Experienced Points: Bring Your Daughter to Murder Day

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Dec 2, 2014

Filed under: Column 105 comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Modern-ish settings are preferred. Crazy retro or far future settings are strongly discouraged. Those are just too hard to market.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. It would be nice to have a conventionally attractive girl to put in the trailer and other promotional materials.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.



[1] Like Alyx Vance or Ellie.

[2] Like Malik from Human Revolution.

From The Archives:

105 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Bring Your Daughter to Murder Day

  1. krellen says:

    Does this mean I have to hold off on starting a fight with all the DS9 fans until Thursday?

    1. Shamus says:

      Nope. :) Spoiler: DS9 is Wednesday. VOY Thursday. Movies Friday.

    2. Zeta Kai says:

      I look forward to meeting you in battle, good sir. Qapla.

    3. Neil W says:

      300 Quatloos on Krellen.

      1. We’re sorry, but the Quatloo is only valid currency on the planet Triskelion. All bets must be in amounts of gold-pressed latinum.

        1. Hitch says:

          Slips, strips, bars or bricks?

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Curses, my species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement.

  2. Naota says:

    This probably won’t come as a surprise after Unrest, but I would wholeheartedly pitch a story told from multiple perspectives.

    I don’t believe the player needs a self-insert under their control as badly as we assume. For me, moments like those few minutes acting out a day in the life of (future villain) King Demavend in The Witcher are some of the best in gaming. Playing as and thinking like Garrett the way an actor would was always more enjoyable to me than projecting upon a gormless statue like JC Denton (as much as I love Deus Ex).

    More importantly for the marketing department, this lets you have 30-something shootdude, awesome shootlady, and (any other option here) in your game at the same time. The only barrier is the irrational fear that people will “feel weird” playing as an avatar that isn’t their age, gender, and race. Depending on just how madly risk-averse the company is, that could (sadly) be a sticking point, even if you do spend much of the game as Shootman McDude. Still, it handily solves the problem of the boring protagonist and lets you treat your game more like a book or movie, following the action rather than being shackled to one character who must for some reason always be in the thick of it.

    Anyway, this hypothetical game needs a primary character to fall back on as a constant and build the primary mechanics around, but when the story calls for it you take on the roles of other people, perhaps with some clever changes to the gameplay to drive home the differences in their philosophies and circumstances. Unless, of course, you were just making MDK 2.

    Think back to Chris’s video on Assassin’s Creed and Emotionally Resonant Mechanics – imagine if all three of the characters from those games worked as a group, and had different parts of an over-arching story. Imagine The Last of Us where the gameplay is split 60/40 between controlling Ellie and Joel, or if we’re really getting risky: bizarro-world Dishonored where Corvo actually has a personality and you alternate between him and Daud, with the fight before the final level serving as break point between three endings (Daud wins, Corvo wins, the hard-to-get ending where neither kills the other).

    There are lots of possibilities out there, of course – these were just a few that stood out.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “I don't believe the player needs a self-insert under their control as badly as we assume.”

      Thats basically why strategies are so popular.You usually have no self insert character in a strategy,and in most you are just another nameless subordinate,doing the will of the talking heads.

      Also,check out avp 1 and 2.

    2. Isy says:

      I’ll bring up Eternal Darkness to go with this – switching time periods, setting, and characters every chapter. Lets you fill up with enough white dudes to fill the quota, still lets you have people like the Khmer slave girl and the black firefighter.

    3. MichaelGC says:

      I don't believe the player needs a self-insert under their control as badly as we assume.

      That’s certainly true for me: I think I tend to think of myself as ‘helping’ whichever character I’m controlling, as opposed to ‘being’ them temporarily. (As a tangential corollary, I’m absolutely useless at role-playing. I could barely role-play myself wearing an unusual hat.)

      So I tend to get on better with well-defined controllable characters, whether they are like me, or not – Batman, for example, or the three guys from GTAV (not that I particularly liked any of those three). Conversely, “my” Gordon Freeman is basically a floating wrench.

      Thus, I’d be more than fine with the kind of character switcheroos you mention, and those ideas sound great! – I’ll keep an eye out on Kickstarter… :D

    4. Eruanno says:

      That sounds awesome, actually. I’d love to play a game from two (or three, or whatever) different viewpoints. Imagine playing something like Assassin’s Creed: Unity where the main character is an assassin and involved in a relationship with a templar. It would be really cool to swap between them and to see their different viewpoints and how they work towards/against eachother.

      1. Naota says:

        Oh man, this thing exactly. We might finally get some context on why people actually want to work for the Templars and believe in their ideals so strongly. And again, bonus points if the specifics of their gameplay changes to reflect the differences in their character and situation.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Actually, the beginning of AC3 kinda did it for me. You know, the part where you play as Kenway and they don’t really reveal that you’re on the templar side until the very end of the chapter, in fact it really got me excited for the game… too bad the game quickly went down from there turning the introduction characters really unlikeable and going for vague motivations and nonsensical conspiracies rather than some set of ideals that the player could sympathise with.

    5. Neil W says:

      I don't believe the player needs a self-insert under their control as badly as we assume.

      I haven’t played since… I don’t know when, but don’t you move from one grim macho soldier to another in the Call of Duty games? Arguably that’s the one thing that’s interesting/unusual that they manage to push past the management (in Shamus’ scenario above). So yes. But then (one assumes) having got my multiple protagonists, they may well insist on everything else being a by-the-numbers clone.

      Still, it might make some plot twists seem less dumb if you move away from a character after something outrageously stupid happens.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Yes but none of those dudes are really Player “Characters”. They are player shaped holes into which you stick the player, not the molds which shape the gameplay/expirience.

    6. hewhosaysfish says:

      If I were a writer trying to sell this idea to a risk-averse publisher then I would probably try to hint that each character that proved popular could get their own sequel, spin it off from a single origin-point into multiple francises.

      If there’s something that AAA publishers like more that a white 30-something protagonist, it’s a nice safe sequel to a existing popular franchise.

      I’ve just thought that what I’ve said above could be translated as “If I were a games writer, I would be okay with promising a bunch of cash-grab sequels if that was the price of getting my vision realised.”

      I would make a terrible auteur.

      1. syal says:

        I see no problem with that.

      2. Felblood says:

        –or a good, machavellian one.

        The publisher is already looking to own your IP until the end of time and milk it’s zombie husk to double death. Embrace the inevitable, and you shall be free from fearing it. This is the essence of Zen.

