blog is to essentially give equal weight and thought to all forms of entertainment and attempt to delve into the pop culture lens across the board. Here, I discuss movies, TV, comics, books, video games, music, and cartoons in equal fashion, exploring how all those forms of entertainment are approach today and how they may or may not relate to each other. Many critics will explore, let’s say, feminism with either one character for a distinct genre, or several characters from one genre. I prefer to look at Ripley, Peggy Olsen, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, Gladys Knight, and Korra with the same perspective and ponder, what exactly, is feminism today. No format or genre is outside my consideration. Everything is fair game, and I will try to discuss these forms of entertainment in a fun, informal, approachable manner, while indeed putting some thought into it all. Or at least try.
So again, thank you for stopping by. In case you wish to follow me elsewhere:
Stick around! Good stuff is coming!