Thursday, July 16, 2009

Design Reboot: Dr. Ivan Just Can't Die

Thursday, July 16, 2009
What high profile game series is least in need of a design reboot? Probably Half-Life. Let's do it anyway. Mental exercise is good for you.

Tricky - Vent

Start back with "Ivan the Space Biker," the earliest incarnation of the Gordon Freeman character model. The chunky hazmat suit, the bushy beard, the flat-top hair cut, the Ted Kaczynski eyes; what's not to love?
We know Gordon Freeman as a cypher, a mute avatar that is nonetheless a heroic figure among videogame protagonists--but how different the original game would be if it were filtered through the perception of Ivan? What gameplay would match the his sensibility, the low constancy of his gutteral rantings?

Unlike the more winsome Dr. Freeman, let's assume Dr. Ivan is as deeply paranoid and reclusive as his appearance suggests.
You're clearly a long term employee of Black Mesa, knowing more than a few dark secrets but also intimately familiar with the layout of the place.
Your status as the facility's recluse means that your tenure at Black Mesa is tenuous at best (ha!)--so you're called to do some cart pushing in the test chamber. Reluctantly you agree in order to keep your job.

The catastropic events that follow might best be described as Diehard meets Andromeda Strain. And you say, "hold on, couldn't that trite movie pitch formula be used to describe the original Half-Life?" to which I say shut up, Dad. I learned it from you.

The game would play as a mayhem-filled survival horror scenario instead of heroic run and gun. As Dr. Ivan, you freak out and hole up in a pre-arranged safe room/storage area deep in depths of Black Mesa, emerging months later very hungry and with a prodigious beard growth, your worst fears confirmed.
Virtually all of your former colleagues are long dead. The US Military is still not far from using the nuclear option on the now alien-infested facility, though desperately trying to reclaim it with conventional means.

But as the time frame is far past that of the original game, the entire base is essentially "behind enemy lines." A First Person Stealth/Insanity Shooter (FPSIS). With cunning, ingenuity, and the self-preservation of a full-blown paranoiac, you'll guide Dr. Ivan to survival, escape... or is it that you've always secretly wanted to go to another dimension and never come back? And what's up with this Barney guy, anyway? Is he on the drugs?

On release, Dr. Ivan Just Can't Die receives a Metacritic rating of 73/100. The game develops a considerable cult following over some years (and a boost in sales once the v.01.05 patch is introduced, which allows players the option to turn off Ivan's rantings), but not enough to fund a sequel. Fans are left wondering just what a deranged, fascinating sequel might have followed from such a difficult, unusual game.


Anonymous said...

I think someone may have made a mod where you play as Ivan, but I'm not too sure.

Anonymous said...

So funny, I want to play that game!

Anonymous said...

All of this did happen. Except Black Mesa got blown up before Dr. Ivan ever left his safe room. Poor Dr. Ivan. :(

Anonymous said...

Sounds a little like the Gordon Freeman from Freeman's Mind.

Anonymous said...

Was there really an Andrew Bird reference in this article? ...awesome!

gauss said...

Anonymous: Here's where things start getting weird,
while chinless men will scratch their beards... :)

Copperkat said...

That first Ivan concept is killer!

Aleks said...

This should be made. Use the original HL1 engine, make new levels, keep weapons, models etc, but rework it into the FPSIS game you describe.
Hell, it would be awesome to play something like that.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Aleks. Then those silenced weapons from the Alpha Half-Life would be used. But, I believe it's already being done.

Jakkar said...

Just wandered back in time to revisit this one - a friend chattered about how he loved the feeling of vent-crawling manic survivalism in Half-Life 1. I had to link him your work.

In hope that I'll oneday have enough time to read your blog more than twice a year, alongside around fifty others I wish I could keep up with.. - Jakkar

gauss said...

Thanks very much! I enjoyed Half-Life very much as well (if it weren't obvious--all these posts come from a place of respect) and so I'm happy you referred someone.

And if you promise to read more than twice a year, I promise to update the same increased interval. In the meantime, be sure to check out the forums, that's where the serious action is these days (linked on the sidebar as well)

Tjinuski said...

I just found my way here through Half-Life wiki and I wanted to say I'd pay good money for a paranoid survival/stealth/puzzle adventure in the Black Mesa setting. I think it would maximize the things I loved most about Half-Life and its sequel(s), while excising the generic shooter sequences. The firearms could be limited to the pistol and the shotgun to remove any temptation to run in guns blazing. I actually loved how in HL when faced with an overwhelming foe, you had to avoid it, run away and find an alternative way of getting rid of it. If only Half-Life 2 let me trip a strider or drop something big and heavy on top of it...

Ashley Pomeroy said...

It's fascinating seeing all the early stuff they designed for Half-Life - it's as if someone took the creative team aside after six months of work and gave them the biggest chewing-out imaginable. And then we had the game we know and love.

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