Friday, November 13, 2015

Rooftop Running Game Ideas

So the munchkin weasel loves what she calls "The Run-Run Game", which happens to be Mirror's Edge.  She, and the elder weasel who is nowhere near as taken with it as she is (haven't heard elder weasel mention it in ages) are both better at understanding game design than the people who made the damned game.

This is not to say that they could make a better game at this point in their development, no chance in Hell, but rather that they know bad game design when they see it, they know (to an extent) good game design when they see it, and they're aware of which you should pursue.

It's been a while since they first met Mirror's Edge, and thus my memories of it are a bit hazy, but I think they were able to recognize, diagnose, and propose workable solutions to all of the major flaws in the game within ten minutes of meeting it (not even playing it, just seeing it played) and I know they did all that, at the very least, by the end of their first encounter.

This post is not about Mirror's Edge.

Neither is this post about the Subway Surfers knock off I've occasionally considered making that would be called, "Rooftop Runners".

At some point I'm going to get around to writing about how the movie Premium Rush proves that there should be a bicycle courier game, but that is likewise neither here nor there.

So, what is this post about?

Mirror's Edge was a game that, when it got things right, was about running over rooftops as a courier.  (Note how the previous sentence ties together elements of all three of the not-about-this things I brought up earlier.)  It was, in that regard, quite awesome.  (Less so when it was about fighting heavily armed private security contractors.)  Why the awesome?  Well, rooftops make a wonderful setting for three dimensional platforming, and there's a reason we see running on them in all sorts of movies*: it's just plain cool.

But, there's also a problem.  Modern city streets tend to be way too wide to actually jump over if you lack superpowers.  One solution: superpowers.

Remember the jump in the Matrix?  One of the things all of our heroes are trained in (which everyone fails the first time) good solution to too-large gaps between rooftops.

Any game with superpowers, be they real world powers or, like in the Matrix, powers in a simulated world that is somehow important, easily solves the problem of gaps in rooftop running.  Mind you if there's not some kind of limitation placed on the power then it also kind of ruins the not-impossible-gaps.

Another route, the one Mirror's Edge took, is to have the cityscape (roofscape?) intentionally altered in order to facilitate movement across too large gaps.  There are a variety of ways one can imagine doing this including building gangway like structures to extend the runnable area over part of the gap, making ziplines, laying long beams across too-large-gaps, and so forth.  (And, honestly, I'm basically just stealing from Mirror's Edge there.)  And this is where we can really get into game ideas because the question becomes: why would you do that?

* * *
Proposal one: For the hell of it.

There's a lot of potential in "underground" cultures even when they happen to be above ground.  Maybe people made the rooftops into their playground just because.

Free running and parkour apparently have different philosophies, and there's no need for the game to adhere to either, but whether you're using movement as fun and self expression, or pushing yourself to find the most efficient way around obstacles for fun, or doing something else that involves fun, rooftop playground setting would be a nice thing.

We can certainly insert a plot here, but a sandbox open word might be just fine.

* * *
Proposal two: Zombies.

Traditional zombies are slow so making a form of transit that involves a lot of running and jumping does, in fact, make a hell of a lot of sense if attacked by them.

Whether traditional or not, zombies are often a ground level threat.  Moving to the rooftops, which you convert to the gardens where you grow your food, is a good idea.  Moving to just one rooftop, however, is not a good idea because given time zombies will climb stairs and kill you.

By barricading the ways up (pretty much just the stairs) and doing it in such a way that an alarm is sounded when the barricade is broken, you make it so you and yours can live pretty much indefinitely** in a zombie infested area.  When the alarm goes off you have plenty of time to evacuate that building, remove things that allow that rooftop to access other rooftops, and be safe.  With no people to attack in the building the zombies may well just leave allowing you to return to the building, recreate the barricades and alarms, and go on as you did before.

If the zombies don't leave on their own you can send in a special team to make the building safe again and return it to your network.

Regardless, provided that the zombies don't attack all the buildings in your network simultaneously, this set up allows you to safely exist in a zombie infested city.  (If you've got a large enough network, the zombies attacking all of the buildings simultaneously might spread them thin enough that by retreating to a chosen few you can still fight them off with minimal losses.)

Also, remember when Whedon endorsed Mitt Romney*** he said that in the resulting zompocalpyse you'd want to be around people who knew parkour.

Dying light is, I'm told, a parkour and zombie game, but even with its recent sale at half price I can't afford it and thus cannot tell you how close or far it is from this idea.

* * *
Proposal 3: Couriers.
There are 1,500 bike messengers on the street in New York City. You can e-mail it, FedEx it, fax it, scan it, but when none of that shit works and this thing has to be at that place by this time, you need us.
- Premium Rush (2012)
The above makes the argument that you don't need an special considerations to need couriers, though they're bike messengers, not runners.

