Sometimes, game developers feel the need to mix things up with their established franchises. Games like Mario Party, Sonic R, and Crash Team Racing are results of this. Genuine genre-based mutations, however, are truly rare. Could you even conceive of playing a role-playing game based on the automotive technicalities of Gran Turismo? What about a rhythm/dancing game set in the high-fantasy milieu of the Forgotten Realms? We didn't think so. Frankly, those examples make very little sense. And as you'll see, most of our own ideas as to how this could unfold aren't much better.
It can be done, though. Think about a fighting game starring of all the different characters from the entire Final Fantasy series. As fighting games are primarily based on character design (a discipline upon which Square pours a mad amount of resources), the stretch wouldn't be too far. Neither would an adventure game based in the world of Perfect Dark. Quite the contrary--both of those concepts would be fairly easy to bring about.
It's just that, for some reason, most of us didn't take the proposition too seriously. While it is possible to mine an idea or two of ours, you'll definitely get the impression that an earnest exploration of the possibilities of cross-genre development was secondary to our desires. But we also bet that you'll get a kick out of the ideas we've presented. In any event, prepare yourself for a very special installment of Question of the Week. And if you have any better ideas, please
Another tweak that could be done relatively hassle-free is the fleshing out of the story behind the teams. Rather than saving the world from destruction, players are on a quest for a special ring, which brings fame and fortune. Clearly, we know the teams travel from city to city in order to reach that goal, so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to have players guide the trip on an overhead world map. Traveling on team buses and planes could be replaced by horses, teleporting, airships, or maybe even Chocobo. Random battles could come up to break up the monotony of traveling from Denver to Florida on foot. Players could talk with NPCs (fans) along the way and help them with any problems they might be having. And, of course, do some shopping and item collection along the way.
However if EA and VC really wanted to show their commitment to wooing RPG fans, then the other big adjustment would have to be characters. While it's all well and good to have recognizable players in NFL games, some nods would have to be made to the RPG crowd. Alternate uniforms including tunics, armor, and vests would be a nice touch. Character design could be modified by enlarging the player's eyes and giving them large, spiky hairstyles. The inclusion of a cleric in the roster would make D&D fans feel at home when selecting a team. EA could even tap Squaresoft to possibly help them create all Square teams. Square purists could pit their FFIII team against teams based on all the FF games that followed. Or perhaps the ultimate grudge matches: FF teams vs. the Chrono Trigger teams. Meanwhile D&D fans could pit their teams based on the various editions against each other.
Finally, outside of the actual content, companies could make game packaging more appealing with the inclusion of pewter figures or wall scrolls based on the game. Stuffed animals and cell phone straps with characters from the games would help raise awareness of the games. A separate line of card games could also go a long way toward spreading the word on the new direction of the game. Last, but not least, a short anime or OVA based on the titles would really cement their cred with the RPG set. Madden's Super Football Adventure 2002 or Sega Sports NFL 2K2: Quest for the Magic Ring could be monster hits if only EA and VC are willing to take the plunge and welcome our RPG gaming brothers and sisters to the field.
The opportunities for genre-bending are almost limitless. I will present but two of the more precious jewels that the disgruntled mine-workers inside my skull managed to fish out before the avalanche hit.
Serious Dan, an Xbox FPS developed by Croteam, published by Capcom and Konami
Croteam--the crack codeshop from Croatia--has to get Dan from Street Fighter, and put him a first-person shooter. Since he can shoot fireballs, it would work. Think about how fresh it would be to see one of the Easter Island heads from Gradius, like, 50 yards down the hall from you, in an ancient Egyptian crypt, only to try to shoot it and fail because your fireball has a range of, like, two feet. Of course, using the Easter Island heads from Gradius without consent would amount to all kinds of crazy legal issues, so naturally, Konami would have to be let in on the publishing of this lucrative venture. You see, in the video games industry, publishers are very protective of their high-profile properties, especially those among the top tier. And, just as Konami can be considered a top-tier publisher, the Easter Island heads from Gradius are among the hottest of the publisher's properties (we're talking in the ballgame of TDK Mediactive's Lady Sia, and Taito's Rastan). Anyway, the game would, of course, use the spiffy engine Croteam developed for the hit Serious Sam, marking the first time Capcom's Dan (or his arm, anyway) was rendered in 3D. All of the weapons' ranges would have to be tweaked, however--included among the tenets that a Saikyo fighter must adhere to is a strict ban on the use of all effective ranged weapons, fireballs included. So, while Dan will be able to use the tommy gun, rocket-launcher, and shotgun, all of their ranges will have to be significantly shortened, down to about three feet. However, all of their secondary effects will remain in place, automatically taking effect once the range-limit has been reached. Thus, rockets will automatically detonate once they reach the three-foot marker, destroying everything in their path. This will result in gameplay that is both frenetic, and engaging.
