I occasionally dabble in indie game development – perhaps ‘occasionally’ is too generous a word – and I find I’m on a bit of a game concept bender. They’ve been coming to me more often lately. Perhaps this is the sign that I need to get another game project finished. Or perhaps I have a massive undiagnosed brain tumour and my mind is desperately working to create some kind of legacy before it loses sentience.
One of them came while I was working on my review of Dark, relevantly. It was the bit when I was talking about how the game establishes that the main character became a vampire simply by being drained by one, and then has you kill a huge proportion of enemies by draining them, which logically should have turned them all into vampires too. I made a little joke that maybe I’d prefer to play one of those guys, they might be easier to sympathize with.
But then I thought, wait, I think I’m onto something here. Because of course another game I’ve played a lot recently is Rogue Legacy, the Castlevania-esque Rogue-lite in which each time you die you’re replaced by your son or daughter (finished it last week, actually; use the circle of flame attack on the fourth boss, that shit cleans up like a Dyson). And a vampire-themed genealogical game could be a natural fit for such a format.
Let’s say we do something a bit Dark-esque. You’re a newly-created vampire and you’re trying to reach some powerful figure or boss who in some way will make things better. So you go to the building where they hide out, and have to infiltrate it, going level by randomly-generated level until you reach the penthouse suite where your ultimate target lurks. I picture it as being a bit Metal Gear Solid-y, top-down, stealthy, ambushing the baddies before they can attack you sort of model, hopefully not as woefully implemented as it was in Dark.
The twist being that every time an enemy successfully kills you, you transfer your vampiric curse to them, and that enemy then becomes the player character, pursuing the same goal through some weird magic racial memory. Now, personally I think this creates a very neat and natural player upgrade system – enemies gradually get harder over time, as one should expect, and the moment they become too difficult for the player character’s current stats, the player character will be replaced by someone better suited to the present environment. Also, the enemies would have different classes with different abilities and focuses, switching up the play style each time. It would be more elegant than Rogue Legacy’s ever so slightly clumsy arrangement where you pick your next protagonist from a brief list.
At this point there are two issues I see with the idea: firstly, that there’s no reason to avoid death if every time it happens you just carry on from the same spot with a provably better character. I think the important thing about the Roguelike model is that there needs to be a feeling that things have been ‘reset’ each time you die. To that end, perhaps there could be a more standard ‘vampiric powers’ skill tree that grants you better and better abilities the longer you are able to survive and gather experience. So when you do die, you might have better base stats, but you can’t teleport or shoot lasers out of your eyes anymore.
And secondly, boss fights don’t work with this idea at all. ‘Cos a big bad boss becomes not a challenging hazard that you have to work at but a free super body you only have to die to once to attain. Some different rules are needed. Let’s just say boss fights are the only things that kill you permanent like, and if you fall to them, you have to start all over again. That’d be in keeping with the spirit of Roguelikes, I suppose.
The idea of a transient player character puts me in mind of another game idea I’ve had stewing for a while. This is one of the bad ones, the sort I know I’ll never actually make because it would need triple-A tech for the concept to work, and yet squats unfulfilled in my head space regardless. How I picture it is that it starts as a generic third-person space marine shooter with some thick-necked fellow in power armor riding a transport bound for the battlefield. The player controls them as they step out onto some brown war-torn terrain, but after walking a few feet forward, someone shouts ‘NOW’ and then a cage drops down upon the area directly behind the soldier. For you see, this was a trap, with the intention of capturing this strange and seemingly malevolent entity codenamed Protagonist, an invisible bodiless force that possesses soldiers and heroes.
The Protagonist – now controlled by the player in first person – is subjected to various scientific tests as the NPCs of the world attempt to understand its strange, nihilistic instinct to push individuals into violence and adventure for the apparent sake of a vicarious thrill. But then there’s a security slip and the Protagonist escapes by possessing a guard or researcher in the facility. The gameplay then would be a Hitman-esque experience twinned somewhat with the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood multiplayer mode where the best course of action is to shuffle about pretending to be an NPC – the Protagonist must avoid doing anything that might give away its presence, and must find a body that can fulfill its agenda without causing suspicion. Like finding the one scientist who is permitted to enter and leave the facility at will.
Upon escape, the Protagonist seeks a purpose. It notices that the future society is somewhat corrupt, and by chance is able to possess a member of a militant resistance group. It enjoys having the opportunity to fight for a purpose again, but it soon becomes clear that the society isn’t that oppressive and the rebels are essentially terrorists. It moves on and finds itself embroiled in the life of a vigilante cop with nothing to lose trying to bring down an organized crime empire, but that too carries complications as the investigations take a toll on the cop’s mental and physical health. In the end, the Protagonist must realize that its fine motives and intention to ‘fix’ the problems of the world are just a slim rationalization for what it really wants: to reap praise and excitement without consequence. It must realize that the world is better off without it, at which point, the game ends.
Like I said, just an idea. I doubt I’d want to make it even if I did have the resources, because the whole theme of the thing is basically “Fuck you for playing this game”. But then again, that worked for Spec Ops: The Line, didn’t it.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.