This month’s QOTM, as expertly posed by Ian of Adventure Rules (how he had time to do this given the humungous amount of effort he’s been putting into Blogger Blitz for the past however many weeks, I’ve no idea), is as follows:
You’ve been tasked with making the Ultimate Video Game, but there’s a catch – you can only piece it together from parts of other releases. You can choose separate titles for visual design, sound design, storytelling, and gameplay. What four games would you use to make the Ultimate Video Game?
Well, Ian, I’d probably take the visual design of Kingdom Hearts 2, the sound design of Kingdom Hearts 2… nah, I’m kidding. That wouldn’t be very well in the spirit of the question, now, would it?
At first, I thought the best approach here would be to just take the four games that I thought did each of those things the best, but then I realised that wouldn’t work very well together at all. The Ultimate Video Game must be nothing if not cohesive; a mishmash of tonal incongruity isn’t likely to… well, be very good, is it? How to approach this, then? Well, I’d better pick an aesthetic and a theme, and come up with exemplars of each of these elements that stick to it.
Visual design: Okami
The Ultimate Video Game is going to be a cel-shaded, Japan-inspired masterwork, drawing its aesthetic from paintings and folklore. Colours will be bold and bright; lines will be crisp and smooth; motion will be elegant. It’s going to be very sexy to look at, mark my words.
Sound design: Dark Souls
This is perhaps the element I found the most difficult to decide. I toyed with Dynasty Warriors 4 – a strange choice, I know, with its soundtrack being a collision of traditional Oriental softness and heavy metal riffs, but I really think it works there and I thought it would work here too – but decided that, since sound design also includes voice acting, effects, mixing, and direction (knowing when not to play heavy metal, for example), perhaps it wouldn’t work. The Elder Scrolls was also a contender; Jeremy Soule’s soundtracks are so incredibly good at capturing every possible mood. Unfortunately, again, the other elements of the sound work aren’t always as spot-on, and the vibe is less Eastern and more… well, whatever fits the setting (Skyrim, for example, is quintessentially, iconically, wonderfully Norse at many times, and brilliant for it, but it won’t fit with my Ultimate Unified Aesthetic!).
So I’ve ultimately gone with Dark Souls, a game that uses music sparingly but effectively and makes the most of a limited amount of dialogue. It’s also pretty good at using sound effects as subtle cues for the player to act upon. Ultimately, although there are games I’d rather be listening to, I think Dark Souls has one of the most cleverly understated philosophies to using sound in all its capacities.
Storytelling: Shadow of the Colossus
As with the choice to employ Dark Souls‘ sound design, I think this is perhaps an unintuitive choice, but a subtle one. I want a story that’s similarly told through minimal exposition and maximum ‘player realises stuff by playing’-ition. I’m not saying, though, that I want to tell the same story as SotC, or even necessarily a similar one. I’d rather have bosses who are much more defined characters than the force-of-nature Colossi, who don’t get so much as an official name, let alone a backstory. (They do have personality, though, which is part of what makes me feel so bad about killing them. Especially number thirteen, who will never actively attempt to harm Wander no matter what.)
What I would like Ultimate Mash-Up 2k18 to take from Shadow of the Colossus is not the story of the player falling to darkness, or of a tragic hero unknowingly becoming a monster, but the lessons that stories can be told very powerfully in very subtle ways. More the method than the actual product, as it were; the way in which the story is told rather than the story itself. A little inspiration from the sheer scale of the mysterious Colossi wouldn’t go amiss either, although any visual references will have to be much more stylised and colourful to fit with the Okami-inspired visual style as opposed to the darkness of the original.
I really wanted to think of a more unique set of mechanics than an FPS, a turn-based strategy, or even an action RPG, so I turned to puzzle games and came up with Portal. As with all the other elements, I’m not saying I want to be so direct in derivation as to have an actual portal gun involved; what I want is to capture the feeling of struggling to work out how to proceed before getting the hang of it and combining some relatively simple elements into a fast-flowing, satisfying experience.
What I have, then, is a game which contrasts its bright visuals against careful, subtle use of sound and a story that unfolds through the player’s interaction with the world and the characters. It’s a very beautiful world, but perhaps one in which liberal use of colours masks a more fundamental emptiness, which the player will need to find some way to fill. Moving through the world, the player will come across characters who slowly reveal pieces of a larger – yet intensely personal – story, facing seemingly insurmountable opponents through clever, efficient use of a simple set of skills.
Sounds alright, don’t it?