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The Hunger Games

  So, like all red-blooded humans (and a few of the purple- and mauve-blooded humans), I love The Hunger Games. I love it so much that the reason I get annoyed at all the self-important hipsters who claim to have liked it better when it was called Battle Royale isn’t because they’re painfully unfunny, it’s that The Most Dangerous Game and ancient Roman gladiatorial combat came out first and if you’re going to be an unfunny moron, at least do it right.

  Anyway, I am also a huge video game nerd. While Lionsgate decided to tease us with the fact that they’re developing a video game based off the books, specifics have yet to be revealed. Kotaku has a list of five points that should be honored if a game is made, and I readily agree with most of them. Namely, the developer shouldn’t feel the need to tie the events directly to the movies, multiplayer is for chumps, creativity is king, and (perhaps above all) the violence has to have an impact. Let’s talk about (by which I mean, let me tell you) what will make a mighty fine Hunger Games.

POTENTIAL TITLES (A WORK IN PROGRESS)

  The Hunger Games: The Hunger Games Saga: The Video Game
  The Hunger Games: Child Murder Simulator
  The Hunger Games The Game
  Jean Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport: Hunger Games Edition
  KATNISS, I CHOOSE YOU! (only if it’s like Pokémon)
  Catching Dysentery: A Hunger Games Tale
  Better Than Talking To Your Children: Violent Babysitter 3000

PLOT

  There wouldn’t be one.

  Alright, let me rephrase this. The plot will be what you, the player, put into it. The only thing set in stone will be that you are selected for the Hunger Games. You will have a handful of days to prepare before twenty three people need to kill you and vice versa. But who you are as a person, as a character, and your place in the world are for you to decide.

  How would that happen? Well, read on, gentle reader. Read on.

DEVELOPING A CHARACTER – IT’S LIKE MENU-DRIVEN JOY!

  Your first decision will be to select the difficulty by selecting which district you come from. The rich districts, as established by the book’s canon, train their children to be tributes. As such, they have the “easiest” classes to work with. Essentially, you’ll have the choice of brawler (melee specialist), ranger (ranged specialist), politician (your all-arounder with passive buffs which increase with more party members), and medic (heals characters, uses less consumable items). These classes are designed to introduce the player to larger concepts while keeping things simple. All of these classes have an easy early-to-mid game, but if things go on too long, they’re going to start hurting.

  The middle districts start getting a little bit more difficult. You’ll have access to tinkerer (can craft makeshift weapons and repair discarded items), scout (fast, can mark enemies/traps and offer a ‘bounty’ bonus on marked tributes which increases as long as the scout is alive, and has a ‘minimap’), trap-layer (awful in direct combat, but adept at making decoys and... um... traps), and leader (provides direct active buffs and is able to keep a larger team cohesive). These classes rely on more foresight than the easier classes, meaning that they can dominate the mid-game if they can escape the early hours alive.

  The final districts are the toughest to survive. After all, every day is already a struggle, and that was before throwing them in Thunderdome. But these classes will also allow for a more varied approach to the game as a whole. You’ll have the survivalist (excellent range hunter, slower hunger/thirst degradation, no melee to speak of), the scavenger (fastest class, silent runner, can’t be marked by a scout, low maximum stamina, takes damage like a used tissue), the herbalist (crafts powerful de/buffs to be used in weapons or traps, can also make weaker healing items than the medic), and the camouflage artist (can vanish when motionless, otherwise pretty nondescript). These classes are designed to outlast the others and make the most out of the late-game. Supplies dwindling? Who cares when you can hunt squirrels? Just you, the scavenger, versus the last brute? Steal all his shit and watch him starve. Or watch the heavily-armored tinkerer take a drink from the flask the herbalist poisoned with tracker jacker venom.

  Each of these classes has a glaring weakness, or at least a vulnerability to another class. In order to balance things out, each class can only be represented twice in one game unless a mod is used – but we’ll get to that later. Obviously, completing a full game as a specific class unlocks it for the other districts, but they won’t be copy-pasted. Each district (depending on its particular function) will have different stats for their classes.

