Madden, but for Ancient or Fake Sports
I know hardcore gamers rarely touch them, but the generic sports game model as seen in the Maddens, MLBs, and NBAs is a really well designed system from a gameplay perspective. It’s actually not too far removed from something like XCOM or the Total Wars where player input is divided between a broad campaign (or season) and small-scale events (an individual sport game or battle), which have mutually impactful effects on each other. But most gamers never bother to give the sports games a chance because of some combination of not finding the sport itself interesting and not caring for the culture around the sport and/or its video games.
So why not bring the sports game model to something most gamers find more interesting? How about Roman gladiator matches? Futuristic combat simulators? Vehicular drone fights? Okay, all I can really come up with are variations on combat, but still, you get the point.
I suppose one potential problem with using entirely artificial league systems instead of basing games on real ones is that the real life counter parts can’t be represented. That is, there is no “Tiger Woods of futuristic gun battle simulations” to put on the cover of “Future Battle 2017.” But with random name and stat generators, entire systems could easily be procedurally generated with only a small amount of directly crafted inputs from the developers needed to create a basis for an entirely made up league system.
An all but forgotten PS2 game called Colosseum: Road to Freedom came the closest to this model that I’ve seen, albeit with a marginal and unnecessary narrative component. The player controlled a nameless gladiator with stats determined by your chosen background (where you’re from, your old profession before being enslaved, your favorite God, etc.) who divides his time between training at his gladiator camp and fighting in the arena. When you do fight in the arenas you get to pick and choose which matches to fight (depending on match type and monetary pay out), you can buy equipment with money earned in fights (minus a cut to be kicked up to your owner since you’re technically a slave), and eventually you can work your way up to fighting famous gladiators with distinct styles. Sure the game was horribly unpolished, but the core concept was phenomenal, and I’d love to see it reimagined today with better technical aspects and more commitment to the sport simulation aspects.
A Game where the Player Levels Backwards
This is by no means an original idea (I first heard of it from Yahtzee here) but it’s such an obvious and interesting idea that I’m shocked no big game has really tried it. Instead of using the classic video game paradigm of the player character leveling up and getting stronger as the game goes on, why not have the player character level down and grow weaker?
There are a lot of different ways this could be implemented. Yahtzee talks about using it in a traditional RPG, but I think it would work better in a more visceral hack-and-slash. I would love to see a game with Dark Souls-style mechanics which are extremely punishing and based on a large degree of timing/movement control, but start the player off with an overwhelming amount of largely non-mechanical powerups to make him unstoppable in the early game. Give the player lots of health, multiple over-powered attacks, a huge weapon selection, high starting stats, and everything else he needs to inefficiently stumble through the early levels. Then slowly strip away all of the assistance until eventually leaving the player in a state of pure-mechanics, where victory is dependent upon mastery of raw combat.
Aside from being interesting for its own sake, this mechanical paradigm could have fascinating narrative incorporations. Maybe the player-character has some type of power suit which is losing energy or breaking down over the course of the story. Maybe his overall mission depends upon transporting equipment to various destinations, and so while he starts with a huge payload of high tech weaponry, he slowly sheds it throughout the game at specific points. I don’t know, there are a lot of ways this could play out.
A Multiplayer FPS Where Ammo and Health are United
Imagine a standard FPS (probably closer to Halo than Call of Duty) where every shot you take deducts from a non-regenerative pool of health. Guns have no set ammo level but can be fired until it kills the user.
Let’s say you start with a 100 point health pool. Every shot you take from the weakest pistol in the game deducts 1 point from your health and will deduct 6 points from an enemy’s health with a successful hit. A standard assault rifle might deduct 2 points per bullet and do 10 damage per hit. A grenade might have a 20:50 health to damage ratio. A single shot from a rocket launcher could cost 80 health but cause 100 damage with a direct hit, and lessening splash damage around it. There’s a constant trade off at play between the health to damage ratio and the speed at which a gun can kill an opponent. For instance, the extremely weak pistol might have a great ratio, but requires a lot of hits to kill an enemy. Meanwhile, the rocket launcher can kill an enemy quickly but takes a huge toll on the user.
