The Million Dollar Question

I occasionally get asked what game I would make if I had a million dollars or some other large sum of money. This is one of those questions (like “Where are you from?”) that irritate me because I can’t really answer them.

I have a ton of ideas for things I’d like to do and that might turn into something. If I had a million dollars, I’d develop a lot of those ideas as cheaply as I could and then pick one to expand, polish and release. Or I’d get a bunch of super-creative people together for a couple of days and see what happens. I don’t have this one dream concept lying in a desk drawer, and I’d worry if I did.

But back in 2001 I was asked that question in an interview for a job at Ion Storm Austin, and instead of explaining why I didn’t like the question I told this group, about 10 people from one of the hottest development teams back then, about this crazy game idea I had. (TL;DR: I didn’t get the job.)

A guy I worked with once remarked that Lara Croft’s view of the world in the original Tomb Raider resembled that of a psychotic character: everything is grim and trying to attack you. This goes for a lot of games, not just Tomb Raider, but I thought it was an interesting point. And it led me to the following idea:

Imagine the US, anytime between the last ten years and the near future. Society has a problem. People are frequently running amok and killing others indiscriminately. (I mean more than in our world.) Nobody knows why, but the FBI has an elite squad of agents who can sense these attacks a short time before they happen, and then rush in to prevent it from happening, or at least to limit the damage. And you are one of those agents.

In between missions you’re in your elite squad base, watching TV. Then you or someone else gets a hunch, and you run off to some mall or square or public building to find and stop some man or woman about to snap and go crazy. Then you go back to your base to watch TV, and you’ll see an anchorperson reporting about some incident, a terrorist tried to attack, brave officers saved the day, etc.

But then, over time, something starts to change. Little things you see in the corner of your eye. Little flashes. Monstrous shapes that turn back into normal people. This happens more and more. Your colleagues start asking if you’re OK, but you insist on you’re fine and continue to go on missions. And then you realize you understand what those people, the people who snap and need to be taken out, are screaming about. You realize you can sometimes see what they are seeing. A grim world, all brown and grey, populated by monsters. (A world from mid-90s Quake-likes.)

Pretty soon you see this world all the time. And the monsters are coming for you. And you have to defend yourself.

And then you’re not in your base, watching TV. You’re skulking through alleyways, cradling your gun, catching glimpses of the news through the windows of bars. Some madman is on the loose, they say. A rogue officer.

And you know you’re former colleagues aren’t far behind.

So in the end you get shot because you’re crazy (OR ARE YOU). Basically it’s an elaborate joke to say something about how first-person shooters used to be. The setting doesn’t fully make sense and I don’t know if the game would even work as a game. Ironically, the chances of this getting made are not bad these days, and there might even be an audience for it if you did a good job. In 2001, in a commercial context, it was not the best answer, and I didn’t get the job. Over 10 years later, it’s at least an amusing anecdote.

Comments 4

  1. Dave Rickey wrote:

    I would play that game. It sounds cool, but then I’m a weirdo that thinks “You’re a video game character, Max” is the greatest piece of Mind Screw ever written for a game.

    –Dave

    Posted 28 Feb 2012 at 9:45
  2. tametick wrote:

    It sounds more like you want to make a movie than a game to me ;)

    Posted 28 Feb 2012 at 17:13
  3. Anna wrote:

    I like it, my other half just said he would play that game…

    I know what you mean about timing, though it’s not like the early 2000′s were not without their curve ball plots, but there is a lot more market to put things out to these days, and so much more scope for getting ideas out at a reasonable budget, maybe that’s why we are seeing a little more daring, innovation once again in games?

    Either way, great idea…

    Posted 18 Mar 2012 at 6:10
  4. Jurie wrote:

    @Ido: This idea was more story-driven than mechanics-driven, yes. But it wouldn’t work as well as a movie. The whole point is that it says something about games. A lot of concepts I have lying around are like that.

    Posted 19 Mar 2012 at 9:10