Final Fantasy XIII, a GameCube survival-horror game, developed by Sancoth, published by Square
Seeing the limitations inherent in the console-RPG category, Square in the future will decide that it's a bad idea to sacrifice its flagship franchise to the whims of this antiquated mode of expression. Instead, the CG-giant will choose to explore the themes of love, friendship, honor, self-sacrifice, valor, and betrayal in a more cutting-edge arena--the survival-horror subgenre. Favoring the style's inherent cinematic capabilities, and excited by the advances it has brought to console-game controls, Square will feel genuinely enthusiastic about dressing its timeless series in the trappings of modernity. But as the studio's internal resources will be all tapped out (with CG renditions of All dogs go to Heaven and Herbie the Lovebug in the works), development of the game will have to be outsourced to Sancoth, a design house comprised of ex-Square employees. Worry not, though, Square fans, the series will be in good hands--Sancoth has proven its proficiency in all the relevant areas with its breakthrough-title Koudelka. For those unfamiliar, the game features a more-than-healthy dose of CG cinematics, on top of some top-notch gameplay, whose controls are Resident Evil-style intuitive, and whose turn-based combat engine is more than adequate. But of course, as in any good modern Final Fantasy title, gameplay is secondary.
Luckily, FFXIII's story will be more than up to snuff. The game's script was developed in tandem by Cesar Placeres, John and George Romero, along with Sakaguchi-san, and the story will touch on the series' perennial themes: pathos, revenge, charity, hunger, redemption, cleanliness, and starvation. The plot revolves around a young woman named Clara, whose dying mother--a sorceress of great power--is haunted by terrible nightmares on her deathbed. On one unusually quiet night, Clara awakens to an explosion of light from her mother's bedside, only to find a green potion in her place, lying amidst the bedsheets. Upon drinking this potion, she embarks upon a journey that will both change her life, and the world she lives in. See, the evil black mage Veneranda, her mother's wizardly rival, has created an army of clones to invade the pesky rebellion, and rid the galaxy of goodly white magic practitioners.
Modeled after Veneranda's view of the ideal of male beauty, all of the clones take the form of tall, Nordic men, with long brown hair, and straw loincloths. They all wield heavy broadswords, and their skin-tone ranges from a sick bluish green, to a healthy tan. They're all also called Rastan. Throughout the course of the game, gangs of Rastans will trail the lonely Clara attempting to dismember her, creating moments of high-tension. Armed with her mother's Bolt staff, Clara will be able to fight them off. But due to the limited charges (she can shot three bolts per minute), it'll often be wise for her to run. It's during these evasion-sequences that Clara will find headspace to reflect on both her situation, and the state of the world at large. Her mother's ghost will also materialize at key points in the game, and engage her in inspiring, deep dialog. Soon enough, from a kindly herb/ammo vendor named Cid, Clara leans that Veneranda is using an especially impressive group of crystal-powered Rastans to harness the power of the ancient Exodus Weapon Balrog, a living airship of dark, inverted power. In order to prevent this, Clara will have to fight her way though hordes of Rastans, and defeat Veneranda's retainer, Balloon Fighter Rygar. But Veneranda's plan has already begun, and Clara is all alone... will she persevere? Or will she go insane and die in obscurity?
You want more ideas? You got 'em. How about all Nintendo's characters in a first-person shooter? Sure, Super Smash Bros. Melee is on the way for the GameCube, but imagine taking headshots at Princess Peach. Or how about Mario vs. Wario vs. Luigi vs. Waluigi in a no-holds-barred deathmatch? Granted, I'm expecting someone to send me an e-mail about some obscure Quake mod that lets you play as Nintendo characters, but I want to be able to play a game as choice as this one on my television. Since I'm absolutely certain Nintendo would never do a game like this, let's go all the way with it. Let's see blood, let's see angry faces on Nintendo's mascots, and let's see the happy-go-lucky Toad get pissed off. Of course, one of Nintendo's characters that would be right at home would be Conker, and he could be the game's final boss in the one-player mode. The funny thing is, people would probably still call the game "kiddie" unless Nintendo decided to include a human character with a headband and a mullet. Captain Falcon anyone?
Another idea I've been kicking around is to have all the characters from Square's cinematic RPGs thrown into a 3D platformer. The entire game could be like a running joke with the characters constantly refusing to be controlled or just doing things of their own accord. Similar to how Gex constantly chimes in with irrelevant chatter, the characters in the Final Fantasy platforming game would constantly beg you to stop playing. Where most characters get annoyed in video games if you leave the analog stick idle, the characters in the Final Fantasy platformer will act overjoyed if you leave the controller alone. They will spit out phrases such as, "Now that's more like it" or "Aren't you ready to stop playing and watch a 10-minute FMV sequence?" Or, for dramatic effect, FMV summons could be randomly triggered with no way to skip past them. Oops, that one's been done already.
People have been talking about the stories behind the characters in Crazy Taxi. But instead of cruising the streets looking for people in search of a ride, you would troll neighborhoods looking for kids who are hungry for poisoned ice cream. Then you could sit there and watch them convulse on the sidewalk. "Mature" games sure are fun, eh?
