Life After People: The Game

In these days of video games, visuals are beginning to have an impact on how developers create their games. Backdrops, backgrounds, character details, the coloring of a scene…these are all things that people take notice beyond the gameplay and story of the game. Aesthetics is just a natural occurrence for us; we like to look at visually pleasing things. People take notice of the backdrops to the levels in Halo. Most reviewers praise Crysis’s tropical environment as one of the highlights of the game. And games like Oblivion and Fallout 3 prove that the setting can sell the game.

Of course, anything short of a completely new medium involving having to make up a completely new world landscape is a daunting task to say the least, which is why it’s not surprising to see that the settings that do take place on Earth in today’s video games are usually in a state of disarray and catastrophe, or after the fact. Destruction can be quite beautiful, depending on the way you look at it, but complete destruction and void of life can leave for a pretty bland environment of black and gray (as Hellgate: London wonderfully demonstrated). Look back again and think about what was said. People like nice environments.

So here’s the pitch. I was watching Life After People, an interesting series that runs on the History channel (which was originally built off the documentary a year ago) which details what would happen to all the structures and objects if we all just suddenly disappeared, and I couldn’t help but wonder how surreal and peaceful the 3D-rendered shots of cities with growth covering them looked. It reminded me a lot of I Am Legend, minus the cliché zompires. And then it hit me. What if there was a game modeled after this concept?
So no nukes, no meteor strike, no zombie apocalypse, or anything else as cliché as that–the vast majority of the population just vanishes. How or what is something to be left up to the plot within the game, but the concept alone is what matters. And what’s more, instead of setting a specific date, the game could allow for interval choosing of time passed since people disappeared–10 years, 50 years, 100 years, etc. You get the idea. And with all applications of natural decay and nature spreading in their respective boundaries for each interval.


The Premise

You are a Survivor. One night you went to sleep, like any other night, and the morning you awoke to something that disrupted your usual routine. Quietness in the city life. No honking of car horns. No planes flying overhead. No news being broadcasted on the television. And walking out amongst the streets and venturing into your favorite coffee shop you find it also quite devoid of life without a person in sight. You are alone.

Of course, if you chose an interval over 10 years, that premise would be different, but you get the idea. And not that everyone disappears, but the vast majority of people do. So lets say in a city like Seattle only a handful of people are left, which means life can still go on for people, but they won’t be maintaining civilization if 99% of the population suddenly disappears. It’s a dog eat dog world now, and your fellow man is not the only enemy you have to worry about. No, there is a much greater enemy. An enemy that has been seeding itself in the roots of our lives ever since we came to being. Nature.

And while you might at first laugh at the idea of being afraid of nature, the mindset of that humor will quickly change when you find out that braving the elements without the comfort of civilization is no walk in the park, especially if that park is now full of bears and wolves. That’s right, populations of predators that were once kept at bay and diminished by people now thrive as nature begins to turn the concrete jungles back into the green jungles they once were. No place is safe.

And be wary that wild animals are not the only fear you have to worry about. An element RPGs like to commonly neglect for today is that of the basic need to eat in order to survive will now come into play. I mean, after all, in a game that’s basically a glorified enviro-sim, you’re not going to be doing much when you could go for weeks before you found another person in the game to interact with. And aside from the basic need of hunger, there is also the need to stay dry and warm, where client conditions like rain and winter bring back the reminders of what life was like before air conditioning. The nature of the game is just to primarily survive.


The Meat

Of course, that doesn’t sound like fun at first. Or at all to most people who think their idea of the outdoors is their backyard. But to a population of people who has never been forced to endure the elements, the premise might seem too difficult to even stomach. That is until you remind them of what it’s like to romp through the jungles in Crysis. Is it possible to feel quite relaxed while North Korean soldiers are actively searching for you? Because Crysis accomplished that for me.

But any game without any real direction is usually a recipe for disaster. While the common objectives of survival are put into play, we still need an overall objective that our survivor wants to strive for. So then let’s say, depending on how far into the years have gone since people vanished, more and more people begin to repopulate the world. Nothing significant, mind you, but a lot better than what it was first like after the initial vanish. So out of this repopulation effort develops community factions.

These factions practice the most common occurrences of literature: complete opposites of one another struggling against each other. On one side you have the nature lovers. These guys embrace what has happened and believe any attempts of major reconstruction or preservation of the old civilization is nigh sacrilegious. They destroy dams, they destroy bridges, and they even sacrifice people to appease Mother Nature. And in the other corner we have the order in the chaos, the rebuilders. The rebuilders are bent on the idea of reconstructing society, preserving old monuments and landmarks, and constructing bubble cities to preserve the ecosystem of humanity living within. And considering the state of things, they enforce this policy with a tyrannical and merciful force.

To this end neither faction are really all that “good.” If they meet one another they will most likely kill one another, just further taking a stab at civilization on a whole–both are trying to preserve humanity in different ways, but both are destroying it because of their ways. To which end the player may remain neutral to the situation, even having to escape both factions if they feel the need to hunt him down for some reason. Or perhaps there is the other path; joining one of the factions. And thus would accomplish the overall objective behind the game.


The Sunset

The end of the game is only found when your character gasps his last breath of air. In other words, when he dies. But of course you ask what would be the point of playing this game with avoiding the factions? And to that question I answer the approach of Fable. Your character ages, his reactions and stamina react to the aging, but, on top of that, you are able to foster a family. And so when your child comes of age to brave the world himself, you can pass along your trusty machete and rifle, to which you then come under the control of your child. It becomes a never-ending cycle of survival.

Which, of course, I can imagine comes another groan expressing the boring details of said gameplay. Well, at least, until I explain the best part to the idea behind this game. I have just two words for you, Mr. Unbeliever, just two words. Persistent. World. And if you are unfamiliar with the concept of what a persistent world is, it’s the idea that, as life goes on for the character, so does the rest of the world. So the impacts your father character had on the world would then influence the new experiences for your children. But, what’s more, it would also include the natural occurrence that is still happening as the years go by; the world is still crumbling and the environment is still changing, to which will lead to new adventures in familiar places.

And to even further hit home to the idea of variety, we’ll even throw in some game options that you can choose when you start the game. Like, say, the starting location, or the length of time to pass in correlation to the passing of a year in game, or the nature and brevity of the weather cycle, or the density of the world’s population. Raise it high enough and maybe you can come across independent nations of people. You get the idea. Options. They’ll keep you busy for future playthroughs (if that concept ever occurs in your mind, considering the offspring game mechanic). No nuclear weapons being dropped, no global warming frying the planet (remember, all pollution is gone, and despite what Al Gore tells you, the ozone does regenerate), no rabid pack of zombies killing off humanity…life goes on. And for how long is, for once, up to the gamer.

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And that there concludes the idea for a daunting task for a game. Just one glorified survival sim that takes place on Earth. Travel the lands, see the sights, and marvel at the idea of exploring every inch of the Earth (not to scale, but enough to still piss on Oblivion’s landscape). The bombs and the bullets are still there for those that seek it, but so is the quiet and relaxing nature of the environment that is now the new habitat for humanity. The game that truly never ends.

Originally written: May 2009

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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