And not just for the beefy, barely dressed men.
I remember the first time I got my hands on God of War. Not the new game — I’ll get to that one in a second — but the original title back on the PlayStation 2. I was in between housing at the time, one of the most frustrating months of my life. Staying at an acquaintance’s house, everything I owned was in storage so all I had access to was their PS2. For the week and a half I was there, they rented two games: Gran Turismo 4 and this blood-soaked brawler set in the era of Greek gods. For that week, whenever I could, I eviscerated hoards of harpies, dogs, gorgons, minotaurs and more. I powered up every weapon and defeated every diety that stood in my way, and as I watched Kratos take his rightful seat among the gods at the end, I wanted more. Not just more God of War, but more Greek Mythology.
That game sparked my interest in the era. I wanted to know everything about it. I wanted to know every god, every hero, every trial of Heracles, everything. Mostly, I wanted more games set in the period. So I bought Spartan: Total Warrior for my GameCube, Glory of Heracles for my DS, and of course I have the entire Kid Icarus franchise on my 3DS. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted more, but unfortunately, gaming didn’t have too many answers for me.
You can barely swing a controller without hitting some game set in an Arthurian/Tolkien fantasy inspired setting, yet games that take place in the Greek and Roman Antiquities are few and far in between. Why is that? Why are we drowning in swords and shields but nearly bone dry when it comes to swords and sandals? Just look how sad this Wikipedia Category page is for the genre. Shameful.
There is absolutely no reason why developers can pillage this particular part of our past for new video games. The new God of War is leaving it behind after three fantastic games set in the period (and also two so-so games and whatever the hell God of War: Ascension was supposed to be) and without a new Kid Icarus on the horizon, it’s slim pickings for Antiquity games. I can’t be the only one who wants to try my hands at the labors of Heracles or play an aerial action game as Bellerophon atop Pegasus. There are just far too many great myths out there to be ignored and any developer looking for inspiration for its next game should open up an ancient world studies textbook.
I have a huge fascination with Eastern culture, so I’ve always wondered about the history of countries like China, Japan, Thailand, and Korea. While basically any of those settings haven’t been utilized well enough in gaming, China is the one that sparks my interest the most. While that is probably due to being a fan of 1970’s Hong Kong cinema, I’m still kind of baffled that we don’t have many games taking place in modern day Hong Kong.
Sleeping Dogs is the only one I can think of and it was exciting for that very reason. Hong Kong is loaded with sensory overload and it makes for a suitably game-like experience. Developers and publishers touting graphics would be silly to keep ignoring Hong Kong because it is perfect for showcasing all kinds of lighting and weather effects. You could also fill the game world with a bazillion people and it still wouldn’t be enough to accurately portray the population of the city.
I also would like more games to embrace the silliness that kung fu films nailed so well. Let me fly through the air or slow motion punch a guy in the face and send him through a wall. For that matter, why isn’t there a good Bruce Lee game?
It’s surprising how much more of feudal Japan I want to see. No, I don’t want to experience that through Samurai Warriors. That’s just an action-hack-n-slash taking you on a blur of a tour through ancient Japan. Nioh, however, ignited my curiosity of Sengoku era Japan. So when I saw a trailer for a new samurai game, Ghost of Tsushima, I knew I wanted more.
I guess it goes further back than that. I loved Way of the Samurai 3, so this is not like it came out of nowhere. But Nioh and Ghost of Tsushima are high profile games. It feels like I only recently got a taste of games that could very well be commonplace in their native Japan because those two are getting exposure here in the west. Even then I can go further into the genres. Nioh incorporates Japanese mythology and superstition. Ghost of Tsushima looks to be a supernatural take on an ancient period of Japanese occupation. And Way of the Samurai is generally in some random period when samurai are active and its usually more or less a period piece. There’s more to be explored. Remember Tenchu? Doesn’t Tenchu deserve a chance at a modern revival? Or how about a mystical journey across Japan not unlike Okami or, dare I say it, Mystical Ninja Goemon?
I want more rooftop running, katana dueling, shuriken throwing, crazy-ass helmet wearing, oni slaying choices in this world of mine surrounded by American war shooters or weirdly French tinted history lessons. I don’t just want to be a weeaboo, I want to be an aficionado!
Occams Electric Toothbrush
You know, as boring as the Assassin’s Creed games are to me, I still really love how they strive for historical accuracy in the settings. I’ve often found myself playing them and ignoring the story so I could wander around and look at the little details. Why try to stop the Templars or Brotherhood or whatever when I can find out what a kitchen in the French Revolution looked like? These virtual museum tours in video games fascinate me. It’s a level of immersion that I think is untapped as entertainment and an educational tool. When I look at what’s been done, and the places video games have taken us, I can’t help but notice a lack of experiences in an era referred to as the Roaring Twenties.
