Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Million Dollar Idea, Revisited

As I've stated before, I feel that Star Wars as a setting should be about more than just the 'eternal struggle' between Jedi Knights and the Sith. To me, a huge part of the appeal of Star Wars was the larger galaxy that it implied- with smugglers, freedom-fighters, aliens, bounty-hunters, gangsters, monsters and worlds to explore. Star Wars would not have been nearly as interesting without the presence of 'normal' people like Han Solo and Chewbacca- and even Princess Leia (prior to her revealed heritage as a Force user). And yet so much of this 'added flavor' seems to be pushed aside in recent years by focusing on the Jedi/Sith struggle. There was no 'Han Solo' character in the prequels. Hell, almost all of the non-Force users were boring (interchangable clone troopers, sketchily introduced senators) or annoying (Jar Jar). Arguably, the most interesting non-Jedi was Jango Fett- and he had only a relatively minor focus.

The same trend is visible in the Star Wars video-game franchise as well. Everything is Jedi/Sith-centric. From the good (KotOR) to the bad (The Force Unleashed). About the ONLY exceptions to this were purely combat games like the Battlefront Series and a few Real-Time Strategy games. And while I can understand the appeal of playing lightsaber-wielding, lightning-spewing bad-asses, I think that developers are totally overlooking the fact that folks DO and WOULD like something different- or rather something different that is still Star Wars. And I am also talking about something OTHER than an MMO. That is a different beast entirely. I'm talking about a roleplaying game (in the style of KotOR) where you dont HAVE to be a Force user in order to be the Hero.

Ideally, what I'm talking about is a game where you play Han Solo- not the guy himself, but a person who fills that same niche as a 'normal guy turned hero' in the Star Wars galaxy. You rely on your guts, your blaster, your ship and a crew of loyal companions- and nothing else. You begin with a beat-up ship and very little else. From there, you take various jobs to build up your ship, pick up new gear and recruit people for your crew.

I see people being able to follow a couple main paths in the game. The most obvious of these being that of a smuggler- hauling illegal cargo and trying to avoid getting caught. But you could easily work several different tangents into this. A person could fall into the role of pirate (raiding ships/ports) or bounty hunter (tracking down criminals) or even merc (hiring out to attack targets for employers). Ideally, your hero could incorporate a lot of these activities without having to specialize in just one. Likewise, there could be 'mini-games' like pod/swoop/speeder racing or even some form of planetary exploration or mining (No. No Mass Effect 2 planet scans, thanks).

There would be an overarching plot, of course- otherwise the game would quickly turn into just a sandbox where the player just 'grinds' away to get a better ship. This is the part that I haven't quite worked out yet- and it would depend a lot upon the time period chosen for the game. Honestly, I think it would probably work best if it was set in the 20 years between trilogies- or perhaps even in the years leading up to the events of Episode IV (just as the Han Solo novels were). Considering the lack of development of this period, it is wide open for lots of interpretations. Likewise, you could incorporate bits of technologies and plots from the prequel trilogy AND the original- i.e. you could start off dealing with Imperials in ARC starfighters and Venator destroyers and move on to TIE fighters and Imperial-class destroyers.

Unlike certain OTHER Star Wars games, however, I would prefer to have the plot not be directly tied to the movies. By this I mean that the game should have its own villains, victories and tragedies- its own 'hero's journey'. If KotOR proved anything it is that Star Wars (if done well) as a setting and a genre is just as popular with or without the 'big names' of the movies. You don't NEED Darth Vader as the main villain in order to have appeal as a Star Wars game.

So, what would a game like this look like? I have only a nebulous idea of it, myself, but I think it could go something like this:

The main mechanics of the game would center around third-person exploration and fighting (as in the KotOR and Mass Effect games). But added to this would be a full-fledged flight simulator, meaning you could not only get into gunfights out of your ship, but you can dogfight in space or run obstacle courses or race other ships. And yeah, I realize I'm asking a lot from a game- maybe crossing a few too many genres. Afterall, your hard-core RPG folks may not have the fast-twitch reflexes or instincts for first-person shooter or flight simulator play. However, I think this could be taken care of with the various difficulty settings. Perhaps you even have different difficulty settings for different aspects of the game- one difficulty setting for the FPS aspect, another for the flight simulator. The easiest settings could be just a 'walkthrough'. Or.. hell, if the player is REALLY against the flight simulator aspect- just allow them to skip the section. They just don't get the XP for it (for a simplified example of this, just look at the Jade Empire and its 'ship combat' simulator).

Your tutorial mission has you as the first mate for an older smuggler who's ship is a bit run down due to a string of bad luck. You have to help your mentor through a series of challenges (flying, fighting, maybe puzzle solving and some basic use of various game skills). Once you're through the tutorial, your mentor decides to retire and hands the ship over to you. At this point, your adventure begins.