    7. Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’d agree with you in theory about self inserts but the problem is I tend not to like the characters I’m taking the reins of when someone else makes them for me and doesn’t let me decide who they are. Adam Jensen*, Geralt, etc.

      The exceptions are games that don’t have much of a story element (Mario, Link [at least the Zelda games I played]) games with a silent protagonist or actually a few recent female protagonists (Lara Croft in her latest game, Aurora from Child of Light, I never played Walking Dead but the Lets Plays I saw made Clementine look interesting). Even with Shepard who the Mass Effect team put some boundaries on, you still got to pick appearance gender and attitude.

      I guess what I’m getting at is they could pull it off but they’d have to get better at something they don’t normally do which is writing an engaging character for the player to take control of.

      *Jensen seemed decent enough but it chafed at me that I was ostensibly in control of him yet he was constantly expressing attitudes about augments that differ from my own as a transhumanist. Might have helped if they hadn’t given me a dialog option early on that said “You know, these are actually pretty neat.” Which set up the expectation that I was going to be able to play Adam as pro augment. I guess they thought surely the story would convince me that New Tech is Evil.

      1. guy says:

        Yeah, Jensen got to me too. Though personally, I felt like his anti-augment statements were mostly him being confrontational because he’s a jerk.

        What really bugs me is the theoretical self-inserts that don’t have the right dialogue options. Dragon Age irritated me in this regard when it comes to the whole mage-templar argument, which is kind of central to the game.

        After the battle of Haven, I really wanted to be able to say, “Yeah, the circles let us keep track of a dangerous population which responds to being outmatched by reaching for any form of power they can get their hands on, even if it destroys their minds and makes their bodies into monsters and will kill even civilians without pity or remorse. They also contained mages.”

        Seriously, Templar credibility is all gone.

    8. guy says:

      Speaking of multiple protagonists, Suikoden 3 does that and uses it very well.

      Basically, there’s three main protagonists: Hugo, a young man and son of the chief in a grasslands tribe who gets angry after his village is exterminated and his friend killed during peace talks, Lady Chris, who is the honorable commander of the Zexan knights but is forced to assault a village to draw off enemy forces after being lured into a trap by an offer of peace talks, and Geddoe, a forty-something wizard and spy who is trying to figure out why both of those previous descriptions are simultaneously true. Each story is broken up into several chapters and each time the player completes a chapter they can pick which character they want to play the next chapter for, IIRC with the limitation that you must complete chapter 2 for everyone before you can play anyone’s chapter 3. Also, eventually you pick one of the three to bear the True Rune Of Plot Advancement and they become the official main character.

      It really gains a lot from getting to play both Hugo and Chris through overlapping time periods. It means the player gets to learn things well before the characters do without making them look stupid.

    9. Lisa says:

      I’d love to see more like this happening, but it does have to be done ‘right’.
      L.A. Noir, for example, took too long to introduce the second playable character and the shift from the one you’d invested time in, to the new one, was quite jarring for me.
      I had a similar issue at the start of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, however once the mechanic was established, I found it fascinating to move from character to character and see how each thought of the other.
      I thought Unrest did it well. The first switch of character was unexpected, but again, when I realised it was one of the mechanics, it became fun to explore all sides of the story.

  3. Talby says:

    Now I really want to see a buddy cop story in a videogame. The only example that leaps to mind right now is Policenauts, which is very old and never received an official release in the west.

    1. ET says:

      That game sounds amazing! I totally wish it had been released in Europe/N America. :)

    2. harborpirate says:

      I don’t think anyone has made the FPS version of 48 Hours, but the requirements given above make it seem like a rather obvious outcome. (The only thing that comes to mind is Kane & Lynch, but I think that was two white dudes; never played it myself.)

      As I recall that movie has some pretty racist lines, which there’s no way you’d get away with today. However, you could still make a game with an alcoholic jerk of a white cop working alongside a quirky minority partner shooting up drug dens and so forth.

      I’m not sure that’s a big improvement on the genre as it is now, but I guess its a game that could actually get made in today’s environment that might be slightly more interesting than your typical one-dude-against-the-world shooter.

  4. The Rocketeer says:

    I get annoyed by your tendency to insert parenthetical prolepses… but, well, it is the Internet. And the Escapist. So I’m not actually annoyed at you but at That Guy that those parentheticals exist for. But hey, what else is new, right?

    Do you think a growing number of these kinds of characters- typically younger, female, and less combat-focused- albeit in a supporting role, but still heavily involved with the narrative and the protagonist, will help open the way to putting these kinds of characters in the leading roles of mainstream titles?

    In other words, do you think audiences will get so used to the Ellies that we find it intuitive to just play as Ellie full-time, with or without a Joel? It’s not really representative of the kind of AAA titles the article focuses on, but we already saw this with The Walking Dead Seasons 1 and 2, and transitioning from playing as Clementine’s father-figure Lee to playing as Clementine herself.

    Or is the secondary-character slot a sort of ghetto: easy for a character to fall into but very difficult to escape?

    1. Shamus says:

      I’ve been asking myself the same question. I kind of hope this recent batch of games is the devs testing the waters to see what we’ll play. The Last of Us DLC has you play as all-Ellie. I wonder if that performed well?

      1. Ranneko says:

        You also play as Elizabeth in the Bioshock Infinite DLC don’t you?

        I certainly hope that the idea of introducing these daughter figure characters is at least partially to encourage business owners to accept the idea of future games featuring them in starring roles. Seems to me that the suits are the ones that need the most convincing in this department.

      2. Kian says:

        The Walking Dead Season 2 has you play as Clementine for the whole game, as well.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          Yes but that was made by TellTale games who only make adventures. They REALLY are not a conventional developer/publisher.

          1. evileeyore says:

            Being unconventional doesn’t mean wrong.

            I’ve got 3 titles from Telltale, which is more then I have of several of the AAA developers combined (not Blizzard, the others).

    2. Mephane says:

      My fear is that what the marketing guys might take away from these games is that “you can improve the dudebro formula by tacking on a girl you have to protect”. And then they provide us with an endless stream of helpless, weak and indept female sidekicks, perpetuating not just the dudebro formula, but every single bad female stereotype, too.


      1. Mortuorum says:

        Escort Mission: The Game? I don’t really see that selling like hotcakes. Technically Bioshock: Infinite was one long escort mission, but since Elizabeth couldn’t get hurt, was actually (intermittently) useful, and her dialog was infrequent enough not to get grating, it never felt like one.

