Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The AvP Conundrum Part II

In part I, I discussed my personal history with the AvP franchise, as as what's right and wrong with it in my eyes. In part II, I'm going to discuss how I think the ideal AvP should be.

General gameplay: Instead of some specific incident seen from three different points of view, thestoryline should evolve organically, similar to GTA IV, with many "side quests". Initially, the playerwill start out with a specific task, then certains events will unfold which leads the player to see a grander scheme, if you will. The latest AvP has a good thing going with the specifics of how you control the three species and I would definitely keep the light attack/heavy attack system. However I think the insta-kill should be much harder to pull off and I would even utilize some quick-time events to give the prey a chance to escape. This way you actually need skill to insta-kill someone and even then, it might not work. Furthermore, you wouldn't be confined to a specific compound or spaceship, rather I would unleash the player onto an entire planet, with a map on the scale of Fallout 3 or Armed Assault. This will cast off the shackles that previous games put on the player. I would also adopt the "landmarks" or "point of interest" concept from Fallout, so you can basically "quick travel" from one place to another once they've been explored. Of course, in a game like this, the planet must be teeming with life, most of which will be hostile. This way, the player won't get bored by lengths of trekking. Speaking of life, AI will be absolutely vital. The game should generate random wildlife, which should interact with the environment and each other. Imagine playing as a Predator, you spot some nasty alien wildlife that is clearly a predator in itself. As you move in for the kill, you can see start to stalk prey of its own. You witness it take down said prey and start feeding. Now that its guard is down, you move in for the kill. Speaking of the Predator...

Predator gameplay: The general theme amongst all three species is they should all play like their movie
Was sneaking off to take a piss worth it? Hmmm?
countparts. For the Predator, imagine being able to stalk and eliminate a combat patrol one by one or
facing off with a large beast in a clash of titans. It hasn't exactly been established how much damage a
Predator can take, but you shouldn't be able to take a squad of guys in a toe-to-toe fight. Therefore you
will have to stalk them, wait for one to break off and take a piss or create a distraction, perhaps by recording their voices and playing it back to them like in the films, to divide and conquer them. To eliminate the urge to pick them off from a distance, there should be an "Honor System" (something similar was featured in the very first AvP for the Jaguar), where you get zero honor for a shoulder cannon attack and maximum honor for close quarters kill. This not only makes the game more interesting, but it is faithful to the source material; Predators don't attack unarmed or harmless prey and they will fight hand-to-hand instead of using their shoulder cannon whenever possible. While you might not get honor for a long range kill, you can still salvage some by sneaking in and stealing the body for a trophy. So you should get bonus honor for taking trophies and/or for performing the classic "skin-your-prey-and-hang-them-upside-down", which maybe you can use as a scare tactic for prey you're stalking. Speaking of scare tactic, human and other prey AI should have a level of "fear" and/or "panic" that varies depending on a range of circumstances. Furthermore, it shouldn't be uniform because, to put it bluntly, some people are braver than others, so they're far less likely to lose their cool. On top of that, human prey should be tricky. Very tricky. For example, after losing some members of their squad, the remaining Marines will realize what's going on, and perhaps set a trap for you. So let's say you're tracking their movement by switching to infrared and looking for warm footprints etc., you're lead into a tripmine booby trap if you're not paying attention, or you're lead into a bottleneck, open for an ambush. Or, perhaps like in the movie, they attempt to snare you, Boy Scouts style. When stalking, the game should be programmed to allow for the squad to escape, basically letting them disappear into the jungle. This way, when you make a kill, they run and disappear and  you'll have to hunt them down. Essentially, when you find a squad, hunting them becomes a "mission" and each kill is a "chapter" in that mission, possibly involving a cutscene between kills to setup their escape. In the end, all this creates a sense of accomplishment when you finally manage to wipe them out. To eliminate any kind of lull between kills, you can take time to hunt other wildlife, this is what would necessitate having an environment teeming with life. For healing, the Predator should have a healing kit just like the film and to heal, the player needs to play a mini-game. The amount you heal correlates to how well you played. In multiplayer, I would replace this with the more traditional means from previous games.
All that said, your overall "goal" would be as simple as "Perform the hunt, your goal is X amount of honor" then let the game unfold from there. The player will get a chance to clash with local fauna (hell, maybe even some nasty flora), humans that might be on the planet, maybe even stumble upon an Alien hive. Specific quests can be picked up which can lead you to other locale such as a military base, caves, a spaceship... anywhere really.

