Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design


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March 12th, 2006

Game Idea #11: Blackout

Two recent experiences inspired me to write up this week’s game idea…

High Concept:

Blackout is a survival game with a realistic premise: you’re trapped in a large urban city that’s completely devoid of electricity. There aren’t monsters, zombies, or aliens taking over the city… just other people. How will you escape? How will you survive?

Platform:

Next-gen home console

Why it needs to be made:

We are so reliant on technology in our daily lives. What if all of a sudden it just stopped working? No telephones… no television… no Internet… no iPods… no videogames… no 911… no emergency broadcast service… no ham radio… no security systems… no alarms… no streetlights… no stoplights… no subways… just darkness.

I think most people would completely loose their minds, and the most basic tenets of our society would break down. Blackout isn’t meant to be some kind of survival training sim, but rather a dramatic exploration of a plausible, yet terrifying experience.

Description:

You play as Thomas Brown, a young college professor living in New York City. You and your wife, Nancy, are just sitting down to dinner in your small midtown apartment when the power goes out. No big deal, you think… this is an old building and the wiring isn’t very good. You stick your head out into the hall to see if anyone else is having trouble. The thing is… everyone is out in the hall. You know this not because you can see them… but because you can hear them.

Suddenly you hear a window break. A gunshot rings out, followed by a scream. What sounds like a dozen cars crash into each other. Within minutes the usual whir of traffic, sirens, and loud music has been replaced by the sound of fires, looting, beatings, and muffled cries for help. You immediately bolt the door, and pull the blinds.

You make it through the night in one piece, but you know there’s trouble when the sun rises to reveal a city in ruins. You have some food and supplies in your apartment, but you know you can’t stay here for long. Some of your neighbors come by and bang on the door. They claim they’re going to try to make a break for it. Now it’s up to you… do you open the door? Do you leave your apartment? Maybe not now… but what about when the food runs out?

There are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in Blackout. The people you meet could help you one minute, and then turn on you the next. What if you have something they want? What if you are what they want? How will you protect yourself and your family?

Why it will be fun:

You know, Blackout might be more terrifying that fun. Escaping post-blackout New York in one piece with your family intact would be rewarding… But I think that this game idea in particular would be a worthwhile experience not so much because it would pump endorphins, but because it would inspire self examination and social discourse.

Final thoughts:

Something like Blackout would be really interesting. Games, and interactive media in general, are a “safe” place for us to role-play, question assumptions, and explore alternate realities. There’s no reason why these realities can’t be real “what if” scenarios…


12 Responses to “Game Idea #11: Blackout”

  1. Ian commented:
    posted March 12th, 2006 at 6:40 am

    There’s a film which has looked at this, The Trigger Effect.

    However, I have to say I don’t think this would be interesting at all. In a game, you don’t feel the same kind of fears you do in real life. You can still be shocked, or scared of a beast or villain, but there are a thousand games whose situation is a lot more worrying than an un-lit New York.

    I agree with your core idea that losing electricity would be a deeply terrifying experience, but I think that videgames are the least appropriate medium to explore this particular idea.

    Ian

  2. erik commented:
    posted March 12th, 2006 at 8:23 am

    Inasmuch as video games are like “Groundhog Day” where you can play the same scenario over and over again until you get it right, I could see this game being tons of fun to play lots of times, especially if you start with different ideas of your character’s motivations (you could even just invent these for yourself without the game specifically stating your current moral mission). This time I’m a doctor, this time I’m a world-class thief, this time I’m a serial killer. And in traditional GTA-sandbox fashion, I could see the let’s-steal-50-million-in-gold and the let’s-steal-that-helicopter and the
    let’s-jump-off-the-empire-state-building and the
    let’s-see-how-many-cars-i-can-crash scenarios being what most players gravitate towards and what the game devolves into.