        BTW, the first time I saw a reference to “Ellie”, I thought you were talking about the character from Borderlands 2. That would be a whole different kind of game that I don’t think the world is ready for. (I’d play the hell out of it, though. She’s a hoot.)

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          On the other hand: ICO.

      2. SharpeRifle says:

        Heh they would probably make the designers add an ability for the second controller to “control” the “girl you have to protect” so they could throw out healthpacks, or ammo or what not to your main character.

        They would then call it “Girlfriend Mode”.

        1. guy says:

          To be fair, Super Mario Galaxy’s second Wiimote thing was a great idea and more games should do it.

    3. Eruanno says:

      As someone that has been White Guy Protagonist Man a hundred times, that sounds wonderful. I’d love to play a different kind of character. Bring it on!

  5. ehlijen says:

    My pitch:

    1: Shooter and beat’em’up. All weapons have a ranged and a melee stance, and switching game modes is as easy as hitting the change stance button. Shoot the machine guns, or swing them around by the ammo belt. Sword guns. Sniper rifles with axe blades in the shoulder stock…
    Many fights can be solved either way, but for some one style offers clear advantages (emergent ones though, not prescribed necessity).

    2: By setting the tone light, a fairy tale ending becomes very permissible. It doesn’t have to be all silly, and non-upbeat moments in the character arcs are needed for depth. But an overall sense of optimism allows both for escaping villains (we beat them once, we can beat them again) and not fully closing endings (Star wars ended on a high note even though the empire was very much still around).

    3: Modernish, with some martial arts cartoon/anime elements and visuals.

    4-6: A cast of main characters. One is selected each mission, the others become sidekicks. Straight white guy with two machine gun/flails. Conventionally attractive woman with rifle/axe. Ethnic second male with pistol knives. Would argue for more, but three might be the budget limit.

    The banter remains the same, as all three are always present, but the player can switch between them with a context button.

    7: Linear story line. Maybe a few choices where the player puts one of the cast’s interest above the team and gets a better ending for one at the cost of another, but the main plot wouldn’t change.
    I’d stay clear of romance plots to simply not bring up anyone’s sexuality.
    Focus is on differing yet all dominant personalities in competition for team leadership, eventually bonding into a functional whole.
    (As missions are completed, abilities can be unlocked for the team as a whole. Most involve one team member coordinating the other two into a combo, to have game mechanics show the team growing together.)

    8: For voices I’d try and recruit an A lister or fan favourite B lister for the bad guy (I still think Irenicus’ voice actor sold BG2). I’d get the best I still can for the main cast then and fill the rest with what I can, but limit other lines.
    For models, sticking to human opponents would be easiest, though I’d add many very different weapons with animation needs. Stealing some animations from the main cast and using ample retexturing (and a few non standard enemies) I think I could create a decent opponent pool for the costs.

    9: It all starts with the big bad (big, imposing, unique model, weapon and fighting style, just like the main cast) attacking an election rally (he’s against democracy, in addition to his actual agenda! Also against ). The tutorial gets the player to play each character in sequence from the start of the attack to picking up a non-customised weapon of the same style to reaching the first mini boss at the same time leading to the first team fight (where a lieutenant buys the big bad time to escape).

    Then they’ll be made to team up, get upgradeable custom gear and go after the enemy. Due to the over the top approach gunplay, melee and explosions should be in ample supply, and while I’d fight for a more sensible female character than the Boobynator, if that’s what it takes to get the greenlight, I’ll just publicly apologise after.

    It’d probably fail because I am unsure how well seamless switching from beat’em’up to real shooter would work, but I think it’s an idea worth trying. Unless someone has done that already? If so, did it work?

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      I have a feeling modern publishers might balk at you mentioning “fary tale” setting because they percieve modern target demographic (teenagers) to not like “children/childish” stuff.

      And they might be somewhat right if you take into account that every time there is a video on the internet that uses cartoony visuals to tell something serious there is at least one guy whining how childish it looks. And you can bet he is not an adult.

      1. ehlijen says:

        You may be right, but seriously everyone? Disney is getting big again, and not just in the children market (eg Star wars, Marvel).

        Those are pretty fairy tale stories with a rather ridiculous tone.

      2. Felblood says:

        1.Replace this verbiage with the equivilent “saturday morning in the 80s vibe”

        2. Receive Carte Blanche to print money

  6. Nick says:

    My immediate first thought about the romancing possibility was The Wolf Among Us – not a shooter and Telltale aren’t your average developer, but they progressed from a father-daughter game in TWD to an investigation/romantic tension game in TWAU. I mean, they kind of inherit that from the noir overtones of the game but it matches up

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      To be fair while the story is entirely separate the dynamics between Snow and Bigby (among others) are also largely inherited from the comic books, especially the first storyline, though the player has some wiggle room about the direction they want to take it.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    ” It’s like being an accomplished landscape painter and all anyone wants is for you to paint one particular mountain, over and over again.”

    Or like everyone asking you to do the same one song,over and over.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “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.”

    So,prince of persia sands of time.

    Personally,Id love to see a mother instead of a father.Like that badger game,only with humans.

    “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.”

    That is basically why so many people have left their teams to start up their own companies.Then turned them into what they hated in the first place so that their subordinates could start the process anew.

    1. Lachlan the Mad says:

      Dammit, I was ninja’d on the Sands of Time thing. This doesn’t fulfil all of Shamus’s other criteria (no manshoots, fantasy setting) but it’s almost exactly the dymanic between the Prince and Farah.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Because making an AAA (or even close) level game requires AAA amounts of money and even if you start your own studio you’re still pitching to the same sponsors/publishers most of the time.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “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.)”

    Ok,this is something that really pisses me off.Yes big screen actors draw in crowds in advertisements,but they usually do just a passable job,at best.Unless you are making a tie in with some on screen thing(like the telltales game of thrones game),hire someone who actually knows what voice acting is.You arent hiring Steven Spielberg to do your music,so why the fuck are you hiring actors known for doing stuff with their faces in order to give you performance done with their voices?

    Also its an atrocity that voice actors are paid so much less when they can do just as much amazing things as on screen actors.

    1. Talby says:

      I think Bethesda is the worst offender when it comes to this, hiring big name actors like Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson, and having the vast majority of characters be voiced by people of mixed talent – the characters the players will be spending most of their time talking to. As you say, it doesn’t help that these actors usually phone in their performances. (Peter Dinklage in Destiny being a big recent example)

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      To be fair, there are a few screen actors who’ve also transitioned to regular voice work and done a good job, sometimes even better than as live-action actors: Keith David, Robin Atkin Downes, and Mark Hamill come to mind.

