You know how it is. The badass hero of the story does all the shooty stabby bits while the decidedly less charismatic friend taps away at a computer while chattering in the hero’s earpiece. It lacks a bit of the lead role’s romance, to be sure, but I think there’s a story in it.
Now, we’ve seen games showcasing more technical subject matter. That particular aspect wouldn’t be much of a leap. No, what I think would make prime fodder for some interesting new perspectives is a game entirely from the viewpoint of the hero’s computer taming sidekick.
I’m thinking a visual novel, though I wouldn’t be averse to someone like Telltale Games or Dontnod Entertainment taking the reins. However, by its very nature, a visual novel provides far more possibilities for branching paths and choices than most other types of games, so let’s go with that. Here’s my pitch.
“I need this door open, NOW!”
Yep, that’s your partner, still clearly under the impression that hacking skills are enhanced by whining. Coincidentally, you were already set to open the door but now seems like a good time to take a nice long sip of your tea.
Suddenly, a prompt appears.
“Open door” or “drink some tea”
That’s right, it’s a choice-based game! Do you help your partner who’s clearly in distress, or have some tea and enjoy a petty victory?
You decide to be a rebel and choose the tea. Our hero will probably be fine for a few seconds.
One bullet to the shoulder later and your earpiece is filled with what you can only assume is Yosemite Sam with Tourette’s. With a twinge of guilt, you open the door, as the text “Hero will remember that” hovers at the top of the screen.
Later on, after the mission is over, you’re back at your house. You’ve just finished either cooking a hearty lasagna or a delicate quiche (choices!) when you hear an all too familiar sound.
BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP
Your hero pager is going off. Time for yet another mission. You’d prefer to box your dinner up for later, but the bleep means it’s urgent, and potentially a life or death situation. Do you head out immediately, or risk a little time to make sure your meal won’t go bad? Remembering your decision on the previous mission, you decide not to agitate things and grab your car keys.
Here’s where the branching out really begins. Depending on your choices, you’ll be spending most of your time either at your apartment or at the hero base. Balancing your work and personal life won’t be easy.
As time goes on, you get called in for more and more missions, but you must use your best judgment to decide whether or not to accept. Do you take the mission to protect a foreign dignitary, or go through with your previous plans to see your mother? Might sound like an easy decision, but maintaining relationships can be tough. Plus, who’s to say the hero can’t handle this alone?
There’s another game mechanic. You can also choose to spend more time with the hero during off hours, helping with training and whatnot. This will take a good chunk of your time, but it could pay off in the future. With the proper training, the hero could start taking missions without your help, allowing you more time to develop and maintain your personal life.
Whatever life you decide to lead, eventually you get called in on a mandatory make-or-break mission. Refusing the mission would lead to one of the game’s endings, where you’ve decided your personal life comes before anything else. It’ll be up to the player whether or not this is seen as a positive or negative conclusion.
Take the mission, however, and you’re tested like never before. Hacking minigames are intense, the hero yells more than usual, and you even periodically get calls from the people in your life, be they friends, family, or romantic interests. Your decisions on this mission determine the direction you’ll take the rest of the game.
Prioritize the personal calls, and you start getting called on fewer missions and instead elect to spend more time with the people close to you. Hang up on them in favor of the mission, and you begin to receive more missions. However, it’s also possible to play the center and keep a perfect balance between the two aspects of your life.
Say you’re finally ready to pop the big question to your sweetheart. You’re down on one knee, ring in hand when all of a sudden…
BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP
In the “middle ground” scenario, the object of your affections may already understand what kind of life you lead and will be willing to let you handle the bleep. Alternatively, if they don’t understand and you take the job, your relationship could be in jeopardy. Or if you reject the call, maybe a lot of people get hurt.
In fact, that gives me an idea for the ending. After you get to make the choice every time a bleep happens, there’s finally one more urgent mission call at the end of the game. You’re sitting at home, either alone or with one of your loved ones, and you hear the bleeping. It goes on for a bit, and the player wonders if they missed the choice prompt when finally the player character either picks it up or hits “ignore.” This all depends on your choices throughout the game, and there will have been enough of them so that it’ll be pretty obvious which one you’d choose.
Unless you played the perfect middle ground, in which case the person sitting with you reaches over and hits “answer” for you. Cool, right? Oh… well, I thought so.
There’s a lot of potential here. If the game is made with a visual novel structure, it allows for more branching choices and endings and lets the writers really develop the characters more than they might have been able to otherwise.
It may not be the best pitch you’ve ever heard, but I like it, and besides, it’s more of a framework. Leave the details in the hands of somebody more creative than I’ll ever be. I’ll just be over here playing Mass Effect for the 20th time while making all the exact same decisions.