  Anyway, once that’s taken care of, you choose your gender (which has no bearing on stats whatsoever BECAUSE I FUCKING SAID SO). You get to customize superficial stuff, like hair, skin, and eye color. Maybe I’ll even allow some basic face changes. But outside of that, every choice you make is no longer superficial, and you have a lot of customizable options. Attractive characters may make it easier to get teammates, but ugly (or, shall we say, “tragic-looking”) characters might make for a good underdog story the audience will love (and make it easier for sponsors to provide gifts for them). Brash characters don’t get too much loyalty but can intimidate physically smaller tributes into following them, while being shy makes you appear less dangerous. Young characters have high maximum stamina, but get hungrier faster and can’t take a hit without the screen shaking like Doom 3 had a bad night drinking. Heavier characters can’t run as fast and are naturally louder, but they can tank more hits and resist poison. Taller characters can be knocked over more easily, but are faster and more agile than their tiny counterparts.

  You’ll only have a couple of “freebie” points, so if you have a dream of seeing a five foot two, two hundred and twenty pound scout sprint along merrily while a herd of fit eighteen-year old killing machines struggle to keep up, then a) you’re weird and b) I guess it’s possible.

DEVELOPING YOUR CHARACTER THROUGH ACTIONS

  So, you’ve selected your basic character. Well, now you get to explore your district! Somewhat, anyway. The game begins two days before the Reaping. Depending on your difficultly/class, you start out in a district with some choices for continue to develop your character. Essentially, you have a couple of mini-quests to complete per day, with each one developing a stat boost based on what you do. The idea here is to role-play a standard day for your character, and watch them grow accordingly.

  Let’s say you’re a District Three snob who happens to be a medic. You start in front of your house and pop off to the local school to help the young nippers develop into glorious sociopaths, just like you! This would serve to give you a slight boost in the politician skill-set, granting you some leadership skills. Afterwards, you pop on over to a sparring class and pick up some self-defense pointers. Now you can swing a sword a couple times without being completely exhausted! The next day, you head to the shadier parts of town to learn about the fine art of poisoning people. After all, if you’re reaped tomorrow, you want to heal the brawler only until you don’t need him anymore - slip him some poison then run away giggling as he kills the last ranger and succumbs to a slow-acting toxin. Finally, in a choice between picking up some more passive buffs and ranged kills/hunting, you choose to reinforce the bonuses by returning to the school. Your game plan is to help the heavy hitters to kill everyone else before stabbing them in the back.

  Each of these options has an entirely optional and skipable tutorial which explains the basic stuff for those particular skills. I can not stress how important the ability to skip the boring stuff is here. And I don’t want obnoxious pop-ups explaining things. It’s annoying, and if people can’t be knackered to read an instruction manual, that’s not my problem.

  Now you’ve been reaped. You meet your sponsor, who has his or her own stats and personality based on the District. They will ask you a few questions to figure out your “arc” for the audience, as it were. In this instance, as an attractive, brash male medic, you want to come across as wanting to improve the quality of life in your District by any means necessary (even though you’re from District Three, you shameless pampered oaf). Your fellow tribute is attractive, brash, and a politician. You decide to downplay any romance - after all, she’s likely to form her own team and stomp on your balls the moment she gets the chance.

  For your requisite training, you can continue getting small buffs to different skills. But here’s where it starts to get tricky. You’re now being watched by other tributes and judges. Picking up extra melee points could save your life, but it could also make you a target for the brawlers. Decide not to impress anyone, however, and the judges may not be provided with the goods you need to survive longer than an hour. Forging an alliance here saves you precious seconds in the field, but don’t get too friendly – only one of you is getting out alive.

  Finally, the interviews. Now, obviously, you can skip everyone else’s and focus on your own. But here’s where that whole “story” thing gets good. You’re given some basic questions to answer (family, love interest, fears, etc.), but everything else is based on the character you’ve created. And this adds certain passive bonuses depending on the persona you’ve developed through your behavior – a brash, only-child District One brawler isn’t nearly as sympathetic as a shy, orphaned scavenger from District Eleven.

  Then, there’s an opening cinematic which goes through an introduction and statistical breakdown of you and your fellow tributes. Highlights from the training session play as well as moments from your entrance to the Capitol and interview. There’s some banter between the announcers. But then, they fade out.

  The Hunger Games begin. Hang on to your ass.

