Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Liberty City hospital

The Game Dame recently pointed me to comedian Demetri Martin. One of Martin's many great jokes is that he wants to play a game that lets him act as medic to all the characters injured in other games, like the guy who was "shot 57 times in the head".

Thankfully, I'm not so far lost that I was wondering how such a game could be done while Martin moved on to the next joke. But I am wondering about it now.

And I feel pretty confident that the basic concept could be made into a pretty sweet game; fun, hilarious, and long-lasting.

The main requirement for such a game to be fun is that it must be cartoony. The boardgame Operation proved that surgery can be fun if you pay little mind to realism. And the only way you can include such ridiculous (and ridiculously fun) notions as a patient who's been shot 57 times in the head is to leave realism at the door.

The second element is a variety of goals and interactions. Include some over-arching track for progression to connect the smaller systems, of course. But don't try to pin down specific gameplay systems too early. Start with all the funny, ludicrous examples of game violence you'd like to fit into the game. Then divide the victims into categories and ask which types could be the foundations of gameplay systems that relate to each other. It's important that all the parts of any game contribute toward a unified impression.

That's unless you're basically offering a collection pack of mini-games; in which case, you shouldn't bother trying to contrive a shared foundation for them, because the player would rather jump to his preferred mini-games quickly, easily, and at any time.

The third element, to provide replay value, is variety within each player activity. For example: Lying next to the guy with fifty bullet-holes might be a guy who has been beaten into a shapeless blob with a baseball bat. Perhaps both victims are objects of gameplay that requires the player to rejoin fractured parts into a correct shape. In this case, they each represent an archetype with many possible variations, enabling an endless stream of victims for the player to fix.

Last but not least, the game must be funny! It would be easy to lose sight of the basic concept's humor while trying to design systems that fit each victim type. For example: the "rejoin fractured parts" system hinted at above might be fun as Bejeweled is fun, but could it keep the player laughing by somehow reminding him of how ridiculous the situation is? An alternative system might not stand as well on its own, but provides a better overall experience when mixed into a humorous setting and filled with rotated jokes.

What would a cartoon character look like, and what would he say, if he had been shot 57 times in the head? Perhaps he's happier than before he was shot, because he's certainly an "airhead", and "the happiest person is the village idiot". Perhaps by fixing him (putting his brains back in place), you're condemning him to misery, like the robot-genius in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Perhaps he talks while under anasthesia, and you're encouraged to laugh as his comments gradually shift from innocent contentment to enlightened depression.

What other archetypes of game victims might this game include?

Speaking of the funny and ludicrous, this mock footage of game developers in the 70s is hilarious!

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