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Veteran Member - Level 13
Often I talk about game design, but today I'm going to show you something a game designer like myself might ponder. Mass Effect and XCOM are to popular science fiction series centering around squad combat and war. They're two quite different beasts, but what if we were to put them together?
In the case of Mass Effect, we have a solid tactical third person shooter. You and your teammates have various abilities, you can pause mid-battle to issue orders, prioritize targets, and are in charge of keeping your squad alive throughout each mission. In addition, you explore various planets, handle moral dilemmas, interact with your ship's crew, and manage squad abilities/weapons.
XCOM, on the other hand, is an isometric turn-based strategy game. You still issue commands to a squad, but you are merely a commander who can direct his or her troops. You put their lives on the line, as any of them can die with just one bad stroke of luck or ill-timed maneuver. Similarly, equipment can be broken, and injured soldiers will be stuck healing while the fight goes on. You have limited strength in comparison to your foes, and you must manage the secret XCOM base in order to ensure you can continue to defensive operations against hostile threats.
Both are potent games that could work well in a hybrid form. There is one question that sticks out though -- which type of genre will it be? Will it remain isometric or will it be a third person shooter with tactics? The answer is, it can be both. We have reached the point in gaming where games have already proven that they can be both played as a strategy game and as an action game simultaneously.
Instead of forcing it on the player, the isometric perspective would be optional, like in Brothers in Arms. You can use it to direct your squad and even your protagonist character as they fight through missions. Most of XCOM's scenarios were built around the same concepts as cover-based shooters, with the only difference being that the players and AI had to take turns. Instead, we'll have pause and play. You pause, send your orders, and your squad proceeds. From there, you can take on the role of the protagonist and play it like a third person shooter until you need to issue orders.
Additionally, you can send out a recon unit of crew members ahead, or do a fly-by with your ship. If you get attacked in the meanwhile, or your squad is attacked, you will have to hope that you prepared enough. If any of your scouts make it back, they'll report on the level's layout, giving you a 3D map of the environment. If they make it back unseen, then you have the advantage. But if some of them are killed, or worse, captured, then you have to deal with enemies on high alert. In the case of a captured crew member, you must weigh whether or not it's worth saving them or if you want to attempt a rescue in the middle of battle.
The chance of death is a constant threat, not just something for the end-game. If someone is in a vacuum, needs atmosphere to breath, and has a suit breach, then they're going to be choking within minutes at best. Patch up the suit if you can, or risk losing that member of your crew. Hazardous environments and friendly fire could also potentially kill any crew member. If they survive, they may need cyborg parts to replace their lost limbs, and will require time to heal. This will also make them more vulnerable to EMP weaponry. The trauma of near death and/or constantly being brought on missions will also cause wear and tear on a crew member's mind. Psychological breakdowns could occur in the field.
By default, a certain number of crew members can be recruited by the player, with a bit of story for each member to go alongside the main narrative. However, additional recruits would come from user created crew members. Players can create dialogue trees for their characters, adding to the story in their own way, or just leave the characters as blank slates who merely are guns for hire. As players research technology and purchase new equipment, the crew will progressively gain more abilities, adding incentive to keep as many members alive as possible. Although, a player could build up a strong crew member and get their protagonist up to a similar caliber, and then just hire cannon fodder to take bullets and fill the remaining squad slots.
The player can choose between either a stationary base or a mobile ship base. The stationary base gives the benefit of more space to build various necessities to remain competitive in the game and provides a good fallback area in case an enemy pursues the player. The ship-base allows for immediate extraction from battle, bombing runs, and immediate transfer of goods from shops so the player can use them. Players can optimize for research/experiments, providing armaments for battle, and/or for supporting the player's squad directly*.
*For instance -- bombing runs, orbital bombardments, extractions, efficient medlabs that can heal teammates faster, or stealth recon/stealth extraction
Moral choices will only occur when a major decision is to be made. The player may only make five or so choices over the game, but each set of choices will divert off into their own directions in the narrative. You may have to choose something that will shape the way the universe and your crew look at you, and you'll have to weigh whether achieving your own goals is the right thing.
This would obviously be an otherwise singleplayer game. In theory, co-op could be introduced, but that would make all tactics depend upon player action. At best, you could have a map before each battle that lets you plan out each player and their squad's movements, and then you could coordinate the fight. Still, it would be best to keep online interactions limited to the custom/mod content. Letting players make their own maps to go in addition with auto-generated maps would allow for more variety, along with allowing custom made squadmates be able to have missions specific to them, similar to Mass Effect 2's loyalty missions.
In the end, you would have a personal tale, chances for creativity, and tactically challenging gameplay. AI would need to be up for the challenge, but if you can get a good mission auto-generating system going, and a thriving community, and the game could continue to have new content so long as interest remains.
(*) Plus I'm a masochistic gamer, so that's probably why I like games that are willing to be hard on me so long as they are fair.