Alien gameplay: For the walking weapon that is the Alien, there should be a healthy mix of teamwork and lone wolf action. The cool thing about the Alien is that it can be realistic (relatively speaking) for one Alien to take out many opponents or for it to take many Aliens to take down one or few opponents. It all depends on the circumstances. Therefore, the Alien campaign should be very story driven. It might first start out as collecting hosts for the hive, then later you stumble onto a Marine base or camp, so the queen commands all Aliens to attack. At that point you'll be part of a swarm, which can play out like a large battle that can be somewhat random but also have some scripted events. So, for example, maybe there's a heavy gun emplacement, might be manned, might not. Maybe the Marines try to evacuate via dropship, maybe they make it, maybe you stop them in time. Maybe they have sentry guns, but, as a scripted event, one of your swarm mates is able destroy the control panel in one of the bunkers, or maybe not and they fend off the attack. Maybe the Marines are prepared and the queen orders a retreat and a new plan. There are dozen of variables in that scenario alone. Imagine dozens of Aliens attacking a Predator camp as seen in the 2010 film "Predators". Maybe you decide you have what it takes to take the camp by yourself, ninja style.
Who IS this poor bald guy!?
Another neat feature of the Alien is the fact that it takes on the features of its host. There is a lot of potential in this arena. Perhaps there can be a system where you can capture some local wildlife, bring it to the hive to be impregnated, then choose to "switch over" to the Alien that's born. New weapons, new opportunity. Now maybe you can attack that Marine camp again as some kind of giant rhino-esque Alien. How about a flying Alien? Wouldn't that be something? Oh, or a burrowing Alien! Additionally, this can add to teamplay by having the RPG-esque roles. Some hosts might birth a "tank" Alien, another a "DPS" Alien, another a "healer" Alien and perhaps another that births some kind of acid-spitting "ranged damage" Alien, as seen in the latest AvP game as well as both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection.

Marine gameplay: Squad-based, squad-based, squad-based! This is something previous games did completely wrong. The "lone wolf soldier" gimmick was fine in Wolfenstein 3D, but it doesn't work nowadays and it certainly doesn't work in the AvP universe. It's also somewhat of a dicotomy, because, other than the player, the humans are potrayed as fodder, for the most part. So how are we to suspend disbelief when a lone Marine has the ability to take down dozens or hundreds of Aliens and even some Predators when the source material has always indicated otherwise. Sure, one guy did kill the Predator in the films (after the Predator slaughtered many) but that's the exception more than the rule. Since 1986, thousands of fans have dreamt of being in a squad of Colonial Marines and not one game has ever delivered that. That is a crying shame, so it's time to deliver (that said, look out for Gearbox's "Aliens: Colonial Marines" in 2012!) The Marines will need to be in some kind of conflict to have the setting make sense. According to the "Colonial Marines Technical Manual", the US is at war with China. That can easily be worked in. That way, it makes a bit more sense to have Marines patrolling an enemy controlled planet looking for the Chinese as opposed to looking for alien killing machines. Missions can vary as much as they do in real life. So, imagine you're on a patrol and you and your squad are attacked by a pack of Aliens. Besides the usual "bang bang! boom boom!", there needs to be a squad leader screaming orders. Squadmates should be yelling confirmations as well as things like "There more coming this way!" and the like. The Aliens should be fairly easy to kill and should not charge in right away. Why? Because imagine if the Aliens were all running in at full speed, then all of the Marines would run backwards and fire (or die) and it would all turn into a clusterf*ck. They addressed this in the latest AvP game; they had it so the Alien would come at you at a decent pace, not too quick, then leap sideway when it took fire or stumbled back from direct hits. This impeded their progress towards you. I would keep this feature, but make the Aliens more numerous. So, what happens after the attack is over varies wildly depending on what happened. Maybe you one Marine died and you move on, maybe 5 Marines died and you try to head back to base. Maybe just the squad leader died or maybe one member of the squad has some kind of breakdown. There might be some heated dialogue between two or more members of the squad. All these things create a very cinematic experience. You can get emotionally attached  to the different personalities in the squad and be genuinely pissed/saddened when he/she dies.
Yeah! Bald guy gets some payback!
It might sound like you're going to be patrolling a lot, but that's one mission example. Missions can vary as much as they do in real life. You might go on a demolition mission, rescue mission or seek and destroy. What you run into along the way can be different everytime you play. Instead of picking up guns along the way, you can choose your role in the squad which in turn will determine your role in the mission.
Aliens vs. Predator 2's Marine campaign had a very interesting sequence towards the end where you're being stalked by a Predator. You see him pointing his target laser at you, then disappearing. Then a few seconds later, you see him leaping from one rooftop to another up ahead. This is the closest I've ever come to feeling hunted. That needs to replicated, then turned up to 10. As discussed in the Predator gameplay section, the Predator needs to stalk you. So again, you're on a mission. A squad member takes  piss and disappears. You try to contact him via radio... nothing. The Predator took him, so the patrol turns into a search party. At this point you might see the Predator watching you from a tree, performing the "disappearing eyes" then vanishing. Then later you'll see him leaping between two boulders, only for a second. Or is it your eyes playing tricks? Maybe you'll find your missing friend skinned, hanging upside down. This showcases why it's important to have a good AI. The Predator needs to have a sophisticated "stalking" mode. There also would/should be many scripted events, but the overall campaign will be sandbox in that you accomplish objectives however you want and no two playthroughs will be the same. You may encounter certain lifeforms or not, depending on many variables. So, if your squad is going down a hallway, then an Alien pops out of a vent and grabs the guy in the back and tries to pull him in, maybe you make it in time to rescue him via quick time event, or you don't and he's taken. You load your last saved game and try again and  this time, maybe the Alien doesn't pop out at all. The world is your sandbox.

That's it for part II, in part III I'll discuss mulitplayer and other game modes as well some other must-haves.

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