Reading The Hunger Games book and watching the film got me thinking a lot about pacing in video games. Katniss’ journey from her home, through the capitol, and to the Hunger Games themselves is a deliberately paced build-up that could be the perfect blueprint for a video game tutorial.
Imagine a scenario where care is put into establishing the world, characters, and rules of the game. The first few hours would be spent in a safe zone, speaking to people, exploring the world, and getting your bearings. You would be able to train in a safe environment, learn the controls, explore the ins and outs of combat, etc.
There would be no game over screens, no danger of failure. You can’t die until you get to the equivalent of the Hunger Games arena. The safety offered by this concept allows the developers to forgo lame tutorial prompts. There is no threat of death, so fumble with the controls all you want. Move on whenever you’re ready.
In The Hunger Games, the tributes learn the importance of sponsors. By pleasing the sponsors and making a splash, tributes could earn gifts that would help them in times of need. The concept is not only their means of survival, but an interesting plot point and fun commentary to boot. What if the explanation of inventory management in an RPG could be so fascinating? What if your tutorial could be as much a lesson as it is an important point in the plot? What if what you chose to carry was eventually the difference between success and failure?
Imagine you spend hours learning the ins and outs of the gameplay, establishing characters and world, and slowly building up to that moment when the real game starts. Now imagine that the game you are building up to is as brutal and unforgiving as the Hunger Games. Maybe it’s Dark Souls on hard mode, and the consequences for failure are suddenly substantial.
My favorite moment in The Hunger Games is just before the event actual starts. Katniss is saying her final goodbye and she’s suddenly being hurried up into the arena. The build-up to that moment is deliberate. The stakes couldn’t be higher. You’re there with her, breathless and nervous as the game of death is about to start.
Imagine building to that moment, but instead of being an observer, you are in control. This character’s life is in your hands and it’s suddenly the first time you can really screw up.
I think it would be incredible.
The only thing I can think of that even comes close to capturing this idea is Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission, and that was the most goddamn thrilling finale I’ve ever experienced in a video game.