Some call it the game world or the environment but whatever you call it, the game’s setting is one of the single most important aspects of a game as it influences every other part of its development. Everything is developed and nuanced around the game’s setting, whether that’s historically accurate or fantastically fictional. Just having a great setting is nothing if these other aspects of game development don’t flesh out the chosen setting and provide a rich and complex narrative within it. Plenty of settings have been rehashed and recycled leaving many of us wanting a breath of fresh air. So here is our list of the Best Untapped Video Game Settings:
There have been one or two titles over the many years of video game history that have tried to tackle a historically accurate medieval setting, 1992’s Darklands comes to mind but a few titles over so many years leaves this setting largely untapped by developers. Some may argue that just about any fantasy themed game fits in here such as the Elder Scrolls series but they represent a more stylized, Dungeons & Dragons fantasy conceptualization of medieval life to the point where the original source material is lost. Brutal combat, disease, hard living, political backstabbing, hunger, blight, and more were all a serious, near daily reality back then and that could indeed set the stage for a brutal, honest, depiction of medieval life and a rich and rewarding game experience.
World War I
We all know that World War II has been done to the point of total saturation in the post-Saving Private Ryan time period. World War I has been tapped several times over the years – mostly in regards to the admittedly cool birth of combat aviation as in titles like Wings or Red Barron but has only been done in a boots-on-the-ground fashion a scant few times and those were mostly strategy war games. World War I is ripe for the picking – a developer could go the obvious route and assemble a first-person-shooter set within the tremendous conflict itself and make a good go of it but I’d like to see a craftier company come along and develop a character-driven narrative set AROUND the conflict, perhaps an espionage stealth/shooter set on the eve of WWI with the player frantically trying to stop the seemingly inevitable conflict. You saw that one here first.
Westeros, the hotbed of Elizabethan-style intrigue and conflict, is the rich fantasy world created by George R.R. Martin for his epic novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire. There have been fewer than ten video games inspired by this setting since 2007, a fact mostly because it is still a relatively new setting and you need to pay a big fat licensing fee to plumb it. That said, imagine a political simulation of life in this highly charged, beautiful landscape where you pick one of the major factions and try to scheme, plot, and fight your way to the top of the political ladder while keeping your head attached. Maybe better still, assume the role of a local constable or warden trying to solve the mystery of why his village is being used as a political chess piece. How about a business strategy game where you setup shop in one of the local villages and try to work your way up to King’s Landing and a royal appointment – failing could mean losing more than your shirt.
Late Cretaceous or Caveman Times
Before all of you science and evolution buffs lose your heads, I understand that primates and our direct human ancestors didn’t exist until long after the dinosaurs became extinct and the Cretaceous was long over. I’m not suggesting a game world where dinosaurs and cavemen run around together hunting each other all though you could do that and make it fun, no I’m thinking of two distinct environments but combined them because of the way most people think of them as being nearly the same. Neither setting has been done much, with a tip of the scales toward the late Cretaceous because of just about everyone’s fascination with dinosaurs.
A game where you represent one of the earliest mammals trying to eke out an existence in a world dominated by dinosaurs could be fascinating. Perhaps another could have you choose a dinosaur to be and you try to make a go out of surviving long enough to die of old age in a world where volcanoes, meteors, earthquakes, wildfires, and numerous other dinosaurs are all trying to kill you. Awesomesauce! Realistic depictions of Stone Age life are few and far between – this environment is very ripe for the picking. I’m thinking an FPS survival type game such as The Forest but set 130,000 years B.C. where just about everything you do can result in a gruesome death – better get cracking on discovering fire or skinning that wooly mammoth because it gets COLD at night and the sun is setting and oh, that rival tribe is stealing your tools and food.
Examples of this setting: B.C.
Ok, ok, ok – Rome has been the setting of several video games over the years it’s true and it’s been done a couple of times as an FPS and many times as an RTS but like Medieval times it hasn’t really been done enough in terms of being historically accurate – let’s face it, Ryse: Son of Rome while visually beautiful doesn’t represent a slice of Roman life. Now some of you may be thinking that a realistic depiction of ancient Rome may sound boring but I beg to differ – think about all that went on back then, about all of the political intrigue and subterfuge, all that was learned and invented, all the combat, certainly there is an awesome game in all of this. How about an average Joe simulation ala The Sims 3 but set in Ancient Rome? A political simulation game like the Castles series but where you’re a royal family member jockeying to stay alive long enough to become Caesar?
Europe in the GTA universe
The Grand Theft Auto universe has been one of my favorites over the years. Vice City in particular, since I was a teenager in the 80’s, was incredibly fascinating to me. It really pulled me in and had me feeling like I really was Tommy Vercetti trying to take over the criminal enterprises of a Don Johnson’esque Miami analogue. All of the various cities within the series have been superbly well done and engaging but they all, save one, have been in America with London being the lone exception. Let’s face it, European cities have their seedy underbellies too and it’s high time that Rockstar start tapping them a bit more. How cool would it be to become the criminal kingpin of Sarajevo or perhaps a law breaking political activist in Glasgow? Let’s pickup with Tommy Vercetti’s cousin as he tries to survive becoming a soldier in La Cosa Nostra in Napoli, Italy. I’m sure there’s an awesome GTA story SOMEWHERE in Europe.