      Largely I agree with you, in that I’d prefer devs hire competent voice talent instead of wasting or inflating their budgets on Hollywood stunt-casting that adds nothing to the game. But I think the main issue with the stunt-casting isn’t that they’re not used to voicework. After all, Pixar and Dreamworks tap big names to voice their CGI characters and they get good performances out of them. I think it boils down to poor direction and motivation.

      The reason Naughty Dog gets such natural performances from their actors is because they build a rudimentary physical set, bring all the actors onto that set, dress them up in mo-cap suits, and have them read their lines and react to each other as if they were on stage. They’ve realized if you’re going to make your game be like a movie, then make it like a movie. Big budget animated features don’t do mo-cap, but they put all the voice actors in the studio at the same time so they can play off each other, and if one of them improvs a good line, the director can throw it in. I suspect most AAA titles don’t treat recording dialogue with as much care.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “(And just to be clear: I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to make an on-screen couple that doesn’t become romantically entangled. It just takes a lot of skill to gently steer the audience away from a lifetime experience with popular story tropes. It’s hard, it’s risky, and given all the other problems that video game writers are having I doubt it would work out well.)”

    I blame bioware.They clearly have the skill to do this(the friendships you can develop in their games are almost all the time waaaay better than romances),yet they squander it every time by making it so you can bang everyone and their mum.

  11. Zaxares says:

    Continuing the main point from the article, I think the reason these father-daughter games are so well-received is probably because of the changing worldview of the same primarily male gamer demographic that formed the earliest generations of gamers. The average age of said gamers is now 30+, meaning they’re most likely to be married and starting families now. The everyday worries about protecting and providing for your children thus resonates quite strongly with these gamers, whereas it would have gone unappreciated by the same group some 10 – 15 years ago.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Very much this, I remember reading posts to the effect of empathising with the big daddy-little sister relationship pretty much as soon as the first Bioshock came out and they mostly came from people claiming to be fathers themselves. I’m willing to bet that already by 2 they were consciously trying to tap into that exact player response.

  12. >Personally, I'd love the see a Moonlighting / Romancing the Stone rom-com thing.

    Actually, I’ve been playing Enslaved recently and it is basically exactly what you are describing, right down to “they would have to fight robots or something.” I think you might really like it actually; it reminds me of some of the things you’ve said about Prince of Persia (2008).

    Also, I have no idea why I have been reading your blog for 8 years and -this- is what got me to post something.

  13. Pyradox says:

    I’d love to see someone take that brief and go full Spec Ops: The Line with it.

    Take the young, attractive man and make him a trans woman who transitions over the course of the game. So both your promotional material of the protagonist guy and the hot sidekick are actually the same person and trans main characters are so rare in mainstream media that nobody will call it until they’re already playing.

    It’s also a massive trove of untapped storytelling and characterisation potential, at least as far as AAA is concerned.

    Obviously that’d take a huge amount of skill to pull off and market, especially without being perceived as insulting or fetishizing (a distinct possibility given how most promo art of female characters gets). You’d also have to cheat in trailers and stuff to never show them in the same scene.

    Although you could make that work by having choosable genders and have the “female” version transition the other way.

    The other risk though is of course the fact that you’re essentially tricking people into playing one of these characters, which could in and of itself reinforce a negative stereotype. Of course, this is where the skill (almost certainly more than I have) comes in.

    1. Alex says:

      If I bought that game, I would hate both you and it.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:


        1. Alex says:

          Because it’s a bait and switch. I would be pissed off if I was sold a game promising a female protagonist only to have the developer shout “Psyke! The protagonist is really a guy!”

          And that’s without getting into anything political.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Thats not what a trans person is.

            Also,I really have no idea why people get so angry about twists.Well established ones that is.

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              I think I can see where Alex is coming from. I really like how Spec Ops: The Line deconstructed some of the driving themes of the shooter genre but I can also understand why it had problems with large portion of the shooter-consuming public. It’s a topic for a whole debate where the line between defying expectations and cheating the reader(/player/viewer) in a work of fiction lies.

              I also don’t think it’s a matter of twists in and of themselves. People loved the twists in 6th Sense, Fight Club, Empire Strikes Back, FF7, KOTOR…

          2. Zak McKracken says:

            If you didn’t actually mean “I was promised sexy graphics and end up with ones that I don’t find sexy because now I know that under those polygon-shaped pants, there are probably still some man-bits”, that shouldn’t be a problem because it’s still the same character, only the 3D model and the textures have changed a bit.

            Of course, people loved Lara Croft for her strong will and character and not because of her proportions and the 3rd-person perspective, right? Her appearance was just incidential…

            I mean, I get it. People are used to what they’re used to. Games are supposed to be wish-fulfilment (to many), and if the audience’s wish was to look at a well-shaped female body and instead they get their ideas of gender reality-checked … many will be dissappointed.

            But then that’s probably what Spec Ops did to some military-shooter fans: Go in to feel righteous and kill bad guys without regret and then have that cruel change in perspective … that’s definitely not light entertainment anymore. Then again, it should probably not be advertised as light entertainment.

          3. Pyradox says:

            I don’t doubt a lot of people would be annoyed, which I mentioned in the “pitch”. And I suppose I didn’t help by pitching it as a deception, but that isn’t how I’d want to execute it. I wouldn’t be making Spec Ops and trying to shock the player, I’d be trying to make the player fill a different set of shoes.

            The important thing would be getting you to care about the character so that you wanted to see them transition, because you wanted to see them have a happy ending. It’s the same as any other character arc but a lot more visible because you’d be seeing it and people’s reactions to it compressed into the time it takes to play the game. Also because it’d literally be more visible.

            Obviously it’d have to be a first person game, with a visible body at all times Mirror’s Edge style. I’ve seen it argued that seeing your body in a first person game breaks immersion, but in this case I think that dissonance would be important.

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              On problem I’d see around that: If the game is not directly about someone getting hormone treatment, surgery etc., it’d be different to work the whole thing into mainstream gameplay. Where do the zombie alien robots figure in? You could have a sort-of phantasy story where someone is transported into the wrong body and needs to fight the evil magician to get back, but then the story becomes a metaphor.

              Actually, I’ve seen a few cutscenes from Dragon Age Inquisition, and they apparantly have transgender NPCs, and other NPCs discussing the matter in a pretty sensible way. That seems a good way to introduce the topic. If your main character was trying to transition or such, it would automatically swallow the entire main plot, and then the game would no longer be focused on dragons, inquisitions and … ages?

