Underexplored Genres and Ideas in Video Games

Feature Robert Bernstein 10/25/2013 at 9:20AM

With game devs re-exploring old ideas over and over, here are some underexplored ideas and genres in the video game world...

Military shooters. Orcs and Dwarfs. Post Apocalyptic. What pops into your head when you read those ideas? Played out. These are all ideas that are heavily explored in the video games of today. And while there are, of course, good modern shooters, and games based on surviving in a post apocalyptic world, seeing a trailer debut for a new game that re-explores any of these genres forces even the most easily-amused gamer to roll his/her eyes. “Really?! Another FPS?! How original!”

And, therein lies the problem: developers are re-exploring old ideas time and time again, usually without adding their own twist to the genre. I know that not all developers are guilty of doing this. In fact, there are some developers out there venturing into new genres or creating their own, much like Quantic Dream really advancing the movie-like-games/interactive drama genre. But, the gaming community is seeing more and more lack of creativity when it comes to AAA titles. So, here we go, all of you lazy devs out there—a list of some genres and ideas that we at Den of Geek think are underexplored or unexplored successfully in video games.

Prehistoric

For a period of time in human history to have such unknown aspects to it, you'd think video game developers would be all over creating a game based on prehistoric times. There is so much opportunity here to create an open-world, exploration game heavily infused with RPG elements. Create a game that puts gamers in the Paleolithic Era where they have to be hunter-gatherers to survive. Take us into the New Stone Age and have a rival/war between two villages. Or, better yet, place the game in a setting 85 million years ago, and put your character against this beast that swam in the waters.

Fictional Sports

I know that many hardcore gamers find themselves skipping the yearly sports game iterations that EA or 2K Sports spit out, but there's a reason for that: they're the same thing every year. You can't reinvent basketball. You can't reinvent football. You can't reinvent baseball. But, what developers could do, is begin creating their own sports.  While we do have League of Legends, it isn't quite the fantasy sport I'm talking about.  Think about it—there is a lot that a person could do in a video game or movie that they couldn't do in real life. This is why J.K. Rowling created Quidditch. That's why Podracing was added to Star Warsand that's why Final Fantasy had Blitzball. With all of the creative minds in the world, and the rise of eSports coverage, why haven't we seen a newly invented sport showcased in a video game? The potential for that type of game to be huge is undeniable, as it blurs the line between eSports and real sports. With a proper rulebook, tutorial and obviously the ability to play with your friends online, a fictional sports game could be a major success.

Steampunk

While the category was mildly explored in BioShock InfiniteDishonored, and Damnation in this current console cycle, there hasn't been a successful open-world game with a steampunk setting. I want to see mechanical spiders, jet packs, giant steam-powered robots, blimps, etc. There is a ton of potential for creative weapons, vehicles and enemies with a steampunk-themed game. Developers could even throw in elements of horror, or go in the more commonly used setting of steampunk culture by placing the game in the American West and give it more of a shooter feel. Either way, a huge open-world steampunk game is needed. We almost got to see it in Gotham By Gaslight, the cancelled Batman game that was set in a steampunk world. Maybe one day.

Westerns

One of my favorite genres of movies is the western, with films like No Country For Old Men310 to Yuma, and Unforgiven leading the pack. But, the genre is still relatively under-explored in the video game world, when you compare it to military shooters and post apocalyptic games. Sure, Red Dead Redemption was one of the best games to set us back in the west, and Gun gave us a pretty good western as well, but other than that, there really isn't a western-set video game that immerses us in the time period. Call of Juarez is mediocre at best, and I (along with most) don't consider Borderlands a western (although I have heard it mentioned when discussing the genre). The American West contained some of the most notorious criminals in U.S. History, and so much violence and lawlessness that you'd be more likely to find a bullet in the face than a helping hand. Setting a new open-world game in the old American West (think Grand Theft Auto V meets the American West) would work incredibly.

Heavy Snow

No, I'm not talking about a Cool Boarders 3 or Shaun White Snowboarding, or the “Array” map in Call of Duty, but a shooter or an action-adventure game set in a land dumped on by heavy snow. Yes, there were the Lost Planet games which were set on a snowy planet, and Uncharted 2 had some of the best snow in a video game to date, but other than that, gamers have not yet received an INCREDIBLE game set in heavy snow. Heavy snow creates an eerie atmosphere for a gaming world, as we saw in the original Silent Hill, and it's also a fantastic setting for a survival-based game. But, unfortunately it's very under-utilized as a main setting for video games.

Non-Ridiculous Alternate Histories and The Butterfly Effect

What would've happened if Christopher Columbus's fleet sank before reaching the Americas? What if the South won the Civil War? What if cell phones were never invented? These are some of the ideas out of millions of possible alternate histories that could create an interesting butterfly effect that could be used to lead a gamer into a creative alternate universe. The keyword here is creative, not absolutely ridiculous (I'm looking at you, Fall of Liberty!) While the Assassin's Creed franchise has dabbled in some alternate history, there hasn't been any other games to do so on the same level or better. A proper alternate history shouldn't take us into the future, but re-imagine the everyday things that we know and love.

