Thursday, October 2, 2014

8 Elements of the Nerd's Perfect Video Game

In this post, I'm going to attempt to distill my favorite features of video games and break them down to components I would love to see make up a single game that would, for The Nerd, be the end all of video games.

Until the sequel comes out, with improved graphics and smell-o-vision.

1. Turn-Based Strategy

This is a must for me. Real-Time Strategy games require too much in regards to practice and memorization. I don't argue that they are fun, but my method of thinking is more analytically, given to examining a situation to make the best decision, without feeling rushed. The strategy aspect highlights this as well -- sure, a turn-based RPG is acceptable, but adding unit location and map variation to conflict scenarios really draws out the strategy-enthusiest in me. And it also highlights the ability to solve a scenario via multiple methods (direct approach, bait and switch, opposed strength/weakness, etc...). I have seen games that use turn-based strategy for an overworld and then something more action-oriented to resolve conflicts... I'd be ok with that as well.
X-COM: Enemy Unknown's Turn-Based, Strategic Combat.

Examples: X-COM: Enemy Unknown had a beautiful system with varied maps, and the fog of war was a nice touch. Banner Saga was another great looking example, which focused on each unit being different, while the maps were not so exciting. A classic example would be Final Fantasy Tactics, though that system is a bit dated and runs too slow compared to recent ventures.

2. Team Building

Being able to grow your team by collecting and grooming new units adds another reason to play the game, aside from the story and combat/conflict. However, these units should be unique or extremely varied, should have different strengths and weakness, and must have different recruitment methods and rarity.
Yeah, 108 characters will work, Suikoden 3.

Examples: The Suikoden series has a roster of 108 characters, which are different across all the games. I've only finished the 3rd game in the series, but it was awesome recruiting such a large cast of characters that had individual stories, unique appearances, and different ways to get them on your team. Pokemon is a better known series that features a collectible, team-building style, and it worked as well. Shin Megami Tensei games have one of the most interest versions of this, with large cast of recruitable monsters, many of which can only be acquired through fusing others... Collectible card games are also appealing in this manner.

3. 'Town' Building

Building a town or location up as you advance in the game is an easy way to make a player invested. It can be a negligible aspect of the game that provides non-mandatory benefits for those who like the simulation-like aspect. Visiting a location you've help 'build' from the ground up is refreshing. Even better if you have to defend it or interact with it during missions. It can also offer an avenue of interacting with the large cast you've recruited above, if they end up relocating to this new location.
One method of "town" building, with X-COM's base screen.

Examples: Suikoden, again, uses this pretty heavily, and it was my absolute favorite part of the third game. I cared less about the main story and more about gathering the "108 Stars of Destiny" in Thomas' castle... XCOM: Enemy Unknown also features a base-building aspect that, while a touch bland, did introduce a puzzle-like aspect and some additional strategy to the overall game. A classic example would be Dragon Quest/Warrior III, which had a town that grew as your progressed the story.

4. Character Evolution

Characters should change throughout the game. Most commonly, this will occur via the story, but that's not the only way to do it. Characters that can unlock abilities that alter the game to a decent degree would work, or characters that undergo a physical change after a certain threshold is met allow the player to set goals based on their characters. Stagnant characters can kill a game fairly easily.
Pokemon Conquest's monsters and 'trainers' could evolve.

Examples: X-COM: Enemy Unknown had your soldiers gaining game-changing abilities as time went on, and their physical appearance changed drastically based on their equipment (and, after the expansion, certain abilities). Pokemon is an obvious choice here, with almost every monster being able to evolve. A less obvious example would be the main character of Knights of the Old Republic, who has a major revelation that is surprising and changes the way the player looks at the character. Similar again to the protagonist in the first Bioshock.

5. The Antagonist's Story

This one is probably the easiest to dispute from this list, but it is absolutely a requirement to be the perfect game for me. Having an opportunity to see the antagonist's story is a minimum. Even better if you can, in some fashion, play through their story. Either as post-game content, or recruiting them to your team, or maybe just given control of them for a couple of sequences.
Magneto was clutch in the final battle of X-Men 2: Clone Wars.

Examples: Chrono Trigger allows you to recruit on of the villains on your team. I'm fairly certain you could play as the antagonists in Suikoden 3, after finishing the main game, but I don't recall. Fallout: New Vegas allowed you to be a villain, and never required you to "save the world" or "fight the bigger evil." Golden Sun: The Lost Ages actually gives you control of some of the main antagonists from the first game, which was awesome. A classic example would be X-Men 2: Clone Wars, where Magneto became a powerful player character after you defeat him in a later level of the game.