You would have a selection of worlds to travel between. Some would be fully developed locations, others would be stopover points for cargo runs or small side missions. The locations I would love to see are: Tatooine (of course)- Mos Eisley in particular. Bespin would be another nice one. Something core-worldy- like Corellia or Kuat- to be used as a glittering, civilized contrast to the other rough-and-rowdy backwater ports. I would hesitate to use a world like Coruscant, though- at least as a 'main RP location'- since it would be so tightly controlled by the Empire. Nar Shaddaa could work as well. Its another den of scum and villainy- sure, but its different in look and feel from Mos Eisley.

Your companions would be gained via the numerous quests as the storyline progresses. It would be nice to have the available henchmen depend on how you are playing the game. You play as a 'nice guy' and you attract nice characters (or at least folks with a 'heart of gold'). You play nasty and you draw the scum of the galaxy. They did something like this in KotOR II- where depending on your 'alignment' you got either the 'good' hunter Mira or the 'bad' Wookiee hunter. As far as general crew types go, figure you could gather:

1) A trusty mechanic/sidekick (be he droid, stereotypical wookiee, etc.)

2) A gunman (or woman)- like a bounty hunter or ex soldier.

3) A brick of some sort (perhaps a wookiee fits here better, like Zaalbar in KotOR).

4) A rogue (sneaky type, perhaps not entirely trustworthy?)

5) A brain (some kind of doctor or scientist or scholar)

6) An idealist (A kid or senator type who urges you to 'do the right thing'- and who's ideals can really be a pain if you're trying to be a smuggler)

There are other ideas, but those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.

These can run the gamut from Crime bosses to Imperial Officers to Space Pirates to Bounty Hunters to Rival Smugglers- or even to Rebel “terrorists” (if the player chooses to go a ‘dark’ route in their career). There could even be some kind of dark side force user in the mix- but just to switch things up, maybe this is a person who operates outside the of the Sith Order- it could even be a crime boss who uses his force powers to manipulate folks and gain power. Perhaps he intends to quietly gain power and maybe even challenge the emperor some day? Whatever the case, I would prefer the force-user be something unique to this game, not Vader, not the Emperor- hell, not even Mara Jade or one of the other ‘Emperor’s hands’.

As far as the quests themselves go, I can see there being a couple main types:
1) Your typical 'go to location, talk with people, get into gunfight with people', solve puzzle, explore area, etc.

2) A flight-operation mission, where you have to navigate an obstacle course or battle through enemy ships or defenses to reach your destination. This should include some kind of mechanic for 'outrunning' or otherwise evading opponents. A 'racing' mechanic would also have to be in play here- both to 'outrun' other ships and to beat a timer to reach a certain place by a specific time.

Within these you could have all kinds of variations- as has been proven in other RPG games- and indeed more than in your typical sci-fi RPG- as those produced so far seem to be severely lacking in the 'flying around in your spaceship' area. Mass Effect, for instance, has all space combat taking place in cut scenes. So once again, I know that the idea behind this is 'ambitious', but seriously... sci fi without space ships YOU can control? So far, that has been the norm.

One of the main themes that would set this game apart is the idea of being able to modify your ship and upgrade it throughout the course of the game. Mass Effect 2 introduced this to a limited degree- limited because the power-ups mostly had no effect until the endgame of the plot. In this case, I can see the upgrades including ship speed, weapons, shields and maneuverability. It could also include special stuff like a medical bay, workshop or brig (for bounty-hunters) or even just a luxury lounge that the player can personalize to their own taste. Personalization would be the key here. The exterior should allow for designs to be applied to the hull (from a pre-programmed selection). The upgrades to ship performance would enhance the ability of the vessel in the various ship missions- faster and more maneuverable in combat or races; Able to haul more cargo by being faster in hyperspace; etc.

As far as the ship itself goes, perhaps it operates almost like a character- meaning that at the beginning of the game, you choose between three main ‘classes’ of ships- the big tough one (fighter) the small cunning one (the rogue), and the Jack-of-all-trades (the one somewhat in between). Each would suit a different style of play.

Duh. Of course. In an RPG, development of your character is one of the main mechanics of the game. It would run in parallel to the ship classes: Fighter, Rogue, Jack-of-All-Trades. I don’t know what kind of skill system I’d use for this. As big of a fan as I am of D6, my mind always goes back to the KotOR system as a workable one for a computer RPG- afterall, the ‘math’ all takes place behind the scenes.

In any case, those are just my rambling thoughts put down in random order. It’s fun to think about this, even if I doubt we’ll ever see anything like it. I’ll likely expand upon this more later as things occur to me. If you have any thoughts/comments on my dementia, please share!

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