One Way Out

Posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 12:27 PM


I'm not very good at video games. I don't play them very often, certainly not as much as I once did, but even back then it was an infrequent pastime, as I was universally crap at almost all of them. Much like board games, and sport, and most other similar activities.

I do still occasionally open a video game up and give them a burst of effort, but it's half-hearted and brief before I get frustrated, or bored, or more likely killed eight times in a row, and so give up and move on to something else.

There are a couple of game types I like more than most of the others. When I was a kid, text adventure games were my favourite. Espionage Island is a title that leaps to mind. I was continually frustrated by them, though, as the aim wasn't to solve the game, but figure out what the right word commands were. Was it "pick up rock"? Or "get rock"? Or "throw rock"? And then it would crash and you'd have to reload it.

Then graphical adventures started to appear. Same idea, but with cool pictures to go along with it, sometimes even animated in a limited way. This gave rise to such classics as King's Quest, The Secret Of Monkey Island, and Myst.

I did play other games, platform or shoot-em-ups or whatever, but generally I found them less satisfying, especially as death was the usual and frequent outcome, whereas with the LucasArts and Myst games you couldn't die or lose the game, you'd just get stuck for a while, desperately clicking on every option until you'd stumble upon the answer that was, in retrospect, obvious.

Then along came 3D when Doom appeared on the scene (okay, there were precursors, like Wolfenstein, but I believe Doom was the true turning point). I liked that game, but even better was the appearance of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. That game was perfect for me! It had all the elements of adventure I liked, i.e. the exploration, the puzzles, the discovery; coupled with the action adventure that was just at the right level to be challenging, but, if you were prepared, easily overcome and never overwhelming.

As the Tomb Raider games developed, I followed along with them, but the most recent versions have changed their control system to the standard gamepad method, which I find inexact and confusing, so I have lost interest. I still go back to my favourite in the series, Tomb Raider II, which in my opinion had the best locations to explore, including: the canals of Venice, a huge Opera Theatre, an Oil Rig, an enormous sunken Ocean Liner, and a Monastery in the snowy Himalayas, each of which were split up into multiple Levels. Unfortunately the graphics are so outdated now it's a little disappointing to revisit, but the gameplay and controls still stand up and are just at my level.

The most common games are still the 3D shoot-em-up alien, soldier, zombie type, where it's wholesale slaughter from start to finish. Or it's the colourful kiddie platform games where you bounce around collecting stars and rainbows to free the princess from the evil genie. Or it's the weird Wii games where you have to do... something with the... weird thing to... save the... whatever (see Mirror's Edge, Spore, Portal, Flower, etc).

And there are numerous other genres, like Strategy, Management, Driving, Simulation, Role Playing (MMORPG's especially), Sports, etc. Most of which I have no interest in (except for Driving games. I can get into them sometimes, even though I don't drive in real life).

It occurs to me that there ought to be a perfect game to suit my interests. Surely I'm not the only one who would be into this particular idea I am about to suggest.

We are all familiar with mazes. You start at one end, and you try to get to the other end, by following a route, and getting distracted and lost down dead ends. A very simple concept that has been around for thousands of years, still popular today. There have been numerous maze-like video games, from the obvious and simple like PacMan, which are more like obstacles than puzzles, to the complex labyrinthine 3D tangles that you find in Doom or Tomb Raider. Most other shoot-em-up or 3D games tend to have complicated multi-level locations, but not really a true maze (some even lead you all the way with flashing arrows and on-screen maps).

What I want to see is an epic 3D Maze game, where there are multiple Levels, each of a different distinct location. For example: an office building; an oil refinery; an Egyptian pyramid; a shopping centre; a cinema complex; a multi-story car park; a mediaeval castle; a city block; a sewer system; etc. Each place would be fully complete and accurate, with every room, alcove, corner, elevator, fire escape, and floor in place. Everything would be interactive, from desk drawers, to cash registers, to food items, to bedsheets, to tools.

But the key would be, there is only one route to get from your start point to the end point, with lots of dead ends and red herrings to distract and confuse you. There would be no other characters seen in the entire game, though there would be evidence of their existence. There would be puzzles that require items you need to pick up, found in logical locations. There would be clues, such as notes and phone messages, that would help you if you got stuck. There would be certain routes that would be a struggle to get through, where you would not be able to go back the same way. There would be some back-tracking required to get missed clues or items. You would only be able to carry a limited number of items at once, so you may need to drop one useful tool to access another, then drop that one again to pick up the previous.

Nobody shoots at you, nothing leaps out and tries to eat you, no deadly traps or dangerous risks. It's just a maze.

So it may go like this:

You begin in the foyer of an office building. The front doors are blocked by fallen masonry, and the outside is chaos. You need to get to the roof to be rescued by helicopter. There are two elevators. Neither call button is working on this floor. You can access the stairs, but the only way clear is down. You head to the basement, where there is a maintenance room full of useful tools. You select a crowbar and a wrench.

You keep heading down, until you get to the underground carpark. There are four or five cars, but the rest of the spots are empty. You check your pockets and discover you have a car alarm lock, which opens your own car. Inside you find your mobile phone, but the battery is flat.

You head back up the stairs where you use the crowbar to dislodge some of the debris blocking the way up, and manage to get to the next floor. This is where a small finance company work, but the floor is scattered with debris. You can get into some of the offices, where all the desk drawers can be opened, and some useful items, and notes in diaries, contain clues useful for later in the game. The computers are all down. But you can pick up a whiteboard pen.

One of the elevator buttons works here, but it can only travel two floors up on this eight storey building. These floors are for the cafeteria and a mobile phone company that has chargers lined up. Though there is no power, there are charged batteries, and you find one that matches your phone.

And so it goes. You can climb out onto the fire escape to get to the next floor, where the second elevator works up to the top floor, where the Penthouse suite is which has luxurious places to explore and fancy items to use, etc etc etc.

And imagine that kind of scenario at an airport, or a science lab, or a prison, or even a jungle setting.

It seems to me that this is an untapped idea that could really sell. Sometimes you just want a game where nobody is trying to kill you, or infect you, or invade your world, that you can spend twenty minutes making your way through the attic of a cathedral to get to the bell tower. It uses existing game technology, or "engine", and therefore would be mostly pretty easy to put together, without requiring huge complexity or fancy new weapons that blast away at things in ever more spectacular ways.

Somebody should make this.

1 Reasoned Responses:

Dags said...

I really like the idea of the maze concept expecially the way you've explained it. Funnily enough as you were going through the office scenario I was thinking "I've gotta play this!" LOL

You're right in that the maze game IS like Doom et all without the violence and that I think is the key to why it work work. Needless to say the good thing about your idea is that it's suitable for all ages especially as there seems to be an increasing amount of games hitting the MA category which is ironic as games (traditionally) were for kids anyway.

I think it's a great idea ... now all you need to do is find a way to have it developed and marketed :)

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