The Question Nobody Asked

The other day, as a thought exercise, I asked myself what kind of game I would make if I made a video game. My assumptions for this scenario were:

  • I can code as well as I need to to make the thing I’m thinking of
  • A small, short (1-2 hours) game, like the kind you’d make for one of those Game Jams
  • Mainly just me working on it. In other words, not a team or company.

It might surprise you to learn that, for all the games I enjoy playing, I rarely consider this question. There exists a game for basically every concept I can think of. Making one myself would probably only crib from other, existing, successful ideas. Also, I’d have to learn to code, which, ugh. But: if I take on the assumptions I listed above, those things matter a lot less; in my mind it becomes more okay to crib from existing ideas and intellectual properties because it’s just a short, fun, proof-of-concept exercise in development. It’s easier to imagine than putting yourself in the position of a lead developer at Ubisoft Montreal or something.

So, I let go of trying to be original and just decided to roll with whatever I’d come up with. And what I came up with was:


Untitled Sprawl Trilogy Hacking Game! (working title)

The Sprawl Trilogy is a loosely connected series of pioneering cyberpunk novels by William Gibson. The first, Neuromancer, was published in 1984, and coined a lot of the terminology and concepts we associate with the genre. It also happens to be one of my all-time favourite books. Stories of ethically shady computer hackers, sentient artificial intelligences, badass mercenaries, and gritty, neon-soaked future cityscapes. It’s my jam!

The first novel in the trilogy also puts forth the idea of the matrix (or cyberspace), a pre-WWW virtual reality in which folks put on a special headset and zoom around through towers and polygonal structures representing various corporations and institutions. It is famously described thus:

The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

William Gibson, Neuromancer

This conception of cyberspace forms the backdrop of the game. Your character is a hacker, a console cowboy, a cyber…uh…samurai? And this is a game of doing cybercrime. I picture much of the game looking like the classic Star Wars vector-based arcade game (which came out in 1983, and probably was one of the “primitive arcade games” Gibson was thinking of). Or more accurately, in my brain it looks a lot like Rez:

…but rather than being on rails it would allow for full freedom of movement in any direction.

There would be three maps, like explorable cities in a Grand Theft Auto game (but mostly not as interactive because again, programming team of one). The starting map has some towers but is mostly rows of smaller polygons representing homes, with a few larger towers that are small-to-medium-sized businesses. You would do a few missions of basic hackery stuff; change a grade, plant incriminating evidence, get an employee list for a rival company, something like that.

The hacking itself is probably a typing-based minigame. I imagine that the earliest stages would be you squaring off against simple countermeasures, represented by simple shapes; as the game progresses the hacking would get more difficult and the shapes more complex. Let’s keep it straightforward, though; keywords fly at you like Typing of the Dead or Epistory and you have to knock them down before they get closer. Maybe in the later stages I’d figure out some new mechanics to toss in, give the player more things to juggle.

2nd map is below the first one, and is the Industrial part of the matrix.

See the source image

Picture a refinery, but the pipes, towers, and warehouses are neon polygons as before. Now we start getting into more serious infrastructure crimes and corporate espionage stuff.

Third zone, highest on the map, is megacorporations and (remaining) world governments. Countermeasures here are the most complex and difficult to defeat. We’ve worked our way up to the big time, and since we’re knocking off the Sprawl books, there’s almost definitely something about an AI to set loose, or something.

Let’s take it easy on the music side, and just have our game link to a Spotify playlist of bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Tangerine Dream. Done!

Last note: the game’s controls will be entirely designed around the keyboard. The novels don’t really mention extra peripherals, and mostly just talk about people working the keys as they fly around cyberspace. A very quick bit of research shows that mice only started getting popular around ’84-’85, so it’s likely that Gibson didn’t really have them in mind when he first started writing about the Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7 deck, for instance.

See the source image
People have done some fun hardware mods to create their own cyberspace decks, but we can also look to real-world examples from the early 80s, like this Japan-exclusive MSX system. it’s so preeeettyyy

Anyway that’s my game pitch! To date, I’ve never seen a movie or game that exactly matches the way I picture Gibson’s descriptions of the matrix, so it would be fun to try and express that for myself. There was an actual Neuromancer game as well, but it was more of a point-and-click adventure. Not what I want!

Would you play my game? Sound off in the comments! Or don’t, actually, because comments are disabled, and I’m never going to make it anyway, so it’s a moot point. But thanks for reading this far!

Thing I Saw: More beautiful MSX systems.

Thing I Learned: It’s somehow canon that the Jawas in Star Wars communicate with scent as well as their chirpy language. My daughter was disappointed that the Wookieepedia article does not specify the kinds of scents, however.

I’m Grateful For: Speaking of my daughter, she spent a day in hospital earlier this week due to what everyone at first thought was appendicitis. It turns out that some of her lymph nodes may have been inflamed by a recent nasty cold. She bounced right back!

I’m Dreaming Of: Starting Horizon Zero Dawn, which I purchased today and want to boot up immediately after posting this.

Canadians of a certain age will remember this as the theme from The Raccoons, a fun kids show about environmentalist raccoons thwarting evil capitalists. They’ll also remember it because it goes so much harder than it needs to