It’s mine! It’s mine this week! And boy is it long-winded:
You’ve been approached by VR-Box, a new home entertainment system startup, for the creation of five new videogames for their home system. They’re reviewing submissions from several different people, and their offer is that, whoever submits the most 5 ideas deemed most interesting and most profitable, gets a position with them simply hanging around thinking up ideas for video games for some collossal amount of money.
The system is an immersive, virtual reality game. People playing will know they’re playing, they won’t be at any special risk physically or psychologically. (No more than with a regular computer game, say.) But it will look more “real” (using a helmet which, yes, works on the brain by nerve induction or something) and the system will be of course far more flexible than anything now on the marketable to handle massively online multiplayer interaction, to run marginally complex AI, and so on.
They haven’t specifically chosen a market, nor have they given any other limitations: it’s apparently up to you to choose the niche you think best works for the first immersive VR-game system in the world. Which five game ideas would you submit?
Good grief, I don’t remember writing that question. Argh! Argh! It’s too much, too hard!
Okay, let’s see. I suppose what we’d want to do with the first five releases is to nab all of the big markets we could. But wait a second, the biggest markets will be porn marketsafter all, to once again quote Bill Hicks, “This is technology made for porno movies!”but I really, honestly don’t want to work in that field. (I’m assuming I could take a job as a game developer if I came up with a few winning ideas… and in any case, I’d want those ideas to be for games I could send home to my folks to try out.) So the biggest moneymaking industryand one of the sleaziest, along with drug dealing and politicsis ruled out right off the bat.
That leaves a lot of possbilities, though. I think with this kind of game, we’d need to focus on a few markets at once: the technogeeks, the techno-less-geeky RPG gamer people, the Playstation2 crowd, and little kids.
So for each of these target markets, it makes sense to develop at least one pilot game (though probably two or three would make sense, in a real-launch situation, with more already storyboarded). Now, in that case, what kind of story would we want to develop?
If we were limited to one game, we could certainly try to hit all of the niches at oncethough I would prefer an overlap of maybe two or three at maximum. So I’m going to suggest one game idea per niche, and then work some crossover appeal into each. Finally, I’ll suggest one more niche, which is the “me-niche”: the kind of game I would absolutely LOVE to play if I could have access to an immersive VR system like the one described.
Let’s start with the TechnoGeeks. These are the people who are going to buy in first. They’re going to be the first to own it in their own homes, as opposed to, say, paying to use the system at a game center. They are the people who will matter as far as the early hype, the excitment, and half of the battle will be building the system itself to satiate their lust for the perfect machine.
I think for the techno-geeks, an SF theme would be the way to go, but that’s not all. Yes, techno-geeks tend to be into SF. Techno-geeks tend to be into venture capitalism, at least the kind who can afford the first or second generation of this kind of technology for a game. They like economics, they like SF, they often like strategy games and simulation wargames.
Hmmm. But how to integrate this with the role-playing aspect of gaming which would obviously come so much to the forefront of VR-gaming?
I think I’d set it up so that gamers were running ships of traders. They could run ships independently, or they could work as teams aboard one single ship (in group play). There would be short stories, and longer plots as wellthough I think the longer plots would be more of hardcore players, the shorter ones for people doing it for fun. I think I’d build in a session schedule so the same players could connect regardless of location, and the trading ships they run would go through all kinds of environments: dangerous, hostile, utopian, unknown parts of space, warzones, the whole gamut. Maybe a few characters would mutate over time, or maybe alien races would be offered right off the bat. Characters would compete for resources and better spacejump technology. And they’d be competing with one another. (And in single-player mode, they’d still be interacting… but as opponents.) The universe would be continually expandable, and it’d be important to hire a staff for the first few years, anyway, to make sure it did continue to expand, that political situations would play out, and so on. I’d be an important part of making the game work, those surprises and shocks.
But this is my weakest idea so far, and I think I’d rethink it heavily, and include a lot of completed worldbuilding ideas, before submitting this one.
The RPG gamer people, or at least those among them who are not technogeeks as well, will want something a little less hardcore on the science. They will want something that will allow them to interact with one another, of course, and they will want a breathtakingly fascinating game world in which to do it. Not some Ed Greenwood fantasy settingthough doubtless there’s also a market for a TSR collaboration, something in the Forgotten Worlds or Planescape settingbut this fantasy should not closely mimic anything by Gary Gygax. In fact, if any writer were to be mimickedor, hell, even hired, if possibleit should be China Miéville. His dark, crusty New Crobuzon, and his strange and mysterious world Bas-Lag, make up one of the more fascinating settings in all of modern fantasy.
