The AAA game industry isn’t known for taking risks. Game budgets are so large now that even games that sell millions of copies are sometimes considered failures (knock that off, Square Enix). So most major game releases try to stick to, either, what’s popular at the time (shooters right now, particularly those of the military variety), or established IPs. This fear of risk-taking has left the AAA gaming world bereft of interesting or strange titles that could truly harness the technical prowess that AAA game budgets provide. Below are four experiences I want to see made with AAA graphics and scope. These ideas are incomplete as game designs but its the core idea of each that I want to see in a game.
Astronaut – This wouldn’t be a shooter that just takes place in space. I don’t want to be called an “astronaut” and then sent to shoot stuff. I want to play as a bona fide NASA astronaut. I want to experience the intensity of the launch. That fear that something, anything could go wrong. The rush of speed and force as the rocket lifts off. I want to move weightlessly through a space station. I want to experience drifting through space, making deliberate movements as I move along the outside of a station to make repairs. I want to look at a planet below and be in awe of its size. I want to look into the endless reaches of space and be afraid of what might happen if I let go and just drifted forever. There’s a quiet intensity to spacewalking. Knowing your securely harnessed, but that fear of the endless looms around you at all times.
The game could be like a mix of Gravity and FTL, but with state-of-the-art graphics that that truly capture the size and majesty of outer space. I want to have direct control over my character, as they make necessary adjustments during the flight, or move through the shuttle. Spacewalk sections could require the player to press and hold a series of buttons in order to properly move around. Press the wrong button and your character grabs for a hold that isn’t there. Let go of a button at the wrong time and you risk floating off, never to be seen again.
The point is I want to experience outer space. The endlessness, the finality, the silence, the size. The universe is scary and beautiful. Experiencing it, with nothing between you and it but the visor of a helmet, is something that the interactivity of games could really tap into.
Pirate – Video games have been trying to do pirates for a long time, but I don’t think any game has quite gotten it down yet. Assassin’s Creed III‘s sailing truly made you feel like you were at the helm of a massive ship, but that game was bogged down by every other part that wasn’t sailing. The true pirate game would be an open-world third-person game where you have command and control over your ship and crew. You can get into sword fights and pistol duels. You can go on quests for people, helping them in an era of lawlessness, or you could shake the yoke of morality and murder and pillage every ship, town, and person you see. There would be buried treasure and coded maps that require the player’s own ingenuity to solve. Your ship could be upgraded and outfitted with better armor, faster sails, and more powerful cannons. Ships could attempt to board you forcing you to fight to the man. Perhaps you begin as a crewmen for another captain. You could work your way up to buying your own small ship and from there make your way in the world. Or maybe you convince enough crew members that the captain is incompetent and you stage a mutiny starting a battle on the deck between mutineers and loyal crewmen.
The pirate’s life is about freedom. Being able to go wherever and do whatever you please. The open-world would be strewn with people to talk to, port towns to dock at, and uncharted islands to explore.
Deep sea explorer – It’s an open-world game, not based around combat, but exploration and survival in an ocean teeming with strange creatures beyond imagination, some dangerous and big enough to swallow your ship whole, others placid and uninterested in you. You would be the commander of a ship that roams the ocean, from the bright surface to the dark depths, perhaps crossing in order to deliver an important message, or searching the ocean floor for a lost treasure or missing friend. It would have to be a survival/strategy game where your every decision can affect you and your crew’s survival. You could avoid or attempt to destroy anything that you think might be a threat There could even be a stealth element. Don’t think you can outrun or outgun a particular sea monster? Maybe you kill the lights and power down all non-essential systems in your ship to try and sneak by. Some portions of the game might take the player outside the ship to explore alone. Can you imagine swimming through the water, the only light source coming from your ship behind you as you make your way farther into the impenetrable dark. And then, movement. There’s something in the water with you… Do you risk moving ahead, or do you race back to the ship hoping that whatever is near you doesn’t try to make you its lunch? The ocean is so full of crazy and scary creatures, it would be the perfect location for a difficult strategy game. You could even implement some roguelike elements, like permadeath or random generation, for added tension. Sort of like FTL but with less text and more scary Cthulhu-like monsters.
A regular person – Gaming has no shortage of wish-fulfillment. Being the hero, the badass marine or fabled hero of lore, is gaming’s bread and butter. But from a storytelling perspective, it’s severely limiting. Where’s the game about the regular person living in the real world? Somebody who hasn’t been chosen to stem the tide of evil or fix the world. Maybe an accountant whose job isn’t interesting but their girlfriend gives them reason to get through each day. Or somebody working a minimum wage job that isn’t going anywhere, and struggling to pay the rent every month. Or maybe the quiet life of a Native American trying to survive off the land. There’s literally an unlimited amount of stories to be told about our world, and yet gaming often transports us to other worlds, lands, and dimensions, to characters who are the fastest, strongest, or most courageous. Gaming’s ability to put players into a character’s shoes is an incredible storytelling device. It more readily opens the player to identifying with their journey, because video games make it our journey.
The game would be structured similar to TellTale’s The Walking Dead, except that for zombies, there would instead be long commutes, or rude customers, or boring weekends. Relationships would be shift or change as you decide who to side with in an argument, or whether you want to continue seeing somebody. The kind of drama that could be wrung from a game that’s simply about people living normal lives is astounding, and yet no game has ever tried to make the attempt before.
It’s a shame that more don’t try to step beyond the false limitations set by budgets and genres. Games as a storytelling medium are still young, and as such even the best video game stories still cling to old tropes and outdated design. But the breadth of experiences that video games could offer, and do better than any other art, is both exciting and daunting. Let’s hope those experiences aren’t too far off.
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