Later Levels Question of the Month, January 2019 – THE ULTIMATE GAMENING


Later Levels’ Question of the Month has been through a few iterations: back in 2017, when I first started taking part, it was a fairly freeform (but still fantastically fun!) endeavour in which questions would be posed from month to month, answers would come in, a winner would be picked, we’d all sort of move on. Then, last year, the format was switched up and we saw a new Star Blogger take the spotlight each month, posing the question and picking the winner.

This year, it’s all gone a little bit game dev! Kim (she of Later Levels) and I were looking for a way of thanking Adventure Rules’ Ian for all his hard work in the Blogger Blitz; Ian’s turn as QOTM Star Blogger saw him pose a rather cool question about creating the Ultimate Video Game, and inspiration struck. The way QOTM will work this year is that each month, the community will be asked to design (just conceptualise, not actually do all the development work!) a different element of their ‘Ultimate Video Game’. In December, the last instalment will be a press release in which participants sell the upcoming release of their finished game, using all the elements they’ve created over the year! (You don’t have to do every single month, of course – dipping in and out is perfectly allowable.)

This month, the element of the game is setting and themes. Answers are due by January 28th; on the 31st – and on this very blog, ladies and gentlemen – the winner for this month will be announced along with a commentary post. That winner will then become part of the panel to decide winners for future months!

Now, as I’m helping to run the event this year, I don’t think I’m eligible to win (alas!), but I love taking part in QOTM anyway, so I will! I haven’t thought ahead on this one at all; there are, of course, going to be many more elements over the coming months which I’ll want to try to make cohesive, but I’m not worrying about that yet. One thing at a time! So, without further ado, here is my response to the very first instalment of QOTM: Game Time Deluxe Special Edition!

My Ultimate Video Game: Settings and Themes

Picture this:

Life is good for Maximillion Strikefist, the founder and master of ceremonies at underground, unsanctioned, street-wrestling promotion DZW (Death Zone Wrestling). All comers are welcome in his arena, and the only rule is that they must appease the crowd’s hunger for chaos. Strikefist’s found a profitable balance: while a decent chunk of the bouts in DZW are genuine free-for-alls between people who’ve just showed up looking to fight, the high-profile matches are pre-planned spectacles between wrestlers playing characters. This mix of the ‘shoot’ (a wrestling insider term for ‘not scripted’) and the ‘work’ (‘planned in advance’) keeps the audience on their toes and guessing, and also means that he’s able to rake in big cash by promoting a fight as if it’s real, then fixing the result so that the lower amount is paid out. It’s a phenomenal success, and not very legal.

If you’ve ever watched Lucha Underground, this might seem a bit familiar. It’s a professional wrestling show unlike most others – where big promotions like WWE maintain ‘kayfabe’, the illusion that it’s all a real sporting contest, Lucha Underground’s set in an Aztec-themed ‘temple’ and includes wrestlers playing characters who are gods, dragons, spaceships, members of ninja triads, all sorts. Rather than pretend to be an actual sports event, Lucha Underground is an urban fantasy TV show about a sports event (and I highly recommend it; it’s over-the-top and ludicrous and brilliant, and the actual wrestling is usually top-notch). Anyway, I’m imagining a similar sort of aesthetic for the DZW setting: a blend of the real and the staged, all in a dirty, bloodstained concrete arena, fighters both Regular Person and Heightened Character surrounded by a baying, bloodthirsty audience.

Strikefist is not a good guy. He makes the people who show up for the ‘real’ fights think they have a chance at stardom, but really those fights only ever end in all participants sustaining a lot of pain for very little gain. He pays his small roster of wrestlers well enough, but will do whatever it takes to get them to comply with his will.

Within the halls of DZW there are a select few wrestlers who are reaching the heights of genuine fame and glory. One of the members of the permanent roster who isn’t doing so well is A.K. Lustwork, a ‘heel’ – villainous character – who plays a very creepy (think sexual-predator creepy) character whose backstory is that he wants to capture other wrestlers so he can do some weird stuff to them and then sacrifice them to some evil gods. He doesn’t have much of a fan following, and so one day he decides to do something about it: the wrestler embraces the Lustwork character fully and begins going off-script, culminating in a successful capture and sacrifice. The fans – who don’t know whether this is real or scripted – love it, of course; this is a problem for Strikefist, who needs his underlings to follow his directions (and has just lost one of those underlings in a pretty gruesome fashion). Turns out the god might just be real; Lustwork gains some strange powers, and a new faction of cultist wrestlers appears in DZW. Factions are a pretty common storytelling device in pro-wrestling, as it allows you to ally some wrestlers with each other, pit them against a common enemy, and tell stories about power struggles and that sort of thing. Anyway, the cultists are not on Strikefist’s books, but the fans love the new story, so he takes the opportunity and goes along with it.

Aaaaand that’s our backstory. The way I’m seeing it, almost all of this would be established as happening before the actual narrative of the game picks up, or possibly in a prologue section. The status quo when we join the tale is that Strikefist and Lustwork are in something of a precarious balance, with the cultists growing more dangerous – DZW becomes more successful and popular as a result, but Strikefist is gradually losing control to this outsider group who follow a strange god and seem to be exhibiting some supernatural abilities.

Thematically, I think the game would explore Strikefist as a character. I don’t think he’ll be a playable character, just an important one in the game’s… lore, if that’s the right word. He’s clearly not a good guy, allowing people to near-kill each other in the misguided hopes of becoming famous wrestlers – but he might be positioned as the lesser of two evils in the struggle between DZW’s normal-human wrestlers and the newcomer evil-god-worshipping cult faction. I’d probably like to say some stuff about the human urge for violence (or for witnessing violence), and the kind of entertainment we consume… but mostly I think it’ll just end up being a wrestlers-versus-Cthulhu sort of thing and I’m super down for that.

Join the fun!

If you think you could come up with a cool idea for a game setting or themes, then check out Later Levels to find out how to join in with this awesome event. We’re not going to ask anyone to actually make a game, just do the fun part of conceptualising the game you would make if you could, and there’s no pressure to take part every month so you don’t need to worry about that.

And whether you participate or not, check back here at the end of the month to find out the winner and newest member of our Ultimate Game dev team!


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