The Roaring Twenties was a period from 1920 – 1929 marked by sustained economic growth with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Western Europe, particularly in major cities like New York, London and Paris (thanks, Wikipedia). The arts thrived during this time. The Jazz Age was born. The Harlem Renaissance kicked off. Art Deco flourished, and women began embracing the flapper look and lifestyle. New technology like the automobile gave folks the ability to be on the move and explore their world in ways previously unknown. This is just a few examples of what happened during this time. Basically, shit was awesome, and folks were partying and telling dirty jokes and art and culture thrived.
But there was also a lot of conflicts. Folks in rural areas didn’t like the loose morals and jazz music. Too much change too fast for them. So Prohibition happened. There was a culture war happening that would have ramifications for generations to come. And don’t get me started on the gangsters. This was the era of Al Capone, after all. That’s where the game comes in. Imagine something like a Grand Theft Auto type experience set in New York in the 20’s. Model the buildings of historical photos. Get music and environments from the era. Make it as much about interacting with the world and characters as it is the action. One moment, sitting in on the Vicious Circle at the Algonquin sipping a cocktail and the next, punching out a crooked cop on Capone’s payroll.
It’s easy to romanticize an era filled with so much romance but being able to go back and experience that, even as a virtual tourist, would be an amazing experience.
My preferences for video game settings tend to lean towards weird and fantastic original locales, but there’s one real-life country… continent… countrinent I’m a bit baffled to not see in games more often. Everyone knows how “interesting” it is to live in Australia. The weather is hot, the wildlife is deadly, and the cultural stereotypes are a plenty. Everyone knows these things about Australia. Everyone knows Australia. And it sounds like it’d make an exotic and interesting backdrop for games, so… why are there so few games there?
How many games take place in Australia, even? I can only name three IPs off the top of my head; Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Crash Bandicoot, and Golf Story (which I didn’t even know took place there until recently). It seems weird that a countrinent as iconic and distinct as Australia would have so little representation in games. Maybe it’s too deadly? Maybe RPG designers don’t want to make players constantly deal with poison status effects? Maybe Crash and Ty played with Australian stereotypes so much that other aspiring platformers are afraid to do something more original with them?
This place just has so much of a reputation for being dangerous that it seems like a missed opportunity to not use it more often in a medium that frequently makes its audience overcome danger. I mean, I love it when games explore more peaceful gameplay premises, including Golf Story, but that hasn’t stopped Crash from punching an insane kangaroo! Whatever the case, Australia really deserves more chances to shine like every other first world country has in video games.
Most of the time, I dive into video games for a bit of escapism, and to explore new worlds I would never have had the opportunity to see otherwise. But, on occasion, it would be nice to play a game set in surroundings I’m a lot more familiar with. A game about 20th century Britain would be nice. A game set in northern, industrial England between the 1970s and 1990s would be great, and not in the least bit as boring as it sounds.
During the Thatcher years and just afterwards, former mining towns and pretty much any region that wasn’t associated with the financial industry was in sharp decline. A generation of young men found that their default vocations no longer existed. The 1970s were marked by three-day work weeks due to limits on electricity consumption; the 1980s were notorious for the miners’ strike and the Falklands War; the early 1990s saw the poll tax riots. It was a time when a lot of youngsters didn’t know what to do with themselves, so while youth culture was vibrant, it was also quite an unsettling time to come into adolescence.
The era has already been touched upon directly or indirectly in a variety of films and TV shows, such as The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Our Friends in the North and This is England. I think it’s time it saw the light of day in a narrative-heavy video game. Life wasn’t simple back then, but it sure was interesting.
Bandai Namco’s Tower of Druaga series may star a hero named Gilgamesh, but there aren’t many series that are faithful to the demigod’s original legend. With the story starting off with an oppressive ruler who befriends the man who was meant to take him down, the Mesopotamian tales sounds like the making of a solid game.
While Gilgamesh has appeared in series like Fate and Final Fantasy, you rarely get to see the story where he bonds with the hairy wild man known as Enkidu. The two of them go up against likes of a deadly giant guardian and a bull-deity as they go on a quest based on events from the Sumerian King’s dreams.
Other than delivering a fine take on one of the oldest legends, going through a game about a powerful king facing the consequences of seeking fame could lead to a great time. In fact, it could turn Enkidu’s death into one hell of an emotional scene as we witness Gilgamesh’s motives for seeking immortality surface. If it’s done right, we’ll get a big adventure where each great moment is an outcome based on the two characters’ actions, instead of overcoming an evil entity who brings chaos to the entire land.
With places like the Cedar Forest (a.k.a. one of the Mesopotamian realms of the gods) and a mountain located at the end of the Earth, a game based on the Epic of Gilgamesh has the potential to give us environments we don’t see too often in titles based around mythology. Depending on the developer, this tale could work well as an action or a point-and-click adventure title. Since Gilgamesh is one of the early demigods, his status is enough for him to get the playable product he deserves.
Now those are some fine, fine choices and Occam’s piece on the Roaring Twenties reminds me of Faith and a .45 that could have been so good and now I’ve made myself sad.