Why? Because they have character. They smell bad. They’re dark and messy and there’s coal dust and bad vibes everywhere. There are strange alien beings prostituting themselves to perverted human beings. There are secret wars, strikes by dock workers’ unions, subversive political groups fighting a police-state. It has magic, science (of a sort), and a cross between the two. There are cultures vastly different from the main human culture, too. It’s a potentially open-ended, renewably expandable weirdspace in which to run a game, and I think for this reason, with a talented crew of writers and developers, people would fall all over themselves to get in on the expansions.
But of course, Miéville doesn’t need to be on board, and the game doesn’t explicitly need to be set in Bas-Lag or New Crobuzon. What matters is that the world, the available character species, the approach to (and mechanics for) magic, science, combat, and all of that are rock-solid and that it all oozes with character, style, and substance. And dark, I think, would be the way to go. And this, I think, would expand out beyond just gamer-geeks, to a whole segment of people who would love to play a role in a drama, as long as they could hide behind a VR mask of anonymity.
The advantage of this genre and approach is that the gameworld continues on without one when one signs off. One may have friends and allies, but one is never needed, and one never (necessarily) depend on
other players showing up so that one can advance in the game. Perhaps, in the end, the surprise would be that advancement would be endless, for as long as writers would be willing to work on it.
The Playstation2 crowd, on the other hand, will probably be less interested in such dramatics as this. There will also be a lot more of them playing! The way to go with this, I think, would be to run group games that are semi-connected. Platoons, say, in World War II. After all, the Second World War has been one of the great abiding interests of the twentieth century. People will want combat: so give them combat.
And then, once they’re in the game, draw them deeper. The first few missions involve reaching some target, eliminating some enemy outpost, seizing some weapon or code box… but then, throw in a mystery here, a clue there. Something strange is afoot within their platoon. A character disappears, along with a message meant for the platoon leader. They receive orders from weeks before. They are behind enemy lines and need to decide what to do. The group will slowly get into the role-playing element of it, and while there will still be plenty of combat, they’ll also be finding places for their characters to sleep (say, in barns), stealing food from farmers in enemy-occupied territory, and making up their own orders.
The disadvantage of this is that the group will have to sign in together, or else, the players who don’t sign in will have to let their characters be run by AI.
However, this might be less of a problem than it seems, considering most groups of people who play the game will, in the beginning, be physically in the same space, going to a game center to play. Perhaps, as an alternative, a one-session version of the game would be possible… or, perhaps, also, a one-player version of the game, where a lone soldier gets stranded behind enemy lines.
Little kids are the market of the future. They’re the key to this whole thing staying afloat ten years down the road. They’re the key to the future market, because you can bet it will get bigger, it will diversify, it will do something like what TV did over the last fifty or sixty years. So what we sell to them is going to shape their conceptions of what this stuff is all about.
Yes, of course it’s going to spread like wildfire. It’s going to be immensely popular. The question, though, is whether it’s going to be our system and our games, or the competition’s. So I think what we need to do here is work at a level of creativity and imagination that hasn’t been used in decades: the kind of genius that spawned characters like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Mr. Ed, Where the Wild Things Are, Asterix and Obelix, and all the other funny, quirky, strange, insane things that are floating around in kids’ lit, kids’ film, and overall kid-culture.
No, I am not suggesting a Harry Potter gamethough, if we could get the rights for it, it would probably be a smart first launch game. But what I am thinking about is two games further down the road. The game that will be, for your teenaged market’s younger siblings, for the kids of the thirtysomething enthusiasts, for the groups of kids who visit the spoiled Jones kid’s house and see this thing for the first time, the definitive game. What we want is the Super Mario Brothers of the immersive VR game genre.
It needs to be just cross-cultural enough to work, and just cultureless enough to be alien, weird, and fun. It needs to have chunks of Japanese anime in it, but not too muchnot Pokémon!and it needs to have some Marvel Comics in it. Maybe some kind of goofy super-heroes theme would be good; maybe elementary school kids fighting off the forces of bleah… tickling their adult teachers, saving students from boring classes, fighting off fat balloon-shaped alien pod-beings that fall from the sky. The challenges, perhaps, should go weekly. There should be in-game prizes, such as new superpowers, magical or powerful items, secrets, and so on. And it wouldn’t be a boys-only thing: Powerpuff Girls-type characters would be explicitly advertised, and there would be both a cooperative and a competitive element between girls and boys. And of course, since there are kids, there would be some kind of process where they are reminded the game is just a game. Not just fine print. Some kind of process where they aren’t immersed until they have read the disclaimer (written in kid-language) aloud.
This is the idea I’m least comfortable with. Kids aren’t as fragile-brained as we often like to think, but immersive, multiplayer VR is something that is, perhaps, qualitatively different from other forms of entertainment. I’m not sure at what ages kids would be old enough to know the difference.
