Monday, August 07, 2006

Steal This Game Design: Death

A Day in the Life of the Grim Reaper


You play the Grim Reaper, black hooded robe, scythe and bony silhouette included. You must fill your death quota each day, whether you directly or indirectly cause the deaths. Remember to grab the souls after each death, or it won't count!


The game is played from a third-person perspective, mostly from behind the reaper. You can walk, run, jump, swing your scythe in a few different ways and turn into a dark mist to move around unseen. Whenever you go by people while in mist form, those people visibly shiver.

The environment is a familiar, modern-day metropolis, with people walking around, riding in cars or the bus, walking into and out of buildings. You can only go into a building if you're "meant" to, meaning only if there's potential death target inside. Otherwise, there's an invisible force that prevents you from going where you're not "meant" to go. In general, you can walk the streets and parks freely.

You always get a direction indicator that tells you where the next or closest potential death is, and when the person is visible, a kind of dark aura surrounds them. Take a quick look around to see if there are any easy ways to cause that person's death (drop a piano on them, cause a car to swerve and crash into them, deflect a stray bullet, etc.)

If there are no obvious ways, you can try directly using your scythe on your target, but beware: some people might see you (although most people would likely just ignore you; remember, this is a big city, other people don't really give a damn about you or how you look, they try very hard to ignore you.) If there are too many sightings of you in a particular week, you might lose your "job" (game over, man.)

After a person dies, a ghostly version of their live selves appears nearby (not necessarily directly on the spot where their body is.) You have to get close enough within 30 seconds of the death or this "soul" will go directly to heaven, and that's bad because it means it won't count as part of the soul quota you must fill each day.

If you don't fill your quota for a day, it's game over, but you can replay that day and see if you can do better.

You get style points for creative or particularly elaborate deaths. You also get bonus points for filling your quota early, and for avoiding getting seen for a whole day.

Sundays are special: there is no quota, so it's a free-for-all bonus stage! Now is a good time to practice more complex death-causing schemes, or harder to execute special moves.

The part of the city you play in is half-scripted, and half-AI-controlled: each person has a main objective (which may change depending on the hour of the day) and a secondary desire, so that a guy whose main objective is to get to work might have a secondary desire to get some ice cream along the way; if the're an ice cream truck or stand that's visible on his path, there's a chance he'll stop before going into work.

Any objects that might be useful to the reaper will be under the control of the physics engine, and will behave realistically, although some objects' trajectories might get adjusted slightly to make sure a death occurs in the event that characters and objects don't align perfectly. This should be a subtle, almost imperceptible effect.

Graphics and Presentation

The world around the reaper should be as realistic as possible. Deaths should be graphic but not exaggeratedly gory. The reaper should always look supernatural somehow, like he doesn't fit in with the environment. Any moves and actions he takes have some supernatural-looking effects to emphasize that it's not just a guy in a dark robe with a scythe. The dark fog that is shown when the reaper is non-corporeal should move like smoke and fog normally move, and should look like it's occupying a real three-dimensional space.

Sound and Music

Sounds of the city should be as realistic as possible, to really make it feel like the player is actually in the city.

Any sounds related to what the reaper does have an unnatural depth to them, a kind of weight.

The music should be similar to what is heard on modern-day supernatural thrillers. It would be a good idea to have music playing only on occasion, with special, evil-sounding jingles playing when the reaper does something special (like reaping a soul, for example.)

This game idea came to me after watching an episode of "Dead Like Me". I love that show, it's well-written and does some very original things I rarely see on TV. It was a shame when it got canceled after two seasons. If you like quirky, dark, well-written comedy (I hear it's somewhat similar to "Six Feet Under", which I haven't watched yet) you'll like this.

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