Game Design Snippet 7: The Radio Show/Virtual World Display Paradigm

As much as I enjoy Valve games, let’s take a break from the state-of-the-art and go in completely the opposite direction. In fact, we’re going back before the dawn of videogames. Before television and even color movies. We’re going waaaaaaaaaay back to the 1930s and 40s for the latest game design snippet: the good old Radio Show Paradigm.

So what is a Radio Show Paradigm and what does it have to do with modern game development? Quite simply, my idea is to design a game with absolute minimal graphics but fantastically immersive sound. I’m talking about a text-parser interface, or a very minimalist iconic one. In the place of graphics for characters would be icons for the characters’ positions in the world and like a radio show you could hear them talking and walking around.

But this could actually be done with a first-person perspective interface as well. We could say that the protagonist is actually blind and the graphics you see are an experimental cybernetic interface (or we could go the M Night Shyamalan’s The Village route and have people represented by blobs of color). I call this sort of extremely basic 3D iconic version of a “real” world a Virtual World Display. The people and things would all give off sounds constantly, and the audio would be the whole point. The iconic graphics would be purely for spatial reference.

Behind the scenes, the computer would still keep track of everything. You could still have physics puzzles and various other objects that work just like in HL2’s world (drop a mug and it will break and so on), it’s just that the player wouldn’t see it directly and be entirely dependent on the sound of it happening. Not rendering it to the player could allow for even more advanced behind-the-scenes effects than currently available since the computer is only keeping track of the positions of objects and characters and not what they actually look like. For example: nearly-“real” water that can be poured from container to container and splashed onto objects without the game throwing a fit because of all the particles it would be rendering visually.

The exact sort of interactions would depend on the plot of the game. You could play the son or daughter of a renowned scientist who assists his or her parents in a lab. You could play a blind assassin who relies on stealth and cunning to take down foes. You could be a small town potter who stumbles upon a gate to a strange world unlike your own that you can’t even see. You could simply be a Virtual World Display test subject in a Portal-like environment where you have to rely on your wits to survive the challenges a mad AI gives you.

A state of the art machine does not necessarily demand a state of the art visual design. To make a game where the video serves the audio would make an interesting challenge.

All Game Design Snippets copyright (C) 2008 Matthew Mather.

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