The Deep Ocean

Sharks and giant squids are sure to scare the majority of people that see them, but when you delve deeper into the depths of the ocean, the real horror begins. For one, marine biologists are finding new species of life in the deep ocean every year. And, secondly, there's still so much of the ocean unexplored that there is no telling what the hell is down there. Take a look at this, this guy here, or how about a vampire squid? There's an incredible sense of discovery and wonderment when you talk about the sea, which translate well to video games.  And, game developers could venture into a fantasy world below the water, much like BioShock did, but make it more about the discovery on the unknown rather than the story.

Ancient Egypt

A narrative set in an open-world ancient Egypt has the potential to be amazing. Ancient Egypt had architecture way ahead of its time, some of the most famous masterpieces of art, and let's not forget about the whole mummification thing. All of these elements can certainly provide a good base for a video game. How about a game where your main objective is to assassinate a Pharaoh, and you're going up against a strong military presence? And, the whole mummy thing obviously lends itself to a survival horror title. Imagine exploring the many tombs and crypts of Egypt, when (somehow) things go awry.   

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I love the pre-historic idea.

The only problem with the pre-historic idea is the fact the dialogue would not be there, so no story.

Easy to solve. Make it have a narrator who is telling you the story. Make it a sandbox game where different decisions affect the narration and outcomes.
There would be a story, the problem would be interaction with NPCs.

Robert Bernstein, you sound like you are 12 years old. Dude you are an idiot. You bitch about creating a new genre, but all you offer is scenarios. You haven't mentioned a single idea that could actually be considered as an original theme, let alone potential genre. Then you drop names of games that already profiled that particular world. Oh and your insights on history are as flawed as the Hollywood movies you got them from.

Hmm, you're either referring to the Harry Potter films or the No Country For Old Men, 310 to Yuma, and Unforgiven as flawed films? Care to explain yourself?

Lol you think people didn't have ways of communicating during prehistory? They would communicate through gestures and different grunts, assuming they didn't have languages to begin with. This would simply add to the experience if anything. You'd have to figure out what the people are saying with the signs they are giving you.

You forgot Deadspace 3 whole game is based on a snow planet

Meh, only the prehistoric setting would be cool and original. Also what about Dinosaurs. We NEEEED Dinosaurs

Did you play Dead Space 3?

YES! Why didn't I think of that? That is genuinely an awesome way to get through that barrier.

But when all you hear is grunts, how will you know when someone wants to kill you or is asking you to kill something? It would be too complicated and pretty silly.

if its a pre-historic video game why is the problem everyone worried about is communication. it would be a dope concept

Red Alert was an alternative history (ie someone goes back in time & kills Hitler). There was also Western made in the 90s called 'Outlaws', which was good at the time.

I still don't understand why they can't make a decent Jurassic Park game. I keep thinking Skyrim graphics for dinosaurs. Would love to see those giant beasts look as beautiful as that game did. I loved red dead, but I hope the next one will take place in the golden age of the wild west, like 1870ish to 1890. I didn't really care for the semi auto weapons and cars. I would really love to see a pioneer survival game, blazing a trail into the west while fighting off Indians and wild animals, maybe attempting to set up a homestead with tasks like clearing land, building a house/fence/barn etc all the while trying to keep bandits and what not away from your home. Some kind of cross between Oregon Trail, Read Dead and Farmville with current gen technology.

Yeah, we actually wrote an article earlier this year "Why a New Jurassic Park Game Would Be Really Great" or something like that. It was a great read, and touched on that same point. Really surprised a new jurassic park game hasn't landed yet...

I remember watching the movie and thinking, man it would be cool to hunt those, or be hunted by them. More than likely though all we will get is a crappy release of a half done game when the movie comes out. Because those work so well when they coincide.

Skyrim is pretty much mostly in a snowy land. The northern half is covered in ice.

I have thought about this as well. I think a great game concept would be the adventures of Lewis and Clark. Their journey discovering a new land as they head towards the west coast. The river trip, the Indians (many not friendly), grizzly bears, finding food and on and on would make an extremely entertaining video game

Play the Prehistoric Chapter of LiveALive, a SNES RPG. They were able to convey a bit in that chapter without any dialog. It is a little silly at times, but its also serious at times. Its only one of 3 games I can think of with a Prehistoric setting, but in all three games i can think of it was just part of the game. Other 2 were "EVO Search for Eden" and "Chrono Trigger", also SNES games..

Okay, the one thing that rubbed me the wrong way was that he mentioned Red Dead Redemption, Gun, even Call of Juarez, but didn't even bother to mention Redemption's predecessor, Red Dead Revolver. I thought RD Revolver was an amazing game that I always played with my dad way back when.