Most of these ideas are intended as a joke, but if you wait a few years it wouldn't surprise me if games like Metal Gear Solid Puzzle Punks or Resident Evil Monster Farm make their way to market. As the competition heats up, companies will be doing anything to get their game into consumers' homes, and tacking a license onto them will be the easiest way to separate their games from others in the genre. In my humble opinion, characters in games might as well be placeholders when compared with the game's design and gameplay, anyway. I don't care how "cool" a character is. If a game stinks, no amount of familiarity, nudity, blood, swearing, or mullets will save it.
Here's a transcript form an instant messaging session between myself and another editor. Our names and expletives have been omitted to protect ourselves from legal prosecution.
Gerald: wanna trade ideas?
Gerald: Mine is a Street Fighter RPG
The Other Guy: what have you got?
The Other Guy: heheh
The Other Guy: I was thinking Frogger FPS, personally...
Gerald: Why not Twisted Metal Fighting game?
The Other Guy: it pretty much is though
The Other Guy: I got it!
The Other Guy: a Tetris RPG!
Gerald: that would be great
The Other Guy: um
The Other Guy: I'm just going for humor at this point
The Other Guy: you should do a wrestling rpg
Gerald: Metal Gear Solid puzzle game, where your mission is to drop blocks filled with obstacles down in a sequence to create a VR room that Snake has to navigate for maximum points. Straight, empty corridors are worth 100, while a room with a gun in it removes 100 points, and you can never go below zero points. a room with several genome soldiers is worth 100... you have to keep dropping blocks before snake reaches a blank area or the VR training ends.
The Other Guy: well
The Other Guy: there you go
Gerald: you can then record the training session
Gerald: and playback to watch or upload to play in MGS2
The Other Guy: this would be interesting
Gerald: you might control moving the blocks and dropping with right side of controller, while left side controls snakes actions, basically, like left trigger to do actions, right trigger to drop block
The Other Guy: all cookie and cream style
Gerald: you'd have to be watching both things at once, like next room to put down, and what Snake is doing
Gerald: seems kinda frantic
Gerald: cause Snake would always be moving forward
Gerald: but you gotta keep expanding the mission, to meet the next level's requirements
Gerald: or "Mission Failed"
Gerald: once he's trained, you can upload cool items he finds to MGS2
The Other Guy: you should write this, and the final fantasy wrestling game up
Gerald: i cant do two
Gerald: L1 = attack button, L2 = sneak button
The Other Guy: aw sure you can
Gerald: it would auto punch/kick or shoot, and crawl/hide based on context of situation
Gerald: R1 would cycle room types, R2 would place the room down, later levels would unlock new rooms
Gerald: face buttons would move the room in the grid, while right analog stick would control camera
Gerald: left stick would move camera quickly to behind snake's shoulder, for when you want more direct control of his action, or if you're caught up with rooms and want to watch
Gerald: real time panning in/out between Snake's perspective and map overlay
Gerald: there, i've made the game.
Gerald: what's hideo's email address?
The Other Guy: yes, you have
Gerald: Metal Gear Solid 2: Custom Training Missions
The Other Guy: firstname.lastname@example.org
The series has all the right ingredients. The strained relationship between Pai and her father Lau; the amicable, yet often tumultuous, relationship between the brother and sister team of Jacky and Sarah; Kage-maru's attempts to atone for his past mistakes; and a traditional silent hero in Akira are all plot elements that could be expanded into an epic storyline. The fact that the characters are so lifelike and beautifully designed, unlike many other fighting games, would also lend itself to a realistic role-playing experience. Ideally, the game would let the player choose one of four or five characters from the series, with the rest playing bit parts. Each of the characters would have his or her own unique quest, storylines, and motivations. And Dural, perhaps in a more vicious form, could serve as the game's primary antagonist. Naturally, players will have to use their fighting skills as the primary gameplay element, but each of the character's individual personalities would be allowed to shine.
Moving any established video game property into a new genre requires the franchise to have a cast of strong characters. Much like Virtua Fighter, the Crash would work in a variety of different genres, and have in the past. Think of a strategy game with Sonic and his friends, or further sports games, such as Mario Tennis, featuring the overweight plumber and Nintendo's varied cast of characters.
Still, I would most like to see a story-driven game featuring characters from the Virtua Fighter series. I liked the original Virtua Fighter and VF2, but I didn't really care for Virtua Fighter 4, from what little I played of it, seems to have reverted its gameplay system to its roots, which is a good thing. Still, even new characters such as Lei Fei are almost impeccably designed and would work well in a variety of genres, particularly in an action-RPG.
Tekken Jam 2002 - Sure, those Tekken kids can fight, and they can bowl reasonably well... but does Heihachi got game? Can he take the rock to the hole with authority? Polygonal men can't jump! Two hand jam! Boomshakalala! Ahem... uh... never mind.
Marvel vs. Capcom vs. SNK vs. Paul Oakenfold: Dance Rhythm Fighting Action de Go! - Your favorite fighters and comic book characters clash in this fighting game... remixed by popular Swordfish soundtrack producer Paul Oakenfold! Do that dragon punch to the beat of the music... or die! 120 percent happy fish bomblegs!!!
OK, now I'm just being weird. I think I need to lie under my desk for awhile.