              1. guy says:

                You could always have your main character be trying to transition and also shooting alien robot zombies. People do occasionally have more than one thing happening in their lives at a time.

                Obviously, it’s a bit difficult to fit in surgery and hormone treatments in, but assuming the main character actually wants to do that (there are some transgender people who don’t, in part because there are sometimes fatal complications) it could always have the actual surgery bit happen during an act break after the main character spent the first act changing clothing, hairstyle, and pronoun.

                Or maybe this can be the magical space future where you can just swap your brain into a feminine chassis because you feel like it. This is alluded to in Ghost In The Shell, although I’m pretty sure that The Major is cisgendered female and Batou is just being a jerk when he asks why she uses a feminine body.

    2. Zekiel says:

      This would be hilarious. Also would cause outrage among the target demographic so would very unlikely to ever get made.

      1. RandomInternetCommenter says:

        This might be me being WAY too young at the time, but I don’t recall an uproar about All You Zombies. Which does a very similar “trick”, pushed to the next level thanks to time travel.

        Take it from one of these awful people who get “outraged”* at that stuff: we don’t sigh because of a supposed dislike for the genitals of a character, nor for what they do with said genitals. Rather, the problem lies with those characteristics being brought up for no sensible plot reasons, those characters being one-dimensional positive stereotypes.

        *from MY perspective, it’s “express mild annoyance”, but society seems less and less tolerant about the range of opinions one is allowed to have these days.

        Complain about lazy writing regarding a straight white man character and everyone accepts your right to have an opinion; but if you dare make the same argument when the character is a genderfluid otherkin bully survivor, good luck getting three words out before someone Photoshops a dictator’s mustache on your face.

        A story like Pyradox mentions? Now that seems like a cool story, a game where the transition is critical to the plot and the character. I’d love to play something like that.

        1. Pyradox says:

          Yeah, it’d absolutely have to be a critical plot element because there are so few trans characters visible in mainstream media. It’d have a huge spotlight on it in terms of representation, which would be partially a reason for it to be difficult to make, but also a reason for a lot of people to be scared of making it.

        2. Zak McKracken says:

          I agree. If you’re the first to bring up a topic, it doesn’t help your cause if the writing is bad, but at the same time there are lots of people very very touchy about that topic, they will perceive what they expect to perceive …

          My hypothesis is that this is what happened with the Dickwolves affair: Someone got offended, phrased that in a way that suggested they didn’t understand the context, the creator got offended at the critique and phrased the retort in a way that suggested that he didn’t get the context of the complaint (which might have been the case…), and things went nuts from there. I can’t even say whether anyone “overreacted” but if either party had taken themselves back a little more, the whole thing would be likely to have ended after a short friendly exchange with PA agreeing to put trigger warnings on their comics from then on and everyone getting a little wiser.

          … and this is why bringing up a topic in a big way, knowing that there’ll be lots of people who don’t have much context for it (or will get it completely wrong), it really helps to be eloquent. That’s also why I think that marketing probably wouldn’t approve the game. Not because they hate the topic but because they’ll have a hard time justifying the risk of the game failing because people don’t get it the way you’d hoped against the possible benefit in terms of revenue from the game. If you want to tuck a hot topic away somewhere, you might get away with it but making it the centrepiece will probably remain an option for small game makers with more devotion to the cause.

  14. Rick says:

    Hmm, I have a few ideas that could work.

    1. You could have the female sidekick be the same age as the male protagonist, while avoiding romance between the two, if the protagonist was established to have twue wove for another before the sidekick was introduced. This would allow them to be on friendly terms while avoiding romance. Sure, the audience might perceive sexual tensions between the two (regardless of whether on not the author intended them) but they would understand why they were left unexplored; thus removing the perception that they are emotionally dead.

    2. Same aged brother and sister. If the nature of their relationship is established before the audience has a chance to ship them. For instance if the brother says “Sis, get in here!” before the audience even sees the sister, viewers would be less likely suspect unintentional tones. Just keep sure there aren’t any Japanese writers on the team…

    3. Write an interesting white male protagonist. If the protagonist of the next CoD was a black, female, bisexual; and we knew that because of the in-game file the player can read, it wouldn’t be any better. Age, race, social-economic class, sex, religion, sexual preferences, heritage, ext ext don’t make a character more interesting; they add or change the options available to the writers. The writers don’t get bored because the keep writing straight, white, late-twenties/early-thirties, males; they get bored because the keep writing the same straight, white, late-twenties/early-thirties, male. If an author has an idea for a character that involves them being black/female/whatever then they should push for that. But if not, why not throw the publisher a bone; and then turn around and make the straight-white-male an interesting character. What we desperately need are well written characters, in general.

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      Re: #3–You definitely have a point. Western pop-culture is not only bloated with generic white dude protagonists, but those white dudes overwhelmingly trace their ancestry from a narrow range of British Isles/North European ethnic groups. How often do you get to be a German, or a Russian, or a Pole, or a Spaniard?

      I know Shamus has his issues with Ezio Auditore, but as the son of Italian immigrants, part of what I loved about Assassin’s Creed II was playing as an Italian character who felt believably Italian (he had a loving, supportive family, felt obligated to take care of his mother and sister after the death of his father and brothers, his uncle was willing to give him tangible assistance and a roof over his head, he was interested in home renovation and art and the ladies), but not having to play yet another goomba Mafia stereotype like in the Mafia or earlier GTA games.

      Not that the typical generic white dudebro protagonist even has any culture or personality. If he has a family, it’s always a bland middle-class, American nuclear family. No stepfather, no adopted brother, no lesbian sister, no brother-in-law of a different race or culture, rarely an uncle, and usually he’s killed or trying to kill your father. Niko Bellic (hey! An East European protagonist) had to deal with his cousin. How often do you have a video game protagonist who even has a cousin? How often does a video game protagonist display a realistic and nuanced view on religion or politics? How often does a video game protagonist even express an opinion on music or fashion that you don’t force on them through the in-game radio or inventory screen?

  15. Jokerman says:

    “you can't have two people fall in love while gunning down thousands of human beings.”

    Worked for uncharted… kind of. In fact i suspect both Drake and his love interest Elena are total psychopaths. They flirt, laugh and joke all while killing thousands.

    1. LCF says:

      Of course, we can. Just go Pulp or go home!

