by Daniel Bullard-Bates
After reading Josh’s recent post on death and failure in video games, I found myself thinking that a game that treats any character’s death with a sense of permanence and resolution could be pretty incredible. My next thought was that this would probably also make the game incredibly difficult and barely any fun at all, as I would have to play from the beginning of the entire game each time my character died. So how could a game deal with death as a serious consequence without ruining the enjoyment of playing the game?
To answer that question, I’d like to pitch a concept for a game at you. If you’re someone who plays games, I’d like you to think about whether you’d enjoy this one. If you’re someone who designs games, I’d like you to make this one. If you’re a company that develops games, I’d like you to hire me to be the creative designer on this one. Let’s a-go!
The Opening Scene:
You’re sitting in the back of a bus traveling through the Rocky Mountains, looking out the window. The girl to your left is listening to her headphones, but smiles sweetly when you look at her. The bus stops in a small town to refuel, and the driver and a few passengers get out to stretch their legs and grab some snacks. After a few moments, sounds of a struggle and a scream are heard from the inside of the gas station. The window of the gas station breaks as the driver goes through it, and a strange, near-human creature leaps through and lands on all fours, with several others following it out of the building. Someone in the bus manages to close the doors and lock them as the creatures pound on the windows and panic breaks out.
The girl next to you throws her headphones down. She looks panicked, but she takes your hand and reminds you that you know how to drive a bus, and you have to get out of here. You work your way to the front of the bus, sit in the driver’s seat, turn the key and hit the gas. The creatures hang onto the side, keening and crying as you pick up speed. Suddenly, you see a woman in the middle of the road ahead of you, and you swerve to avoid her. You slam into a rock and go flying through the front windshield. As you lie on the pavement, the girl from the seat next to you runs up to you, crying, as a few others mill around outside the bus. They're talking, but they sound very far away. The girl holds your hand and caresses your face as everything fades to black.
Now you’re looking down at the body of a young man on the pavement. Your eyes are blurry with tears, and the people around you are trying to figure out what to do next. Not too far away, strange and hideous calls sound out in the night.
A survival-horror game with a large cast of characters, where each chapter of the game has the player taking the role of a different character. Each chapter would end when the character currently being controlled either reaches a specific goal or dies. Later chapters would have more or less of the cast remaining based on the survival rate throughout the game. Multiple endings would be possible: one where everyone dies, another where one or more people manage to escape to safety, a third where the story of the town and the monsters is revealed and the threat is wiped out forever. At points in the story it would present the option to give items or weapons to other characters who might have more of a use for them, and the player would have to balance their desire to have the items now against their desire for the other character to have them later in the game.
Using a satellite phone given to you by a character now long dead, you manage to use your knowledge of electronics to fix it, hook it up to a larger antenna and get reception, contacting help and the outside world. It's a good thing he gave the phone to you to fix, instead of using up the batteries trying to find a signal on a broken phone.
In a later part of the game, another character has a brief, emotional moment where he recollects the death of a character you played earlier in the game. Or, if the character lived, he tells her how much she means to him before they leave the relative safety of the house the survivors have holed up in.
A writhing horde of monsters teems down a hallway towards the few remaining characters. You hand off the keys and items you’ve found to the people you’ve grown so close to in the last few hours, and tell them to run. You stand your ground, shooting the beasts down as your friends escape. The first one reaches you and knocks you to the ground, but as they surround you, you see that your allies have gotten far enough away to make it. You know that they have everything they need to end this.
A similar idea of a large cast of characters and meaningful, permanent death could be applied to a number of different game concepts. It could make for a more intense and realistic war game, where the player controls different members of a whole squad of soldiers. Or imagine a Batman game where you play as the rogue’s gallery of villains and try to execute a nefarious plan as Batman works to take you down, one by one. The possibilities are both varied and exciting. So what do you say, gamers? Would you play it? And game companies, am I hired?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
by Daniel Bullard-Bates