Stranded Marine

Game idea, stitched together in eight minutes with roommate:

The game opens on a picturesque vista of a lush and sweaty-looking alien planet. Far in the distance the player can see the streak of some kind of spacecraft as it comes roaring down through the atmosphere. The camera is steady and unmoving as the crashing ship disappears out of shot and lands with a crash.

The player controls a solitary space marine who’s landed on the planet in an escape pod. The reasons for this can be alluded to in the game, possibly leading to a twist (he… ran away from battle!! he is… the saboteur of his ship!!). What’s important is that the landing goes fine and all of the pod’s survival equipment is intact. There’s your ridiculous armoured power-suit, multiple guns, climbing equipment, computer, radar, cutting torches, food-purifiers, air-purifiers, grappling hook, portable turrets, jetpack,  everything. It’s all yours from the very beginning of the game. But the batteries, ammo, filtration sheets and so on that are in the pod when you start are all the supplies you ever have access to. You run out of jetpack fuel, you’re grounded.

There’s a contradiction in the design of most videogames- they feel the need to offer a more intense, complex challenge as you progress, yet in the name of keeping the game from growing stale they drip-feed give you new tools, toys and abilities which make the game easier. These two trends conflict. We propose a game where the player starts with everything, and it all gradually gets taken away.

It might start with the player running out of ammunition for the auto-aiming smart gun, followed by them breaking their radar by going for a swim with it. Quickly they’ll start looking at all of their equipment in terms of the power-drain, going into their battle-suit’s menu and shutting down the amplified strength on the arms and legs. But it’s just putting off the inevitable. Eventually your suit will stop working, and you’ll have to take it off and leave it wherever you were standing.

The player would be constantly re-examining his environment and enemies in a reverse-Metroid style. Instead of “OK, I have this item now, what can I do with it?” you’re thinking “Argh not NOW, okay, no more of that, but how am I going to get up that cliff/survive those horrible predator aliens now?” You’d also have a game in second-guessing what it’d be worth keeping in the name of finding a way off the planet. Have the otherwise-useless communicator use the same kind of battery as the food purifier, or hint at an abandoned and locked research facility somewhere on the planet while making the cutting torch a badass melee weapon that doubles as a torch.

I also really like the idea of an incredibly lonely protagonist talking to himself throughout the game. Have him swearing alongside the player as equipment sputters and fails, and have him emit a whoop of joy followed by insane giggling as the player stumbles across a new power brick for the battlesuit they left behind so long ago. Have him talking rhetorically to his wife and children. And probably have him bitching ceaselessly about the horrible planet he’s stuck on, about the humidity and the weight of the cutting torch and the stupid fucking idiot creatures that keep trying to bite his knees off.

Yeah. I think it’d all work.

Comments

  1. I was about to raise a point about one possible danger in making the protagonist talk—specifically, that it might compromise the player’s sense of involvement. It reminded me of something one of the Ice Pick Lodge folks said when you interviewed them (http://bit.ly/4GjoY):

    “The main idea to keep in mind is that the player must not feel that the game is “working” with the simulation of a player that came before him, but with himself directly — the guy who is actually sitting in front of the monitor.”

    Then, idly re-reading, to my horror, I find this further down:

    “Many concept ideas are wandering in my head, concepts which will hopefully someday be brought to life — maybe a story of a crashed ship with the people you managed to help escape stranded on an uninhabited island [...] or a game about an expedition into the unknown, where one has to keep in mind that his initial resources are the only ones he’ll ever have”

    Those fuckers not only stole our idea from the future, they told us about it before we’d had it yet.

  2. Oh. Shit. So I just spent 500 words fleshing out this idea for them.

    We’re going to get a jiffy bag in the next few weeks containing a shot of vodka, a pickle and a polaroid of Nikolay Dybowskiy giving a thumbs up. The game will sell millions.

  3. A very exciting idea that would work brilliantly as an open world game I think. I’m compelled to mention that there’s at least one proper gameplay reason why players are generally drip-fed new equipment throughout a game instead of just given it all at the beginning: it can be fairly overwhelming if you’re suddenly faced with a full suite of powers and equipment as soon as the intro cutscene is over, whereas if you get them one at a time, you have time to get to know each of them and their uses.

    Of course there are also aesthetic reasons (you want to give the player a sense of progression by continually improving his or her character), but obviously this game would benefit from exactly the opposite aesthetic choices, and I agree that it just might create a unique and captivating experience.

    As for the player character talking to him-/herself, it could go either way. If your paradigm is that immersion is key, you can pull a Gordon Freeman, but I think the game would benefit from a bit of character in the form of the protagonist. That would also be a great opportunity to subvert the typical Space Marine stereotype by writing him against type of simply fleshing out his personality : )

  4. Yeah, the potential overwhelming of the player is definitely an issue, but not an unsolvable one.

    For starters you limit the amount of equipment the player can carry so the control scheme never becomes ridiculous. Second, make one of the first things the player finds within the pod a ‘Survival For Idiots!’ type program (usable through the powersuit or computer) that works as an optional tutorial, guiding players on a quick reconnaissance of the nearby environment and teaching them the basics of food-gathering and animal-studying. It might be fun to make the guide really out of touch, too. Have the protagonist turn it off in disgust after the second time it leads him off a cliff or tells him to approach some horrible, hungry creature while waving his arms and saying he comes in peace.

    But I think you’re more onto something with the game actually benefiting from the decision to drop the player in at the deep end. Rather than trying to ease the player into this, it might be better to embrace the alien nature of it. Let the player go stumbling out of the escape pod with no friends and no advice. I find the idea of the player going off to crest a hill or climb a tree to try and get a feel for the alien planet really beautiful.

  5. kyyninen says:
  6. Weird, I’ve written up a very similar ideas a design doc in the past. But I’m not putting it on here as in six months time you’ll think it’s yours.

  7. Awesome awesome awesome. I’d pay money for that game. Also, hope your other blog is still going.

  8. I had a similar idea starting from the same premise: that if games want to adapt to your improving skill, they should prune your toolset rather than expand it and add enemy hitpoints to compensate.

    I didn’t want to do limited resources, though, because in practise I always find them super depressing. They discourage experimentation, which is all I really care about.

    That said, my idea was hilariously dumb and also pretty depressing. It was Lockables: the game that rewards your success with confiscation. It’d be a Hitman game where, due to the security restrictions of your mission locales, you’d be able to bring fewer and smaller weapons to the missions as the game progressed.

  9. You underestimate the mind-crippling effects of the I Might Need It Later Syndrome that plagues most of the gaming populace. When I got the Magnum in Half-Life 2, I immediately switched back to my pistol. I’d be a fool to waste MAGNUM ammo on lowly CPs.

    Were I to play the game propositioned above, I’d probably have taken off my suit immediately, and progress through the game for as long as possible by only punching things to conserve ammo. Only when something couldn’t POSSIBLY be done with my fists or my legs would I go get my equipment.

    Even so, I would most definitely play that game.

    • Yeah, it’s true- everyone would refrain from firing at the giant-mecha crab just in case there’s a bigger giant mecha-crab around the corner. And puttering away with your weakest weapon would make the game pretty frustrating, I’d assume. Stupid forward-thinking players. They wouldn’t start with the best stuff until slowly having to rely on the worst, they’d do it the other way round.

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