Sunday, April 1, 2012

If I made it: Punisher: War Journal (Xbox 360/PS3)

The Punisher: War Journal

Outline:  A new mob has come in and they’re trying to take back New York.  They’re brutal return gets the full attention of Frank Castle who decides that they should become his sole focus on his war against crime.  You get to play Frank Castle, you stalk, plan and execute the heads of the new mob one by one while at the same time trying to keep the streets of New York clean from pushers, pimps and killers.


-Small portions of New York.  Perhaps a little bit of all 5 boroughs, these sections are traveled to by subway with no obvious loading screens, or very short load screens.

-The look would be very Arkham City, over the shoulder perspective with large areas to explore.

-The scale wouldn’t be GTA big, more Arkham City big or Darkness 1 big.  You can enter every building and explore.  Due to this it might be better to focus on one borough and make it larger but if loading times would allow you to make several decent sized boroughs that would be best.

-No linear plot.  You are given a goal, take out this new mob and that’s it.  The tutorial would be maybe hitting one very small fish to get you used to how this would work but otherwise you just get thrown in with only the basics.

-We focus on what Frank does best, he gathers intel, stalks his target and then plans and executes an attack.

-The option for a minimal HUD or no HUD.  You want to know how much ammo you have?  Hold down the reload button and Frank will check his ammo with Frank's inner monologue telling you.  You want to see where you're injured so you can apply first aid?  Look in the mirror at a safe house and you'll see where you're wounded with Frank's inner monologue telling you what, exactly, is wrong.  You can turn the HUD on but it would be pretty basic: weapon you have and the ammo for that weapon. 

-Frank can use his experience to pick criminal elements out of the general populous.  A click of a button slightly de-saturates innocent people while highlighting criminals.  This is Frank seeing suspicious activity by those people that let him know that they are most likely involved in something illegal.  This could be used to find random citizens behaving suspiciously and Frank discovering random crime.

-Populate the world with a lot of small time crooks and users.  Drug dealers and addicts as well as other small time criminals that randomly respawn, these people would act as small time informers giving up information about the lower levels of the new mob family as well as leading Frank to drug deals he could bust or crack houses he could shut down.  They would provide something else to do other than the critical path.  Even if they have no real information to give they provide Frank a crime related distraction.

-Populate the world with a small amount of criminals that look like random citizens.  A very small amount total.  You’re out following a mob guy or looking for a dealer to shake down and you see what looks to be a normal NPC in your “crime vision”.  So you decide to follow him and see what’s up.  After following him you discover he’s a serial killer or he’s breaking into places at night or a secret hit man.  Or something, anything really.  Maybe it’s nothing major so you let him slide, or you decide to just watch them and at some point they do something criminal.

-Populate the world with a lot of innocent people, make the area feel alive and busy.

-A night and day cycle with appropriate city population given the time of day.

-Punisher’s War Journal, where you mark mob family members locations, suspicious people, known criminal locations, drug houses, dealer locations, safe houses.  Also where you keep track of any side missions you’ve accumulated.

-Frank’s apartment, where you keep a diagram of the main mob family that get’s filled in as you collect intel.  You can watch the news and get information about side missions, or hear about your handiwork, or read a news paper and get different information in the same vein.  Also you can manage your arsenal and use a shooting range to test gun mods and bullet recipes.

-Manage your arsenal, Frank alters his own guns and makes his own ammo.  So should you, here you have access to a loading bench where you can create your own special batch of ammo.  You have to be careful though, mix it wrong and you might create a bullet without enough power to fire properly or so much power it destroys your gun and severely wounds you in the process.  Ammo creation would be handled with a mini-game that reflects the action you’re doing and in this way you can choose everything you can when hand loading (primer, casing, powder and bullet) and modifying you’re gun is handled similarly.  Then all of that can be skipped with a button press that creates either a standard level of bullet or modifies the gun to the best possible specs given your current inventory.  Special bullet mixes would be saved for easy creation later on and only the first few bullets of a batch NEED to be made via mini game, a total amount of ammo made can be determined based on inventory (all the bullets that can be made with that recipe considering your inventory, or a given number of bullets...)

