Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Radical Video Game Concept


Games like Skyrim offer vast worlds and thousands of things to do. Is there, however, another equally impressive way developers could be creating video games?
It is a common trend in video game design to make each successive generation of games more complicated and expansive than the last. Case in point, a game like World of Warcraft is growing larger and more complex with each expansion. Likewise, each iteration of The Elder Scrolls series adds more layers to the world and gives the player more and more to do.

But is this the right way to go about video game design? While there is of course a market for expansive games such as Skyrim or Oblivion or even Halo 4, there is a severe lack of attention from video game designers given to creating games on a smaller scale.



Imagine, for instance, a game that takes place not in a huge world like Skyrim but on a single street corner in a sparsely populated town. The game world could consist of a gas station, a few houses, police facilities, and maybe a tiny amount of forested area. All in all lets say you could traverse the game world from north to south and east to west in under a minute traveling in a straight direction.

What would be the point you ask? Well, a game with such a constricted area would require developers to spend more time on an aspect of video games that is sorely lacking: AI, or artificial intelligence.

Going back to my original example, lets say your character visits that gas station. Inside, you'll find a few randomly generated NPCs to simulate that type of environment as well as far more intelligent NPCs such as the workers who would always be there. These complex NPCs would follow what would appear to the player to be a daily schedule: opening up shop, tending to customer's needs, and closing at the end of the day. You might say that this sounds like Skyrim, but the key is that because developers are able to concentrate their efforts on this one gas station and not hundreds, the NPCs reactions to the player can be far more realistic.

For example, lets say the player walks in the gas station one day and knocks over the products on the shelves. In a game such as this with highly advanced AI, the workers can try to apprehend you and throw you out, or call the police, or do nothing depending on their personality and traits. If you choose to be reckless in the gas station and get away with it, perhaps the next day the workers will recognize you and threaten to kick you out before you can do anything detrimental again.

It should be obvious now that what I am calling for is a video game that forgoes the vast open world concept in favor of a more constrained one so that developers can focus on creating hyper advanced artificial intelligence for its NPCs.

If my above example is too difficult to achieve on today's hardware, perhaps it can be downsized to being restricted to a single room. Let's say the game consisted of you being a chef in a restaurant and you could only move around the kitchen. However, you can manipulate the other workers as well as the food going out to the guests. With advanced AI you could see how that may lead to some interesting results.

There is a vast section of the video game market left untapped that deals with constrained worlds and hyper advanced AI. Sure, this type of game would be a niche of sorts, but most genres are. Most people would likely appreciate a game with so many possibilities despite having a game world that is anemic in size compared to something like Skyrim. If anything, having a greater selection of genres would be great for gamers in the end, and eventually this type of advanced AI could be applied on a larger scale. 

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