Those are a lot of fancy words in that title aren’t they? Today’s topic is the kind of game that’s hard to make because it’s a mashup of a lot of genres and components. It’s a delicate balance, and it would be easy to misstep. But If someone could actually pull it off, it could be one of the best games of all time.
Saying it would be easy to misstep is really quite the understatement. There are five different kinds of games I’m trying to mash together here. Plenty of games have completely failed when they were only trying one of them. This game wouldn’t work unless all five components were done perfectly. No small order.
Let’s go through the different parts of the game.
First off, espionage. This is really the crux of the game. By crux, I mean it’s what you would call the game if you had to boil it down. I really like games where you play as spies. They have a lot going for them. There’s the little details that add to the experience, and the bigger details that bring things together.
The stories that a good spy game can give you have the opportunity to be really exciting. There’s international intrigue and constant danger. There’s chances for daring social interactions and nail-biting tension alike. There’s cause to go all over the world.
What’s more, there’s cause to actually do just about anything. This is brilliantly handy for pacing purposes. Need something calm and engaging? Make the player steal something during a party. Need something tense and dramatic? Make the player assassinate someone. Need to ratchet up the action? Get them caught in a firefight.
An espionage game has the flexibility to be anything it needs to be. This makes it an obvious choice for the kind of game I’m talking about. Mashing a bunch of genre’s together can cause discord in a game. It needs to have a setting and premise that can flex without breaking. It needs to be able to sustain the lack of harmony.
Second, freeform. When I say freeform I am, to a degree, talking about the kind of gameplay you have in the most recent Hitman game. You’re dropped into an open level and given one or more tasks. It doesn’t matter how it gets done, as long as it gets done. To facilitate this, there are dozens of methods to complete your tasks. You can choose any that you like.
It’s an extreme amount of choice and variety. The player doesn’t just have incentive to play their way, they have incentive to come back and do it again. Mission variables can throw wrenches into the works that only make the game more interesting. Instead of restricting gameplay, they can force more varied gameplay from the player.
For example, the previously mentioned mission of stealing something during a party. Supposed the player is invited to a party at a foreign embassy with instructions to steal a folder of files from a restricted office. It doesn’t matter how they get them, as long as they get them.
But it isn’t quite that simple. Secrecy is of utmost important in this mission. You need to get the files, but your cover also cannot be blown. This immediately pulls a few options off the table. You can’t simply go in guns blazing. You also lose the option of a completely stealth based approach. You need to actually make an appearance at the party. Disappearing for too long will be noticed.
This doesn’t restrict you, it enhances you. You’ve been given a ridiculous hurdle to cross, and more than enough tools to accomplish it. It’s simply a matter of figuring out how. Play sick and stealth through the hallways? Cause a distraction? Make a social scene? Organize an attack on the embassy and swipe the files in the confusion?
A lot of this facet comes down to little details. You need to be able to interact with key figures. This could be anything from blackmailing them to taking their place to killing them outright. You need to be able to interact with objects in the environment. Specifically things like lights, cameras, overall power, alarms, etc. It’s a lot of little details, but they need to be there to bring a cohesive experience together.
Third we have sandbox, or open world. This one is perhaps the most straightforward, but it’s quite critical. A sandbox game is a game that gives you an entire, large map to work with. You can go anywhere you’d like within the confines of this large map.
Now I’m not suggesting the entire game be like this. Rather, I would suggest that the game be broken into multiple smaller maps, representing cities across the world. Players would be able to travel between these cities, completing some or all objectives at a location before moving on. They might even need to return in the future when something new presents itself.
But each level being open world is very important. Player freedom is massively important. The game can’t simply be a linear obstacle course. The player has to have the option to come at their problem from any angle. The sandbox component is critical because it exists to serve the freeform component. For players to be able to act however they see fit, they need to be able to move in any way they desire.
Fourth is persistent. This one is perhaps the trickiest to grasp, but I think it will be critical to the longevity of the game. The world the player interacts with will react and change to their actions. A high profile mission might leave other locations in the city on high alert. Killing a major NPC will leave them dead. Their family might leave, or their job might be filled by someone new.
Critically, the missions the player attempts will tie together. The previously mentioned secret file a player steals from an embassy might have security details and personnel information for a military facility the player needs to break into. They didn’t actually have to rob the embassy, but doing so would help them in their later mission.
All of the missions could tie together like this. The order in which the missions are played, as well as which missions are played at all, could drastically warp and shift the arc of the game. It gives a lot of control to the player and makes them feel like their actions are having a lasting impact on the world around them.
Little details specific to the player should persist too. They should have the option to secure safehouses, acquire funds and special gear, and enlist the aid of NPC assets. A player should be able to tackle a mission completely cold or plan for it in excruciating detail.
Which final brings us to coop. Games designed from the ground up to be coop are a strange beast. Frankly, even if this game is perfectly executed it still might fail because of the coop requirement. Nevertheless, I think it would be a critical component to complete the game as I envision.
When a player undertakes a mission, they won’t be doing it alone. One or two other players will be with them, all working together as a team. It drastically changes the dynamic of the game. Combat becomes easier, meaning it can be made more difficult. Stealth changes from a simple matter of ghosting through an area into a tag team back and forth. Social missions can still have another player on overwatch, working in the background to aid the socialite.
This is the component I’m most excited about it. It takes everything that would already be great about the game and kicks it into high gear. Working together with a teammate to accomplish incredibly elaborate missions would be thrilling. When the missions run the spectrum from heists to assassinations to full frontal assaults it adds even more variety to the mix.
Playing with a buddy or two changes the tone of the game dramatically. It can take situations that would previously be frustrating or hard and make them some of the best parts of the game. More than that, it adds options that previously wouldn’t exist. A player can be captured and imprisoned. That would force the other players to work around their absence while they escape. It could even force them to divert resources to rescuing them.
The game I’ve outlined here is perhaps the most complicated I’ve theorized so far. But the beauty of it is how very clear the final picture is. These components might be varied and chaotic, but they come together. Crafting such a game would require a lighter touch than perhaps is present in the developer world right now. But if it could be pulled off it would be a game me and my friends would play for an absurdly long time. Because you know what?
I’d buy it.