Video games face the same gargantuan hurdle as every other creative medium: To get your property made, you have to first filter it through a lot of people who hate ideas almost as much as they love money. Before you can create something truly novel, it must first survive the veritable gauntlet of assholes that is upper management. That's why we end up getting a new Tomb Raider sequel every year, even though anybody could ask the fans one simple question and be instantly presented with literally decades of blockbuster concepts. That question is: What's your brilliant, perfect, tragically nonexistent game idea?
I asked the question once before, and then spent the rest of the afternoon punching the wall in furious despair that I would never get to play those games. Now, I'm asking it again, because I have the memory of a goldfish and I like pain.
A note to any game developers who may be reading: You can take any of the ideas presented in this column, or the last column, or the comments, or from literally wherever you want, just as long as you don't make us play another Call of Duty game. Remember: It's not IP theft if the other party is about to shove their ideas so far down your throat that you'll be crapping premises for a week; that's just self-defense.
7A Clever Superhero Game
If I'm going to put other people's game ideas out there for potential mockery and almost certain theft, it's only fitting that I go first. So here it is -- here's my idea for the most perfect, brilliant, tragically unrealized interactive experience in history:
Aquaman: The Game.
Jesus, I think I just booed myself.
Hear that? That's the sound of a million browsers closing in disgust. But wait, hold on: It doesn't have to be Aquaman. It could be any open-world superhero game (a la Arkham City) that revolves around an underpowered main character. We nerds give a lot of shit to Aquaman, but his book has to be a blast to write. I mean think about it: How much fun is infinite power, really? The very concept of Superman bores the shit out of me; there's a reason people don't write many classic tales about how difficult it is to be the best guy in the world. We don't want to root for the beloved high school quarterback to continue being beloved; we want Rudy to vault onto the field and knock his dick in the dirt. Our favorite stories are of characters who take the one meager talent they were given, then punch the world in the face with it until the world assault-vomits success onto their sneakers. But if underdogs really make for the best stories, then why are all of our biggest superhero games about overpowered God-men?
Who all seem to have a crucifixion fetish ...
Take the Infamous series. It was great fun, but it's also a fine example of creative laziness. The main character, Cole, starts off with a pretty badass power already: He masters electricity. Sure, he starts off kinda weak, but his powers quickly grow stronger and stronger until you, the player, are flying across the city, unleashing massive lightning storms that devastate whole blocks. I'd like to see a game along the lines of Infamous, but about a dude like Aquaman: the superhero world's unpaid intern. The main character has to be somewhat useless at first glance, because the game isn't a brawler, it's a puzzler -- you have to be clever with your abilities, not just punchy. You start out with one power -- something kind of dumb, like the ability to speak with fish, or seeing two seconds into the future, or complete control of unvarnished wood -- and it will never grow. That's it. That's all you get: You're The Planer, master of rough wooden surfaces, and it's up to you to take this city back from the hordes of murderous criminals. But while your power is shitty, the way you use it doesn't have to be. Talking to fish is lame? Sure, if your imagination sucks. If you want to get a little creative, though, you could do stuff like this:
"WHO SMELLS LIKE YOUR MOM'S VAGINA NOW, BRAD?!"
The key is that you're not given incremental upgrades to your power; it's all available to you right at the start, and your effectiveness relies entirely on how you use it. If you're a bit on the dull side, maybe you'll just hop out there on the streets and start impotently throwing splinters at fleeing, laughing criminals. But if you're clever, you'll be snapping telephone poles down on top of their car, whipping sheets of plywood like 6-foot-wide shurikens and swinging uprooted trees like baseball bats. Unlimited power is only interesting for a few minutes -- that's why every video game is a progression of increasing strength that ends with your character at their most powerful phase. Once you get over the novelty of that deadly new super-move, though, what's the point? Nothing can stand in your path; you are a god among men. And you are bored. Limitations are much more interesting than abilities, and there's nothing more satisfying than overcoming them. Which is the greater accomplishment: the man with bulletproof skin and super-strength who stops a bank robbery, or the despot who rules an entire city with an iron fist despite only ever possessing the ability to invert men's penises with the power of his mind?
6You Are the Monster
Basically I want a game where you play a cryptid and the goal is just to survive and conceal your own existence. No missions or campaigns, and no story, just survival. You would have to eat humans for nourishment every day and hide somewhere to sleep for a certain amount of time. Your character would not be able to stand up to a real face-to-face fight and would be easily outnumbered, so survival would be a challenge and the emphasis would be on stealth.
The world would be an open environment set in a small suburban town, with some rural aspects on the edges. It would be just populated enough to be fun and realistic, but sparse compared to GTA, and the AI would all have an agenda and a pattern to their movements (like the civilians in Shenmue). All of them would be unique in appearance and behavior. Obviously there wouldn't be a massive city of them. It would have to be just a small town.
AI would react realistically to the sight of your character, tending to shrug it off if they didn't get a good look, but reacting with increasing suspicion if the same person sees you often or if they get a good look. They also wouldn't forget they saw something just because you are out of sight. Each character would carry their own memory of what they have seen. Rumors would also travel and collective suspicion would rise.
There's a vital component missing in most modern stealth games: consequences. There's almost always an alternative to stealth built into the game. It's better to discreetly sneak in and cut a guy's throat in Assassin's Creed, but if you fuck it up, you can always parry and combo slash a whole battalion of guards into a pile of gaily dressed mincemeat. That's what's great about this idea: By making you the bad guy -- the cliche horror villain who lurks in the night, shunned by a fearful society -- you have a clear and convenient narrative device for the whole world to be your opponent, and the consequences of it catching you are immediate and apparent.
But What If ...
... you kneaded some X-Files up into this dough? The idea is great, and a lot of the game could absolutely revolve around your life as a monster in a small town, but where does it go? What can the story be, if you're the only victimizer in a town full of victims? There's no narrative there. Now, what if you were actually playing an episode of The X-Files from the opposite point of view? You, the player, are, like, that creepy stretchy guy who kills everybody from the vents and eats their liver. There is a small, elite team of investigators who might be after you, but nobody really believes them when they insist that there's a monster in their midst. Why would they? That's silly; you're being Mister Silly-Face, Mulder -- I don't care that you've been right every single episode, or that I just saw an inbred Bigfoot alien last week, exactly as you described him -- there's no such thing as creepy stretchy guys!
Eventually, depending on how clumsy you are, how high suspicion levels rise and how many people see you, the town will have to believe them and come after you. But the rest of the game is a fine dance of maintaining doubt as you try to evade, capture or kill Mulder whilst simultaneously watching Scully undress from inside of her refrigerator.