Game idea: ‘The War that Never Was’

I work at a creative consultancy with a vibrant young team, so it’s to be expected that a couple of my coworkers would be avid gamers. We chat so much about games and the industry that I’ve been trying to get them to take their loquaciousness to podcasting, but work and lack of incentive on their part has stood in the way so far.

Still, I enjoy these unrecorded conversations – and every so often a gem turns up.

These guys are console casuals – being foreign workers, they have neither the disposable income to invest in a gaming PC, nor the mindset to appreciate long-haul games like MMOs. So our talk revolves around titles like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.


It was while discussing MGS5’s multiplayer mechanics with one of them, some time ago, that an idea came to me: a co-op stealth FPS/TPS where a soldier from the future travels back in time to stop his past self from sparking a apocalyptic war. (Credit goes to my colleague for the title.)

In MGS5 (as I understand it anyway), your base can be infiltrated and raided by an opposing player. “So there’s two Snakes on the field?” I said. “What an immersion break.” He didn’t care, obviously, but there and then the seed for our game was planted.

Terminator meets MGS meets Call of Duty. Both players play the same character – separated by time, technology, and objective.

The premise

The backstory is a simple one. Years ago, the protagonist pulled off a black op that was supposed to end a small-scale conflict, but blew it up into Judgement Day instead. Upon realizing the cause, he hijacks a newly developed time machine in a bid to alter the outcome of that op – setting up the PvP action.

Snake and Gray Fox 1

Player differences

To create a gameplay dichotomy, the future soldier might have a limited (and irreplaceable) supply of game-changing toys – energy-based weapons, cloaking, nanotech, mind control, combat wonder-drugs, what have you – while his past self would have the good old perks of youth: an edge in agility, endurance, and overall performance.

A fatigue mechanic could also come into play to ensure both grow more evenly matched as the duel drags out.

The maps

Speaking of duels, not everybody wants to play protracted standoffs all the time, so hostile mobs are a must. These would be guards and automated defenses, who, once alerted, would turn the op zone (which would be the maps, like military installations or fortified villas housing high-value marks) into a free-for-all.

This adds an element of unpredictability that quick-thinking players could exploit. Flush your opponent out into a hail of turret fire? Kill a guard, disguise yourself with his vest and helmet, and fool your future self into conserving his precious laser ammo when he sees you? Much possibilities.

COD Black Ops laser pistol

Team deathmatch (or CTF, or…)

There could even be an alternative mode of gameplay – instead of committing suicide by killing his past self, the soldier could work with him (with himself?) to ensure the mission goes off in a way that averts the future cataclysm.

This is the PvE approach, where both players team up to complete a series of increasingly challenging goals. Failure to meet any of these goals will result in the game defaulting to deathmatch mode. (“Sorry, youngster. Was worth a shot…”)

The problem I see here is simple – how can the soldier trust his future self? All too easy for an unscrupulous player to propose an alliance, and then backstab. Maybe make alliances a toggle thing, and disable friendly fire, with re-enable countdowns? But that’s kind of a cop-out, and doesn’t account for indirect (read: deliberately triggered environmental) damage. Needs more thought.


More sides?

I’m not crazy about the idea of a third side, but if it works, why not. Say, futuristic time police attempting to stop the future soldier from either winning in PvP, or completing the objectives in PvE.

I imagine these dudes would be the badasses of the game’s multiplayer, like Left 4 Dead 2’s Tank: packing everything the future soldier has and then plenty more. They win if they kill/capture him, they lose if his past self dies – and to everything else on the map, they’re fair game. Yeah. Definitely a popular side to be on.

Problem is, having these guys sounds like it’d really unbalance things, especially if there’re more than one. Plus, from a story standpoint, even if the soldier’s past self gets offed, surely they can finish the job in his stead? Or would that screw with the laws of time too much?

Damn, even this glint-in-the-eye stage of game design is tough.


Shtay a while, and... talk!

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