So I felt inspired to write down this idea for a game that I'd love to play which has formed in my head over the last week. Even if this precise game never sees the light of day (which is somewhat likely) I eagerly await for some or all of these ideas to make their way into games in the future. I think the capability to create it already exists. This game concept originates from having read the excellent blog "Where are The Road Games?" a little while ago whose ideas have been rattling around in my head ever since and then were catalysed by reading Frictional blog about telling stories in a more general way just a few days ago.
One way road
The key idea of this first-person game is that you have a core goal of making it to a distant location via long stretches of road, but beyond that there is an open-endedness to how you end up reaching your destination. That's it. I don't know exactly what the character motivation would be but some examples could be: needing to escape an individual/group/government by reaching this city that's a known refuge; you've just lost or decided to leave your family community and so are making your way to this place you know of, where you think you can build a better life for yourself etc. Whatever the precise details, it will essentially be a quest to reach this 'promised land' over a long journey.
The things I like about this central conceit is that the goal is so well defined from the very beginning and is simple and uncluttered, leaving space for the player to use their own mind to decide how to progress within that framework. We apply the descriptive term 'linear game' to those games that can be reduced down to a prescribed route that the player has to take in order to progress through it and complete it. My idea has this sense of linearity in that there is this route you have to generally follow, but linear games normally break down the game into lots of individual elements so that you're never really fixing your eyes on the end goal but on just completing the next objective. I think it would add weight to the whole proceeding to always have the final destination in mind. Also, unlike a linear game you would have the option to drive backwards in this game, but it just wouldn't get you anywhere; it has linearity to it just because of its context.
You'd get awfully lonely just by yourself on this trip and so you'll have a buddy to accompany you along the way. Again, I only have general ideas in my head of what he needs to be like but it'll probably be someone who you've only just met shortly before you join the game as the player or who you meet at the very beginning, a beginning which I can most likely envisage being an action-packed opener in which you experience the reasons you need to leave wherever you start off in a hurry and head out on the open road. This buddy character in my head will probably be someone who is somewhat mysterious and reserved and who is more experienced than you, having perhaps already been to your ultimate destination in the past and so knows the way. Quite a lot of that is up in the air. What's important is how you experience this relationship and grow together with the character over time. He’ll be someone who likes to tell stories while you’re on the road and late at night. ‘Cos yes, I have an image of the game mechanics including deep darkness during night time that will discourage driving, coupled with requirements to rest and find sustenance that will encourage the finding shelter for yourselves at night. I love the idea of you creating campfires before going to sleep and the natural lull in the game allowing story to be imparted by your companion during these tranquil moments. It would have to be really well written dialogue and a fully developed character to hold your interest but I think it would be possible.
The key to a believable and satisfying character to have around would be his reactions to the dynamic events that would occur during the course of the game. He would need to respond realistically while never repeating himself to all kinds of events which could occur in possibly different orders. Think similar to the contextual dialogue offered in the Left 4 Dead games. I foresee this being perhaps the hardest aspect of the game to create that I’m suggesting, and would require a huge amount of work, planning and writing to get right but I’d love to see someone try it. I don’t know how close Bioshock: Infinite will get to trying something similar with the relationship to Elizabeth in that game but that might be more linear than this suggestion.
Also, your buddy should totally get captured about three quarters of the way along the route with you then having to stage a daring rescue in what will form a departure from constant travel in the game. It will be at the point in the narrative when you’ve just really got to grips with the character and have formed a bond with him (that’s the idea anyway) and your dramatic escape from whatever compound he gets held in will set up the final act of rushing to your destination.
Dynamic open world
What of the meat of the game you ask? Well there will be shooting, though I wouldn't want it to be a shoot on sight policy with everyone you encounter along the route. So there will be dialogue trees and interactions with characters and bargaining in order to gain the supplies you'll need to keep yourself fed and maybe upgrade your ride. Not sure if long quests would work though as you need to be on the move and so wouldn't be revisiting people that you meet. There will probably be some different factions or bandits spread across the landscape and there will just generally be all the elements in place for crazy dynamic situations to develop spontaneously ala Far Cry 2 (which I loved btw). Maybe you are being chased the whole time by some party which is what is driving you forward constantly and so you need to watch out for them and guard yourself against being found or even convince locals to hide you if required. There can also be strategic choices about routes that you could take that all have their own associated risks that you have to weigh up - maybe you could catch a lift on a train that runs through the landscape and can carry you and your buddy (including your vehicle) quickly for a section of the journey (though naturally there's a hijacking attempt once you get on the train which spices things up).
As for the overall tone of the game, it would have a seriousness to it and a realism that would encourage immersion into its world. I would love there to be some grander themes explored through the narrative and even expanded by specific encounters you have - maybe something about the nature of journeys in general and perhaps one or two more themes of which one might revolve around discovering more about your buddy and his story along the way - he might even change and develop during the game.
Well there's a hodge-podge of an idea for you; not fully formed but a promising embryo. I would love love to see such a game created. I can but hope and dream.