A Computer Game Idea
This is a very convoluted idea.
Unlike my other game designs, which tend to come and go sporadically, this one
is a major one that will hopefully make a lasting impression on the computer
Two episodes are brewing right
now. Both episodes will deal with a fictitious land called Middle-Dirt. It's a
dangerous place, with a wide variety of intelligent monsters. More importantly,
it's an experiment with culture, society, science, and various philosophies.
I plan on making the gameplay of
Legend of the Cool Sword very arcade-style, even though it is a role-playing
game. There are several very good reasons for this.
People can learn the game easily and quickly.
People do not have to devote many mental resources or time to this game; it's
"stop and go."
Action-oriented games have a mainstream appeal, attracting a diverse number of
people, rather than a small cult following.
My belief in computer games is
that one shouldn't have to go out of his/her way to learn large amounts of
otherwise useless skills to play a game. Games with simple controls have
somewhat of an advantage in that people who are less patient with the learning
process are more likely to stay interested.
Anyway, here's the lowdown on the
gameplay. The game has a series of action-based sequences in 3-D, which can be
played with any number of players. The 3-D display allows scaling and
all-directional scrolling, but the perspective angle is mostly fixed. This is
because gameplay is always third-person, along the lines of games such as
Golden Axe and Double Dragon. In some parts of the game, the action is only
2-D, although still rendered in 3-D. I intend on making the possible zoom range
very large, from very close to the players to miles away.
The game will have sporadic cut
scenes with recorded speech, but these are mostly for transitions. I think
writing a script that is too nonlinear is kind of defeating. It gives the user
more control, but the control is never complete. Most designers are
neither willing nor competent enough to give close to infinitely many decisions
to a game player, while at the same time maintaining anything close to
plausible interactions in a role-playing game.
I am biased toward writing the
script of a game as if it weren't for a game at all, and allowing for minimal
variation. The purpose is to entertain. Scripts should enhance the game; all
too often, designers inadvertantly make the game sag at points by giving long
filler tasks that put the player to sleep. Unless you want to demand
that the user take long lists of notes (better suited for classes than for
games), streamlining the gameplay is very important.
A Double Plot
This game is as much about ideas
as entertainment. It's got a lot of funny bits, but it has a rather serious
undertone. I intend the game to qualify as a full-blown work of science
fiction. Amongst ideas explored are ecosystem sustainability, population
dynamics, selfish gene theories, fundamental approach to uncertainty, the
nature of memory, and societal, ethical, and moral foundations.
In some ways, the game is a spoof
of a variety of games out there already. That is, it's a spoof of the nature
of games out there, rather than specific games. What I think needs to happen is
an address of the whole computer game philosophy. Computer games have been
around for 20-30 years now. This game will try to answer some of the important
questions and misconceptions associated with computer games. In particular:
That computer games are harmful to minors. I think this has some merit,
but many people, particularly parents, often try to link a lot of poor behavior
of kids to computer games. Nice, but let's look at it realistically:
Millions of kids play/watch the game Doom.
Two kids shoot up their school before killing themselves.
These same two kids play/watch the game Doom.
Do the math. The ratio of violent episodes to nonviolent episodes is
ridiculously low compared to the ratios correlating gun availability to gun
deaths, alcohol consumption to motor vehicle accidents, and parental apathy to
lower student test scores. But the media tends to exacerbate magnitude, not
frequency, of the risk equation.
I can't remember exactly how many computer game studies I've read in newspapers
that are the most flawed, biased correlations ever created. The devil is in the
emphasis of the research. What most people want to get from such "violence
studies" is a comprehensive statement that addresses what, specifically, in a
computer game will motivate a person to actually pull off a similar act. But
these studies rarely provide this! Instead, the studies conclude lots of
implicits and indirections, but nothing definite.
For example, I've read several psychological studies that show that violent
thoughts are common in people that play violent games. Thoughts, huh? What
about actions? Sorry. One can't just make such a leap of faith that thoughts
equal actions. Lots of reactionaries out there do, unfortunately.
