There are some ideas I can’t get out of my head. Ideas that I can’t do anything about. These are the ideas that keep me up at night, that make me take 20-minute showers, that make it supremely difficult to focus my mind on projects I can reasonably hope to accomplish. Most of these impossible-to-exorcize-ideas have to do with video games. I like games a lot, and I always think of new games I’d like to play. I don’t have the technical skills or the artistic skills to even come close to half-realizing any of my ideas. Let’s add the problem of intellectual property rights, and it becomes increasingly clear that my maniacally imagined sequels and spin-offs are doomed to bounce around the inside of my skull forever.
A new Darkstalkers game has occupied this skull-space for a while. I never much played the series when it was alive in arcades, but I was fascinated by the concept of Capcom tackling a fighting game where all the playable characters were monsters. Many of the game’s innovations have essentially been co-opted by the Vs. Capcom series – so when Capcom started talking about reviving the series, I started to wonder what fundamentally successful elements of the series they would stay true to. After all, that’s how you revive an old series: remember what works, and make it better. By my count Darksalkers had exactly three things going for it at the time:
1. Fighting game built on the solid Street Fighter 2 foundation.
2. Unique, compelling character concepts and world
3. Rich, vibrant art style
Hopefully, I’ve been able to maintain all those aspects in my design while offering up some concepts that could begin to brand the franchise anew. It’s not just about bringing the series back – it’s bringing the series back in a way that matters.
Art Style – Rip Off Sin City
Step number one is going to be addressing the style in which everything in the game is visually expressed. The cartoon-esque sprites that were used for the original releases were absolutely wonderful, but that style has been used in all of Capcom’s big fighters for the last couple years – most noticeably in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (which contains three Darkstalkers characters). The last thing I’d want is for the Morrigan, Felicia and Hsienko models from MvC3 recycled for this release. It’s got to be bold. I want to look at a screen shot and say “holy shit, that’s neat.”
Capcom has been aping from manga and American comic books forever. Maybe it’s time they lift a more striking style – may I suggest Frank Miller’s Sin City?
I’m talking incredibly high contrast: black and white. Imagine a stage like the scene pictured above, the snow obscuring the movements of the characters but their bold simple images popping against the solid black background. Of course some characters could have accent colors, like the Yellow Bastard or Blue Eyes do in Sin City:
Another benefit of this art style is that it would change the way the characters are depicted based on their environment. I mentioned the snowy field, but what about a completely white background with the character’s silhouetted in black? Or a bar scene where the light source comes from a casually swinging overhead light, casting long shadows? Maybe a colorful stained glass window that our silhouetted characters fight in front of. Not all the levels need to be so dynamic, some can be nicely drawn black and white (no gray) environments for our nicely drawn black and white characters to beat eachother up in. And there could even be levels that take place in some kind of opium nightmare and are depicted as strange and colorful, like Wallace’s drug induced hallucinations in “Hell and Back.”
The Darkstalkers characters have always been a interesting mix of quirky and terrifying and giving them (and their world) the Sin City treatment would create an awesome synthesisof art and thematic material. Also, it would be the only fighter to look like this on the market – and visually distinct from all the other drek that’s out there. Except maybe LIMBO… but everyone loved LIMBO, right?
Roster – A Dozen Distinct Characters
The most recent Mortal Kombat game maxes out with 32 characters (with Kratos in the PS3 version and 4 DLC characters). Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition has 39. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has 50. This is more characters that you can ever hope to master. For most players, it’s more than you’ll ever even play. And I know there are real playable differences between Ken, Ryu, Akuma, Evil Ryu, Dan, and Sakura, but these guys have a lot of the same tricks. Let’s trim the fat a here – we’ve already got some redundancies in the Dalkstalkers line-up.
So, let’s just bring back the 8 most compelling characters from the series and then invent 4 more. There should be no problem dipping into the deep well of folk-monsters to come up with fun, interesting characters to play. Obviously, we have to choose between one of the two succubi above. Morrigan seems like the right choice, because she shows up wearing the cameo badge in every single crossover title. But maybe we want to mix things up and make the younger, less hilariously sexual Lilith the face of the franchise. Going with Lilith would be a bold statement about taking the series in new directions while staying true to it’s spirit. Quickly, my other character picks:
Okay, there are 8 here in addition to the Lilith/Morrigan pick. The whole bottom row of characters could stand to have their designs radically altered, but in particular, I think that gold golem thing (Hutzil) could be re-worked. So he’s there, but I want to see him re-imagined.
Digital Release – Low Price Point – Limited Availability – Frequent Events
Here’s where my suggestions get bold. These kinds of games have such periodic release dates, we may as well embrace it from the get-go. Let’s agree that there should be an updated version of the game every year. But let’s not stop there. I want a game that sticks to a strict real-world schedule that rewards me for coming back to the game. Here’s my suggestion:
Build the game around the winter solstice. The game can only be played in the three months before and three months after the solstice. This means late September to late March, which is about the time we need media to be excited about – the days are getting shorter and colder and generally more depressing. You’ll notice this is when new TV shows come back on the air. This half of the year is also peppered with holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, the solstice, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s. I want to see new content (maybe playable characters, play modes, stages, etc.) associated with those holidays. This way, the community can more frequently bond over the changes to the game.
The game would also be tracking which character you play the most, effectively determining your favorite. After a month of play, the game makes you play a special story mode with that character that ends in the DEATH of that character. DEAD. Meaning you would be unable to use that character while he/she is dead. Naturally, a month or so later you’d be able to resurrect the character somehow, but I like the idea that the game forces you outside your comfort zone, but would also force the community to mix up their own tactics as well. Let’s say the first month of on-line play is starting to get tough because people are so well in-tune with their favorite character – but now, one month in, they are forced to explore the other characters. It’s all in an effort to level the field without over-simplifying anything.
Oh and let’s keep this thing around $20. Especially if it’s going to be taken away after 6 months.
A Few More Demands (as long as I’m making them)
No come-back mechanics. The community is asking for this – no one wants to deliver it. No hyper-combos, no super-arts, no ultras.
A sweet spot for combos – I’d like to see a number of hits that makes a combo deal more damage. Let’s say 6. A 6-hit combo gets an extra damage bonus. 5-hit doesn’t get it, 7-hit doesn’t get it. It would make everyone more mindful of what exactly they’re doing.
Similarly, let’s get a ceiling on hits-in-a-combo. I’m setting it here as 11. Any combo greater than 11 hits can be interrupted by your opponent pushing any button and knocking you out of the combo. It’s a good way of preventing infinites, but it also just keeps games civil – no one showing off with any kind of moronic 85-hit combo. I mean 85 hits? What’s the point?
ALSO, it’d be cool if the loser of the round got to alter one of those two numbers (sweet spot or hit ceiling), by making it one higher or one lower. So if I lose round 1 because I was hit with too many six-hit combos, I can up that sweet spot to 7 and mess up the next round for my opponent.
More story mode options. Everyone gets their own unique story – and a good one at that. No more shitty half-animated cut scenes. Also a full campaign mode like Mortal Kombat did. In addition, I’d like to see some special event stories; remember that opium nightmare idea I had earlier? Maybe you have to fight through a series of colorful surreal challenges before you earn the right to play in those trippy color-levels. And the death and resurrection stories too.
Most of my suggestions are presentationally based. But I think that is where fighting games are traditionally lacking, and it’d be worth it to have a game I wouldn’t mind showing off to my friends who aren’t fans of the genre. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted: a fighting game I didn’t have to be embarrassed by.