How to begin.
To explain the title, I’ve once been accused of “anti-Quake BS” with regard to some new gameplay elements I introduced to the Remake Quake (mod) project while I was on the team. I have been called and accused of a lot of other things during that time (such as “killing the Quake community”), but “anti-Quake BS” must surely take the cake. It’s creative, at least.
Well, space marines, better brace yourselves.
In the last few months, I’ve been tackling some fundamental issues. Dropping the Quake engine brought up a number of things I had been diffusely unhappy with for a long time, ever since SJ split off of the Remake Quake project.
These issues are connected to what Quake is, and what SJ automatically inherited from that project. The core gameplay of gratuitous violence and shooting things in the face to beat the level (which we actually intensified in RMQ by making it play more like DOOM).
That kind of gameplay no longer really appeals to me.
Neanderthals in make-up
I have developed a dislike toward the ultra-simple formula of “here’s a gun, now take that hill.” Pointing and clicking so the target falls over is one of the most simplistic gameplay mechanics ever. It’s somewhat shocking how many multimillion dollar games, despite being encrusted in shiny graphics and helped by tons of art talent, use this same primitive core mechanic. In other words, we advance the graphics, we hire incredible artists, but our core gameplay mechanic is about as challenging as Pong.
I mean, Minesweeper is literally more challenging than Call of Duty. Shooters have become casual games, that’s why Call of Duty sells like hotcakes. I know certain people won’t like it, but those 48% female gamers who a bunch of teenage males believe are “not real gamers” because they might largely be playing Minesweeper or Solitaire… might actually be playing the more challenging games.
But most modern shooters basically amount to club-toting neanderthals in expensive make-up. Or put differently: Frantic polishing of sixty-dollar turds instead of evolving the core gameplay into something better.
What to do about it? The story of SJ is still that of a conflict and what it does to people. There is going to be violence in it because that’s part of the setting and the narrative. Some of the factions in SJ are not only not nice, they actively hate another faction’s guts for some irrational reasons. The game is going to show that, graphically, because it matters. It is needed to drive a point home, just like Colonel Kurtz needs to get killed and soldiers need to be surfing in a war zone in Apocalypse Now to drive a point home.
But as for actual combat involving the player, I’m not going to reward the player for pointless violence anymore. It’s true that enemies have loot, which is the fuel of the game. So combat == loot. But that’s not going to be the end of it. Combat will also mean: You get more tainted; your relations to everyone in the game are affected, partly negatively; you lose resources in order to gain some; and you’ll seriously risk getting shot. Combat in SJ is going to be like attacking a cop in downtown LA. They are going to call a SWAT team on you. The player is no longer going to be all-powerful. You’ll be disabled after two or three hits.
So for combat, I’ll take a page out of Metal Gear Solid and even Mirror’s Edge rather than Quake. You’ll be able to overhear interesting chatter between enemy soldiers if you don’t attack the patrol. Heck, you might find out door codes and other goodies if you don’t kill them. You’ll be rewarded for being sneaky. You’ll be given gifts if you don’t kill certain people, just like with the little sisters in Bioshock, only they’re not little sisters here at all. You’ll be rewarded for dropping a stolen medevac beacon for your enemies after they’re beaten. And so on.
Most importantly, Scout will refuse to attack disabled enemies; she might even refuse to shoot people in the back. You get the idea.
Loot will be easier to acquire by just exploring and staying hidden. Exploration is at the heart of the game anyway, so why not make it the best, easiest way to get “fuel”?
Following this line of thinking, I have removed typical shooter weapons from the game, most importantly the shotgun. Shotguns are an icon of old school shooter games; they’re often the prime method of removing an incoming horde of zombies or whatever enemy concept you’re dealing with. Just remember DOOM. SJ is just not a shotgun type of game. Equally, SJ has no assault rifles – the icon of most recent shooter games (and of American gun culture.) This will hopefully make it abundantly clear.
Out of similar considerations, I’ll probably drop multiplayer (not co-op) despite having a design doc for it; it’s too far on the pointless-violence side of things and that’s not what the game is.
Tropes vs… quality, in fact
As well as looking into the issues surrounding violence, I looked into issues of gender. And believe me, that was not pretty. Did you know that games with exclusively female leads get a lot less money from publishers (around 40%), and also sell worse? Bummer. Not to mention the ubiquitous issue that game artists apparently routinely take their reference images straight from Playboy but are unfazed by accusations of sexism.
Naturally, I’ve been watching Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. I’ve had hours-long discussions about it. I’ve looked into Gamergate. I’ve looked into gun culture, mass shootings (did you know that almost all shooters are male?), and issues surrounding our idea of masculinity (which seems to be from the stone age.) I’ve seen how women are harassed in online games. I’ve looked into sexism. And after weeks of research, I have to say that 99% of what the feminists say is unfortunately true. I had no idea what women have to deal with every day. I was a little shocked. It is like looking into the abyss, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.
You might call me a “social justice warrior” or insult my manhood or whatever else it is that people on the internet tend to do to “gender traitors”, but I’ve made damn sure Scout’s Journey does a lot more than merely pass the Bechdel test.
If it’s any consolation, I also made sure that the major cast character who happens to be male is going to be likeable. I had to partly rewrite and better expose his character after I realized that I originally motivated him largely by way of his girlfriend, which didn’t do justice to either character. She is still going to die, but it will affect all of her friends, not just this guy, and as a result of these changes he’s gotten a lot more exposure because he needed his own motives.
Self-censorship out of fear of feminist mafia? Not at all. Introspection and resulting improvement. A win-win type of deal.
Media critics are not really the enemy, criticism actually helps to improve things if you are willing to listen. It’s amazing how many people in games keep saying “all feedback is good feedback” and then proceed to rail against feminist media critics. Logic has left the building along with decency.
Tl;dr Scout’s Journey is changing, most likely for the better.