As for the game I’d most like to play?
Actually, this is the game I’d love to release on the market. It may sound grotesque, but bear with me here:
It’s called Rapture. Yes, looselyvery looselybased on the Left Behind books. So loosely that anyone who completed the game, and discovered my twist, wouldn’t be able to sue the company.
I think the game would be called “Rapture” or perhaps, “The year after.” It’d be a hardass evangelical RPG gamer’s dream. I’d push it at exactly that crowd, from day one, and even offer the tech needed to set up the group game to Churches all over America at a slightly cut rate.
The Rapture was only the beginning. After God’s faith disappeared, the world was thrown into chaos, and the the battle for the few remaining souls began.
Choose your role: will you be a Preacher? A Harvester of Souls? A Demon-Hunter? Maybe a member of The Chosen, a Christian-terrorist organization fighting off the Muslims trying to invade America. There are limitless choices.
Well, there wouldn’t be limitless choices. There’d be a definite range of options, so that the game would appeal to a pretty disturbing contingent of people.
I’d include all kinds of things that give those kinds of people a hard-on: flashbacks to the Passion of Christnot the film, but a VR representation much more horrifying and gory than Mel Gibson’s snuff-wankfestand glimpses at Early Church martyes being torn to shreds by lions in the arena. News footage would show churches being bombed, the Vatican sending out armies to conquer Europe, war and war and of course, literally, Four Horsemen.
The game would play out for a yeara brutal, everyday affair with Christians around the country logging and hacking and slashing at the unfaithful. People would decry it, and me, as feeding fundamentalism, and my friends would ask me what the hell I was thinking, serving up crap like that to an already frighteningly theocratic and dangerously obsessive portion of the American population. Evangelical moms would send thank you notes to the company for making gaming a religious experience, an experience for the whole Christian family.
Characters would often be prompted by all kinds of different possible reactions, thus slightly directed in their actions; not exactly queue cards, because they need to choose their actions, but a range of suggested choices would be provided. Of course, there would always the option to leave sinners alone, along with all the violent options like “pipe bomb the abortionist’s office” and “cut the whore’s head off with a hunting knife” and so on. I suspect, though, the majority of players would never choose “Live and let live, and let God judge us individually.” For most people, it would be a very bloody, very self-righteous game indeed. Which is to say, many people would find it a holy experience, and one that reaffirmed their faith.
Then, one fine evening, probably a year after launching the game, paced to get the biggest number of participants ever, probably a Sunday but chosen according to the use habits so as to be viewed by the biggest number of regular users, and promoted like mad in the login and logout announcements, the Final Gambit would come. It would be huge, a ridiculously bloody final battle with planeloads of Arab Muslims crashing into the battle field, glimpses of Jesus riding around on a horse, weeping, and the two most awful armies that ever existed battling it out in the Holy Land, into which the players would have all fought their way.
Needless to say, the moment of Doom would come, the end of the world would arrive, the sky would fall, and the lives of all the players’ characters in the world would begin. Characters mostly based on the players, characters players would have gotten attached to after a year of gameplay.
But the game would not be over. In fact, logout would be blocked for a couple of minutes, while the players could get a chance to experience what awaits them as “Soldiers of God”.
First, just darkness, and a voice speaking in some strange tongue. It would be subtitled, in-game, and it would apparently be reading off the Ten Commandments. It would stop at “Thou shalt not have any God before me,” and the characters would see themselves in 3rd person view, glorying in murder and their own self-righteousness. The same would happen in “Thou shalt not kill.” And then a soft voice saying, “Love the Lord with all thy heart, and love thy neighbour as theyself.”
And then the virtually-simulated flames of hell would rise up from the darkness and consume all the characters, and that sound, that awful screaming horror of noise, would rise up and, I hope, haunt all the players long after the end of the last episode.
And to those who would object to this, saying that it is damaging to the psyche of children who play it, I offer the following: it is the ridiculous indoctrination that the children have already received that is profoundly damaging to them; this, really, is simply a reasonable extrapolation of what awaits them if they continue on their path, extrapolated from the internal logic of their own religion itself.
Thank goodness I would have used a pseudonym, because I think after that many, many unbalanced people would hate me. But if nothing else, it’d be a lesson about letting entertainment media people give you your religion. Preachers and such get behind it when it seems to suit them, but how can you know it’s anything like authentic? Chances are it isn’t.
If you would like to see the answers of other participants, check the sidebar on the right side of my main front page. However, be warned: due to a software malfunction, it seems that the F5 question seems to have changed sometime on Thursday, perhaps at night, so some people may be answering a rather different question, also penned by myself.