No game is perfect. But what if one could be? Just for me? Just for you?
We accept that no game is flawless every time we pick up a controller. Every game has flaws: some major, some minor—from the most critically-acclaimed darling to the worst piece of bargain-bin refuse. Games are made by people who are less than perfect, and the word ‘perfect’ itself is so subjective that creating a game that is perfect to everyone is downright impossible.
What if you had the opportunity to create your perfect game? What if you could cherry pick every detail—from genre and writing to characters and gameplay mechanics—in a Nickelodeon Super Toy Run of game development? After the dust settled and the smoke cleared, what would your perfect game look like?
I started toying with this idea, replaying some of my favorite games to remember why they were my favorites in the first place, and what I found surprised me. Not because of the game I ultimately created, but because of what the process told me about myself as a gamer.
My perfect game would be nostalgic and predictable. It would let me be greedy and narcissistic, all while doing bad things without the consequence of feeling guilty.
And it would be fun as hell.
I am the worst Borderlands 2 teammate.
While my squad is locked in a firefight with savage bandits, I’m hopping from rooftop to rooftop opening chests. When a boss is low on health, I’m charging at him like a kamikaze pilot to get first crack at the loot he drops. Fortunately for me, my friends are almost as greedy as I am, otherwise I’m sure they would have abandoned me to die on Pandora months ago.
I can’t help it. If a game gives me the opportunity to loot, it turns into an episode of Hoarders. When it was announced that Borderlands 2 would have a bajillion different types of guns to collect, the opening to A Garfield Christmas started playing in my head. That video of two guys glitching the loot chest in Sanctuary? I’ve had dreams about that being me.
The temptation of finding better loot and that one-more-level obsessiveness that comes with it keeps me coming back to a game more than any other gameplay feature, and that’s where my perfect game begins: an open world filled with quests to complete and rare items to commandeer. Backpack limitations and encumberments be damned, I want to be able to carry an army’s worth of armaments on my person.
Randomly-generated items are a must, but not just any items. Because while a shotgun is cool, a lightsaber or a certain bounty hunter's rifle is so much cooler.
I read recently that the reason days feel longer when we are young is because experiences are still new to us. Summer days felt like eternity when I was a child, but today? I’ll get to work and not remember a single detail about my commute.
This must explain why, no matter how many incredible sci-fi settings I’m introduced to, Star Wars remains the be-all and end-all universe I want to explore. I devoured Star Wars lore as a kid, knew the make and model of every blaster and the story behind every bit character, and I’m convinced that there is no more room in my brain to love another setting so deeply. Despite the crushing disappointment of the prequels and a video game history that has been a mixed bag at best, when Star Wars is firing on all cylinders—think Knights of the Old Republic—nothing is better.
Instead of Borderlands’ Pandora, imagine blazing a trail from Coruscant to Tatooine in a whirlwind of first-person lightsaber melee and Force-lightming mayhem, filling your backpack with lightsaber crystals and heavy blasters along the way. Instead of bandits and skags, you chop though stormtroopers and Tusken Raiders, earning experience to increase your plethora of Force powers. Just typing that makes my inner six-year-old giddy.
I care about what my character looks like. I really care.
I’ve spent 20 minutes flipping through my closet in Bully like a freshman on his first day of school searching for the perfect wardrobe combination to make me look cool. I’ll avoid upgrading my armor in Skyrim until I get a matching set. But more so than the clothes on my character, I need my in-game actions to be reflected on my character.
If I start to drift to the dark side of the Force, I want my eyes to burn red and my skin to crack like a renegade Commander Shepard. Leveling up Force Lightning should make my hands spark and sizzle like they could burst at any second. Increasing melee damage should turn my character into a broad-shouldered hulk, while focusing on stealth should see him shift from walking to slinking.
This to me is the ultimate form of immersion. The choices I’m making are having a direct impact on every aspect of my character, appearance included. Whether it’s something as little as an evolving tattoo in Far Cry 3 or transforming my hero into a full-fledged demon in Fable II, those moments have always stuck with me in a meaningful way.
Here’s the truth: I’m kind of a sensitive gamer.
When I get a game that lets me be good or evil, I always try to play evil first. Without fail, I lose my nerve and revert back to playing as the good guy so I can feel good about myself. My first playthrough always feels like the ‘real’ playthrough, and my conscience can’t handle being a jerk. Anything after that first playthrough is just exploring the game, so I’m free to cause as much mayhem as possible. But that first time? I need to be good.
There is a place for maturity and consequence in my gaming life, but I don’t need a guilty conscience in my perfect game. I need humor to take me by the hand and tell me it’s ok that I just double-crossed someone because the loot drop was better. Let me be comically evil, not this-game-just-got-uncomfortably-serious-for-a-second evil.
Writing humor in games is hard, and it’s easier to notice when it’s done wrong rather than when it’s done right. Portal’s writing is still the best I’ve ever heard. The dialogue had me laughing the entire time despite the fact that GLaDOS was chirping about inflicting bodily harm with poison gas and machine-gun turrets. That’s the kind of humor my perfect game needs. It needs to walk the fine line between comedy and tragedy while never stepping over it.
I can still remember the first time I played the Forest Temple in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The music echoed around my living room. The stone walls looked so dingy I swore I could smell the rot. I leapt out of my seat the first time a disembodied hand dropped from the ceiling and snatched Link from view. It was the first time a video game level had ever felt threatening, and I loved it.
Open worlds are great, but nothing compares to the feeling of stepping into a Zelda temple for the first time, seeing the panorama of the main chamber, and knowing that I’ll figure out a way to navigate that chamber in the next several hours.
Most importantly, I need the structure that comes with the temple format. I know that I will find a crucial item, solve a few puzzles, and eventually fight a boss. There is a special kind of anticipation knowing that there is a boss waiting for you in the boss chamber, usually chained off with a massive lock. When that boss fight finally comes, there is no better payoff in gaming.
Surprises are great, but I want the formula that I can count on to always deliver.
Ultimately, this is the game I came away with: a well-written Borderlands-inspired Star Wars lootfest sprinkled with Zelda-style dungeons starring a character that is always physically evolving.
I’ll admit that the entire process made me a little uneasy about what kind of gamer I am in my ideal game. Add my perfect elements together—looting, killing, generally misbehaving—and the result is downright sociopathic.
I realize now that my perfect game is a game for my id, all base emotions and instincts without the checks and balances of consequences. Despite my misgivings, I really, really want to play it. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever stop playing it.
I’m also just as curious to hear what your perfect game would be, because I think it says a lot about what kind of gamer you are. Break it down for me in the comments. The answers you find might just surprise yourself.
Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. You can also tell him about your perfect game on Twitter at @CGidari.