My column this week tries to sort out why we had this sudden rash of father-daughter games in 2013. I don’t know that I nailed it, but this is my take on a very odd little trend.
The other thing about this trend is that all of the father / daughter styled games were really well received. (If you’re reading this before the column then we’re talking about The Walking Dead, BioShock Infinite, and The Last of Us, with partial credit to Dishonored and Tomb Raider.) My concern is that these accolades will end up creating an awful bandwagon effect and two years from now we’ll get a bunch of vapid, half-assed, me-too games coming out with a father / daughter motif.
My hope is that we’ll get even more diverse setups. Different protagonists, different sidekicks, different group dynamics.
Let me put you in the game designer’s shoes. Let’s assume we’re dealing with a typical soulless publisher who doesn’t know anything about videogames except what sells, and they don’t know how to market anything except to imitate the behavior of Hollywood blockbusters. Their specs are thus:
- This game is a shooter plus an optional “something else”. The gameplay is a bog-standard shooter but there’s room to add some unique gameplay idea or dynamic, as long as it’s secondary to the shooting.
- We’re looking for franchise material. (So the protagonist can’t die at the end, the world can’t be destroyed, and there has to be some way for the bad guys to show up next time.
- Modern-ish settings are preferred. Crazy retro or far future settings are strongly discouraged. Those are just too hard to market.
- We would really prefer a white male protagonist. Ideally, we want a picture of a dude on the cover, and the dude should be holding a gun.
- The protagonist can have one or two buddies. Maybe they’re involved in gameplayLike Alyx Vance or Ellie., or maybe they’re more of a banter buddyLike Malik from Human Revolution.. Whatever. The main character just needs someone to talk to.
- It would be nice to have a conventionally attractive girl to put in the trailer and other promotional materials.
- The game should have a more or less fixed narrative. You can have optional endings if you like, but it’s easier to demo and review something that can be easily consumed in a couple of play sessions.
- Your budget is limited. No, you can’t hire the entire cast of The Expendables. You can have maybe one A-list actor or two B-listers. (You can have as many Nolan Norths and Steve Blums as you need.) You can’t have a ton of designed characters. You’ve got enough budget to model and animate a small cast, some texture-swap extras, and a few bad guy types.
- We need some trailer-friendly cutscenes. Show some shooting, show some girl, show some bad guys, show some stuff blowing up.
You’ve just been given the position of producer / designer / lead / whatever they’re calling the person in charge of the game here. You had to fight hard to get this chance, and you get the sense that if you don’t come up with a design they’re comfortable with then they’ll hand the project over to the jackass that just wants to copy Call of Duty. He has no vision, no real ideas, and working under him for the next two years would be awful. So make it good. You might be able to get them to bend on some of their specs if you’ve got a dynamite pitch and a ton of charisma. Maybe.
Personally, I’d love the see a Moonlighting / Romancing the Stone rom-com thing. That’s a pretty easy template: Force a couple of oppsing personalities together and run them through an adventure. The guy is more bravado than actual skill, the woman is a by-the-book type. They bicker all the time, with building levels of sexual tension as the story goes on. By the end they’ve rescued each other a couple of times and worked out their differences. He learns to be a little more responsible while she loosens up.
The problem with this pitch is that it’s pretty hard to have this kind of lighthearted banter in a typical blood-soaked shooter. Unless you go for super-dark comedy or Saints Row style gonzo madness, you can’t have two people fall in love while gunning down thousands of human beings. You’d need them to shoot robots (But what about our manshoots!) or zombies (that’s getting REALLY old) or aliens.
The other pitch is maybe having some kind of buddy cop / odd couple thing going on. It’s pretty much the same thing as the previous pitch, but without the romance. And it has all the same drawbacks.
What’s your pitch? Personally, I’d rather leave the industry if I was backed into a corner where I couldn’t do anything interesting. Then again, it’s always easy to quit hypothetical jobs. Real jobs? Less so.
 Like Alyx Vance or Ellie.
 Like Malik from Human Revolution.
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