Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lord of the Wasteland

When it comes to certain games I'm a bit behind the times.  Case in point, I've only just got around to finishing the Mad Max game by Avalanche Studios.  Overall I enjoyed my time spent wandering the wreckage-strewn Australian outback, but I can't help think there might have been a better way to approach the franchise.  It seems like when it comes to adaptations of this setting, they tend to come in two varieties; micro or macro.  The former is the more common with examples like the Fallout series, Rage, Wasteland, and The Last of Us.  They're games focused on a single individual or small group of people trying to endure in the aftermath of a global catastrophe.  The latter is the rarer of the two and is a bit harder to find examples for.  There's a Crusader Kings II mod entitled After the End which features a post-apocalyptic North America divided among a number of tribes.  Another game is Atomic Society, an early access title soon to be available through Steam.  In both cases they put the player in charge of a community (or tribe) and give them a bird's-eye view of what's going on.  I guess you could call them part of the RTS genre.  The problem I have is neither of these video game subgenres quite have what I want.  One category has lost it's luster, while the other feels too detached to capture what makes the setting interesting.  I think though, there might be an untapped sweet spot somewhere in-between.

Imagine taking the role of Immortan Joe, Lord Humongous or Aunty Entity.  How did they get started?  Were they once wanderers like Max?  How did they recruit followers, secure resources and deal with potential rivals?  In a post-apocalyptic future basic necessities are almost always in short supply, which means raiding is one course of action, another is trade.  As the leader of a faction how do you go about getting things like drinkable water, eatable food, adequate shelter, life-saving medicine, and a fuel supply for your vehicles?  That final point is especially important since if you have access to it, you can maraud for the rest.  There's always the risk though that you might run up against someone bigger and meaner than you, which places a certain value on alliances (for mutual protection or simple strength of numbers) Aside from the usual itinerary of burn, pillage and enslave, there could be groups within your own collective that have other motives or desires.  Perhaps a cult springs up from within your ranks or some of your members begin to take up cannibalistic practices.  Do you suppress it and risk rebellion or embrace it and become all the more dogmatic?

From a gameplay standpoint, I like the idea of having some kind of "nemesis system" akin to the one we've seen in on display in the upcoming Middle-earth: Shadow of War.  Instead of branding individuals though, I think it would be cool to focus on salvaged vehicles.  To begin with the players would only have access to motorcycles and dune buggies, but after obtaining the services of a talented black thumb (black finger?) the repertoire could steadily expand into sedans, trucks and the penultimate vehicle in every aspiring post-apocalyptic conqueror's arsenal, the war rig.  Of course the absolute pinnacle is a flying machine, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.  I like the idea of keeping the gameplay in the over-the-shoulder-third-person perspective because it gives players a chance to not only see their customized rides up close in action, but their warlord and followers too.  As the game progresses he (or she) could go from an unremarkable wastelander to a grizzly-looking cross between a samurai general and punk rocker.  The player's underlings could also have distinct looks with some variation between individuals.  Even the base of operations could have it's own set of "modules" such as gates, walls, garages, cisterns, depots, and armories that make it unique.

Weapons are always important and guns are what everyone wants most.  However, they might not be so easy to come by, the same goes for ammo, so they tend to be reserved for elite units while the rest make due with improvised weapons; pneumatic dart launchers, crossbows, spiked clubs, knives, machetes, and fire axes are just some examples along with armor jury rigged from sports equipment, or my personal favorite - a shield that's actually just an old road sign.  That said, improvised explosive devices such as the thunder sticks seen in Fury Road or molotov cocktails aren't hard to fashion out of scrap.  Grappling hooks and spring loaded harpoons are useful tools for when one vehicle attempts to commandeer another.

Looking back on what I've written thus far, it occurs to me this hypothetical video game I've brainstormed here doesn't have to be an exercise in power hungry conquest.  I've always liked the idea of a post-apocalyptic King Arthur and his knights errant.  Through good deeds it might be possible to form a just and sane government from which society could rebuild.  Good or evil though I think the important thing is to let the player decide how they want to rule the wasteland.

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