      So, given Shamus Prod. specs, we have the following:
      – Action shooter Rom-Com to mow down mountains of mooks and save the day.
      – A dash of point-based RPG, allowing to unlock various game mechanics, supernatural powers, secrets…
      (No more Waist-high Impassable Fence with Parkour! Arcane Mastery, trigger QTE combo buttons to disintegrate villains! Informants let you access secret/randomised parts of the game! And so on!)
      – A tongue-in-cheek tone, cheesy one-liners, and a self-conscious unserious game.
      – Channeling the good parts of Duke Nukem, Indiana Jones, Serious Sam, et caetera
      – Soviets, robots, nazis, aliens, zombies, templars, illuminatis… Everything goes, especially since we will make two or three games (or more!) in the serie.
      – Pulling a fast one over the financers by hiding secret, non-canon endings (Love interest is a lesbian! John Dudebro is stupid and gets himself killed by pulling a Leeeeroy Jenkins! The heroes did not save the day! You were the agents of Chaos/Nod/Cracked all along!), triggered by higly-specific actions.
      – Are Tim Curry, Udo Kier and/or Joseph D. Kucan available and within our budget?

      For the rest, please refer to the specs.
      Ha, what a fine game it could be.

  16. Ingvar M says:

    One possibility (and probably the thing I would go for) is something along the lines of:

    * Main protagonist is a grizzly veteran explorer-type (treasure hunter, let’s say)
    * Secondary protagonist is younger, less experienced in the main field of expertise, but a skilled something-else (climber? architect? physicist? something…)
    * The main goal is “discover clues, shoot some bad guys, shoot some dangerous animals, uncover more clues, (iterate from “shoot some bad guys” until bored), find a treasure”
    * We use a mechanic shere the secondary character mostly follows the primary character. But, occasionally we separate them for insert reasons here… and we end up flipping between them. Either on a “you have reached a trigger” or at-will.
    * If we go for the at-will swap, we can use this for fiendish puzzles and surpise attacks (if we want).

    I’d probably make the main protagonist a late-30s treasure hunter female, with the secondary character a mid-20s bloke. If we can get Tia Carrera to voice the main protagonist, we’re set.

  17. Alex says:

    My concept: an extraction gone wrong. Think movies like Black Hawk Down. The Tutorial would have you and your squad barging in to rescue a VIP, but things go tits-up, the rest of your squad is missing and/or dead and you have to make your way overland with the VIP. Military First Person Shooter with sandbox elements.

    The protagonist and VIP would both be adult women – one a “ladette” type, a professional soldier, the other a non-combatant. The VIP wouldn’t be stupid, just out of her league, the same way you wouldn’t chew out some random dude for not being an expert surgeon.

    You’d start the game with an assault rifle, pistol, grenades and supplies, but the starting weapons would have a hard limit on available ammo – once they’re gone, they’re gone. Unless you make heavy use of stealth you’re going to run out of ammo eventually, so before that happens you’ll need to take up the weapons of the enemy. You’d give the VIP a sidearm at the start of the game and she’d help where she could, but her main job is to not do anything stupid that might get her – or you – killed.

    Vehicles would be high-risk, high-reward: they’re a lot faster than walking and might get you through a checkpoint before they can mount any kind of substantial resistance, but you’re also going to attract lots of attention and if you snap an axle in a ditch or a machine gun kills the engine, you might have a lot of enemies after you.

  18. arron says:

    I think Father-Daughter games are a response to that the Gaming Demographic is getting older. I started gaming in the late seventies, and being in my early forties now, I need something else in games to keep me interested. Some depth either through puzzles/quests or even realistic NPCs to interact with to give a richer primary game play experience.

    Having elements in the game that I am compelled to protect and interact with on multiple levels is to me an attempt to engage older gamers who might be alienated by “dudebro” shooters where mindlessly gunning things down might not appeal any longer.

    1. Timelady says:

      You know, I was thinking something along those same lines, adding in that maybe we’re seeing, too, game makers/audiences reaching a stage of life where NOT toting around kids, even in game, seems like the big stretch of the imagination…not to mention realizing that HEY! You can have your kids with you and have fun, too!

      …Aaaaaaaand I just suddenly realized that having kids is basically a twenty-year-long escort quest. Excuse me for a minute here…

      1. MichaelGC says:

        With microtransactions!

        Aaaaaaaand macrotransactions…

  19. Zeta Kai says:

    You know, the whole time that I was reading the article, I was thinking “Resident Evil 5 didn’t have a romance between Chris Redfield & Sheva.” They could have, but they didn’t. They were both reasonably-attractive mid-to-late-twenty-somethings, adventuring together on good terms. Neither mentioned a significant other during or prior to the narrative. There was time for at least some flirting in between QTEs. And the previous game, RE4, had unresolved sexual tention all over the place.

    And maybe that’s part of why that game was so alienating. And maybe the lack of romance was because Sheva was black (but not TOO black!), which is, BTW, deplorable. And maybe the game’s story was awful anyway, even without that aspect of potential racism. And maybe the game was racially uncomfortable to begin with, what with Chris Dudebro Redbull Redfield, Mister Mighty Whitey personified, traipsing through Africa, gunning down Ebola patients, with Lady Tonto by his side. And maybe I’m reading too much into a story that the writing team at Capcom probably banged out in an afternoon.

    But then again, maybe not…

  20. tmtvl says:

    But if you make something interesting, thousands of gamers are gonna complain because they’re entitled, whiny something-or-others.

    Which is the problem, it’s hard to justify making anything else then a dumb shoot guys game when dumb shoot guys games outsell the competition (except for WoW) handily.

    1. Kian says:

      It’s only hard to justify when you want to spend a hundred million dollars on development and five million units sold is considered a failure. If you scale back, you can target niche markets, where there is quite a bit of demand and not much competition.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        What?! How dare you even suggest that developers could make a game that is not targetting everyone?! And by everyone I mean myself! My taste! The allmighty, all encompasing MEEEEE! Clearly if I don’t enjoy the game it is a failure on the side of the developers!

        Sarcasm (and Steam reviews) aside it is somewhat happening. A lot of niche genres are resurfacing (perhaps for better or worse), indies are experimenting with gameplay mechanics, Telltale is releasing what is effectively interactive fiction on budgets higher than ever before for that genre. Sooner or later someone has to spot the budget niche below AAA and above what you can reasonably squeeze out of alpha/crowdfunding.