I’m sure this twist on FPS mechanics will create a whole new host of unexplored balancing issues, but I’m kind of fascinated by its potential. Imagine team death matches where spray-and-pray is more likely to kill your own team than the enemy. Players would have to coordinate who uses what weapon by each individual’s remaining health points. Maybe health points could even be transferred between players for more strategic variability. I don’t know how this gameplay could be translated to single player, so I’ll leave that design to someone else.
Sim Post-Apocalypse Leader
The apocalypse has happened and the player-character is left in a generic Mad Max-style wasteland. Fortunately, the protagonist and a few individuals have gathered together to create a tiny post-apocalyptic camp. As the leader and primary agent of the camp, it is your job to expand the camp’s wealth, defenses, and power to enable its survival and maybe one day build a city in the game’s massive open-world setting. To do so you can either go the peaceful route of setting up various resource gathering points and trade connections with other camps, go the warlord route and raid to your heart’s content, or follow a path somewhere between the two.
At first, since your camp is small, the player-character will have to handle most of the camp’s needs directly. This means personally going out on scavenging/raiding missions to acquire resources, and manually constructing/organizing base systems within an in-game time system. But as the camp grows richer, more people can be recruited and assigned to particular tasks (most would be in food production) but also squadrons of merchants and/or soldiers can be developed to handle delegated assignments outside of the camp. Other camps will surely prosper as well, and pose challenges to the economic/military strength of your camp.
So there’s a little of Fallout 4’s settlement system, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s decision making, and Metal Gear Solid V’s base management. Everyone loves post-apocalyptic settings, everyone loves base building, everyone loves strategic resource allocation (should I use spare scrap metal to upgrade my vehicular military convoy, or to reinforce the camp wall in case of another raider attack?), but no game has yet to really combine all of these elements within a strategic sand box.
A Multi-Perspective/Narrative Campaign in a Short In-Game Time Span
This is another idea that’s so obvious that it’s a wonder to me that it hasn’t been tried already. Take a standard FPS or third person shooter campaign, but instead of using a typical Call of Duty-style campaign format with a series of set piece-based levels at different times and places, or a Crysis-style slog through a seemingly endless battle, set the game in a short time span centered on a single event. Then break the game down into a series of chapters, each of which covers the entire time span of the event, but gives the player control over a different character involved in the event to see his or her perspective on it. Gameplay changes should coincide with the nature of the character.
For instance, imagine the game takes place in a fictitious city, in a fictitious country at the eruption of a civil war between a morally ambiguous government and a morally ambiguous rebel faction. The player can jump between the perspectives of a government solider, a rebel soldier, an ostensibly neutral soldier from a United Nations-type organization which was present in the city to keep the peace, and an innocent civilian caught in the cross fire who tries to escape the city. Depending on their backgrounds, the characters could interact throughout the story in a variety of ways, from friendship, to rivalry, to combat.
The government solider could have decent equipment and travel with a heavily armed force trying to root out insurgent rebels, while his side of the conflict is presented as a force for order and stability fighting against chaotic rebels trying to destroy the traditional institutions which had served the land throughout its history. The rebel solider could have bad (or even malfunctioning) equipment and launch guerrilla strikes against the government while promoting the idea that the rebels are fighting against a corrupt kleptocracy and are trying to bring justice to a downtrodden populous. The UN solider could have high tech equipment but be heavily discouraged from using it due to his precarious diplomatic position, and the efficacy of international governing bodies could be called into question by his presence. Finally, the civilian could have no weapons at all and therefore have to entirely rely on stealth, and her story (I picture a woman for some reason) could emphasize the human cost of war and whether or not so much destruction is worth the furtherance of any ideals.
Of course this is just the first story that popped into my head. The basic narrative/gameplay paradigm could be applied to many settings and gameplay types. I understand that it’s difficult to create compelling mechanics for a single mechanical system (ie. FPSs, hack-and-slashes, etc.), and therefore expecting a single game to create interesting mechanics for a wide variety of play styles is demanding. But it’s not impossible. Games like the recent Far Crys have shown that developers can blend action and stealth with reasonable quality. The type of game I want would just have to alter the variables between characters to line up with their narrative qualities. For instance, the government soldier would have excellent accuracy and physical fitness (can run fast, jump high, etc.) but has little to no stealth capabilities, while the rebel soldier would have great stealth and moderate accuracy, and the civilian would have terrible accuracy (if she manages to find a gun) and mediocre stealth, thereby making her gameplay segment the most difficult.