10.08.2009

I Bought A Video Game At Full Price Today

It was a traumatizing experience.

And I not only bought it at full retail price, brand new, but I pre-ordered it. That's how excited I am. Typically, I wait awhile before buying a game, until it is safely in the bargain bin where my wallet has better access. Not today. Today, I took the plunge and put down by hard-earned money (Ok, so a $50 Best Buy gift card was involved in the transaction, but this was still a big step for me) and bought a game before it came out, and before anybody could review it. What game could be so good that I would put $60 (Ok, so it really ended up being $10. Shut up, K?) on it's claims to quality entertainment?

That game would be Borderlands, by Gearbox Entertainment, Inc.

I've been waiting for this game for 3 years. The moment I read about the concept in a gaming magazine artice previewing an early press announcement, I knew this game and I would go far. Three years, a marriage, two jobs and one child later, we can finally be together.

Ok, let me give you some backstory.

Ever since I was a young padawan of video games, I was always designing games in my head. well, not really. I was really designing better versions of games that I loved. I remember designing custom maps for Warcraft on notebook paper (and then Warcraft II came with a map editor, and I was in love), I was always designing better weapons for Mario Kart, bigger and better swords for my RPG characters, and better special moves for my fighters. I always wanted games to live up to the potential that their genre promised, instead of restricting possibility and ingenuity due to technical and /or budget constraints. When a game takes an idea and truly achieves maximum possible potential (see Scribblenauts), I fall in love. Not only is it a testament to the quality of the development, but it makes for a very fun game.

One genre that I always thought was heading in the wrong direction in this respect was the first-person shooter. Sure, the graphics and physics have gotten to near-realistic levels, and the cinematic quality of the firefights have increased the tension by orders of magnitude. The gameplay has become less linear, the guns shoot better, the AI has gotten smarter, but one aspect was always missing. Your character always stayed the same. His guns might change from time to time, and the story may change, but I always thought that there were many RPG elements that the FPS genre could be capitalizing on. There doesn't seem to be any kind of serious character development other than a series (usually less than 20) of steadily stronger guns that give you a sense of growing strength. The main characters in a n FPS are usually the enemies, and the environment.

I had an idea years ago to design an FPS where the main characters are the guns. The guns in this game would not be simply a weapon. The guns in this game would be a status symbol representative of the character who wields it. It's along the same lines as the magic wand system in Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling elevated the nature of the magic wand to more than just a conduit of magical energy. She made a culture (albeit an underdeveloped one. I always thought she meant to do more with the idea, and then gave up) out of the complex nature of the materials, manufacturing, and uniqueness of the wands, and each wand said something about its owner. i wanted to do this guns. Inherent in such a culture is the complexity of the guns. Guns in my game would be made up of parts. Parts would be interchangeable based on different categories of weapons (scopes for rifles, clips for automatics, etc.) and the parts would vary in value, strength, durability, beauty, and other attributes. This would make for an unbelievably flexible weapon system where you could craft a weapon to what you want it to look like, feel like, and shoot like. Your stature in society would be easily recognized simply by looking at the gun a person carried. Kinda like sports cars, now that I think about it. They all drive, but some are obviously better than others. Character attributes, other than basic looks and personality traits, would be minimized, because honestly, when I see character's strength broken down into hard numbers, some immersion is lost. Physical objects are allowed to have numerical stats, and are expected to.

Obviously, the plot would revolve around guns, and the effect that this world's guns have on its people and culture. In fiction, especially in fantasy fiction, readers respond very well to the idea of a constant and unique companion. A perfect example of this is the daemon system in Philip Pullman's The Magic Compass, where every person has an animal companion that reflects their personality and is a constant companion throughout life. People can't live without them, and feel naked and alone without their faery. I don't really understand the psychology behind it, but it resonates well with readers. The gun in my game would have the same status. Everyone has a gun. It defines you as much as you define it.Stephen King's The Dark Tower does a lot with this idea, but only for one group of people (The Gunslingers).

Acquiring parts for your gun would progress much like the hack 'n slash formula so popularized by the Diablo game series. Enemies drop loot when felled, and you can take that loot and use it yourself. Kill powerfull enemies, get powerful loot. Since the guns themselves are highly compartmental and customizable, looting will play a huge role in the gameplay. However, I want it to be an FPS at heart. When you build your dream, I want the player to be able to look down those sights and really feel the consequences of the decisions he/she has made in crafting the current weapon. No other viewpoint would really work. Fallout 3 was the first game to really try and mix the RPG and FPS genres, but ultimately failed to deliver on the action inherent in an FPS, and stat-heavy character development effectively made the game inaccessible to the non-RPG crowd. My game would be decidedly an FPS with a lot of RPG elements, and it could be appreciated by casual and hard-core players alike. I think taking the emphasis off the player and putting it on the weapons makes the character development more accessible.

But enough about my game. Let's talk about Borderlands.

Actually, I just did. Borderlands is basically the game design I've had in my head since I was in grade school. When I read about it 3 years ago, I couldn't believe what I was reading. I felt like the developers were reading my mind. Everything I just wrote before, that's what Borderlands is. There are some slight differences, but that's OK. Infinitely customizable guns? Check. Early stats suggests literally millions of part combinations and unique weapons. guns with personality? Check. The game has an automatic naming system for those millions of guns, and doesn't to "shotgun lv.1"and "shotgun lv. 2". One machine gun will be called the "Obliterator" while a better version will be called a "Bad-Ass Obliterator". The game also has computer generated summaries of the guns. For example, one preview featured a gun that had a rocket attachment. The description was "Holy Shit! It shoots Rockets!" Guns as main character? Check. The environment is a anarchy-ridden wasteland where you need firepower to survive. If you don't have a weapon, you're as good as dead. Limited character development? Check. Aside from minor health bar growth, you're limited to four basic character templates, each with their own special abilities and looks, so you can focus on the guns. FPS action? Check. The developers specifically veered away from similar titles like mass Effect and Fallout 3 by limiting accuracy to character development/stats. Accuracy is based on weapon quality and player skill, like any self-respecting FPS. The action extends to vehicular combat (where the vehicles are almost as customizable as the guns themselves) which is promised to play a big role in both gameplay and storyline.

So, my dream game arrives on the 20th. I hope it turns out to be the game I really, really, really, hope it was going to be. 'Cause I paid full price for it, and I never do that.

Edit: Apparently, I was mistaken about the weapon customization idea. According to a Gearbox rep, the player is a gunslinger, not a gunsmith. Therefore, no parts upgrades, or weapons. However, rest assured that any gun you can think of exists in the engine. In their own words, if you want the shotgun from doom, it's there. If you want the shotgun from halflife, it's there too.Basically, any combination of parts and qualities you can think of exists somewhere in the game. It's up to you to find the perfect weapon tailored to fit your playing style. So, it isn't exactly what I had in mind, but it's still close enough that I'm extremely stoked to play this game.

2 comments:

Eli said...

OMG I can't believe you!! U got something wrong and it was horrible!! It's the DAEMONS!! not the FAERIES!! Who in their right mind wants to walk around with a FAERY all day???

You... disgust..me

Ruler of the Interwebs said...

I stand corrected.

I will fix it so your comment looks idiotic.

Did you have anything useful to say?

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