I was listening to a TotalBiscuit video, specifically where he claimed that games should attempt to use their own medium in specific ways, telling stories only possible in that medium. And I remembered that I had a cool game concept that did just that: it’s a particular story, strictly woven with the gameplay, that just wouldn’t work in another medium. You can’t turn it into a movie, or a book, or comics, or a TV series or whatever else. It’s a game story, and it only works as a game story.
P.S. About accuses of sexism (because of the controversial and easily misunderstood last line), I answered here.
I think it’s a great concept. The gameplay side of it I had already explained in the past. But I kept “secret” how that gameplay tied back into the story, which is the aspect that elevates this concept to something unique and insanely ambitious and daring. Since I’m not doing anything with this idea and since I’ve sat on it long enough, I thought about just throwing it in public domain. Use it any way you want.
The basic idea is about a space sim. It brings together a number of influences because that’s how I roll: take ideas from disparate mediums.
Not exactly a “space sim”. The basic concept is that instead of fighting against an handful of enemy AI ships, you fight instead against WAVES of enemies. Hundreds of enemy ships. Combat behavior of enemy ships is less based on autonomous AI and more on elaborate “choreography”. The idea is to have a visceral simulation that is instead inspired to “Space Invaders”. Or even think about Homeworld. Only that now you are alone versus hundreds of waves of enemies.
To balance the difficulty, obviously, gameplay doesn’t rely on balance between what your ship can do and what enemy ships can do. You are almost invulnerable, can take many hits. You are extremely overpowered compared to them. But this doesn’t remove the feeling of fighting against impossible odds. Battles should look desperate. You look out of your cockpit window and see the space SWARMING with enemies, all coming at you (influence here: Gunbuster).
Some of this concept I actually talked about in the past, but the part I kept “secret” was how the fictional layer (the story) plugs into that. That’s the thing I wanted to explain here, but I’ll get to it at the end. The basic fictional frame of the game is the one of the “exodus”. Think of the first part of Macross/Robotech (or Battlestar Galactica). You fly on a massive mothership on a long journey toward salvation after your world has been destroyed, but waves of enemy keeps coming at you. When they do, you get into your ship and try to save the day, and defend the mothership.
Here the other core idea: the Comet (without the ‘h’). It’s the player’s ship. The inspiration is Jules Verne’s Nautilus, and the concept I wanted to bring to space sims: you don’t simply shoot at enemy ships, but YOU RAM INTO THEM. Punch holes into them. The thing I wanted to achieve is to have a VISCERAL sim. Nuts and bolts. Not technology (this implausibility will return in the story). The most important part is to model the pilot’s model into the 3D cockpit. The arms need to be visible, continuously moving, pressing switches. It’s essential that there’s this visceral, tangible physicality. The ship must look as if “analog”, not digital sophistication. I want a Gothic cockpit. Plates of metal bolted into place, almost a steampunk look, steam coming out of vents. I want handles and straps that the pilot grasps when in Comet/ramming mode. Handmade cockpit as if pounded iron bent roughly into shape. Not sleek metal. Cockpit very tight, claustrophobic (inspiration: Tetsuo: The Iron Man).
Both the pilot and the ship need be alive. The pilot makes breathing sounds, speaks to himself aloud. Yells at enemies, cheers, screams for pain. He can also makes gestures toward enemies when something blows up just right and so on. It needs having this kind of autonomous life and personality while the player still handles the controls (this is also part of the story).
The ship is also alive. It creaks, wails, screams (Evangelion is an inspiration here, or even the way cars and bikes sometimes have some crazy humanlike wails). It’s all about non-technological sounds. Out of an industrial album. Saw-like, grinding sounds, gears. When the sound is human-like it needs to oscillate between hallucinated desperation and rage. That’s the ship personality. A thing from hell. Some kind of monster alive you’re piloting. Something scary. Also: idea of pilot within a uterus (Evangelion again).
In Comet mode the ship masses up power, starts spinning on its axis, then it builds momentum and goes straight in a line at excessive speed (while screaming) until it stops on its own. Everything in its path blows up. If the thing has a lot more mass, the ship BOUNCES. Metal against metal sounds. It needs be visceral, with the pilot being hit strongly in the cockpit on impact (inspiration: Tarantino’s Grindhouse). It must feel violent.
Story mode: something like System Shock 1 configurable difficulty. You select which parts you want enabled or disabled. For example for story it can go from 0 to 3. 0 = no story at all, you simply go from one combat to another. Just action. 1 = some passive exposition between each fight, giving context to the battles. 2 = full story mode. All the story is enabled, but still in passive mode. 3 = it actually extends the game to the full version. The idea I had here is to switch genres. Off-ship it would be like a Visual Novel (or Persona). Lots, lots of dialogue. RPG mode where you can recruit some NPCs that will then be employed as wingmen. The idea is to build real character the player cares for. Flash out the setting to the point of almost making an independent game outside of the space sim. But still exactly taken as a Visual Novel, with a similar style.
