Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

21 April, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Choosing a genre
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:32 AM

This design challenge will be a bit higher level than usual. Your challenge is this: pick a genre for a new game. Explain why you think this is a good genre for a new game.

Consider this these factors:

Your game will probably take about 2 years to make, so any current fads should be avoided.
Assume you have a “normal” budget. Hiring a billion live actors isn’t a realistic expectation, for example.
Extra points for thinking “outside” the box.

My ideas below….

Let me pick a few:

High fantasy – Because this genre will never go out of style. (Now, go pick something different!)

Dark fantasy – A variation of high fantasy. It has the familiarity of fantasy, but with a darker edge. Other dark genres are very popular in games, such as survival horror.

Soap Opera – Bored housewives on the internet? Here’s a way to reach at least a few of them. Not likely to be done right by the usual suspects, current developers.

So, what are your genre ideas? Feel free to go into more depth than I have here.

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  1. Gothic horror.

    It’s a “guilty pleasure” genre and as such attracts an awful lot more market than you’d expect. Also, the opportunity to directly manipulate the emotions of the player as well as their reflexes is overlooked too often – it’;s one area where we as an industry are at the “Must Try Harder” stage.

    Comment by Cael — 21 April, 2006 @ 2:09 AM

  2. Western (American West/Frontier)

    it’s been out of “style” in the mainstream media for a while, and is bound to return to popularity as such things are cyclical.
    if you’re talking about a genre/setting for an MMO, i believe it would work quite well. conflict, territorialism, town/community-building, exploration, the American frontier had it all.
    the only drawback i can think of, is that it would not do well with the ladies.

    Comment by kohs — 21 April, 2006 @ 4:39 AM

  3. Cowboys

    Unless I’m mistaken, there’s currently no mmorpg about cowboys nor is there one in development. Being the first might give you an edge and this genre might be “familiar” to quite some people (I know it might not still be true today but not so long ago, playing cowboys was quite popular for young boys).

    Computer / Internet world

    Who haven’t heard of computer virus. Now you can become one without any deep computer skills! Take common virus/worms/hacks knowledge and put them behind an interface the average gamer can understand. No white/black hats required!

    Comment by Over00 — 21 April, 2006 @ 6:17 AM

  4. Space Combat Sim.

    Why? Because it’s made of gold. Ever since Wing Commander, anyone who’s gotten a taste of the genre (and didn’t hate it) can’t get enough of it. It’s a Love It or Leave It gametype and what’s sad is that all of the fans of this genre are so starved that we’ll buy ANY new title as long as we get to fly around in space and blow things up.

    Look at Freelancer, they made a space combat sim and didn’t even let us use a freaking joystick to play it! But they still cleaned up simply because of its genre. I don’t understand why we haven’t seen more of these.

    Comment by Norin — 21 April, 2006 @ 8:06 AM

  5. Nuclear holocaust survivors. I’m drawing a little inspiration from “Mad Max,” (specifically Thunderdome) but I’d like to see something like this with an emphasis on the social angle. The setting would be a city-state being rebuild from the ruins, where players jockey for anything from political positions to gang control of sections of the city. Control of vital resources could be gained through political maneuvering or via the sword and gun.

    Cartoons. I played a wonderful p&p game a couple years ago called (I think) Toon. You made up a cartoon character, and had zany WB-style adventures. I’d love to see something like that in the MMO space. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be for children, and in fact something like this in the adult space could be very entertaining.

    Comment by Amber — 21 April, 2006 @ 8:08 AM

  6. Aboriginal (sp) Australia.
    Tribal people, limited natural resources, a potentially hostile environment – plants, critters, and weather. Definitely an unexplored genre with opportunity to put the focus on inventive play instead of inventive item finding. Being able to draw a focus on the native culture and religion would keep the background of the game interesting enough. Also open enough to fit into multiple game formats.

    Comment by Grimwell — 21 April, 2006 @ 8:29 AM

  7. Strategy First Person Shooter
    Higher ranking officers play out a turn based or real time strategy game. Troops are deployed to play out quick FPS contests over conflict areas. Highest rank on each side would assign squads and other leaders to specific geographic areas. those leaders in turn deploy their squads to specific targets. The squad members respawn automatically to wherever their most recent assignment is. Futuristic would be preferred over yet another WW2 game.

