Get this: One game world, dozens of games.
What is it? A single, sandbox virtual setting that is open to third-party developers for developing games, shows, or anything they like.
Working Title: Dove City
Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise has hit a wall. Don’t get me wrong, I love the lavish detail of V‘s fictional state of San Andreas. And, the multi-character gameplay is incredible. And, the Heists are doing fantastically. Adverbially and financially speaking.
But, all of these things are symptoms of the fact that the franchise has hit a wall. That wall is one of scale. The open-world aspect of the game has become so remarkably broad a simulation that it overwhelms even the admittedly engaging story and characters. This is why three playable characters still feel dwarfed by the world in which they live. This is why Heists is necessary. Or … are necessary. Or whatever.
GTA has outgrown its premise for some time now—thus the tradition of extensive downloadable content (DLC)—and so have its clones and many other franchises. Some critics think all of these video game franchises should just be shut down. I’m not quite that pessimistic. I think the standard series like GTA, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo can be salvaged with some core tweaks. I’ve discussed how to save AC‘s seafaring trope before, but I think the satiric, modern-day, urban trope of GTA can be saved as well.
A game that started as, let’s be honest, a car-stealing version of Pac-Man is no longer really about grand theft auto and hasn’t been for several iterations. Michael de Santa does yoga, for crying out loud! The game’s storyline now strains to incorporate stealing cars as even a tangential theme, and strains only slightly less hard to make the stories about crime.
GTA is now really a combination of social satire and all-purpose simulation. To a lesser extent, open-world games created by other studios like Ubisoft and Bioware have also morphed into all-purpose simulations as the studios strive for greater and greater immersive realism. The AC series has been particularly successful at creating settings that could easily house completely different stories from the one they were ostensibly built to house.
And, this is a huge waste of potential. So, that brings us to …
The Natural Next Step : Setting as Platform
Let’s do a little historical analysis. After all, Santayana’s advice works in the inverse as well. Those who know history are best prepared to repeat it better.
The first video game consoles, way back in the funky clunky 1970s, just played games from the console manufacturer, and only later were opened up to third party designers. Likewise, Microsoft opened up personal computer programming TK in the 1980s by allowing Windows to be a platform for other companies to write programs.
This is where open-worlds should go from here. The various GTA and AC style video game settings should be stand-alone virtual reality simulations, open for third-party (3P) content available as DLC.
Need a concrete example? Let me pitch a GTA-style, satirical, modern-day setting as our platform for 3P DLC. Let’s set it in a fictionalized Washington DC (and environs) and let’s call it Dove City. This is a double-layered wink, since the initials of Dove City come out the same as for District of Columbia, and the etymology of “columbus” is “dove.” And, considering all of the war-mongering political satire this placement opens up, the name is also ironic.
From here on out, the satirical winks will go largely unexplained. But, they’re there if you look for them. 😉
Sure, Dove City would center on the eponymous metropolis, but the setting’s landscape could reach from the northern part of the Commonwealth of Victoria through Dove City itself and the State of Queensland to the seaside Del’ouest, which could feature the Ocean City setting I’ve pitched before as a crime drama. This virtual world would be bounded by water along the south and east, by mountains on the north and west, with a National Forest tucked into the northwest corner between mountain ranges.
There would be plenty of urban possibilities in the broad, marble avenues of Dove City itself and in the gritty streets of the port of Calverton. Just for S&G, and for a little due dignity on which to hang the satire, the major buildings in the fictional Dove City—like the Capitol and the “Bathingborn Monument”—could be based on historical but rejected designs of their real-world counterparts.
On the edges of these cities would be various suburban settings, like media mecca Tinwater, old town Abingdon, quirky and artsy Honden, and upscale Spearville. There would be individual towns, including the college town of Montcharlotte, towns built up around the naval bases at Nautipeak and Academia, the historical get-aways of Armory Bridge and Warfields, and the capitol of Del’ouest, Clover. There would also be plenty of rural farmland, forests, mountains, beaches, and the littoral estuaries near Ancoteague.
Heck, we could even put the Dove City Zoo on the river, like I’ve proposed we do with the National Zoo.
And, being set in the capitol city opens up the game world for national or even global possibilities.
What To Do in Dove City
For example, a 3P developer could release a series of games set up as episodic fiction—I’ve touched on this idea before when discussing better ways to do open-world games. Rather than the single, epic, extended storyline typically stapled onto game worlds by primary developers, the prime dev for Dove City could simply set up the game world as a free roam area with adjustable parameters, then 3P developers could release short DLC story games in series, periodically like a television show.
These episodic games could take any form that series take in non-interactive entertainment: medical drama, police procedural, mystery, even urban fantasy and sci-fi. The funding for these episodics could use a pay model, product placement funding, or a combination. Instead of GTA-style parody products on billboards, you’d see ads for real-world products.
The setting could also host multiple MMORPG iterations from 3P developers, each with a different genre emphasis, with different authority presence (i.e., how fast do the cops shut you down if you go on a rampage) and different play features. The popular zombie apocalypse modes of existing open-world games are only a hint of the possibilities! The basic Dove City platform could host GTA-style crime sprees, horror-themed iterations, super-hero iterations, trading games, alien invasions, anything the 3P developers could imagine.
Again, the genre range for such MMORPGs is as broad as in non-interactive entertainment.
And, these MMORPG iterations could spawn virtual reality shows. Imagine clips of weird virtual taxi rides (crowd-sourced by players!) woven into a half-hour show, or a news show based on partially player-driven events in one of the more realistic MMORPG iterations.
3P developers could also create sports games inside the setting. For example, the Calverton Crows and Dove City Hawks could play each other and/or other fictional teams in a fictional football league. These games could stand alone as their own MMORPGs, or the 3P devs could recruit top scorers to play “professionally” in games where most players logging in were spectators.
The same model could drive sports DLCs based on basketball, soccer, boxing,
Who’s up for an all-purpose virtual reality platform?