I've finally decided what my next project will be, and begun working on it in earnest. I had a lot of different ideas for things that I could work on, a lot of ideas that I want to try, but I've figured out which one is currently most appealing to me. It's a design that came out of trying to work out a lot of my ideas about what I do and don't currently like in most (mainstream) game design.
I don't think that video games are "murder simulators" like some conservative commentators have suggested, but I do wonder what it does to us as a society when we are increasingly spending our leisure hours learning to virtually kill things in more realistic and efficient manners. I don't think it's the downfall of society; despite the increased amount of violence in the media, there's actually less violence in the real world than at almost any point in human history. But I'm also not so foolish as to believe that human beings exist outside of their context. Our environment does effect us, and often in ways we don't readily recognise.
More than that, though, I've just never been especially interested in games about shooting things, though there are rare exceptions like Bioshock, which I enjoyed primarily for its setting and visual design and not for its shooting mechanics. I find it unusual that we have a medium which could be incredibly expressive in so many ways, and tell so many stories, and yet most of what it's used for is games about killing things.
I also find game narratives to be highly problematic a lot of the time. Part of that is simply a quality issue; game writing is quite often bad. Part of that is inherent in the kinds of games we're making. Could anyone fit a large quantity of intelligent dialogue into Gears of War?
A bigger problem, though, is that the narrative in games is often heavily divorced from what the player is doing. Lost Odyssey has an interesting story about immortality and the role that death plays in human societies. But the gameplay is mostly about throwing fireballs at giant insects. What if the gameplay was itself about the role that death plays in human societies, though?
So, those are some of the thoughts I have leading into the game that I'm working on now. I'm currently describing it as a verbal puzzle game. It's definitely very narrative heavy, which is no surprise given my background in history (which I will have two degrees in as of next month). It probably won't play very much like most games, since most of the "action" will be in the player's head and not on the controller, but we'll see how it goes. I've never made anything like this before, so it's both daunting and very exciting at the same time.