[INTERMISSION: And now for something completely different.]

There are some games that would be just plain fun to design. For instance, Golden Axe: Beast Rider:

What have we got to work with? A hot chick, beasts, swords, blood, magic, and not a whole lot else (including, notably, any axes.) How can you not just jump in with both feet and have a blast designing that?

Here's my crack at an outline inspired by the premise:

The Rise of the Warrior Queen
a design pitch inspired by the Golden Axe: Beast Rider trailer

RotWQ is a game about a badass barbarian chick that I'm going to give the placeholder name of "Shanna" (in homage to the comics series recently reimagined by Frank Cho.)

Shanna runs around barren cliffsides, ruins and jungles, tearing her foes asunder with her fearsome battle skills and bathing in the resulting fountains of viscera. As she goes about her journeys, she prays to the Darke Gods for strength, and eventually smites an ancient evil, returning to be crowned the queen of her people's domain.

Core values of this design:

  • Shanna is a smokin' hot barbarian warrior babe. Shanna's saleable physical appeal is emphasized by a variety of scanty outfits and an array of vaguely sexualized combat techniques.
  • Shanna is badass, and through her quest becomes more badass. As Shanna shreds her enemies, she gains more and more powerful weapon- and magic-based attacks.
  • Shanna rides beasts. Beast riding is central to play, allowing Shanna to traverse the landscape and crush her enemies.
Core gameplay:

  • RotWQ is a weapon-based brawler featuring character skill and equipment progression.
  • Fighting, weapons, and combos: Shanna faces hordes of foes on her quest. She may attack them with swords, axes, hammers, or her bare fists. Using the controller's face buttons, Shanna breaks through her enemies' guard and unleashes deadly combos, ripping her rivals limb from limb. She sprints and dives into the fray, throwing herself into the thick of battle. Massive finishing moves mow down half a dozen foes at once.
  • Weapon skill progression: As Shanna uses a particular type of weapon, her skill with that weapon increases. Over the course of the game, Shanna may find a wide variety of individual weapons, each with its own stats. Shanna's damage output is determined by her current weapon skill coupled with the stats of the particular weapon she's found. Over the course of the game, the player may choose to generalize and become moderately skilled in all weapons, or to specialize and become the master of only one or two. For instance, Shanna's fists are the weakest to start and the slowest to progress, but inordinately powerful when fully mastered. Introduces interesting choices when a player finds an inherently powerful weapon that falls outside their current specialization.
  • Magic skill progression: As Shanna progresses through the wilderness, she happens upon many small shrines built to the four Darke Gods, each representing an element: Wind, Fire, Ice, and Earth. Her interactions with these shrines alters her alignment with the Gods. If she presents a sacrifice of her own blood to a shrine, her favor with that God increases, while her favor with the other Gods decreases; if she destroys a shrine, the reverse happens. Some enemy types are weaker or more resilient with respect to each element; like the weapon system, the player may commit to completely dominating one or two elemental resistances, or spread their tributes evenly across all schools.
  • Unleash barbarian rage by bathing in gore: As Shanna uses her powerful moves to tear her foes asunder, she is splashed with their gouts of blood; similarly, when Shanna takes damage, her own blood flows out of the wounds. Over the course of a battle, she eventually becomes covered in gore from head to toe.
  • The more blood Shanna is covered in, the more quick and powerful her attacks are. This encourages the player to throw themselves headlong into battle, and risk death to gain stronger offensive abilities.
  • Dive into a healing spring to recover: At checkpoints along her path, Shanna finds isolated healing springs. She may dive in, emerging with the gore washed off of her body and her wounds healed, losing her bloodbath-derived combat buffs but refilling her health.
  • Get new stuff by shopping: Shanna gathers valuables from her fallen foes, and may barter with traveling traders she encounters along her journey. She may buy additional empty vials to fill at healing springs which provide partial rejuvenation in the field, as well as charms which increase her attributes, upgrades which improve her current weapon, and new scanty outfits to show off her form.
  • Ride beasts: Shanna may jump on beasts she encounters and ride them as a mount. Wild beasts must be tamed with a balance-based bucking bronco minigame, while saddled beasts wrestled from her foes are immediately ridable. Beasts are hulking creatures, capable of striking down most foes with ease: beasts are strong against normal-sized and large human enemies, and evenly matched with other beasts; their weakness is in fighting swarms of small enemies, which overwhelm them with their agility and numbers. Shanna must dismount and fight off these sorts of enemies lest she see her beast dragged down by the mob. Similarly, Shanna is weak against beasts and large humans, but equally matched with normal-sized humans and strong against little guys. Shanna and the tamed beasts' relative strengths and weaknesses mean that neither is a silver bullet for all enemy types. When riding a beast, Shanna's mount may grapple with another beast, locking the two into a struggle for power. During this struggle, Shanna may leap across and slay the rival beast rider, wrestling his mount into submission.
  • To complete her quest, Shanna must defeat the powerful marauders who generations earlier stole a sacred artifact from her people, retrieve the artifact and return it to her homeland, whereupon she is crowned warrior queen and leads her valiant tribe into a harmonious future.
That sounds like fun to me, anyway. Godspeed, Secret Level!


Diego / Kimari / IndigoStatic said...

To be honest, that design feels shallow. Over-sexualized female protagonist, over the top violence, power-ups that rely on blood, beast riding ... it's god of war with a twist.

But I can't really complain, not every game has to innovate, some of them have to refine the already accepted mechanics. The problem surfaces when there are just too many games based on the same mechanics. Lucky for you, the hack & slash genre is not a dead horse just yet (it's just poisoned, covered with acid and on fire)

Steve gaynor said...

Yeah, it's pulp, and it's variation on genre. But I can see the joy in just letting loose with a genre game and trying to make it fun and engaging; that in itself is clearly not a simple task. I mean, I love a lot of games today including some frivolous romps, and it could be fun to just dig in and knock out something like that. I'd enjoy playing the game in this post, even if it wouldn't change the world. Sometimes I do like to lay off the manifesto-driven stuff.I'm a complex man, I've got duality.

Diego / Kimari / IndigoStatic said...

Haha, everybody loves to play some brainless games every now and then. Call it guilty pleasure or whatever you like.
Smashing an ablaze zombie head onto an unsuspecting space dinosaur with gruesome results is childish, gory and exceptionally over the top... and we love it for that.

But then again, this kinds of games don't drive the media forward, they don't try new things, they don't make new genres, they just limit themselves to what has been proven successful. As I said before, there is nothing wrong with this kind of games, but there's an over-saturation going on right now on the market and we are desperately drowning in our own drool made of space marines, sex and gritty violence.

jayo said...

sometimes when i play games, i imagine what the game would be like without combat. sometimes i think it could be amazing. replace the combat with sundry other designs: stealth, collecting, clues/puzzles, cultivation, malleable relationships, whatever. maybe have a couple random "boss" encounters featuring combat.

i wish more games had less combat. i think thats the key to nudge video games away from the creepy male uber alles/hypersexualized females fantasyland, and towards mainstream acceptance.

Steve gaynor said...

Well I will say that there is more to game design than high concept. This pitch is an attempt to deliver on the chosen concept in ways that present the player with interesting systemic choices as well as expressing relevant aspects of the fictional aesthetic through gameplay.