The lights are on
When it comes to video games, sci-fi fans have always been
blessed. Not only has there always been an abundance of games set in the final
frontier, but select sci-fi franchises have played an important role in the
industry. Shooters like Halo, Resistance, and Killzone have been trumpeted by Microsoft
and Sony as reasons to buy their respective consoles, and there's no shortage
of gamers who would call Mass Effect their favorite current-gen RPG series and
StarCraft II their favorite RTS. But whenever I play a game set "where no man
has gone before," I can't help feeling to the contrary, due to some key sci-fi characteristics
that haven't been fully explored by the industry. Caution: This will be the
nerdiest thing you read today.
Flexing Your Creative
Muscle:To me, the most valuable attribute that a sci-fi story affords
its creators and consumers is the unabashed creativity that the fiction can
support. When you're dealing with outer space, no sci-fi gadget is too
impractical and no alien too ridiculous. The original Star Trek television series reveled in its own absurdity, and was the
better for it, but most sci-fi games are surprisingly practical.
It's not that franchises
like Halo and Resistance lack creativity, but many of their design choices feel
like they're driven by necessity, with aliens broken down into familiar enemy
types, and weapons that conform to common gameplay mechanics. I don't just want
to play a game with creative elements -- I want a game that celebrates its
The Mass Effect series does an admirable job of striking a
Star Trek-esque vibe with its wide array of
sentient species -- you never know what kind of strange creature you'll
encounter at the next space port. Unfortunately, you only interact with most of
these creatures through a dialogue tree, and Mass Effect's gameplay is standard
Making a game that plays well will always be a developer's
top priority, so it's understandable that some concessions need to be made when
crafting an out-of-this-world adventure. However, if you really want to capture
the attention of a sci-fi nerd like me, don't be afraid to have fun with your
fiction. Seemingly impractical design choices can spark interesting histories and
politics for your aliens and worlds. It's better to be campy and interesting
than too serious and boring.
Space Is The Place:Here's the thing: a lot of science fiction may be full of ultra-powerful
weapons and exotic alien babes, but there's really only one fantasy that
defines the genre -- exploring the unknown. When Luke stares wistfully at Tatooine's
setting suns, he's not thinking about how to best conserve his ammo or what ship
upgrades he wants to invest in. He's yearning to experience something beyond the
constraints of his boring life. In a way, that's the same reason many of us
play video games, but somehow sci-fi games always seem to muck up their sense
of exploration and discovery.
Both installments of Mass Effect managed to make exploring
the galaxy a grind. The Mako sequences from the first game let you feel what it
was like to set foot on an alien world, but every planet you went to was
painfully barren. It may have been realistic from a scientific standpoint, but
if exploring a planet is so boring that it feels like a chore, you've missed
In a way, Mass Effect 2 was even worse; it forwent hands-on
exploration for a tedious mineral scanning minigame. Occasionally you could land on a planet for
an impromptu mission, but these were comprised of linear levels that
played out like any other shooter.
Virtually every sci-fi game on the market tasks players with
the same mission: Save the planet/galaxy/universe from certain doom! Compare
that to the mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise,
which most nerds probably have memorized: "To explore strange new worlds, to
seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone
before." Which sounds more fun to you? I've already saved the world more times
than I can count -- let me discover a new one instead.
Exploring Minecraft's blocky worlds is more fun than most sci-fi games
As odd as it may sound, the game that I think best captures the
excitement of discovering a strange new planet isn't a sci-fi game at all -- it's
Minecraft. Every player who starts Mojang's sandbox game is given his or her own
unique world, and gameplay strikes a perfect mix between exploration and
survival. And you can forget mineral scanning -- Minecraft makes gathering
resources fun and rewarding at the same time. Throw in some rudimentary tools
that allow you to create your own structures, and it's no wonder over a million
gamers have already bought the beta.
If a sci-fi game could translate Minecraft's
essence into discovering and colonizing alien worlds, it wouldn't need
action-packed set pieces or a plot that places the universe in peril -- the sense
of spreading humanity's reach through the galaxy would be satisfying enough. Not
that shooting some aliens every now and then would be a bad thing...
Up Next: Ships, Squads, and Space Combat...
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.
If all of these were implemented into ME3 it would be the greatest game of all time
I think it would be cool to have a few parts where you shift to a different character for a bit to complete a certain task, and then go back to P1 to continue fighting
this article is hitting everything that i hated about mass effect 1&2 right on the nail!!! i want to explore new planets, learn the lay of the land from npcs, access the extranet(mass effect's version of the internet) or something. mass effect 1 had light rpg elements at best, and mass effect 2 was mostly shooter campaigns. xenogear is a good example of exploration in a sci fi universe.
i wanna see space combat like star wars battlefront 2, now that was good space battles!
This list would make such an awesome sci-fi game. Like people are saying I believe it's just a matter of time. But serenity/firefly hell yeah! They really made the ship have a soul, and all the crew members had such heart, if those factors were implanted into a sci-fi game, it'd be fantastic.
I totally agree. Where are the space battles? Nothing good since X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. Maybe if Bethesda, Bioware and Rockstar got together we could have something really special for space.
I LOVE big space battles, like the ones in Star Wars: Empire at War but NOT like the timesoaker game EVE online. I would like something RPG oriented with opportunities to play a part in huge space battles with supercarriers, dreadnoughts and what-have-you.
I thought reading this about Asimov's Foundation series would make some great RPG games
I say EVE Online may be on it's way to making something similar to this. Though it may be many years, Dust 514 will be making headway soon. Dust 514 FPS elements mixed with EVE's MMO elements just might inspire some to make something even closer to what suggested in this article.
wow - great posting Jeff! Sounds like its time for you to sell this concept to a large studio. You'll need someone with deep pockets to make it worth while. What you suggest here would be an ideal blockbuster sci-fi game. I can't think of anything else I would add...
Nice job covering just about everything, although I would like to have the ability to jump out of my fighter in space and land on an enemey starship with a jetpack or maybe latch on to an enemey fighter kill the pilot and highjack it.
This list of ideas actually sounds like it could make for a great sci-fi game! I loved how you went into detail with each aspect and gave plenty of examples throughout (although I do have to say that I enjoyed playing Mass Effect). If this concept can somehow be created and implemented into a decent game, I'm sold all the way!
I like to think of myself as a nerd, and all the ideas sound good to me. But I haven't even been able to get all the way through Mass Effect 2 because I dont have enough time.
I'd like to see epic scale space combat. Being able to get into a ship and fly from ground level on a planet and board an enemy vessel or reinforce a friendly vessel, while an intense ground battle rages below and in the atmosphere. On the ships characters running around repairing the ship and firing on the other ship or manning attack craft. The potential for such a game is crazy huge. This is where I saw the Star Wars Battlefront series going before it got scrapped. They had the land battles, they had the ship battles, they just needed to shoot some adrenaline into the system, smooth up the online play, and combine the two level types.
Whew... that was a long response....