If, for some reason, couriers are forced off street level then you get a game like Mirror's Edge.  Mirror's Edge had too much combat and not enough run.  The developers claim to have learned their lesson, and the sequel prequel reboot, which won't come out until next year (May 26, 2016), will actually, they claim, be doing some of the very things I've suggested original should have done.  That remains to be seen, but this post isn't about Mirror's Edge.

Still, Mirror's Edge gives us a decent look at why their might be rooftop couriers.  It takes place in a surveillance state.  Absolute surveillance.  All electronic things monitored, presumably all physical mail read while "in transit", and no way to get a message to anyone without it being intercepted, decoded, analyzed, and subject to being read by anyone in the upper echelons of the government who simply feels like it is to use illegal courier services.

Since most of the work the police do is on the ground, the rooftops made a logical choice.  Bike messengers would be intercepted.

One of the things that stands out to me is that something like Mirror's Edge could have been a direct same-universe sequel to Deus Ex.  Invisible War went alternate universe because it didn't want to have to pick one of Deus Ex's three endings.

In two of those endings all electronic means of communications are monitored by an AI capable of actually sifting an entire world's worth of information.  In one of the endings said-AI openly takes over the world, thus gaining control of all non-electronic legal means of communication at a distance.  If the player wasn't a monster then, since the AI merged with the player to understand what it's like to be an embodied human, the AI is a benevolent dictator meaning that it's probably not going to have illegal couriers shot on sight (they might just be delivering, say, love letters that the lovers in question would rather not have the world overlord reading) but it is going to be concerned about them because they could potentially be delivering plans for revolution.

Rooftop running couriers make loads of sense in that setting especially considering that the previous would-be world conquerors had influenced major cities into creating a setting of walls and checkpoints that would make it very easy to stop ground level couriers.

(One of the first acts of the AI was to order the streets opened, but the gates used to close them in the first place can, presumably, be closed again at a moment's notice.)

* * *
Proposal 4: Rising Sea level.

The ground floor is underwater.  How deep?  Don't know.  Depends on what you're wanting.  To get from building to building you need to do it at an elevated level.

In this setting there would probably be much more extensive connections between buildings.  I've tried to look for a term, but apparently they're just called "elevated pedestrian bridges" which is boring and a lot of syllables.

Anyway, we're again seeing our rooftop runners as somehow at the margins because they're not using the socitally built and approved of means of traversing the place.

* * *
Proposal 5: Graboids.

Ok, this has some severe problems with it because cities are not built on loose soil, maybe it's a small town game but in that case why are there enough buildings close enough together to do rooftop running?

On the other hand, the creatures from Tremors et al. are a really good reason to avoid ground level and stick to the roofs.  So perhaps the hurdles could be overcome.

* * *
Proposal 6: Assholes.

This is, basically, what Tomb Raider (2013) went with.  Why is the island so hard to navigate with the best paths often involving jumps that can get you killed (or at least severely injured) and shoddy constructions that could fall apart at any moment?

Because (most of) the island is controlled by assholes who think if you can't do all of this acrobatic shit you deserve to die and that assumes you're already on their side.

Easy to adapt to larger circumstances: the player finds zirself in a place where the primary pathways are things that involve jumping from rooftop to rooftop because they're in a place that is controlled by assholes who think that anyone who fails to make that almost-too-far-to-jump jump deserves to die and see gravity taking care of it for them as a feature.

They've made enough modification that they can make it around, but not enough that it can be done easily or safely.

* * *
Proposal 7: Ninja

The teenage mutant ninja turtles spend at least as much time on rooftops as they do in the sewers where they live.  Why?  They're fucking ninja, that's why.

Presumably grappling hooks and or mystical magical shit is required.

* * *
Proposal 8: Different transit system.

Modern city streets offer places that are too far to jump because of what we use them for (cars, usually a minimum of two lanes and often with space to park on either side and sidewalks on top of that) somewhere with a completely different primary means of transportation could offer much smaller gaps between buildings allowing for a more claustrophobic setting on the ground and a much easier time jumping from roof to roof.

* * *
Proposal 9: Entirely different architectural system.

You know how merpeople would create cities that took it as given that you could enter a building via the top floor and microgravity people would create cities with no up and down?

There's no reason that our way of creating cities, even if one assumes that distances on the ground between buildings are the same, need be the only one.  There's no reason that there can't be more stuff at higher levels.  Maybe there's floating crap between buildings, maybe buildings get bigger as they go up and the distance between them is necessitated by the need to be able to not hit each other when they sway, maybe ...