  21. Nonesuch says:

    As far as my pitch for how to make a good game?
    The clever thing, is doing this like the finale of TNG. You are Badass McBadass, burdened with a life of doing terrible things and now it’s bit you on the ass. You aren’t as young as you used to be so mechanically your character is weaker than you’re used to. And then BANG, trigger a flashback into your backstory.

    Maybe you’re playing Badass McBadass as the traumatized 7 year-old kid, and your gameplay focuses more on running and hiding, evading capture, taking cues from the parkour we’ve come to enjoy in games like prince of persia. You’re smaller and more agile than the people chasing you so you’re looking for narrow gaps, fences that you can climb over. They’re faster than you so your entire path is shortcuts for you and obstacles they have to route around. You can hide pretty easily but if you get caught you don’t stand too much of a chance against a full-grown person.

    And then maybe you get to flash back to being the 30-something McBadass, making the terrible choices that put you in the position you’re in now, and you can use ‘modern’ shooter mechanics. My personal preference would be a slightly more lethal version of the gunplay you see in the tutorial level of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where you don’t have a HUD, you’re not invicible and you’re out maneuvering and out-shooting the bad guys rather than out-bullet-sponging them.

    Finally you’re back in the body of some aging gunfighter and you’re working with the same set of mechanics as when you were 30-something dude, but now you’re the fragile mook. You have a gun and you can take out enemies, but you’re not the young dude who could shrug off some damage. So you marry the hiding mechanics from the young-McBadass sections with the cover and gunplay from 30-Something McBadass and have it play a little more like stealth-runs of Human Revolution or Dishonored.

    Even if you have to have your 30-something white-dude-bro protagonist with a gun, you’re not playing him the whole time. The story can be mostly linear, but by letting players do things as McBadass in the past, there might be opportunities for them to choose how they characterize him.
    Imagine if, instead of choosing what Shep’s backstory looked like in Mass Effect, the tutorial level was you in the Blitz, and that’s where you started getting Renegade/Paragon points? You play the backstory, instead of it simply being something you talk about a lot. Characters who might have been friendly in the past don’t remember you so kindly in your old age if you were a jerk. If you tended to threaten people as a young man, that might be how McBadass continues to carry on because he hasn’t left himself the room to maneuver. Young McBadass is on rails, in that he does the terrible things that lead to where he is now, it’s just a question of how much room his actions left him to maneuver.

    As for sequel bait, I’m thinking Kill Bill: “If you’re still mad in 20 years, come find me.”

  22. Eric says:

    This trend isn’t restricted to games. There’s quite a fair number of films that have followed this model in recent years, most notably Taken.

    I think this really just speaks to the fact that “traditional” male gamers are an aging demographic. That original group of gamers who grew up in the 70s and 80s are now middle-aged or approaching it, have families of their own, and are dealing with all the sorts of fun mid-life crisis stuff that comes from realizing you are mortal, no longer as physically adept as you used to be, and now have perhaps more responsibility than you’re comfortable with.

    The “father protecting daughter or daughter-insert” is a good trope to use for a mainstream title because it ties into those protective, familial sort of feelings that gamers now have, while also satisfying demand for a more “realistic” and fleshed out character. As gamers mature they want more depth out of their stories and heroes, but having someone they can identify with.

    A character like Booker DeWitt still allows for that power fantasy to exist, and it may be even more potent since it’s being lived out through an avatar that’s a bit older and more mature. Even though you’re getting a little flabbier, a little more stiff, it’s a little harder to stay in shape, here you have a hero who feels like he is going through the same things as you but is still able to kick ass.

    I also don’t think it’s that new. We saw similar things with the design of stories and protagonists in the 90s, which appealed to a younger demographic of gamers (more rebellious, dark, punky, etc.) who were going through early adulthood.

    I think in general it’s just a demographic of gamers (and game developers) all going through life stages at similar times, and having particular ideas resonate with them all at once. It’s something developers want to explore and gamers want to experience, and publishers recognized that.

  23. Zekiel says:

    This article has made me think about what relationships tend to be represented in computer games. Obviously you have a horde of dudebro relationships and “woman needing to be rescued” relationships. You seem to get plenty of standard heterosexual romances (in which you play the guy, obviously). Others I can think of:

    1) Brother relationship – Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons
    2) Father-son relationship – Fallout 3, Final Fantasy X (but I imagine there must be loads more of these)
    3) Mother-child relationship – Shelter, KOTOR 2 (with Kreia)

    What others are there?

    1. swenson says:

      Fallout 3 would be father-child, assuming you’re talking about the Lone Wanderer and their father–the Lone Wanderer can be female.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        Which leads to an interesting reversal- Liam Neeson is captured and needs to be rescued by his daughter.

      2. Zekiel says:

        Ooops good point. That was ingrained sexism on my part.

    2. Tizzy says:

      In the context of a AAA game involving a player’s companion, which is the scope of Shamus’s article, the selection appears narrower though.

      In particular, I don’t see devs going for the father-son relationship with a teenaged son. Rationale: publishers target teenage boys, and therevwould be confusion over which character to identify to. Teenagers don’t want to identify with other teenagers, but they would find it hard not to in these particular circumstances.

      That would scare off any publisher. More’s the pity…

  24. Hal says:

    I’m going to get fired for this, but if we’re thinking “buddy cop” game, maybe go “Turner and Hooch” rather than “Moonlighting.” The dog partner would make for interesting game play, and sections where you might only have control of the dog could be interesting diversions.

    Perhaps that would lead to cliched, obvious story beats: Dog rescues protagonist from dangerous situation, dog sacrifices self to save protagonist, dog’s sacrifice gives protagonist the push he needs to save the day. Still, I think it could be fun.

    Let’s make it much more about stealth and take-downs than shooting. Perhaps your approach through the game affects your dog as well; if you’re constantly taking the aggressive path, your dog becomes more and more aggressive as well, to the point that he becomes difficult to control, whether you’re in a combat situation or not. Play too timidly, and he will be reluctant to enter combat when you need him to.

    . . . Ah, I’ll just go pack up my desk.

    1. syal says:

      This is the second suggestion in this thread to make a game like Dead to Rights: Retribution.

      Truly, that game was ahead of its time.

  25. Tychoxi says:

    No romance? There’s romance in bromance.

  26. Zak McKracken says:

    I’m not actually sure whether any of the standard movie tropes would work very well in a video game. They’re well-known formulas that have been done once too often for my taste. Doing them again in games would be a change but they may not work as well in a different medium, especially after having been done to death on the screen.

