Excellent games that don't exist: The Final Boss
We all love video games, right? That’s why I write these things and you’re here reading them, yeah? Cool, cool. And you know, as writers on a gaming site that reviews games, it wouldn’t be crazy to think that we might have a pretty good handle on what’s dope and what’s not so dope in game design, right? Right. So, as we all probably do, I figured that considering all of this, it might be a pretty fun idea to describe for you all, as a sort of, catharsis, an idea I have for an excellent game, which, as far as I know, does not exist yet.
And so, without further ado, I present what may someday be the first of many “Excellent games that don’t exist”, something I’d like to call The Final Boss. Be gentle.
The short version:
The game I’m thinking of is sort of a backwards Shadow of the Colossus where you play as a boss-style creature that systematically defeats varied and increasingly more difficult heroes who come to challenge it, while simultaneously growing in size and power. Framing this will be a surprisingly intellectual and literary narrative that deals with themes of fate vs. free will and the inevitability of defeat. Deep, right?
The long version:
At the beginning of the game, your character is a monstrous little baby, no more than a foot long and one of the last living members of a once great civilization, now on its deathbed. Almost no words are ever said, and all the exposition that you get at the top is a sick looking caravan of monster men, possibly led by your father, dropping you off inside an empty but beautiful palace and locking you in by yourself. The last words you ever hear from others like you implore you to guard this place with your life, and you are just barely able to drag yourself into the center of the first giant atrium before the power within the palace seems to possess you, and you fall into the first of many long and silent slumbers.
The next time you open your eyes, it's a century later, and you have been awoken with a start. You only have a few moments to notice how the surrounding flora has begun to encroach upon your palace, and that you've physically matured into something akin to your fellow monster men when a noise draws you towards the entrance. You arrive at the doorway just in time to see it roll shut behind a scrawny young man with a sword, lean and desperate-looking, who immediately and violently attacks you with the urgency of someone afraid of what he must do.
This first fight is simple, perhaps some sort of quick-time event, but it is the graphic and intimate struggle of two fighters who've never fought before. This frightened little person almost kills you, perhaps even wounds you in a way that scars you for the duration of the game, but then a pair of blades you didn't know you had slides out of your arms, and you gore his guts apart, killing him instantly.
As you sit there in the mess you've made, this dead kid's blood is suddenly drawn to you like iron filings to an electromagnet, and maybe your eyes turn red, and with the crunch of what sounds like your bones and a cry of pain that evokes Link's pain at transforming in Majora's Mask, you seem to grow ever so slightly larger. As you regain your composure, a timer appears on screen indicating that you have one hour until you fall asleep again, and your wonder at this turn of events that's forced your hand to murder entices you to do what you can to explore your palace and attempt to uncover the secrets behind your purpose there.
The exploration portion of the game plays out like something between a dungeon from Zelda and the puzzles in Myst, but without a promise of success. The palace is filled with dead ends and the smallest little pieces of discoverable text, audio, and video; just enough to dangle the possibility of answers in front of you, but far too much to comprehend in a single hour. It is also an unforgivably dangerous place, where it's oppressively easy to fall to your death or be crushed behind a moving wall or under a turning gear. Still, after sixty minutes, you fall asleep for another hundred years.
When you wake up, there is another intruder, perhaps this time with a bow, or maybe an affinity for climbing or swinging around, but inevitably, you defeat him, absorb his blood, grow, perhaps this time gaining the ability to float briefly or lift more, and after all this, earn another hour of exploration. This happens a few more times, with more varied intruders, and more powers gained with your continually increasing size and the different chemicals and shrines you can find that influence the way in which you mature, until suddenly, you're twenty feet tall, you're able to defeat much more formidable foes, and you're beginning to form a somewhat clearer picture of the story behind your duty. Your people have gone back to their world, and intend to come back some day and destroy this one with the power housed deep below your palace. You continue from there, continuing to be forced to protect the palace, at the very least in order to be able continue your exploration.
Depending on your actions in the palace, and the cruelty with which you dispatch your enemies, a personal story arc begins to form for your character that either has to do with slowly realizing you're the villain that a succession of people with good and noble intentions has been trying to stop and figuring out whose side you're on, or knowing you're a villain the whole time and rectifying your actions with the final outcome of total destruction, and trying to find purpose in it.
Finally, the climax of the game arrives, in which a hero whose victory over evil was told of in the ancient prophesies sprinkled throughout the palace, and when you finally defeat him, you're mortally wounded in the fight, and brought back down to the size you were at beginning when you murdered your first hero. You are then granted as much time as you want to explore the rest of what's left of your palace all these centuries later before you return to sleep one last time, this time for three thousand years.
When you wake up again for the final moments of the game, the palace is almost totally ruined, and there's one last meager little hero at the door, and your blades slide out, and after all you've been through, you have to choose to either reject your fate and allow yourself to be defeated for the good of the world, or set into motion another chain of murders that will eventually result in the death of literally everything. In this game, you truly are THE FINAL BOSS.
So why did I make the choices that I did in talking about how this game works? Why, for example is there almost no talking, and no real guidance for what to do in the hours between fights? And why is it so scary, and why does the game only placate you with small pieces of information at a time? Simple. Taking a page out of the book of Demon’s Souls and Shadow of the Colossus, I want to create a gameplay environment that feels almost indifferent to the actions of the player. Sure, our main character has basic objectives like “Kill the guy who’s about to kill you”, but games begin to feel phony when it seems like the entire world that it takes place in is laid out simply for you to defeat. Having a world like that would also damage the feeling of loneliness I want to create around being a boss. I think this story would be successful when it feels like a lone entity deciding whether it’s good or bad without any real outside guidance, and having a palace that seems to be intentionally built for someone to solve starts to make known the presence of some guiding entity, and silent friend who may not be physically with you throughout the game, but has at least done his best to make sure you never feel lost or hopeless. This is to coddle the player, and I think it’s unnecessary. And besides, it feels at lot more like exploration when you actually have no idea what you’re going to find.
Anyway, that's it for this edition of "Excellent games that don't exist". I hope that even if you think this idea is flawed that you enjoyed being able to disagree with me. In any case, leave your comments below, and tell me what you think of this idea, or give me other ones that you might have. If this goes well, who knows? Maybe we'll do another one of these.