-I would lift the interrogation system from the 2005 Punisher game entirely.  It was a great system maybe make in more deep but basically the same.

-You kill an innocent and you lose, you kill someone suspicious before getting proof of their crime, you lose.  You are also responsible for any innocent life lost in a confrontation.

-Guns, knives and ammo have weight and take up space.  You can easily carry and conceal a .45 with one clip of ammo, a medium knife and a light armored vest.  You might even be able to easily conceal 2 clips of ammo and a 2nd .45 (but no knife).  But at some point what you carry is going to become obvious and affect your mobility.  If you step out of the front door to your apartment in full body armor loaded with guns in the middle of the day you’re going to cause panic and attract attention.  Perhaps it would be better to wait until late night and use the back door, or maybe a sewer entrance, and stay out of sight if you’re going all out.  If the cops come after you its prison or death if they catch you and if you kill a cop in your escape it’s game over.

-Any cash you find you keep, so you take out a drug den you might get a small payout.  You take down a drug deal you might get a bigger payout, you find a mob money laundering operation and you might get set for a while.  You start with a small amount of cash that you can either use to give yourself some upgrades right off the bat, buy some medium grade guns (or one high grade gun) or pay an informant.  It’s not much and may not even last you until you start getting money.

-There’s a huge arsenal of guns, knives and melee weapons.

-Criminal informants you can get information from without money.  You might be able to use money to either get them to clean up or to prevent them from doing criminal things.  Cops, lawyers, people trying to change their lives, basically non criminal informants you need to pay money to.

-Gun runners you can take guns from if you can either find their warehouse or bust a deal.  Gunsmiths need money.  Gun runners give you basic stuff and if you can turn one and build a relationship with him he might be able to get you new and better stuff.  Gunsmiths can sell you very good guns at very high prices but they’re also the only place that can get you mods and provide upgrades to your hand loading tools.  Gun stores sell the worst guns at the cheapest prices but allow you to buy bulk ammo in the form of components for your loading bench or just basic ammo in bulk.  Army surplus stores can sell you body armor, knives, ammo storage at limited expense and military grade weapons at a huge expense.

-You have basic undercover abilities.  You can dress like a mob member but that will only get you so far and it only works in large groups of mob guys where people may not know everybody.  You can dress as a civilian which will you get you into restaurants, stores, offices, other places where there might be a mix of innocents and mob without drawing attention.  You can dress as a cop to get access to the station house, their database, their holding cells and their arsenal.  There are plenty of cops on your side that might start giving you intel (you start with one).  You won’t find them until you try to go undercover, but be careful, if they figure out who you are you while undercover you are very out numbered.  Or you can go full Punisher and let everyone know who you are which will attract all negative attention but will clear the room of innocents.  The Punisher costume can be customized with various levels of body armor and weapon holsters, the basic skull shirt can be concealed and then revealed when wearing the civilian outfit.

-You develop relationships with criminal informants, innocent informants, gun runners and gunsmiths.  The better the relationship the better the stuff you get from them, be it intel, names, guns, mods, whatever.  You start out with Martin Soap and Microchip but you can develop more.

-Frank is capable of stealth kills with a weapon or bare hands, close quarters combat barehanded or with knives/melee weapons and surprise take downs while undercover and undetected with guns, knives, bare hands or melee weapons.  You can do lethal or non lethal take downs.

-A large safe house acts as the main home base, it's where intel is gathered and you can exit the front door onto a main street or the backdoor into the back alleys (where you can walk the alleys or access the roof across the street and travel out of sight).  There's also a secret passage that leads to the underground, here is the weapon cache and a shooting range that can be used without raising suspicion and access to the sewers.  There is also series of small safe houses to get the cops or mob off your back, change cloths or your weapon load out as well as a place to refill your ammo and heal.  These safe houses have different access points so you may be able to go in the front as Punisher without them seeing you (and them following you in) but getting out could be hard if you don't change cloths first.  But some may only be accessible through the back, the roof or the sewers.  Oh, you can also booby trap them to make sure they don't get compromised by bad guys.

