Hypothetical Gaming: Design Reboot

By John Walker on October 16th, 2009 at 11:00 am.

I want to see this game right away.

Design Reboot is a site that pitches hypothetical reboots, redesigns or sequels for games, along with descriptions for how it might work, accompanied by some beautiful concept illustrations. It’s the work of independent games developer Jack Monahan, who is both a level designer and a concept artist. What would Half-Life have been like if Valve had stuck with their first protagonist, Ivan the Space Biker? How could Unreal be reimagined today? And who exactly is Deus Ex’s Gunther?

The site’s been running since March, but Monahan has been keeping it under wraps, wanting to be sure it was an idea with legs. It really is. With eight months of content to plough through, beginning with some deep thoughts on level design before evolving into the rebooting concept, it’s pack with some extraordinarily good ideas, presented with wit.

“This is a Darth Vader story,” the site explains, introducing us to Laputan Machine, Monahan’s hypothetical Deus Ex prequel. “Skip the part about the screeching kid and the Oedipal overtones and the retroactive ruination of a classic film trilogy–skip all of it save the image of a man in black, eaten up with machinery. That’s Gunther.” What follows is a description of a game that follows Gunther as he becomes the monster we meet in the original game.

There’s many more of these – it’s an exciting project, whether the ideas are pure whimsy or eventually become the inspiration for something that’s created. I heartily recommend giving it an explore.

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32 Comments »

  1. Ian says:

    Oooh, like the sound of this.

    Though I initially thought the headline was “Hypothetical Gaming Design Robot.”

  2. Schmung says:

    oohh, I love Ivan the Space Biker. This site is splendid. Gracias RPS

  3. Ian says:

    I particularly like this one:
    http://designreboot.blogspot.com/2009/05/thoughts-on-game-recycling.html

    It’s something I’ve said before, I believe in an RPS forum thread, about getting different genres in existing settings/universes.

    To come up with a quick example off the top of my head: a stealth game set in the Warcraft universe. There are clearly defined friendly and enemy factions depending whether it’s Horde or Alliance and existing rogue/assassin/secret service-type organisations for both factions you could use. What’s more, there could even be different gameplay styles based on what the different talent trees are supposed to represent, where Assassination is about sneaking before hitting them hard and finishing them off before they can breach what passes for your defences, Combat is your “get in and fight” sort of guy and Subtlety is meant to be about staying hidden until you’ve got them where you want them before moving in and knifing them in the back.

    Obviously there’d be more to it than that, for example you could even bring a couple of the professions over (engineering if you want explosives, alchemy if you want a better/more potent range of poisons, that sort of thing) to give you more options in how to do the job you’ve been given.

    There’ll be more adventurous and less obvious ideas than mine, but that’s the sort of thing I’ve thought about before.

  4. qrter says:

    Really nice blog. He has a lot of interesting thoughts on games.

    Wait, this guy worked on Darkest of Days..?

    • Adam says:

      He posted a lot on the Something Awful forums about it and it seemed less like he worked on it than he tried to save it from being made horrible while doing some level design and being stomped on by his boss for his efforts.

  5. Tom says:

    Laputan Machine sounds exactly like the kinda of game i’d like to play, and also exactly like the kinda game i’m currentlly trying to mod using Source. Aethetically it’s completely different but the theme’s the same: holding a mirror up to the players actions.

  6. Tom says:

    Laputan Machine sounds exactly like the kinda of game i’d like to play. When are games going to start taking their strongest attribute a little more seriously? Actions speak louder than words and all that.

  7. Tom says:

    wtf is going on with comments?!

  8. The Sombrero Kid says:

    i’ev always wanted a place to vent some of my game design ideas that never will be, i particularly need to talk about my idea for a 24 fps, an episodic game of 24 1 hourish long slots, that take place in an open world city, where there is no fail scenarios, like if you don’t stop the terrorists from blowing up the nuclear reactor, tough, but you still have to stop the next nefarious part of their plot.

  9. skizelo says:

    He kind of lost me when he sketched out the critical reaction to his games. In fact as a general rule, he spends way too mcuh time telling us what message his games would send out rather than have just a little faith in his audience and his mechanics.
    It’s still a good blog, just one whose articles I will never read the final few paragraphs of.

  10. Jack Monahan says:

    Thanks everyone, and thanks to RPS for posting this.

    It’s heartening that people seem to understand what wavelength the site is on. Playing with ideas is fun.

    I’ll admit that it’s all a bit of a trojan horse–for instance take away explicit reference to Nali or Skaarj and there’s very little to tie Invasive Species to Unreal, and that’s intentional.
    I often start with an existing game because it gives a point of reference, a point of departure–but who knows where it might end up?
    It’s like intellectual limbering up. Nothing hurts creative work quite like treating your ideas as too precious… left in the dark, they’ll get moldy. In the words of Arthur Quiller-Couch, murder your darlings.

    qrter: one of the dark secrets of the gaming industry. Good people work on bad games. That said I’ll defend Darkest of Days necessarily as a miscategorized budget title–expectations can mean everything when approaching a game like that.

    Ian: Finally, a Gaming Robot, to release me from the tedium of playing games myself. Sign me up :)

  11. Jack Monahan says:

    Thanks everyone, and thanks to RPS for posting this.

    It’s heartening that people seem to understand what wavelength the site is on. Playing with ideas is fun.