    In general, I’m not quite sure whether a movie-like story arc really should be an ingredient to a computer game, but then that’s what your hypothetical boss wants you to do, so … Yes, making a somewhat-unusual sidekick that is optionally playable (possibly mandatory for one or two small periods, so the work doesn’t go to waste, and as a way of introducing the player to the concept) would be a great way to start things off, but actually that’s already happening.

    What I’d rather want to see is unusual plots and creative set-ups. That doesn’t have to be some weird artsy stuff. Think 6th sense, or 7 Psychopaths :) Actually, I think some weird set-up like 7 Psychopaths would probably work better for video games than a “regular” RomCom or whatnot, because it starts with a slightly weird premise and then goes crazy with it — I think Josh would be hard-pressed to create a crazier story in any existing game if he wanted to, and the nice bit is that the the madness still can be tied up in the end, with only very few possible endings.
    Barring that, I’d like to see something sublime where opposite characters come close enough to learn to respect each other, with a hint of something that’s left open (maybe in the sequel?). I’m not sure if management would approve such a deviation, but I wouldn’t mind, and they should actually like having an open note at the end.

    Having a slightly emotionally crippled or introverted main character might be a good thing, too. It could help slow down the obligatory romancing plot so it doesn’t need to have a final conclusion, and maybe there are parts of the audience who would identify with that type :) If you then have a character arc where a character overcomes that problem and (after shooting loads of alien robot zombies) finds the courage to ask the 2nd character to have a tea sometime … Every character needs to have a weak spot, after all. I think I’d go for that.

    By the way: I just (finally) finished Brà¼tal Legend, and while the gameplay is indeed crappy, the story ends on a nicely mixed note. Liked that, and other bits of the story (which was of course completely over the top, but that’s fine with me — Mettà¶llll!)

  27. Tobias says:

    It was probably just a throw away comment, but now I really want a game where a young boy goes adventuring accompanied by his old grandmother.

    1. harborpirate says:

      Same here, I’d play that in a heartbeat.

      Based on this idea, here’s a free recipe for an award-winning indie game:

      Hiroshima, 1945.
      A boy and his grandmother must make their way to the mountain village where she grew up after the destruction of the city. They must learn to cope with the loss of their family and the home they once knew.

  28. Jeff R. says:

    The Uncharted series partially does the action/romance model you’re talking about (alternating with a typical buddy movie depending on which NPC is part of the story during which sequences.) But it doesn’t dispense with the mass murder and in fact revels in the ludonarrative dissonace…

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      I cut Uncharted a bit of slack. As the Red Letter Media review of Crystal Skull pointed out, Indiana Jones straight up kills a lot of dudes with no remorse. If Nathan Drake is the modern off-brand Indiana Jones, I can accept a bit of mass murder of faceless thugs. Yeah, Jones only kills like 12-30/film compared to Nathan Drake’s dozens and dozens per game, but that’s quite a bit for a 2-hour 80s adventure flick. It probably scales similarly.

  29. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I had an idea for a game where a granny wanted to do something about crime in her neighborhood so she had her tech genius grandson upgrade and weaponize her wheelchair turning her into a brutal vigilante.

    1. NotDog says:

      Kickstart it. Kickstart it now. Indiegogo it if you have to.

  30. harborpirate says:

    Ninja’d. Removed and reposted as a response to that thread.

  31. Here’s my pitch (given these limitations): the protagonist is a professional big game hunter who signs up to provide security for some naturalists. They crash on an unknown island brimming with dangerous wildlife with extremely short supplies, leaving only the hunter and one naturalist alive. You have to explore the island, defend against nasty predators, and also find time to hunt enough to supply you with food while assisting the naturalist in other survival tasks too difficult or dangerous for one person to handle alone.

    So you’ve got your buddy stuff and shooting with no zombies or robots and also survival/resource/tech tree gameplay that can be exploited.

  32. Proposal:

    You play Cupid who has gone rogue in modern times. Aphrodite has sent her minions after you. The only weapons (bows) you have can make enemies fall in love with each other. You need to shoot enemies in pairs in order to distract them enough to forget about you, as they gaze lovingly in each other’s eyes and fall from the battlefield.
    Pairing off different enemies leads to different results. Some enemy pairs also remove all of the same type of enemy from the battlefield, or cause “love juice” to fly out, distracting other surrounding enemies.
    You can upgrade your bow to Polyamory levels as well, grouping 3 or more individuals together, who fall away from the battlefield to have some very complex relationship discussions.
    Cupid’s buddies can include various other mythological figures in their Fable-esque modern equivalent forms. Medusa can turn enemies to stone or other material (such as Jello). Hades can banish enemies into ironic punishments, or assign ironic punishments to them right on the spot, such as ordering an enemy to take a census on their fellows, thus causing great distraction, or getting in the way of enemy fire (since friendly fire is on, they won’t be affected by it).
    Nothing in this game actually kills enemies. Thus, it is unsellable.

  33. Vermander says:

    Very late to comment on this, but I wanted to add that my daughter is a big fan of “The Legend of Korra.” I like watching it with her because it’s one of the only shows I’ve seen where a female super hero has a dad who is:

    1) A good dad, that has always been present in her life
    2) Doesn’t die tragically to add drama
    3) Is fairly badass himself, and able to back his daughter up when she needs it without overshadowing her

    I can’t think of many shows/games/movies where this is true. Dads are usually either complete bastards who have to redeem themselves through sacrifice or bumbling comic relief.

  34. Daniel says:

    Giving in to the expectation of romance seems like risky business when combined with the “likable” requirement. We’re no longer only striving for the general qualities of competence, positivity, and some kind of flair. If a character is portrayed as a romantic interest, they need to be romantically appealing. Unfortunately for writers, humans have incredibly diverse opinions about what makes a romantic partner appealing. In movies, you can create chemistry between two characters and the audience accepts that they appeal to each other. In games, the player expects the protagonist to be influenced by the player’s personality. If the game features a romance with a character whom the player does not find appealing, it feels like a betrayal, a classic forcing of the hand scenario. Mass Effect addresses this by offering multiple potential romantic partners to pursue, but not many games have the budget to create several major characters with optional content. Catherine is an example where the choice of romantic partner is central to the game’s premise. In that case, it seems that two options is not enough, since many players found that they would rather not pursue a relationship with either of the (C/K)atherines. Not many games even have a story that is conducive to exploring multiple relationships. It seems to me that games are better off not touching romance until we can get out of this shooter rut and focus budgets on storytelling.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *