Note: This post contains minor spoilers for the movie Inception. So if you haven’t seen it, you should. Also I’m going to assume you are familiar with it so this may be confusing otherwise.
Now that that is out of the way. After seeing Inception the other day, I could not help but see what a great game it would have made. In fact, to be entirely truthful, I was jealous. The setting contains the perfect conceit for a game — that anything is possible. That the movie industry came up with it before us is more of a sad commentary than anything, especially in a time when hollywood seems only able to remake movies and crib from other mediums.
Now, the first part to Inception as a game would be to accept that the first layer of the movie is actually reality. You can delve in to dreams, you can take people with you, the technology just works. There are are dreamers, architects, subjects, etc. Each would work just as it does in the movie.
The second part would be the setup: You effectively play an equivalent role to Cobb. From there, in a type of overworld, you’d find jobs, assemble teams, pick your methods, potentially even have a layer of player setup for how the subject’s dream should play out, and then in you go. Once there, you can have the dreams play out in many ways, but the core gameplay would swap between action sequences, and more RPG styled dialogue and exploration sequences like Mass Effect.
Of course, so far, this is just the movie, translated directly in to the game. So down to the meat of the idea. You control the dream. Specifically, as the player, you are given control over the architect. So for any mission, you get to choose the set-up. You pick the location, you pick the story structure to be used, and part of the game would be attempting to properly target a dream with a subject in order to extract the information. Picking inappropriately would lead to a mission failure, and a scuttled job, forcing you to go back to the drawing board and find a new one.
The only part of the game not directly influenced by the player would be the real world portions — where you find the subject, how you need to do your job in order to sneak in to their dreams. That part would be straight classical gaming. But once there, you pick the where and the how, using background information gathered about your subject.
Once in the dream, to take the experience further and deeper than the movie did, you would be given control over the dream, with the restriction that you had to limit your usage of dream powers for fear of waking your subject. For instance, you could create walls anywhere you wanted, as a defensive measure or otherwise. Give yourself weapons, make buildings fall on people, etc. How much damage you did to the dream would be dependent on how believable the change was to the dream, and the feedback would be from the game world itself. Too many changes and the dream would become unstable, communicating itself directly to the player via the environment.
From there, each dream would be a matter of finding what you were looking for, and given the dynamic choice of environment, setting, and tools, each time you played a mission would result in a different set of completion conditions. Each dream would be unique. Also, to stay within the rules given by the movie, you could never know the layout of a dream, as you would pick a setting, but the architect would create the world. In game terms, each dream’s layout would be procedurally generated.
Now that would be a game I would love to play.