    I’ll admit that it’s all a bit of a trojan horse–for instance take away explicit reference to Nali or Skaarj and there’s very little to tie Invasive Species to Unreal, and that’s intentional.
    I often start with an existing game because it gives a point of reference, a point of departure–but who knows where it might end up?
    It’s like intellectual limbering up. Nothing hurts creative work quite like treating your ideas as too precious… left in the dark, they’ll get moldy. In the words of Arthur Quiller-Couch, murder your darlings.

    Ian: Finally, a Gaming Robot, to release me from the tedium of playing games myself. Sign me up :)

    qrter: one of the dark secrets of the gaming industry. Good people work on bad games. That said, I’ll defend Darkest of Days necessarily as a miscategorized budget title–expectations can mean everything when approaching a game. People who came thinking more Serious Sam than Call of Duty tend to enjoy the game quite a bit more.

    skizelo: a very good point. The critical response is just an attempt at following through on a complete image of what the game is about, and also to anticipate criticisms. I realize it’s a little perverse to have a site about hypothetical games and then grade them harshly myself, I’m entirely open to ditching that bit. Have any suggestions for closing the pieces more satisfactorily?

    • qrter says:

      Oh gosh, I didn’t mean anything mean by saying that – I was just slightly surprised as your blog is full of smart writing and game thinkage (oh dear, I’m just making it worse now..). In fact, reading your blog actually made me download the demo of Darkest of Days, just to have a look.

    • Jugglenaut says:

      Same here, qrter. I’m definitely going to give the demo a go after reading this blog.

    • Jad says:

      That said, I’ll defend Darkest of Days necessarily as a miscategorized budget title–expectations can mean everything when approaching a game.

      That was kind of my impression of the game, and the reason for my surprise when I saw the price. It is very likely that I will pick up Darkest of Days when the price has fallen a bit, as the demo did seem fun.

  12. Jack Monahan says:

    Triple post means triple commenting score. Sorry about doubling above.

  13. Ygthg says:

    His articles on level design make me sneer. It’s everything that’s wrong with modern shooters, and the guy is a professional level designer. Go figure.

  14. Dracko says:

    I would play the Hell out of something like Laputan Machine. Considering where we’re at now (And here is where I say I hope that IW are entirely truthful in their realisation with their flagship sequel that you can in fact create dynamic and emergent combat situations even in a heavily narrative-driven story, because then that means something severely ground-breaking has happened), it’s the sort of game that we would be in means of creating.

  15. Schmung says:

    Yghtg : Really? I saw it more as pointing out pluses/minuses of techniques rather a particular mandate for a way of doing things. There's plenty of clauses and statements that point the issues of overuse etc with certain techniques. A lot of stuff is still down to the technical restraints in games as much as anything – there's only so much stuff you can draw at any one time and that's usually a massive constraint for people unless you're making an open world game, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

    Besides, you're not overly specific in what your complaint is with these techniques. I mean, the sawtooth is disgusting and annoying when overuse and broken grids can be confusing and irritating, but clever usage of curving and overlapping paths is something to be lauded in a linear(ish) shooter IMO

    I really liked the fridge article as well because it's something not a lot of people are aware of and that is worthy of further discussion IMO. Interesting (or pointless, depending on perspective) factoid is that HL2 and it's derivatives use a separate FOV for view model so that they look better than they would using the actual players FOV. There's also the whole issue of how this relates to scaling your world for 3rd/1st person games because FOV (and other factors) have a massive impact here. Doors that are 1.6x times their normal size to appear 'right' in 1st person games suddenly look like a disaster if you go 3rd person.

    ughr, there's more, but publunch have sapped mine coherency

  16. Mman says:

    Agreed, there are certain modern level design conventions that irritate me, but I found nothing in the articles on this site to take exception against, especially as it brought up the drawbacks of each convention if used badly.

  17. shalrath says:

    “The game starts with a fully human Gunther Hermann on his first major field op. It is a disaster, a bloodbath, the wounded Gunther barely escaping with his life. While convalescing he is talked into receiving his first mechanical augmentation.

    At first he is elated; the young agent is given a bulwark against mortality, an easy upgrade to dramatically increased operational fitness”

    At first I was really into Laputan Machine, then I realised it sounded an awful lot like Snowblind. Which was fun, but wasn’t quite the amazing step forward that Laputan Machine might sound like.

  18. SanguineAngel says:

    Be interesting to see Jack take a look at something like DFII JK from the level design perspective, especially since we had so much coverage of it earlier. Especially in relation to his earlier article about level design. Which I thought made great sense but seemed very geared to modern level design.

    Also loved the article regarding objective setting and leading players by the nose etc.

    cool stuff

  19. HotSake says:

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned PSG 7 yet. This guy’s been doing concept game reboots forever, with detailed art and designs.

    Check out his Blaster Master reboot.

  20. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    Thanks for the link RPS, it’s bookmarked.

    Particularly liked the reboots but some of the level design pieces are interesting, too, but I have a short attention span.

    Personally, I’m charmed by the metacritic/reception parts, those are great!

  21. DarthBenedict says:

    I think a game that actually made its character a deathfridge would be awesome.

    Come to think of it, thats pretty much what a dalek is and they’re one of the most popular science fiction critters ever.

  22. WJonathan says:

    Nifty blog, it’s always fun to read about game design from a behind-the-scenes perspective. It’s heartening to hear from a designer who also thinks that games have become too, well, easy over the past few years. There’s a sweet spot between brutally difficult memorization exercises, and sleepwalking simplicity, and based on some triple-A titles I’ve played it seems like designers still haven’t quite figured it out.

  23. sfury says:

    Great blog, instant RSS subscription for me :)

  24. roryok says:

    Ditto! Almost makes me want do make my OWN blog about ideas for games…

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