Let’s face it. Some game settings are shamelessly overused. Among them we have jungles, the Middle East, New York City, feudal Japan, high fantasy, World War II, outer space, and high technology science fiction. Within these you also have the cliché snow, fire and water themed levels, mix in military bases and abandoned villages/labs and you have yourself just about every game ever made. There are exceptions to this of course (hence the “just about”), but we’re not going to delve too much on those —the world is full of exceptions and if you’re going to factor in all of them you’ll never get to the point.
So I want to take some time and start talking about the underutilized settings in hopes of drumming up dialogue, or even better, hopefully some great developer will take these ideas and run with them. I want to see some changes in game environments and here are a list of some places that I’d like to see. This is the first of many commentaries I intend to write on this subject, each time I will tackle two underused game settings. Should you have any suggestions for other underused settings please leave them in the comments below.
First on my list is my favorite: The Nordic.
When someone says “the Nordic” you most likely immediately think of Scandinavia, the land of the Vikings. Scandinavia is a majestic landscape with towering mountains that feature rocky cliffs, large fresh water lakes and huge open plains above the tree line. It has an abundance of huge fjords along its western coast (Norway) and a fairytale landscape inland in Sweden and Finland.
From the Images above I’m sure you can see a setting rarely used in video games, the biggest reason for this has always been the scale. Previously towering peaks have always been used as backdrops in games, but it’s something else entirely to turn them into playable environments.
Imagine a third person adventure game set in the Norwegian wilderness. It’d have to be an open world game to accommodate the large scale obviously, but it’d also have to do new things with the camera angles. After all what’s the point of having all this giant beauty around you if the camera’s always pointing downward.
Or imagine running through the dense Swedish forest, dodging obstacles and squeezing yourself through the narrow gap between two trees. To elaborate; imagine a game similar to Mirrors Edge, only instead of navigating the environment vertically with great finesse and speed, you’d do it horizontally with clumpy stumbles and brute force.
I’m not a game designer and I think the implementation of these settings require quite a few work-a-rounds. What I do know however is that the Nordic is a very underused setting that has a lot to offer to anyone keen on devoting time and effort on it.
My second choice is remarkably: Water.
True, water appears regularly in almost any game, it’s even the center of attention in many. So fear not. Games like Bioshock, Ecco the Dolphin, Super Mario Sunshine and even Tomb Raider were taken into consideration. But what I’d like to see goes beyond these games. Bioshock is set in an underwater city but you’re not really in water. Ecco is set almost entirely in water but you’re a dolphin, nothing remarkable about a dolphin in water. Super Mario Sunshine and Tomb Raider fit a bit better into what I’m looking for. Here you have games with large water segments and water themes that are fully interactive and navigational. Of course these games are still largely set on land or in the dry.
Imagine an action adventure game set entirely under water; like in a sinking cruise ship. As the ship lay upside-down on the ocean floor only small pockets of air were left in a select few rooms. It would be a game where the main enemy is the environment itself. Think of the emotional impact of seeing hundreds of dead bodies floating around with great detail and imagine squeezing through a bunch of them to get to the next room.
Water games and water levels have traditionally been plagued by poor gameplay and camera AI. They certainly are a design challenge with the complete third dimensional movement and relative slow pace, but if a game like the one mentioned above is realized it could be the next modern classic of our time. It would certainly be a nice way to reimagine the use of water in games.
I hope this little experiment of mine has whet your appetite and got you dreaming up your own ideal video game setting, which I urge you to share in the comments.