Prompt 130: My Massive Games
130. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III became one of the first immersive 3D gaming experiences. If you could create such a massive gaming experience, what would it be called and what would your character have to do during the game? How would it be similar and different to GTA III?
For somewhat full-disclosure: I worked for a branch of 2K Games for a few years. When I did, they were known as Take 2 Game Studio. I had to play and become familiar with all the titles they released during that time, though the big sellers were the ones that received the most tech support calls. So the GTA games were some of the most-requested games.
Meanwhile, my favourite games from those years were, in no particular order:
Age of Wonders 2: one of the most in-depth and enjoyable tactical battle games I've ever played. It's better than the third in the series, IMO;
Myth 2 Codex: a collection of game mods for the original, and as a whole it was a phenomenal collection;
Vietcong: which had the most gripping multiplayer matches I'd seen up to that point;
Max Payne: the original, which was the first-ever game to feature a "bullet time" mechanic. Clever and captivating.
The GTA games were never very high on my list. Sure, we had to become familiar with them due to my job, but I didn't play them for fun. They were certainly technical masterpieces for their time, but maybe since I was so close to it and literally directed to play the games - not for enjoyment and entertainment, but to find defects and pinpoint bugs and other problems - they lost their luster pretty quick.
Of course, they were tremendously violent. But that never really stopped me, as at the time I wasn't critically-examining the games I played and the movies I watched. For all but my earliest years I've been fond of monster movies, zombies, slasher and horror films, and all manner of macabre fiction. Video game violence always struck me as either a game mechanic to accomplish goals and deaths were abstracted (like how there are "armies" in a Chess game), as a way to advance the narrative (like in good films and worthwhile books), or as ways to pander to juvenile power fantasies. The GTA games - as I understand/understood them - were primarily geared towards the latter category.
So I'd consider making a game where killin' and rapin' and blowin' shit up wasn't the main goal. There's no denying that there's violence in real life, there's violence in the natural world, and there's violence in human nature. But achievement doesn't need to rely on that as the only method to succeed.
Again, in no particular order, here are a few open-world game ideas I've had over the years.
ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: Well, nowadays this has been done to death (heheh...) but when I worked for the game studio in the early 2000s, it would have been a completely new thing. My main inspiration was the original "Night of the Living Dead." The player would need to fortify the farmhouse they had fled to during the advent of a zombie uprising. I remember submitting a design document to one of our in-house producers. I based the visual look, interface, and player controls on one of our in-house game engines so the potential was real. Of course, the game idea went nowhere. These days, zombies and the undead are crawling all over, and I seriously see this as a missed opportunity. Were there an accurate realization of the look of the game I had proposed, it would be startlingly close to the contemporary strategy game "Zombicide."
BOMB DEFUSER: The origin of this idea was a game I created myself, where the player had to disarm as many explosives as possible by clipping wires on bombs in the correct order, one after another. The player's score was measured in "lives saved." I had idle thoughts of expanding this into a world-wide, counter-counter terrorism game. The player would sneak into CIA safehouses and sabotage all their explosives, drones, radio jammers, and dirty bombs. Again the goal was to prevent violence instead of cause it, and eventually the player would travel the world to disarm the explosives and ordinance of all military forces across the world.
URBAN EXPLORATION: For the longest time, I've been fascinated with abandoned civilization: buildings, mines, cabins in the woods, and so on. I could see a game where the player explores these abandoned tunnels and structures, taking photographs, video footage, and seeking out evidence of something - maybe uncovering an obscure, arcane worldwide conspiracy or something. I'm not a believer in the supernatural, like ghosts or things like that, but it makes for a good video game. Throw in a cryptozoological angle, like Chupacabra or Sasquatch or something like that, to get the kids excited about it.
For me though, I'd be satisfied exploring old buildings and hiking through forgotten natural landscapes. Were a narrative required, I'd prefer something similar to collecting clues to resolve the disappearance of long-lost family members, or uncovering details of a natural disaster that wiped out a small town. I guess this would be more of a realistic, terrestrial version of "No Man's Sky."
MUTUAL AID: This would be my take on the survival, player-versus-environment genre. Long after all the gun-nuts die out after the great world die-off, there will still be pockets of humans trying to survive and prosper. The goal of the game would be to establish a permaculture-styled food forest and restore the health of a massive area of land blasted by generations of pollution, monoculture, and industrialization (the things that destroyed society).
Sure, players would need to defend themselves from wildlife on occasion - but in keeping with the real world, these sorts of wild animal attacks would be rare. Grizzly bears, after all, would be going after salmon and on occasion other bears. Their niche in the ecosystem would be modeled and realistic, including that of salmon, porcupines, eagles, insects, and of course all the plants and mycelium.
It's an exploration of modern humans establishing permaculture practices to restore the Earth. Not very dramatic, and definitely a "long game" kind of game. Not the typical video game audience. But the engagement in the game is with players working together towards the common goal of restoration, and the aesthetic sense of beauty that comes from sitting back and admiring the journey you've been on, and "how you ended up here."
BICYCLING: Finally, there's a dearth of bicycling games out there that aren't "Tour De France" games. I don't want to manage a team. Instead, I want to make a walking simulator where you ride a bike everywhere. You bike during the day, camp at night, and take photographs of all the wildlife and scenery you encounter on your procedure-generated ride across a fictional continent. Maybe you meet up with other riders who join you for parts of your trip. At the end of the game year, you review the trip you made, and are ranked with other players across the world based on the number of photos you've taken and miles you've traveled.