This mostly stems from the fact that data collectors, not surprisingly, fail to
do follow-up research to find the most critical, influential factors. There's a
big difference between watching and playing a computer game. The appeal is completely
different, and thus the means to judge the media based upon watching or playing
a game must be separated. Judging a game solely from "looking" at it is
inherently flawed because the observer isn't getting the full 20% tip. Whatever
imagination (usually pretty vivid for concerned parents) the viewer has, it
often diverges significantly from the attitude of the player. Future studies
should be multifaceted: control and experimental groups for (a) the player, and
(b) the nonplayer.
That computer games are addictive, to both children and adults. This
does have a lot of merit, actually. But what people should look at are details.
These details include recurring cost, average daily playing time, total playing
time, type of content most played, histograms of each content, and a variety of
other scientifically meaningful factors.
And heck, if it's that much of a problem, why not get game designers to
implement voluntary or parent-controlled playing timers? Violence locks already
exist; time locks would be just as easy to add on.
That computer games have too much sex and violence. Once again, this is
often true. But computer games aren't much different from other media here. All
media has undergone ethical and moral scrutiny, with the end result being
self-regulating individuals and institutions rather than aggressive
governmental intervention. This has happened for novels, comic books, radio,
television, movies, and the Internet. Of course, not one of these self-reform
efforts succeeded in eliminating the sex-and-violence category of the media. Is
it necessary for computer games to have aggressive reforms when others have
Most people would say no. Still, you can't ignore that there is really an awful
lot of scantily clad women and bloody images in games today. I suspect
this is for two reasons: one, for the same reason that TV networks are doing
the exact same thing, which is marketing, and two, which is that the genre of
computer games was founded by a subculture of mostly males. Reality says that
30 years is not that long a time. Last time I checked, Purdue University had a
miniscule number of women enrolled in Computer Science. This will turn around
eventually, and hopefully change the mainstream face of computer games to one
that reflects the categories and status of most other media.
That long interlude wasn't a
tangent, you know! For all the issues, I'm including two "intermission" child
characters (put in the game just for fun; they really aren't part of the
gameplay) that act as if they are playing the game, and they comment on it
periodically. Hearing kids reason about their attitude towards games may shake
a few parents up, but I emphasize reality with these characters, not fiction.
Also, I'm going to have a
"movement" which builds up to get the game banned--while you're playing it. I
drew upon actual events when contemplating including this part. Mayor Bart
Peterson tried to lead the way to moral victory (?) of the city of Indianapolis
by suing arcade businesses for including violent (?) and sexually explicit (??)
games. I hope Mr. Peterson is happy, because not only did he lose every step of
the way, all the way to the federal courts, he ended up getting legal sanctions
slapped on the city. Sanctions like these come about only one way--frivolous
lawsuits. This is an embarrassment to the state of Indiana. It's my duty as a
game designer to show people that obtaining moral victory has a way of not
solving our problems.
Episodes 1 and 2
Perhaps I'll work on a third
episode eventually, but for now, I just have two in mind. The first episode
deals with Violet Fem, a heavyweight, "supercop" type of character that saves
the world from certain destruction at the hands of General Chainsaw. At least,
it seems like she's the heroine, but by the end of the game, exactly who you
like more might be a little sketchy.
Also in the first episode are a
smattering of characters, most of which have relatively flat personalities.
Only Violet and General Chainsaw have round personalities in the first episode,
but many flat characters in the first episode will be more developed in the
The second episode will deal more
with the concept of Middle-Dirt itself. My guess is that Episode Two will be
the more interesting of the two, as it has a variety of playable characters and
explores many more ideas than the the first episode does. It's got a silly
premise, which is, "What the hell is Hell, anyway?" After several characters
bust out of Hell, a full investigation into this whole Hell thing takes place
in Middle Dirt. Fundamentalist Christians will probably not like what this game
will have to say about Hell, but I'm not catering to them, am I? If they want a
compatible form of ultra-violent entertainment, let them watch something by Mel
If you've read for this long, I'm
impressed. This is the best I can do to summarize the game concept. There are
so many ideas I would like to put into "The Legend of the Cool Sword" that it
would take hundreds of pages to list them all. But that about wraps up the