THE GAMES – THE BASICS

  Every game begins the same - you start in first or third person heading up the tube toward the cornucopia. If you leave the starting space any earlier than you’re supposed to, mines blow you up. Once you start, however, how you get through this thing alive is up to you. But you better make deciding quick – you have only one life to spare and I really wouldn’t recommend running toward the dude with the saber.

  Days are broken down into two real-time hour-long blocks (longer or shorter if you select the appropriate mod) with appropriate day-night cycles. This translates to an hour every five minutes or so. Time is one of your most precious commodities, so make sure to spend it wisely. You will need to gather supplies, hunt, find shelter, and set up defenses. You also need to spend some time becoming familiar with the arena: unless you are a scout, you only get a map if you pick one up. Games go on as long as they need to, but if you get too far away from your opponents, expect some gentle... redirection.

  Going into your backpack does not pause your game, but maneuvering while checking your inventory should be easy and highlight weapons and items useful when fleeing an opponent. Saving the game takes place when you create a new character, upon your arrival to the Capitol, and at the start of the game. Every night when the memorials are shown in the sky, you have the option of saving as a way point. Just like classic Sierra games, you can screw yourself and save, preserving your mistake. As such, rotating saves are mandatory unless mod-restricted.

  All of your opponents are controlled by the A.I. (as Kotaku pointed out, multiplayer is inappropriate for the game). You are just one of twenty-four capable combatants, each with their own stats, methods, and grudges. What this means is that, if you want to, you can just run off to the hills and let the others kill each other. In fact, depending on how you play it, the only time you potentially see any of the other tributes would be those opening moments. Want to play a hillbilly who bides her time until there’s one dude left then, in the dead of night, skips through the woods to poison his food before returning to your squirrel husband? By all means – just realize that you’re not alone and, at all times, the game is trying to figure out ways to find you and cure you of that nasty “breathing” habit.

THE GAMES – SURVIVING

  So, if you haven’t read the books, go do so. Otherwise, you are a terrible person and I hate you. If you have, then congratulations! You are no longer awful.

  Anyway, the actually killing of people is secondary to the simple survival of the characters in a hostile environment. Naturally, you’ll need to eat, drink, and sleep to survive. Each class has different skills which will make things like hunting/trapping easier, while others will need to rely on theft to get their food. Water will also be a more serious issue - unless there’s an ample supply of clean or bottled water, you need to decontaminate it unless you want to run the risk of dying of dysentery and reliving your days of playing The Oregon Trail.

  The medic and herbalist can make items which can cure or delay symptoms of status effects, which will be necessary when some of the craftier classes start experimenting with ways to wreck your day. Otherwise, you’re relying on your sponsor getting the audience to help you, which is a risky proposition.

  Sleep is another dangerous situation, but necessary to survival. You will need a minimum of four hours of sleep to not have any lasting damage to your stamina. More than that can restore health and work out some weaker toxins from your system. While your character sleeps, time is speed up dramatically so you don’t have to watch for several minutes so you can continue playing. But – and it’s a big but – your character is vulnerable during this period.

  To counterbalance this, every character has access to the most basic trap - dried sticks or something similar. The more noise someone makes on their approach, the more likely they are to rouse sleeping characters. If characters manage to get close enough to melee a sleeping opponent, the victim will always wake up with the first blow unless it is fatal. Ranged characters are free to attempt taking out sleeping tributes if they can reliably make the shot - but missing will wake the target and allow them to pinpoint your position.

  Another survival technique would be forming teams. The first method is done when you’re training in the Capitol. The other is done in-field by tagging a character as non-hostile. Once you get close enough, you engage in a ‘conversation’ of sorts which weighs the A.I.’s stats against yours. Some characters are more willing than others right off the bat, and some will need to be convinced by way of force or offers of shelter. This would be handled by relatively fast dialogue trees a la Alpha Protocol. Failure means you have to run away or fight. Success means you better make good on your promises within a certain time frame based on the A.I.’s personality.

THE GAMES – KILLING

  The Hunger Games are desperate bids to survive. As such, you need to make sure everything you do - up to and including killing - is done carefully. Teams only last until the last member outlives their usefulness. Even if you are manipulating others to do the dirty work for you, you will most likely need to eventually learn how to kill in order to survive.

