Saturday, December 4, 2010

"The dream can be real" a contemplative look at the Inception game

Ever since walking out of the theater after watching Christopher Nolan's Inception I'm pretty sure most who also saw the film felt the same way I did: wanting more.
Not that the movie felt incomplete or anything, I just wanted to see more. Of course, you might remember that a few months ago I posted up a list of possible sequels with Inception in it. I had said that a sequel would be the worst thing to happen, and I feel I'm right. How can you one-up such an awesome film? My fear is that if someone attempted to make a sequel to Inception it would collapse like a dream without a dreamer. The only way I could happily accept a sequel is if Nolan himself was the one who instigated it. But in either case I feel that a sequel is out of the question and should remain just that: a long forgotten dream.
However, that hasn't stopped rumors about a sequel or some sort of spin off showing up somewhere down the line. Yet one rumor does seem to be incepted by Nolan himself: the possibility of a video-game spin off.

On two occasions Nolan has stated that he has envisioned the world of Inception to hold more than just a fantastic story about a man trying to get back to his family. Of course, this should be setting off numerous alarms. The fact that almost no game adaptation of a film has ever gone over well for numerous reasons either due to the game being a cheap cash in as the film is being released or because it's a popular film.
Yet, I feel hopeful, somehow. Perhaps it's because this is Christopher Nolan's baby we're talking about here. This is Inception, one of the most original, captivating, and amazing movies to have come out in a long time. Or perhaps Nolan has managed to do a little inception of his own, planting the idea of a hopeful future for film-to-game adaptations.
However, seeing as it looks like an Inception game is a long ways away. All we can do is speculate on what this game could be like. Which brings us to the main event: what do you hope for or would like to see in an Inception game? Here are a list of things I feel should be included to make this game work.

No. 1: The Story
This shouldn't be a frame by frame recreation of the movie. This has been hinted at already by Nolan who expressed interest in expanding the world in which the film takes place in. I do have to admit, it is quite an interesting world from what we saw in the film. A world where it is possible to invade the minds of people and steal their secrets, even change who they are by planting an idea into their subconscious. In the film there was little background given as to the genesis of this technology, stating: "the military came up with dream sharing to train soldiers." Right there we have a potential myriad of story possibilities. Perhaps a prequel game set in the early cold-war era where such espionage techniques would be very valuable. Instead of stealing business secrets it could be military secrets, maybe launch codes? Of course this is just one possibility.
Another could be focusing on how our government utilizes extractors in present day. I say this because for all intents and purposes we have already seen corporate espionage in the film, we can expand it to how the skill of extraction affects other areas of our system whether it be corporations or governments. If Nolan does want to explore this world he has created, then this is a logical step.
In either case, whether the story is about cold-war extractors or a dream invading 007, it has to have some very great characters to fill the world with.

No. 2: Characters
Again, this could end with many decisions, either by bringing back the old characters from the film and having them go through another adventure or create new ones from scratch or something in between. I for one would like to see some new characters, allowing for more creative versatility and also adding a little uncertainty to the story. The main character should be someone we haven't seen in the film before, as this is the character players will take control. As to how much customization will come with this player character is up to speculation. While it'd be fun to be able to fully create your character from scratch ala Mass Effect, it doesn't mean we can't just play as a character already shaped to fit whatever narrative the developers come up with. But one thing I believe has to happen is how we gather team members.
Like in Mass Effect 2, where you had to gather your team up before going on the big mission into the Omega 4 Relay, we should be able to gather our team in a similar fashion. Sure this sounds unoriginal but I feel it would provide for more gameplay and allow us to become familiar with the people we are going to be working with. These characters should be fully formed and have their own personalities, and not get simply labeled "The Chemist" or "The Forger" and have them just be a no-name NPC who dies early in the first level. There isn't anything wrong with basing things off of what you already know, and everyone knows that this system worked for Bioware in ME 2 so why the heck not???

No. 3: Gameplay
Should this be third or first person? A shooter or a mind bending puzzler? Obviously the film was a fare share of both action and puzzler, so why not start from there? Maybe a third person shooter like Gears of War or Dead Space? Once again Mass Effect looks like a good example. Yet whether we get something Gears of War or Call of Duty the gameplay should be innovative.
The movie his a treasure trove of possible gameplay innovations. First off, look at the very process of extraction: by creating the world of the dream extractors can navigate the subconscious of their target and extract secrets like a thief breaking into a safe. From that idea alone I see the possibility of a very fun and innovative form of gameplay: let the players make the levels.
From a story mode standpoint this is something that would allow a great form of interactivity that could define what an Inception game is capable of. By allowing players to create the levels they play in the story missions numerous possibilities can come about: Perhaps if the game takes a more open approach with the possibility to take numerous contracts to gain experience and money or whatnot, the complexity of the dream level could affect the outcome. Like in the film, the more complex the mazes the better chance the extractors can evade the subconscious projections. In the game if a dream level isn't complex enough it could result in the player and his team to fail the mission. But if the player is creative enough and makes a labyrinthine level the better chances the player and his team has of surviving long enough to extract the info they need.
And all of these minor contracts can be used as practice for the ultimate job: inception, or perhaps extracting a secret from an ex-extractor.
Then there is the possibility of multiplayer (a big favorite of gamers). You can create levels and see if online players can navigate them or become lost as they either try to stop other players from stealing their secret or try to steal it.
Creating maps isn't anything new. You could make your own skate park in the early Tony Hawk game from decades back, and Far Cry and Halo have tried their hands at this, but perhaps the Inception game can come up with fun gameplay ideas such as utilizing paradoxical architecture to mix up the action. You could even gather a group of your friends and form an extraction team for online challenges in the form of contracts that could unlock fun and interesting content like in an MMORPG.

Of course building mazes to confuse NPC bots and your online buddies is all well and good, but what about other forms of gameplay? How would combat become a unique experience in an Inception game? What about other action elements? As for other gameplay forms, what about sneaking? Not all gamers like taking on armies and find a more "Sam Fischer" approach to be more to their liking? How about using the skills of a Forger to get in close to your enemies? By changing your appearance to confuse your enemies either offline or online could be an interesting experience. In fact Assassin's Creed Brotherhood has already done this in their online gameplay.
Action in the film was very interesting because the physics would sometimes become insane, remember the awesome rotating hallway scene? Or the zero gravity fight? I already mentioned paradoxical architecture like the penrose steps. Imagine having to fight or shoot your way through a rotating building, or doing something like Dead Space and floating about in zero gravity as you fight enemies. Yet it doesn't have to be all about combat, you could have some very crazy puzzles where you actually have to mess with the physics of the dream in order to accomplish your goals, like Portal or the somewhat mediocre game Prey where gravity shifted all the time.

Stealth could be a very important aspect to the game. As throughout the film Cobb and the others struggle to maintain a low profile so their target's subconscious doesn't try to kill them. Perhaps the less you approach things from a "shoot first ask questions later" approach and take a more stealthy approach you can extract information much more easily. Then there is the possible threat that all of your mucking about in your target's mind brings him that much closer to realizing he's dreaming. Like the more you bend the physics of the dream world the quicker the target comes to realizing he's in a dream. But this doesn't mean stealth should be a primary focus when it should be seen as more of a possible route that can be taken. Remember, perhaps making your target realize he's in a dream can be your advantage ala "Mr. Charles."

The possibilities are about as limitless as the imagination and hopefully the developers of any Inception game utilize theirs to the fullest.

So what do you think? What kind of game do you envision an Inception game being like? What kind of gameplay elements would you like to see? After all, these are only a few of the ones I can think of at the moment...

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