    Actually New Orleans after hurricaine Katrina was very similar to what you’re describing. Lots of people with criminal mindsets all of a sudden had no strong authority system in place stopping them from, say, stealing a schoolbus and driving it into a shoestore, setting the store on fire, and walking out with a new pair of shoes. (That lasted only a couple days before there were more guys in uniforms with guns walking around in 1 place than (maybe) there has been at any time on U.S. soil in history). In those situations i think there’s definitely a balance of people who decide to be “good citizens” and people who are of the more “chaotic” alignment.

    Your game idea also reminds me a lot of another “what would you do if-scenario”… a movie called “Miracle Mile”. Some folks figure out they don’t have much time before a nuclear war’s gonna blow up America. It’s kind of a cool thought experiment.

    :)

  3. J B Cougar commented:
    posted March 13th, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    I think this site should exist in more forms throughout the Net. Meaning, I think the industry could use more thinkers/sites like this to get the creative ideas flowing, even in the absence of the obscene funding we see with the sequels and xxx FPS Shooter #3 knock offs that I kind of got, honestly, tired of after the first few DOOMs made their rounds.

    With that said, I fopund this the other day. And, knowing how paranoid we can all be about strange links, I cut and pasted from it here in addition to the link (yes, the format is strangely familiar, isn’t it? :-) ):

    “High Concept:

    Karaoke Revolution is the most realistic online karaoke simulation ever created. You play as a small town karaoke star that has been selected to compete against a dozen other karaoke stars from around the world in the first virtual, online competition of its kind. Your fate rests in a panel of judges, each an established former karaoke star who now will judge if you are worthy enough for cash, prizes, and the fame you so desperately need to escape small town life. Get big enough of a star and you might even get the chance to be judged by thousands on a live, virtual stage.
    Platform:

    Nintendo Revolution”

    Link: http://iaimtomisbehave.wordpress.com/2006/03/09/i-get-innovative/

  4. Sean Hyde-Moyer commented:
    posted March 13th, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    I like it. Narratively, you might need more than a blackout to sell a city in ruins overnight (but then, I haven’t spent much time in NYC).

    I’ve been exploring some similar themes, entropy as enemy:

    RTS…Why must we fight?

    The great thing about this, thematically, is that you can play it vauge enough to allow people to draw their own conclusions as to why the world has fallen apart. The players emergent narrative drives the sense of paranoia.

    Keep ‘em coming!

  5. BIKEAGE commented:
    posted June 16th, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    It could be like Commandos, with a family instead of a group of commandos :D

  6. Harrison commented:
    posted June 16th, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Reminds me quite a bit of the movie, “Escape from New York”. It sound’s like it would be really interesting and fun to play. I wish all of these games could come out. They’re so innovative!

  7. Jonathan commented:
    posted June 18th, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Aside from really liking the idea, I thought it was funny and ironic that you’d be playing this on a console, which requires electricity.

  8. Granite commented:
    posted June 20th, 2006 at 9:10 am

    Indeed. For more realism, this game should DEFINITELY run only when the system has no power. :P

    Then again, maybe not.

    Brilliant idea though. I’d certainly be psyched about playing it.

  9. patrick commented:
    posted August 27th, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    i think i could be a good game but sumthin would have tto knock over buildings

  10. Patrick Curry’s game ideas. at www.mæstrosync.com commented:
    posted October 25th, 2006 at 6:09 am

    […] One of my favourites is the Blackout concept: Blackout is a survival game with a realistic premise: you’re trapped in a large urban city that’s completely devoid of electricity. There aren’t monsters, zombies, or aliens taking over the city… just other people. How will you escape? How will you survive? […]

  11. Tynan Sylvester commented:
    posted January 31st, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    I think this is a really powerful idea. It could leverage a lot of classical, well-understood gameplay mechanics, while adding enough innovation to feel fresh. I got a bit excited just reading the description.

    I think it could also score really high in the versimilitude department. We all think through what we might do when watching disaster or zombie movies. Blackout might let you try out your own particular strategy.

  12. Tynan Sylvester commented:
    posted January 31st, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    One more thing… I like the focus on the family. Protecting and moving someone more than yourself could create a very wide range of game set peice objectives, while creating huge opportunities for powerful storytelling… emergent or otherwise. You could even optionally abandon part or all of your family to make your life easier.


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