Posting my piece about Neptunia games I’d like to see the other day got me thinking more broadly about other interactive experiences I’d like to indulge in, should they ever be made. (Or perhaps they already exist, in which case please do let me know in the comments and I will investigate!)
The following games either don’t exist at all, or the last time they were properly explored in gaming — in my opinion, anyway — was far too long ago for my liking. So here we go, then:
A proper spy game
I downloaded Sid Meier’s Covert Action from GOG.com a while back when it was on sale for some ludicrously low price, and discovered that it was an immensely satisfying, fascinating game with a number of distinct facets. I wrote in detail about the game a while back, but for those of you too lazy to click through, the elevator pitch is thus:
You are Max (or Maxine) Remington, an agent. A Dastardly Plot is about to unfold in the world, and it’s up to you to stop it. Ideally, you will find out what is going on before it happens, arrest everyone involved and follow the trail of clues to find the Mastermind behind it all. You will then repeat the process until all the Masterminds there are in the world are behind bars — or until you give up at the ludicrous level of difficulty the game escalates to on its higher settings.
Covert Action incorporates a variety of game styles ranging from puzzle (phone tapping) to code-breaking, car chases and top-down action-stealth-adventuring. While clunky by modern standards, it’s an extremely clever game that, in true Sid Meier tradition, is busily simulating a whole bunch of things happening in the background while you appear to be doing something relatively simple. None of it is pre-scripted, either; each case you get is randomly generated, so there’s no easy way to find the solution other than putting in the hard graft yourself.
To cut a long story short, we need a new Covert Action. There have been spy-themed games, sure — the most memorable of which for me is, without a doubt, Alpha Protocol — but these tend to be more scripted and action movie-like, rather than focusing on the interesting but perhaps less glamorous aspects of the job. I want a spy game where it’s rare you’ll pull your gun on anyone; I want a spy game that’s more about setting up surveillance and investigating than shooting terrorists; I want a spy game where it feels like I’m a spy, not an action movie hero. (To put it another way: I want a spy game where it feels like I’m old-school James Bond, rather than new-school James Bond.)
A good Star Trek game
There’s plenty of space games around, since they’ve been making a bit of a resurgence over the last few years. With the success of Elite: Dangerous and the anticipation for No Man’s Sky, the time is surely ripe for a new Star Trek game to hit the market.
Oh, there are a couple of relatively recent Star Trek games around, of course, but neither of these quite scratch the itch I have. Star Trek Online is a massively multiplayer online RPG, with everything that entails — including lots of grinding and free-to-play monetisation that requires you to pay up for the coolest ships rather than earning them — while Star Trek Timelines is a mobile game with everything that entails — including lots of grinding and free-to-pla… you get the idea.
Neither of these games are particularly bad as such — though Star Trek Timelines’ use of the obnoxious playtime-limiting “Energy” system that I really wish would die a horrible death is something I find hard to forgive — but neither of them are quite right. Both have good aspects: Star Trek Online has a great feeling of taking your ship around the galaxy, exploring uncharted areas and engaging in battle, while Star Trek Timelines presents you with some interesting non-combat scenarios to deal with, albeit only in text form. The trouble is, neither of them go far enough in simulating what it’s like to be a crewman on a Starfleet vessel.
There are a few approaches I’d like to see a new Star Trek game take. Firstly and perhaps most obviously is a starship bridge simulator. I know these exist and are available on GOG.com, but with modern technology it would be possible to do something far more impressive — and perhaps even multiplayer, a la Artemis Starship Bridge Simulator.
Another possible approach is something along the lines of Spectrum Holobyte’s elderly Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity, which combined starship operations (including combat and power management) with point-and-click adventuring down on planet surfaces. While the combat and engineering sections on the ship ended up feeling a little superfluous when compared to the game’s narrative aspects — particularly as you could put them both on automatic without penalty — the whole thing felt suitably authentic as an interactive episode of The Next Generation, and ripe for updating.
I guess one of the main issues with the Star Trek license is that there’s not a current TV series running to tie it in with, so it would probably have to be an original work, perhaps with guest appearances from established characters. That’s not an issue for me, so long as it feels like Star Trek, but for some fans it may not be acceptable.
I believe there is talk of a new Star Trek series of some description coming soon, though, so it will be interesting to see if anything interactive comes of it. Anything’s better than that dreadful third-person shooter that came out for consoles a year or two back and was promptly completely forgotten about…
A game about running a school
There are tons of management games out there, but outside of an extremely peculiar mobile game by Kairosoft called Pocket Academy, I don’t recall all that many that focus on educational institutions, and I think this is something that would be ripe for the interactive treatment.
SimSchool, as we’ll call it, has a considerable degree of scope to be a much more “personal” strategy game than many other management sims, since although running a school does include the standard stuff like budgeting, staffing and training, a key part of what keeps a school running effectively is interpersonal communications, rapports and morale.
In SimSchool, you’d play the new, young headmaster of a school that was struggling, and you’d have a certain amount of time to set things right. In true strategy game tradition, you’d be able to set up various conditions at the beginning of the game such as the affluence of the area the school is in, the size of the school, when it was built, its condition and suchlike, and have the game create a challenge for you accordingly.
As you worked your way through a campaign, you’d not only have to perform managerial duties to keep the establishment in the black and keep an eye on the day-to-day operations of the school, but you’d also have to interact with students, staff and parents in order to keep them happy. There’d be dialogue sequences in which you’d have to negotiate things and determine the best way to handle problem children — sometimes you’d even have to convince the local authority that the decision you’d made was the right one for the greater good. And, on the harder difficulty levels, you’d also have to contend with various “disasters” that make your life more difficult — this is a Sim game, after all!
My time working in schools was hellish, and I have no desire to return — but that doesn’t mean I don’t still find them interesting places. A game like this has a lot of scope to be an interesting twist on the strategy-management genre, and I’d certainly love to play it.