  Most tributes will try to engage you in melee combat. As such, combat must be visceral and close. I’ve heard a good example of this is Condemned, but it all looks a touch too cartoony to me. Anyway, if you do decide to fight (whether it’s because someone’s bringing unwanted attention to your hideout, you need supplies, or whatever), it has to be after you’ve weighed the pros and cons. Each blow must be calculated, each block must be weighed against how much stamina you have left. Do you know how far the others are from you? A brawler would love to take on the winner of a fist fight between a survivalist and tinkerer, just as ranger would eagerly pick off two brawlers not paying attention to the tree tops. And, of course, if you fail to disinfect a nasty cut you received in a fight, you’ll start suffering from infections which will straight up kill you or just make you a big easy target.

  The biggest thing, of course, is to have emotional weight the outcome of the fight. You have to make sure that killing is not glorified, but a psychologically scarring experience. Someone from the richer Districts may not care as much, but each death needs to affect your character. A ranged class may be keep the murder at a distance, but if they loot a corpse, I want there to be muttering and blurred vision. Plus, the more kills you get, the more likely you are to have nightmares and wake up screaming.

  Now, there is something to be said about how to approach the subject of what The Hunger Games revolves around – child murder. As you can imagine, most developers aren’t very keen on letting players straight-up kill children in their video games. And, you know what? I’m totally fine with that. But, if you want to make The Hunger Games and not make it about the revolution, this is what you’re going to have to deal with. One solution presented is to make an option limiting tributes’ ages , but I think that’s the lazy and horribly inappropriate way out. Like the option to take out blood, it’s something you’d put in there so your game about teenager-murder appears more family friendly.

  But here’s the thing about The Hunger Games: it’s not family friendly.

  The books make us (or at least, should be making us) have frank discussions about fascinations with violence and its role in society. It’s about a culture which, as punishment for an uprising over a generation previously, sends twenty-four young people to their deaths with only one traumatized survivor getting out in anything resembling a victory. It’s about how we rank our preferences of survival - we know we want Katniss to survive, but why? Why is she any more deserving of life than any of the other tributes?

  So you handle this by making players feel the consequences of their actions. Melee combat will leave you disoriented, beaten, and crippled if you do it too long or too much. Ranged combat is hectic as if you miss, it’s a race to make sure you can remain hidden while aligning your next shot. Running into combat should be considered as a last resort, as each person you kill makes you more and more unhinged, no matter how insulated you want to be. You reward players for being smart and playing a “safe” character by allowing them to keep their wits about them.

  The goal is to make combat satisfying but exhausting. It needs to be fun to an extent (it is a game, after all), but it also needs to be so brutal and difficult that players quickly learn that surviving is far more important than anything else. Each opponent needs to be a separate boss – whether an adept hunter or a skilled thief, you can’t just plow through and expect to win. And here, winning means just getting to live another day.

  And before anyone gets too whiny about the rights of fictional people in a fictional bloodsport, how about you actually spend some time campaigning on behalf of real child soldiers. The big difference is that you could actually be useful instead of a knee-jerk windbag for once.

THE GAMES – PERSISTENT DEVELOPMENT

  So, let’s say you’ve racked up quite the body count and now you’re a psychological mess. You babble, you sing to yourself as you set traps, you start giggling and crying when you’re watching people at a distance. Welcome one of the ways The Hunger Games stays interesting.

  While you can no longer really develop skills significantly, the decisions you made previously will alter how your character reacts to the world around them. A class like the politician is based on team game play. What happens if they’ve killed their team, or they get lost, or this traditionally social person decides to go it alone? Well, going for too long without friendly company means they may start talking to themselves. Solitary-based characters who spend too much time out in the sun may begin hallucinating, especially if their thirst becomes unbearable.

  The idea is to try to take the personality the player developed and have it devolve as civilization becomes more and more remote and actions become more and more desperate. I think it’d be neat, anyway.

THE GAMES – MAPS

  Each map will need to be huge – I would image at least six square miles. However, like most humans, I am terrible at proportion, so this could be way off. In any case, each map is subdivided into six, one-mile-square portions which are randomized based on a set of specific “tiles”. Each of these maps have a specific requirement of what specific tiles can be connected; for instance, a river running through one tile needs to have a source or continuation on either side – things like a lake or a swamp. This would provide landscape continuity while offering variety.