* * *
Other stuff.
* * *

* Exhibit A: Fast Five, a live action movie in the action genre that is full of car chases and guns and a heist for good measure.  It stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vin Diesel, and Paul Walker.  It came out (in theaters) in April 2011.

Exhibit B: Monster High: Boo York, Boo York, a computer animated movie in the "We make fashion-dolls, here's a movie to make little girls want new ones and new fashions for them" genre that is full of difficult emotional decisions, soul searching, and a purple crystal space ship, which will destroy the world if someone doesn't send it the appropriate music to wake the pilot, for good measure.  It stars a principally female cast, notably Missi Hale, Salli Saffioti (in two different major roles), and Laura Bailey.  It came out (on Netflix) in September 2015.

These two examples might not be quite as different as you can get, but they are on the opposite ends of several spectrums.  What do both movies have in common?  Running across rooftops.

** It's estimated that the big buildings in a modern city would take some 500 years to collapse without maintenance.  Obviously that time doesn't account for, you know, setting them on fire, detonating bombs in them, hitting them with large objects, flooding their lower floors, dropping space ships on them, or anything like that.

*** (Transcript is below the video.)

[Whedon in kitchen]

You know, like a lot of liberal Americans, I was excited when Barack Obama took office four years ago. But it's a very different world now, and Mitt Romney is a very different candidate. One with the vision and determination to cut through "business as usual politics" and finally put this country back on the path to the zombie apocalypse.

Romney is ready to make the deep rollbacks --in healthcare, education, social services, reproductive rights-- that will guaranty poverty, unemployment, overpopulation, disease, rioting --all crucial elements in creating a nightmare zombie wasteland. But it's his commitment to ungoverned corporate privilege that will nose-dive this economy into true insolvency and chaos.

The kind of chaos you can't buy back. Money is only so much paper to the undead. The 1% will no longer be the very rich, it'll be the very fast. Anyone can run, fight, make explosives out of household objects or especially do parkour of any kind - you'll want to stick with them ... unless they read Ayn Rand.

Look, I don't pretend to see the future. No one knows for sure if they'll be the super-fast 28 Days Later zombies or the old-school shambling kind. But they're out there, and they need brains.

So, whether you're a small business man just trying to keep his doors open, a single mom so concerned for her son's welfare that she'll run to embrace him when he's clearly infected and going to bite her, or a strung-out ex-military type, who's been out there too long and is taking the kind of damn-fool chances that'll get us all killed, you need to ask yourself, 'Am I ready? Am I ready for the purity and courage of Mitt Romney's apocalyptic vision?'

Mitt's ready. He's not afraid to face a ravening, rasping hoard of sub-humans, because that's how he sees poor people already. Let's all embrace the future, stop pretending we care about each other, and start hoarding canned goods. Because if Mitt takes office, sooner or later, the zombies will come for all of us.

[Image: Zomney
He Needs Brains]

[spoken quickly over image:] Paid for by the Committee to Learn Parkour, Like Really Soon, Like Maybe Take A Class Or Something.

[back to Whedon in kitchen]

Hmmm. Spam has its own key.


  1. Generally when cities get flooded they get evacuated. Why are there still people here, in #4, who haven't moved to Denver or wherever?

    Variant of #7/#8 - a large building or collation of buildings, as it might be a mall - perhaps with the original streets roofed over to keep the rain off the shoppers?

    1. Why are there still people here, in #4 [...]?

      It's home, no one else was living there so it was free housing, the better off areas are under despotic rule, the powers that be simply abandoned everyone in the city in question ... take your pick.

  2. Not exactly rooftops, but it did come to mind as I read through your list: the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk has its society living in trees because what lives on the ground is too dangerous for Wookiees to want to tangle with. (Not sure what that is, but I'm very, very sure I wouldn't want to tangle with it, either.)

    But that could apply to other sci-fi/fantasy type worlds. Hell, you could have floating cities or cities on stilts and up that by going to the rooftop because the nasty things on the ground are starting to get at the lower levels.

    Again, borrowing off other fiction, did you ever see the Disney Afternoon show Tale Spin? Something like Kit's cloud surfing widget or a pocket hang glider could make for a fictionally plausible way to traverse spaces too far to plausibly jump.

  3. It struck me, reading the "Assholes" section, that another option is "not a human city". If you're roof-running in the alien grasshopperoid city, obviously the jumps are going to be wider than humans can normally handle....

  4. Places on stilts do make roof travel a good idea.

    I think of SE Asia... Small places like that, mostly single-story, are where I've been, but Bankok was ans somewhat is a city of canals. And Ayutthaya before that... Not sure about, say, Ankor...


    Places in, like, Holland where the frozen canals become ice roads!

    The Hobbit had an example in Laketown, yeah?