-You can travel around by motorcycle or van.  Punisher can only use these vehicles to travel around New York, he can't jack cars.  Both the motorcycle and van can store weapons.  The motorcycle can store a few small arms or one large arm.  The van can store an arsenal of guns and ammo and can act as a mini-safe house and be used to heal the Punisher on site, assuming you stocked healing items.  The van can be used to stake out where you will automatically eat and drink to maintain your health as well as sleep.  The vehicles are only stored at the main, big safe house.

-Damage is more realistic, you don't regenerate health and in your non armored state you can take 1 maybe 2 or 3 bullets before dying or bleeding out and becoming unable to defend yourself.  The same goes for everyone else as well so you don't need carry a huge stock pile of weapons or ammo.  Frank can take the melee damage though and it will vary with your opponent if they can too.

-Frank needs to eat, drink and sleep, his military training makes it so he can ignore these basics for longer than most people but at some point it will affect your ability to fight and shoot.  You can eat at diners or food carts or stock up on MRE's at the military surplus store.  A couple hours of sleep every 18 hours will keep you close to peak so plan it around your schedule so you can stay on top of your War Journal.

-A fatigue bar and a health bar go together, you regenerate fatigue through rest and food consumption as well as administering first aid.  Health can be recovered through first aid in small amounts but only time will allow you to heal from major injuries.  Major injuries affect your max health, you may be able to fully heal yourself but that total healing may only represent a portion of the maximum health you have.

-Frank get's dialog options, sort of like Mass Effect, you can answer as Frank or as Punisher complete with Punisher style interrupts if you want to surprise them with some violence.

-With those basics out of the way here’s a rundown of the first couple of hours:

            The new mob came in so fast Frank Castle barely had time to realize what was happening.  In a sudden blood frenzy they came in and eliminated the competition and took hold of a small portion of the city and from there they plan to expand it until they get all of New York.  The latest violence resulted in the death of a lot of innocents when bad information led to the bombing of a diner filled with regular people.  This can’t go on, they have to be shut down.  The new mob turned a lot of the old established guys to their side, guys with habits, guys with reputations, guys who are well know.  Frank will start there.

            You walk out of Frank’s apartment at 6:00 PM, the streets are filled with people going home but the scum is just getting set up.  Frank knows of a place dealers hang around to sell their poison, so he’ll see what they have to say.  After getting there you use your “crime vision” (there’s got to be a better name for it) and pick out the dealers from the mass of people around him.  As you approach he recognizes you and runs, you catch up to him in an alley and interrogate him.  He tells you that one of the new mobs muscle guys does shake downs for protection on a series of stores every week, a different store every night.  Now you can kill him and lose any potential intel he may give later on or you can let him live to be your informant but he stills pushes drugs in the mean time (unless you spend some of your starting money to stop him).

            So using the list of stores the informant gives you, you decide to check them out.  For the sake of brevity let’s say the informant gives you a schedule too so you know what stores this guy shakes down and when (all that goes in your War Journal so if you get distracted you know what’s up).  You find the guy at the store in the middle of a shakedown but he’s got four goons with him that are clearly armed.  Did you remember a gun?  How much ammo do you have?  A direct fire fight is suicide, even in body armor you aren’t going to last very long.  Neither will they, a bullet or two is going to kill or incapacitate most people, but if it’s 5 against one and they have shot guns and you have one gun with 9 bullets, it’s going to get hard.  So you watch the guy and his goons and you follow them.  They park their car a few blocks away, walk to the store, get the money, duck into a nearby alley to count their money before returning to their car.

