Monday, November 06, 2006

Steal This Game Design: Voices

This week, I bring you an idea that's less defined, but which seems rich in possibilities:


This is a new kind of role-playing game. Note that in this case, I won't use the RPG abbreviation, because the gameplay will be very different from most popular RPGs, with the possible exception of the Shenmue series.

The player directly controls the main character, with the more-or-less standard controls found in most third-person 3D platformers, action games and other action RPGs. There are no character stats per se, but the player can create the appearance they want for their character (male or female) with one restriction: the character has recently reached the age of 18, and is now responsible for his or her actions in the game world.

The game world itself is essentially based on the present-day real world, with NPCs acting and reacting realistically (as much as the game engine will permit, anyway.)

The twist is that, after waking up one morning, the player's character starts hearing voices in his or her head. At first, the voices don't seem to mean anything (either they're gibberish, or they just don't apply to what's happening, and are just mysterious) so all the player has to do is complete mundane tasks in order to proceed through the day.

The player is free to do anything his character could realistically do in the real world, but not accomplishing some of the main tasks will prevent the story from moving forwards, and some extreme actions (like killing someone, or stealing certain things) could result in an end to the game.

After certain tasks are completed, the voices start telling the player to do certain things. The player is free to decide whether to do these things or not. Sometimes, acting on the voices' demands will lead to benefits to the player, who might get money, stuff, or meet someone new, and sometimes, acting on the voices' orders will lead to negative events. Not doing what the voices demand has equally (seemingly) random consequences.

As the game progresses, the player can decide on the following possible paths:

  1. Try to live a normal life, despite the voices.
  2. Try to find out the reason, the source of the voices
  3. Give him- or herself over to the voices completely (doing everything the voices ask for)
  4. Only do the things that the voices request that seem like good actions (with sometimes negative results)
  5. Only do the things that the voices request that seem like bad actions (again with sometimes positive or negative results)
Each of these paths should eventually lead to an interesting, at least partially fulfilling conclusion. Changing streams in mid-game will cause the game to last longer, but can also introduce confusing inconsistencies, which might confuse the player, and it will then be harder to reach one of the game endings.

Sometimes, the voices will seem to reveal NPC secrets, or know things no one should know, making it seem like the player has telepathy. Other times, the voices will be intentionally misleading.

The game will keep track of the player's finances, which are small at the beginning, as the player starts out with a menial job that pays minimum wage, but lives with his or her mom in a small but comfortable appartment. As the game progresses, the player's actions will affect these finances, and may cause them to balloon up or disappear almost entirely.

The attitude and reactions of the NPCs around the main character will also evolve throughout the game. If the character starts doing too many bizarre things, he or she will probably be avoided by everyone. On the other hand, if the player starts doing many good things, helping people, possibly saving lives, he or she may find him- or herself being propped up as a hero, or even a superhero.

In general, the player's character will be free to move anywhere, but with the normal limitations of the real world: many locked doors, breaking a window to enter somewhere you're not meant to leading to arrest (and Game Over) and so forth. But a large part of the city in which the game happens will be accessible, with interesting things to see, hear and do.

I'm certainly not going to reveal the 5 possible endings or any of the major plot points here, as that's not really the aim of this blog, but if anyone is interested in this game idea, and has the means to make such a game, I'd certainly like to discuss the story in more detail with you.

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