Monday, May 25, 2009

How to make The Perfect Video Game

By Bryan Crowson
Sythbane Squadron leader

There are rumblings in the video gaming press that BioWare's forthcoming role-playing game, Dragon Age: Origins, may be a rip-roaring RPG, bursting with buckets of blood, copious violence, and throbbing with bodice-ripping, high-fantasy sex.

I sure hope it is! That means Dragon Age: Origins might have three or four of my criteria for The Perfect Game.

In my last post about games I'm looking forward to, one of the games is Dragon Age: Origins, which publisher EA says is coming for PC and consoles in the second half of 2009. My high hopes for Dragon Age got me to thinking about the best of all possible games which I hope to play someday.

As much as I loved The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, I got really annoyed (and bored) by the fact that it included NO romance, no nudity, and only subdued violence. Can't somebody give us a grown-up game, no holds barred? It would sell like crazy! EA's The Godfather 2 made some progress toward this goal of realism by including strippers that were actually topless. (Kudos, EA! The fact that EA now owns BioWare is another hopeful sign.)

But no mainstream Mature-rated game has yet to have any scene that compares with the gloriously beautiful sight of Atia (Polly Walker) walking out of her bath in HBO's epic miniseries Rome. Although a few games such as The Godfather II have broken the brassiere barrier, none that I know of have presented any posteriors -- pretty as Polly's or otherwise. The Mature-rated Oblivion was so prudish that it abandoned all pretense of realism for the medieval fantasy epic and anachronistically clad its female characters in modest, modern bras and granny panties. The ladies might as well have been wearing Nike cross-trainers and iPods, too.

I have a notion of a perfect game in my head. I await the day that somebody makes it, but it hasn't happened yet. David Jaffe came close with God of War, but God of War had too much platforming and not enough role-playing to meet my Perfect Game criteria.

My prescription for the Perfect Game continues to evolve, but here are some of the qualities I'm looking for:

- It will be a role-playing game for consoles, including the Xbox 360. I don't do PC games anymore. I want to relax on my couch, not hunched over a keyboard. And my favorite genre is role-playing, where I inhabit another world for a time. Mass Effect came close to my ideal, but it it had no online element. Could there be a massive multiplayer RPG on Xbox Live someday? I sure hope so. They keep teasing us about the Age of Conan coming to Xbox Live, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Role-playing is the ideal genre for my Perfect Game because it allows for the most creativity by the player. It casts me as the lead role in a story, where I make the decisions for the character like an author would make decisions for a character in a novel.

- RPGs typically also allow for the most customization, which is another trait of my ideal game. I want to be able to customize every facet of my character, as well as other important characters in the game (I couldn't get my spouse to wear the sexy clothes I gave to her in Fable 2! But maybe that was an ironic element of realism.). I want to customize the sex of the character, the face, the body, the clothing, the weapons -- everything! I want to make the story and character mine.

- It will NOT be a platformer or have any platformer gameplay elements. Jumping around is for kids.

- If it is a swords-and-sorcery fantasy story, the imagery will resemble the magnificent battle scenes of 300. Zack Snyder set the standard, until something better comes along.

- If it is a modern story with first-person shooter elements, the level of violence and imagery will resemble Saving Private Ryan and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. These have the most gripping, visceral battles scenes ever committed to film, and a game maker would do well to emulate them, regardless if it's modern combat or science-fiction warfare.

- As a mature game, it will not shrink from the realities of life. There will be touches like Peter Molyneux put in Fable 2, such as having a dog. There will be spouses, and children. The problem at the heart of Oblivion was that it had no compelling motivation. There was no romantic interest whatsoever in the story. Love is the greatest motivation for any story, the driving force in almost everything we do. Whether the hero seeks to win a girl, or protect his child like in Taken, the engine for the plot is love.

Apparently, Peter Molyneux is alone among game makers in recognizing this great fact. Mass Effect almost took the plunge into having a romantic interest, but ultimately it shied away from it like a child who put his hand on the stove. The controversial love scene between Commander Shepard and Liara or Ashley was very tame and a huge disappointment. You can see more nudity by flipping through a Redbook magazine in the checkout line at Wal-Mart and scanning the ads.

- As a corollary to not shrinking from life's realities, the game will include nudity and sex at appropriate points in the story. That doesn't mean it would be a series of sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes, like a late-night "skinimax" flick. It means people get naked to bathe and change clothes, and to have sex, and we all have skin under our suits of armor.

HBO has produced shows in which nudity happens naturally with the flow of the story. Rome, Deadwood and True Blood are the best examples I can think of. The tone of the story and the nudity in the Perfect Game will be like this.

These shows are for grown-ups. Various studies keep showing that the majority of gamers are adults, not children. And yet, even Mature games have this lingering guilt, like the developers can't quite get past the notion that they're making toys for kids. Games are labeled Mature just as movies are rated R. Kids have the same access to mature content on television and movies that they would have with games, yet violent or sexy R-rated movies never cause a stir like games that push the Mature-rated envelope. Ultimately, parents must take responsibility for what their children consume.

(This topic gets me on a soapbox. If you're interested, please see two previous posts where it is discussed further: Severed heads, naked breasts and video games, and Naked breasts vs. severed heads, Round 2.) Somebody needs to stand up to the ESRB's cultural tyranny. Grown-ups buy the expensive, $60 games, because we have the money. Is it too much to ask for a game for our own demographic, as grown-ups?

To conclude this rant, I'm not really expecting my Perfect Game to be The Next Big Thing this year. My frame of reference for video games goes back to the days when only the rich kids had Pong. Later, in high school, I started playing Asteroids at the arcade. The technological march of video games continuously amazes me.

Every year, my Perfect Game gets a little closer, but I'm still waiting.

In the meantime, I suppose I'll go play Halo 3 and Bejeweled 2 some more.

Thanks to my geek wingman, Flying Monkey Joe, for suggesting that I chip off this rumination on The Perfect Game from the previous post and make it stand alone. May your little blue malodorous wings bear you safely to the witch's castle!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your advocacy for more mature content in video games when it comes to natural story line nudity. I think it is needed as long as it is done in good taste and with tact. There is a stigma in the industry right now about that, but I think you will see that overcome in the next few years.