    Comment by BugHunter — 21 April, 2006 @ 11:19 AM

  8. I tend to think of genre in gaming terms as in “The RTS genre” or “The FPS genre”. This definition tends to be derived from game mechanics instead of narrative subject matter as you find in the movie or books. Ah, the joy of terminology. :-)

    Instead of ‘genre’, I’ve used the terms ‘setting’ to describe the theme that wraps of the core game mechanics. It doesn’t matter all that much since folks seem quite comfortable with the intent of the challenge. :-)

    Some of my favorites current settings
    - Brain Training: A quiz game wrapped as a psychology test
    - Nintendogs: Stylis-based minigames wrapped as a dog ownership

    Other ideas that have been floating around in my head.
    - A weather gadget wrapped as a journey through foreign lands by a cute looking fellow collecting flowers for his love.
    - A stamp collecting game wrapped as an epic napkin battle (much like the ones you used to have in highschool where folks draw ships and tanks on scraps of papers and dotted lines alway = machine gun fire.)
    - An avatar customization game wrapped as debt management software. Everyone is in debt and the desire to reduce debt will never go out of fashion. The game rewards your virtual avatar for not spending real world money.

    The settings for games do not have to fall into literary genres. They can be a promise of practicality (become smarter!). They can be a fullfillment of a fantasy (owning a dog).

    For example, what is the setting of this social game?

    take care

    Comment by Danc — 21 April, 2006 @ 12:08 PM

  9. Here’s a second question:

    How does picking setting A vs. setting B (I won’t call them genres) actually change game play? How is world of Starcraft any different than World of Warcraft? (Other than the backstory and the models.)

    By the way, I’d tend to use the term genre to identify the difference between SecondLife and WoW, or a RPI world vs. WoW.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 21 April, 2006 @ 3:33 PM

  10. A handful of replies to the comments here. Looks like I picked a popular topic for people to talk about. :)

    Some people wrote:
    Western (American West/Frontier)/Cowboys

    Frontier 1958 and Bang! Howdy are two planned games in this genre. Perhaps I’ve introduced those games to some new fans? ;)

    Norin wrote:
    Space Combat Sim.

    I can’t find the quote, but Scott Brown from NetDevil had an amusing quote after they developed Jumpgate and had it published by 3DO. Basically, he said that he was surprised how few games this genre sells compared to the rabid popularity. Even top sellers like Wing Commander or the X-Wing/Tie Fighter series of games sold rather modest numbers even for the era they were released. On the other hand, they obviously sold enough to keep the games being developed. This is something that needs a good niche business model to really work.

    Grimwell wrote:
    Aboriginal Australia

    Right spelling. :) I agree here. One game that is going along a similar path is the Africa game. Some similar points to what you mention, but I think the setting might be a bit easier for people to get into. But, you definitely have a rich mythical setting to borrow from without rehashing the same old haughty elves and stocky dwarves seen in every other game.

    ReptileHouse wrote:
    I’d get really tired of answering the question of how my game was different from Fantasy Fad Game X every interview.

    I suspect you would still get asked that even if you pick a completely unique genre. People always ask me, “How do you intend to compete with WoW?” even though M59 is very different from WoW beyond a fantasy-type setting. (My answer: “We don’t, any more than a sushi restaurant competes with McDonald’s.”)

    Danc wrote:
    I tend to think of genre in gaming terms as in “The RTS genre” or “The FPS genre”. This definition tends to be derived from game mechanics instead of narrative subject matter as you find in the movie or books. Ah, the joy of terminology. :-)

    Well, I don’t feel too bad about using this terminology since I borrowed it from literature. Let me put my lit geek hat on for a bit.

    The term “genre” actually refers to multiple differences. The two we’re talking about here are theme genres (what I’m talking about above), and format genres (what Danc is talking about in his comment). Theme genres generally talk about content or setting; in writing you have science fiction, space opera, fantasy, mystery as different types of genres. You can also talk about genres in different formats; again, in writing we have short stories, essays, novellas, novels, etc. as different genres of writing. In both cases, we’re still talking about writing, but different forms within that greater category.

    So, I believe both definitions are correct as borrowed from writing. Fantasy, cowboys, steampunk, etc. correspond to theme genres. RTS, RPG, FPS, (and the MMO versions of all of these) correspond to format genres. They’re still all video games, though.

    Hope this clarifies things.

    Great discussion so far, keep up the good work. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 21 April, 2006 @ 8:17 PM

  11. Seeing someone mention Aboriginals makes me want to invest in a tinfoil hat :p

    Science fiction/fantasy setting. If you ever read the comic Promethea (or imagine Gandalf in Minority Report) you can imagine what I’m thinking: a near future that’s neither a utopia or dystopia but one with it’s own unique wonders and challenges.

    Comment by Raguel — 21 April, 2006 @ 9:57 PM

  12. It would certainly help with “managing expectations.” People enter WoW expecting a “Paladin” to be, well, many different things, but mostly “the same thing i used to play in that other game that had paladins.” Why not call the class “Tank(defense)/healer/buffer?” Players would have a better idea of what to expect. And those who prefer to be called “Paladin” can simply make it a prefix to their character’s name.

    Comment by Mikyo — 26 April, 2006 @ 7:25 AM

  13. Late reply here, but I’ve had almost exactly that game design idea before, Mikyo. And long before Spore was announced, I might add!

    Comment by Dom — 28 April, 2006 @ 8:34 PM

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