6. Variety of Game 'Modes'

Cutscenes separating similar combat scenarios/styles gets boring, eventually. Sure, some games can come to a close before this happens, but I personally love longer titles. My favorite way to break this up is to work in an 'large battle' system or an 'territory conquest view.' These would have different gameplay elements that still required strategy.
Budokai 2 had a board game campaign within a fighting game!

Examples: Suikoden, again, featured this, in the form of large scale battles that gave you control of larger forces that followed different rules when being controlled. X-COM: Enemy Unknown's base building and global management definitely broke up the monotony of repeated turn-based battles. A classic example would be Ogre Battle 64, which had to methods of play - a map view, where you moved your forces around, and a combat mode that played like a typical RPG. The Devil Survivor series also mixed turn-based strategy with traditional RPG elements. Even Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 had a "campaign mode" that worked in a boardgame element. When pieces on the gameboard met, the combat would take place via traditional fighting game combat -- the losing player lost their piece.

7. An In-Depth, Variable Story

Several of the strategy games I play don't bother with a continuous, in-depth story. And the story should present you with options or opportunities that change the way the game plays, so that there is still a motivation to replay the game.
Mass Effect's Decision Tree. Notice how 3 goes off on its own...

Examples: On the negative side, neither Pokemon Conquest nor X-COM: Enemy Unknown have in-depth, persistent stories. They focus on generic or minor stories, with a focus on replayability. This works for them, but I'd prefer something continuous, and with a variety of meaningful choices. The Fallout games have always featured this. Something like the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series, however, where the choices made persist through multiple games, would be even better. Though Mass Effect specifically missed many good opportunities...

8. Appealing Setting/Theme

For me, an appealing setting or theme could pull from an existing universe (Marvel, Star Wars, etc...) or feature elements I enjoy (post-apocalypse, space travel, etc...). Generic fantasy would be hard to feel original, though it could be done. I'd love to see something in this format that includes giant mechs...
A turn-based RPG that uses Gundams? Oh, yes please, MS Saga: A New Dawn

Examples: The Front Mission series features giant mechs, which I love. Fallout has the post-apocalyptic angle covered, and Knights of the Old Republic was awesome for its innovative storytelling AND the fact that it was set in the Star Wars universe.

Games that blur the lines.

There have been some titles that have blurred the lines and mixed some of my favorite elements, though I know of none to get them all:

Pokemon Conquest - Combines Team Building, Variety of Game Modes, Character Growth, Variety of Game Modes, Appealing Setting/Theme. Technically it also hits The Antagonist's Story, though that's because there isn't a true antagonist. I love how it mixes Pokemon with Nobunaga's Ambition for the setting/theme. The strategy aspect is a bit too basic and easy, and there is no 'true' consecutive story, but this game comes pretty damn close.

Suikoden Series - Team Building, Town Building, The Antagonist's Story, Variety of Game Modes. And there are two titles in the series that feature Turn-Based Strategy. These games are pretty awesome, though each suffers from a variety of issues. I would love to see a new, next-gen entry into the series.

Fallout Series - Turn-Based Strategy (in 1, 2, and Tactics), Team Building, Town Building, Character Evolution, An In-Depth, Variable Story, Appealing Setting/Theme. The post-apocalyptic setting gets me every time...

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (Conquest Mode) - Turn-Based Strategy (via galactic map), Team Building (you had to unlock different units as time progressed), Town Building (you collected planets as you won battles), The Antagonists Story (you could be the Empire!), Multiple Game Modes (board game-like galactic map and then combat as a 3rd Person Shooter), Appealing Setting/Theme (Star Wars!). This game had a lot to love. With some polished combat and maybe a story-driven conquest mode, it could have been damn near perfect for me!

If you have any games that hit multiple points here, let me know in the comments! Also, if there are different elements you'd need for your perfect game, I'd love to read about them! Right now I'm playing MS Saga: A New Dawn and... Well, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which doesn't mix any of my favorite elements, really, but is still pretty damn awesome!


  1. Lets start a Skype or Google hangout podcast. We pick 1 night a week, and we prepare 5 things each for us to talk about, review, and joke about. We can, of course, infuse said discussion with humor and whatnot.

    1. I'm down. Though my most available time would be late at night. Like. 10-11 or 11-12.

      But yeah, I'm game. Do we have a name?