  You can also have maps with different seasons and climate. A bombed-out city could appear in a desert, snowy wasteland, rainforest, or temperate grassland. Mountainous regions in deserts can provide caves but no water, while a perpetually frozen mountain may have ready supplies of water in the form of snow but are much more difficult to navigate due to white-outs. Time of day will become a factor, too. The same mountains will broadcast your position at night once you start a fire and deserts will become freezing death traps once the moon rises.

  As mentioned briefly, weather conditions will be important to survival. A well-timed rainstorm could mean the difference between life and death if you’re being chased and have no time to purify water from a stream. Or it could mean you’re dead if you’ve been camping out in the city sewers for a day and a half and a sudden deluge comes screaming down the tunnels.

  And speaking of getting your shit wrecked by forces of nature, you have to remember you’re killing for people’s amusement. And if you don’t, well, each sector of the map has a number of “get your ass in gear” events. These range from wild animal attacks to forest fires to the building you’re hiding in’s sudden collapse to ultra-violent storms. When these crescendo events (to borrow some terminology from Left 4 Dead) happen, the game actively tries to force you into contact with other tributes or just kill you for being smart and hiding.

  Finally, each class will have at least two tiles which play to their strengths while also having a potential weakness. In one city tile, for instance, there could be a clock tower in which a survivalist or ranger could lay claim to a huge area (or they could TEAM UP and make Hawkeye totally look like a decent Avenger). Depending on how effective they are, a crescendo event may never happen. Therefore, it’s up to the scout to tag the archers and try to not get pin-cushioned until someone shoves them out the window. Or, the tinkerer teams up with the trap-layer to make a bomb out of the mines in the starting area in order to collapse the building on top of the meddlesome Katniss wannabes. Or send the silent-running scavenger running up the stairs with a batch of pharmacist-concocted poison to mess up their supplies. The possibilities!

AFTERWARDS - EXTENDING PLAYABILITY

  You may be thinking that this sounds like way to brutal of a game to play. Like, you only get one life, that whole killing thing sounds like a lot of work, and it seems like you could inadvertently screw yourself over a lot. Well, yes. But you can store previously created characters and launch right into the games if you want to bypass the whole buildup - but I would suggest that the buildup leads to a deeper emotional connection with your characters. After all, you’ve basically role played a couple of days of not-killing and built up a background through your behavior.

  Anyway, I’ve mentioned mods a couple of times. After you complete the main game once (or die five times), you’ll unlock “Conditions”. These are modifications which will serve to make the game different/easier/more difficult by forcing rule changes. For instance, “Class Warfare” would make classes automatically allied with each other and disable any other alliances. “Constant Crescendos” eliminates the need for sleep, but every crescendo event is always active or guaranteed to be tripped. “Star-Crossed Lovers” means that you can pull off a two-person victory if your District partner is still alive at the end of the Games. “District Warfare” locks all players into a specific class based on their District, teams them by District (Districts 1-4 on one team, etc.), and sics them on each other. And “Capture the Flag” has the potential to be awesome.

  As a final unlock, after beating the game with all classes and a total of 24 times, you’ll unlock “75th Anniversary” which pits every saved character you have against the player controlled one. Happy hunting!

FINAL WORDS

  The ideal Hunger Games game is emotionally wrenching and punishing difficult without being frustrating . It focuses on survival and tactics as preferable to straight combat. I guess it would be a true horror game by making you outnumbered, outclassed, and everyone’s favorite meat piñata. But, at the end of the day, it needs to focus on being wide enough to change based on your style. Fighting will be a necessary aspect of the game, but it needs to be a last resort in most cases - treating this like a normal first person shooter will means you’re dead.

  So, I guess what I’m saying is that this is pretty impossible at the moment. But, hey, we can give it the old college try, right? It can’t be any more of a let down than Daikatana.

  Anyway, that’s my idea for the perfect tie-in to The Hunger Games. Chances are, it’ll end up as some shlocky and generic action title with a random voice actor doing a bad Jennifer Lawrence impression. At weirdest, it’ll be a Populus-like god simulator where you build the stadium where children go to die. A worst, it’ll be a $60 version of The Hunger Games-ville already available on Facebook.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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