Way back a month ago, Kim over at Later Levels made a post about their perfect video game. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot (I was thinking about posting what you see today since that day), but here it is now. This is obviously a complicated question, and I didn’t really think a comment would do it justice. I’m not going to go into that much detail (because I haven’t thought about it that much)…and I’m not going to limit myself to one game.
Now, it’d be easy to just pick my favorite games that already exist, and merely say “make X better” or “fix that little problem”. But that would be pretty boring, I think. So I’ll go with games that don’t exist yet, as far as I know.
First up, I want an Atelier game. Sure, there are a lot of them, and they come out pretty much yearly. But they’ve never made the perfect Atelier game, for me. Instead of a regular turn-based RPG, I’d want something more akin to a shop simulator. Kind of like Recettear, but with the Atelier feel. It’s always bugged me how the eponymous atelier would often be portrayed as a shop of sorts, but the player never actually ran it (Atelier Annie sorta did it, but in a clunky and terrible way, like it did everything); if there was every any money to be made in alchemy, it was selling stuff to the stock npc vendors who for some reason buy all your crap, but never put it up. The narrative link would be that the heroine would notice that these vendors would buy her stuff, then resell it at a 10-100x markup – and she wants to get that action.
As a busy shopkeep and crafter, it doesn’t make sense that the alchemist would go out and slay monsters herself. Like Recettear’s protagonist, our heroine would get other people to risk their necks for her ingredients. Most would do it for free or a small fee (there’s always fighters and friends for Atelier girls), but you could hire some experts to get the rare stuff that even the alchemist wouldn’t know about (or know how to get it): an herbalist, a miner, etc. The combat would be there, but (mostly) optional: it’d be like sending out the Homs or pet slimes, except they’re characters. I would make combat action-based rather than turn-based, since the alchemist heroine wouldn’t be doing the fighting: either like the Tales of… series, or the various hunter-type games. There would be times when the alchemist would have to go on journeys with her lackeys, if only to identify the ingredients the first time (basically training the assistants).
I would also modify the traditional friendship system. Since the traditional Atelier friendship systems depends a lot on taking the friends out in combat, that obviously has to change. It’d probably be better to have a more request-based. Something like how the Persona series handles that system would really work. Maybe there could even be romance options, which are not unknown even in the Atelier series (Mana Khemia comes to mind, even though that game had a male protagonist).
Since the game would be about keeping a shop, the overall story would have to stay pretty grounded. No existential threats to the kingdom/humanity/the world here. Maybe something threatening the shop at the beginning, but it would mostly be character-driven. Of course there would need to be multiple endings.
My second perfect game would be a grand strategy game…IN SPACE. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What about Stellaris?” The trouble is, Stellaris is an awkward mix of 4X and grand strategy, and doesn’t do either particularly well. I also want the character/dynasty stuff from CKII. I want some of the empire management options from Victoria II. Stellaris is a good start, but I want better. Something more than a map painter in space (though still with the option of painting the map). Also, I would make it single-player first, not multi-player-first-even-though-very-few-people-play-it-like-that like Stellaris and the other Paradox grand strategy games.
Basically, I want a Star Trek gsg (doesn’t need to be actual Star Trek; just have the feel (unlike any Trek made after 2008…)). The Federation doesn’t go out conquering. It doesn’t map-paint. It uses diplomacy and stuff to convince others to join them. Being a one-planet minor is perfectly possible in Trek. Or you could go the Klingon route and CONQUER EVERYTHING. Or you could go the Cardassian route and only conquer to get resources. Or the Ferengi route and stay a small empire, but be extremely influential economically. Or none of the above. Managing the empire would also be different, depending on which faction you’re dealing with. A Federation would settle colonization rights between member states, but a Klingon Empire would have to deal with the Great (and not-so-Great) Houses, with all their jockeying. A monarchy or artistocratic government might need to play games with their nobles, a la CKII. And so on. The possibilities are there.
And of course combat would be needed. I don’t much like the fleet action of Stellaris, and would much rather have individual ship combat, again more like Trek. (Trek had fleets, but fleet combat was relatively rare.) I don’t know if combat would be its own mini-game or not. Might be fun, but might get tiresome. Probably would have it be an option, like in Total War: you could do it yourself, which could potentially lead to better outcomes; or you could just let the computer work it all out statistically.
Oh, and as far as map painting goes, only systems would be owned, not space. That is something that has long annoyed me about space 4X games, and particularly ones that relied on hyperspace lanes between systems: space has borders that can’t be crossed. That’s really unrealistic: space is BIG. It’d be impossible to patrol interstellar space…so I wouldn’t have that as a mechanic. Sure, it might be possible to block expansion or travel, if the game requires hyperspace lanes or whatever that always begin and end in systems. But blocking travel (especially between parts of your own territory) just because a travel path happens to have a borderline that wasn’t there before, in interstellar space, is annoying as hell (had that happen pretty much every game in Endless Space and old Stellaris).
There you have it. My rambles on what I want to play. (There’s a reason I’m not a game designer.) I don’t know if anyone else would want to play those games, but I don’t care; that’s not the point of this blog post. I would play the hell out of these games.