            So now you have several options:  Do you show up at the store before these guys and ambush them as they walk in?  Could get risky if there happen to be people in the store but you may be able to kill them all before they can react.  Do you ambush them from the outside while they are distracted with the business owner?  Same problem.  Do you booby trap the alley while they’re shaking down the store (any booby traps you set could be set off by innocents so you have to place them where innocents won’t find them or where the bad guys will set them off in a reasonable amount of time).  Do you hide in the alley, take a position of cover behind a dumpster, take a spot on the roof/fire escape or at the other end of the alley, and take them out while they’re counting their money?  Do you snipe them as they’re walking down the street from a vantage point?  Do you booby trap their car after they park it?  Do you plant a tracker on their car and follow them?  They might lead you to more mob guys, a higher up target, important intel or a death trap. Do you shoot up the car as they get out?  Or do you just attack them full out on the street?  Throw some flash bangs and some tear gas to clear any innocents from the area and then just mow them down with automatic gun fire.

            If you follow them you could investigate that area and maybe comeback the next night loaded for bear and take them all out.  But if you kill his muscle and interrogate the mob target maybe he tells you where he goes every night and lets you know about a back entrance or guard schedules or whatever.  Maybe he tells you to fuck off because you didn’t come at him hard enough or maybe you come at him so hard he agrees to turn informant for you.  You kill him you get to cross out a name on your list, you don’t you get access to other names.  Slowly you work out the power structure and work your way up the ladder.

            -Another Opening Scenario:

            You know one of the old boys that turned against the old mob and sided with the new mob.  You know every night he eats at the same restaurant.  But you don’t know if it’s been turned into a mob restaurant (where there are only bad guys), if it’s trying to seem legit (where there will be a mix of mob and innocents) or if it’s still all legit (it’s all innocents except the gangster and his small group of goons).  So you go to the restaurant and stake it out.  You notice that he has a driver who drops him and 3 guys off and then goes around the block and waits to be called back.  You can stop there, take the driver out, pick the guy up yourself and take him someplace secluded and kill him.  If you go into the restaurant and sit at the bar you may notice that it’s a mob joint now and you could come back the next night loaded up and take them all out.  Maybe it’s a front, in which case showing up as Punisher might clear the innocents out, especially if you use tear gas and flash bangs, but will attract all the bad guys attention.  Or maybe they’re the only bad guys, in which case you target them directly.  Poison food, a fast hit with a silenced pistol, a booby trapped table (you go in early, when it’s quiet, sit down and place a remote bomb that you trigger later, unless you discover he gets a different table every night or maybe the table is too close to innocents), snipe just the main target through a window from a nearby vantage point.  Or maybe you follow the car, realize he parks over a manhole, mark the location in your War Journal, come back through the sewers the next night and at the right time place a bomb on the underside of the car.  If you can interrogate him he leads you up the chain.

Final Thoughts:   The game would be Punisher meets Arkham City meets Hitman meets Splinter Cell.  A totally open world where you get to be the Punisher, you do what Frank Castle does.  You are fighting a war against crime and that’s what you do in a war you gather intel, you act on intel, you devise a strategy (even if that strategy is go in guns ablazin’) and you act on that strategy.  Then that action has to adapt to the circumstances of actual combat.  It might be a great plan but it could go totally to shit once bullets start flying and people start acting erratically due to fear and survival.  But that’s what Frank does; no other game has focused on the whole of what Punisher is.  They focus on him shooting people, so they throw enemy after enemy at you and you point and click until you get bored.  That is not the essence of Punisher, actually that’s not even the most interesting part of the Punisher.  All of the lead up is what’s interesting about Punisher, the research, the intel, building a network of contacts, working on his guns, making his ammo. 

All of it is a part of the character and without it you get the most boring parts of the character, which is probably why there hasn’t been a good game with him in it.  They’re all boring shoot fests.  Which is fine but then bring something to it, a cover system, interesting guns, a variety of enemies, acrobatics, not just “Hey let’s  play shootface other until one of us dies.” combat.  The game is ambitious but if made right you tap into the same thing Arkham Asylum did: fans of good games.  This stops becoming about attracting fans of the series, who, like me, will buy anything branded no matter how big a piece of shit it is, and attracting everybody who likes a good gaming experience.

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