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Dreaming: West Side Story

With the recent news of Epic Mickey 2 being a musical and Alistair Pinsof's follow up list of gaming's greatest musical moments, it's safe to say the musical genre has been on my mind. I'm not a huge musical theater aficionado by any means, but I do come from a family of musicians (including myself) so I have a strong affinity for the medium.

West Side Story is without a doubt my favorite musical. Now, that's a fairly reasonable statement for anyone to make, but it's somewhat odd considering Iíve never actually seen West Side Story performed on stage. I have fuzzy child-hood memories of watching the movie with my parents on television. When I was older, I got the opportunity to experience Leonard Bernstein's musical compositions firsthand. During my freshman year of high-school, our marching band performed a West Side Story inspired marching show. I was in the pit and had a short, but absolutely hilarious xylophone solo during Officer Krumpke.

That's the beauty of Bernsteinís music, it's hilarious. It's also cool, suspenseful, haunting, and majestic. His ability to make you feel whatever he wants you to through his music is simply phenomenal. I felt obliged to revisit the movie soon after and absolutely fell in love with it (I couldn't fully appreciate it as a 10 year old). Beyond the music though, the story, characters, set pieces, and choreography are all top-notch.

So why am I telling you about my love for West Side Story? Because I want a West Side Story game. Iíve been toying with the idea for a few months now. I wouldnít just want a straight adaptation though. Iíve always believed the biggest strength of video games (and animation in general) is the ability to go beyond the limits of reality. Sure, with make-up, CGI, and improved motion capture technology itís easier than ever for live action films like Avatar or Transformers to exist. But thatís all the more reason for video games to not go down the route of ultra realism. We already have a medium where realism works beautifully.

For that reason, my favorite games typically embrace stylized art and character direction. So when I thought about what my West Side world would look like, my inspiration came from the two gang names, the Jets and Sharks. I thought, why not literal Jets and Sharks? So yes, my West Side Story world would be inhabited with anthropomorphic avian and aquatic creatures.

Something like this. Courtesy of deviant artists keofoxglove and seel-dingo.

Gameplay and story is a bit trickier, and not something Iíve been able to completely flesh out yet. I imagine an open world where youíre free to explore the streets of New York City as you please. But it wouldn't be a massive GTA type city, instead, it would be scaled down to a few blocks. I want players to to be able to explore in detail every building in the vicinity. The gym where the dance is held, Doc's shop, the tenement flats, the bridal shop; everything is open, detailed, and interactive.

As for the story, if the game were to follow the musical directly, it wouldn't last very long. I was
thinking you could do side quests for individual Shark and Jet members, or other members of
the community like Doc. The player perspective would shift between the four main characters; Tony, Maria, Bernardo, and Riff. There would also be shorter sections where you could take control of secondary characters like Anita, Chino, Ice or even background characters like Anybodys. Maybe you could even play as Officer Krumpke. Being able to play through and experience the story from all perspectives would greatly extend the game life.

How do I make this fun to play?

Of course, the most important part of all of this is how the musical numbers would actually fit into the gameplay. As I said, one of the best things about West Side Story beyond the music is the fantastic choreography. But how do I translate that into the players hand? Does the game suddenly become a rhythm game at certain points? But I don't know if that type of gameplay would appropriately capture the feelings of certain scenes. I especially don't like the idea of transitioning from a free-roaming game where you have complete control over a character to one in which you merely watch your character dance to a series of rhythmic button button taps you make. That's a disconnect I wouldn't want.

So that's it. My dream West Side Story game. It'll never happen, but I still like to think about.
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About bacon1eggsone of us since 12:54 PM on 03.30.2010

27 year old gaming anthropologist. Topics of interest include game preservation, archaeogaming, diversity/representation (both in games and in the industry), and chiptune music.

My Top 10

1. Metroid Prime Trilogy
2. Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
3. Killer 7
4. Perfect Dark
5. Super Smash Brothers Wii U
6. Legend of Dragoon
7. Advance Wars Dual Strike
8. Front Mission
9. No More Heroes 2
10. Spec Ops: The Line

Find my multimedia blog here latinoludologist.wordpress.com