And here the big deal between the gameplay and story integration I was speaking about. At the beginning of the game the context is built so that the player questions the plausibility of it. Why are these enemies attacking us? What’s their purpose? Alien enemies never talk through the whole game. Their purpose is hidden. They just attack in waves and try to build new strategies and weapons. Here’s the other idea: the player’s ship has a mechanical arm (idea taken from Squaresoft’s shooter Einhander). When you blow up new enemies you can use the mechanical arm to grab these weapons left on the field. You can use them on the fly, or you can bring them back to the mothership for further research. Eventually all the player’s arsenal is about appropriated alien weapons. The game is like a journey, and toward the end the idea is to make the player’s ship look more and more like a monstrous alien ship. You transform. A Kafka metamorphosis where you become an alien.
Here’s the deal: before the very last world-destroying epic battle a cutscene is shown. For the first time you see the alien point of view. These aliens worship a sort of God of War. All their iconography is about him. He dominates everything in their culture. This God of War is you. Alien mythology essentially says that these aliens are caught in a kind of time loop. At the end of every cycle the God of War comes down crushing down on them, annihilating their world. Then it loops and they find themselves again at the start, waiting for the new apocalypse and the little time they have left to live. They know nothing else than death and the threat of death. For them there’s no other reality than this vengeful god that eventually kills them all, so their only purpose in “life” is to try to find a way to escape the loop. To awake from the nightmare. To try to kill the god they always try to fight when the god is weak, like at the beginning of the game. But at the beginning the loop was just reset, and so they also have not enough strength. This creates the paradox that has the aliens themselves creating the God of War (you). It’s them attacking the player that makes the player defend himself, and eventually come to crush them. It’s them giving him their technology to make the player powerful. The aliens are basically stuck in a loop because of their own actions. Condemned to repeat them. A self-fulfilled prophecy.
Cometh: He comes. Death comes swirling down. The pilot as a mass murderer straight from hell. Totally irrational madman whose face is obscured by an hellish helm(et), screaming in a incomprehensible language. Knight of Apocalypse bringing the holocaust. God of War.
Do you notice anything? It’s game-logic. Like a player restarting a game, those enemies condemned to relive the same experience, make the same errors, suffer again and again, getting killed over and over. It’s exactly the way the game would look IF IT WERE REAL, seen from the inside. And that’s reserved for the final scene, after this last battle is successful and the player annihilates once again the alien threat. Some kind of hallucinatory scene out of 2001: A Space Odissey.
It needs be epiphany. A voice talking. A light. It tells the pilot/player that he has no consciousness, that his will has been manipulated and his life has all been a lie. The pilot will rebel against this thought. He’ll try to affirm his will, his reality. I think therefore I am. I feel. I am alive, here. I love and hate. But eventually it will be shown it’s not himself behind those controls. It works this way: the insubstantial voice tells the pilot to “make a choice”, like steer the ship left. To make this choice, then tell it aloud. The pilot will say what he choose. But IT’S THEN THE PLAYER TO HANDLE THE CONTROLS.
Obviously here the game goes on till it forces the player to actually break the pilot’s will. Ah, so delicious. It just will happen eventually. The player may decide to close the damn game, but that’s the META level I’m playing with: do you want to finish the game or REFUSE THE TRUTH?
So eventually the pilots says he’ll go left, but the player handling the controls will turn instead right… And the pilot will finally realize that he’s not in control. When this barrier breaks, everything is over. The pilot will start to scream, bang his head against the cockpit. The insubstantial voice will continue to speak, telling the “truth”. You are not a pilot, you are just a machine. You’ve been used, your life is a lie, your reality is a lie. You are the God of War.
Then there’s a transition. The insubstantial light continues to speak but it starts to modulate and morph into the pilot’s voice. So now the insubstantial voice is the pilot’s voice. The ship’s cockpit reappears, but there’s no pilot. But the player still can control the ship. WITH NO PILOT. HOW CAN A SHIP MOVE WITHOUT A PILOT?
Because you are the pilot. The voice (old pilot) speaks to you, the player. It says it now understands EVERYTHING. He was not a pilot. He WAS THE SHIP. He has always been the ship’s soul. The ship’s wails and screams were his own wails and screams. The ship’s desperation and hate were his own desperation and hate. This was the only true reality. The truth. He was only a ghost, a ghost trapped in a machine. Were those wingmen and NPCs through the game’s actual plot truly alive? Did they exist?
It’s up to you/the player (the voice says). Those people and stories exist in memory. They are true as long you want them true. As long they are remembered they will exist, they will make a difference. Their life and purpose rest in the player himself. Do you want to remember? Do you want to keep them alive?
I am the ship.
(the face of the pilot, reduced to a screaming mouth, is superimposed and then morphed into the iron device that was used through the game to enable the “Comet mode” and make the ship ram other ships. It’s like an head, the ship as a metaphor, a thing alive. The Comet mode was activated by stabbing the “forehead” of this device with some iron rod, which would initiate the anguished scream of the ship)
I am the ship.
Use me, abuse me, because through you I live.