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- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Sunday, January 07, 2007 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
 
Y The Last Man: Could it make a great videogame?

"Y The Last Man" (YTLM web site, PDF of Issue 1, Volumes 1-8 at Amazon.com), a graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughan (writer; Runaways, Ex Machina, Pride of Baghdad and soon ABC's Lost) and Pia Guerra (penciller), has been a favorite on the scene since its arrival in 2002.

Currently in its last 12-issue cycle heading towards a planned Issue #60 conclusion, it has drawn rave reviews not just from the comics and online community, but also from mainstream media including Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post and NPR.

Starting with the premise that a mysterious illness wipes out all males on earth with the exception of Yorrick Brown and his monkey Ampersand, it has brilliantly avoided a one-dimensional exploration of its potentially salacious aspects, and instead become a character-driven story about the odyssey of a small group of fairly ordinary folks trying to make their way in a nightmare none of them were prepared for.

It jumps from humor to intrigue to political commentary and social satire as nimbly as the finest examples of the apocalyptic genre (note that the movie "Children of Men", currently in theaters, explores similar territory, but is not related).

There's lots of talk about a movie for the franchise, but details are scarce.

This made us wonder: Could YTLM make a great videogame? To get a better read on the question, here's a look at the potential main characters, gameplay, extras and major action set pieces.

MAIN CHARACTERS:
  • Yorrick Brown: The "rogue". Reluctant hero of our story. His strengths are Houdini-like escape techniques and the use of everyday magic as diversion. Also capable, but not skilled at, hand-to-hand combat and weapons.
  • Agent 355: The "fighter". Government agent chartered with being Yorrick's guardian angle. Strengths are hand-to-hand combat and weapons.
  • Dr. Mann: The "medic". Her strength is keeping the group and its allies healthy.
  • Ampersand: The "rogue mini". Yorrick's monkey. Skilled at nothing beyond being a very small and agile pair of opposable thumbs. That'll come in handy.

GAMEPLAY: As much as YTLM is a story about Yorrick's struggle to survive, get to the bottom of the plague mystery and re-unite with his girlfriend, he is always surrounded by others vital to his quest, most importantly Agent 355, Ampersand and Dr. Mann. This lends itself beautifully to squad-based gameplay with the user able to control in realtime which character they control (more on this in a minute). To do justice to both those times when the story develops more deliberately as well as those when split-second action dominates, we see an Action/RTS hybrid.

GRAPHICAL STYLE: Although cartoon-style rendering has been done aplenty (including action games, most notably XIII), it is most likely still the right answer for YTLM:The Game, but the opportunity lies in a hybrid between the flat approaches taken so far and the high dynamic range lighting, depth-of-field and motion blur we can get from next generation consoles.

EXTRAS
  • Screen layout: We see an opportunity for the game to seriously exploit the 16:9 capabilities of next generation consoles hooked up to high definition televisions by making the most use of the screen real estate through a system of 4 display zones as so...



    ...that are used to display either multiple characters' Points-of-View or multiple places at the same time, allowing the player to switch between characters and places in real-time during gameplay. The selections are then swapped into the big 4x3 area on the left.





    While this makes the game more exciting to play and watch, its real objective is to do justice to Vaughan's focus on overlapping characters and places in his intricately woven tale.

  • Autopilot: Given the quality of both YTLM's story-telling and the quality of visuals generated by next generation consoles, we would provide an "autopilot" button at all times that allows the player to hand the controls of their player over to the computer to allow the user to simply focus on watching the action (and, in those rare instances, avoid the frustration of the impossible-to-get-through sections of the game).

  • Comic Machinima ("The Way you Played It"): Machinima (the ability to create and record virtual movies in the envrionment of the game) has become an important element in many games, but the unique opportunity for YTLM:The Game (beyond the obvious one of creating fan movies featuring the characters and settings of the YTLM world) is in giving the player an automatically edited, stylized "graphic novel replay" of the way they played the key moments of any given level.

MAJOR ACTION SET PIECES (WARNING: possible mild spoilers)
  • ACT I

    • Intros/tutorials

      • Yorrick and Ampersand (focus on learning basic controls of the game, and getting familiar with both Yorrick's and Ampersand's controls while in their apartment).



      • Agent 355 (focus on learning the combat and stealth controls of the game during 355's mission in Jordan).



    • Amazon Battles

      • Urban WDC escape (play Yorrick as he makes his way through urban WDC on the way to the White House, gets caught by the trash-hauling supermodel and escapes.



      • The White House shootout (focus on Yorrick as he and his congresswoman mother escape, and then on 355 as she gets control of a lot itchy trigger fingers in front of the White House).



      • Washington Monument fight (control Yorrick as you nearly get yourself killed accosting Daugters of the Amazon in order to procure a motorcycle).



    • On The Road

      • Boston (control 355 as she leads Yorrick into Dr. Mann's lab, and while we're at it, introduce Dr. Mann)



      • Riding the rails (control Yorrick as he gets the short of the stick in a run-in while on the cross-country train)



      • Marrisville conflict (control Yorrick as you try to use social engineering to get yourself and the group out of a very sticky situation)



      • Arizona roadblock shootout (control Dr. Mann and 355 as she has to use all her combat skills to keep the group from getting permanently stopped in Arizona)



      • Cooksfield conflict

  • ACT II

    • San Francisco

      • Street fight

      • Mosque fight

      • Stadium fight

      • Golden Gate Bridge fight (control 355 in a martial arts showdown with a Ninja that has her eyes set on Ampersand ... you'll need Dr. Mann)



    • The Pacific

      • Battles on The Whale (meet Captain Kilina and put to use Yorrick's, 355's and Dr. Mann's talents in negotiating your way through the ship, encountering the sub, and making it out alive)



      • Encountering the submarine



      • Escaping the ship

    • Japan

      • Tokyo nightclub (control 355 as you lead Yorrick into Epiphany's lair to get Ampersand back)



      • Dr. Mann's mom's

  • ACT III

    • Issues 48-60 (still to be published in 2007)

BOTTOM LINE: Yes, YTML could make a great game. It would take a valiant creative effort to (a) do justice to the creative depth of its original form (a story-telling masterpiece) and (b) avoid the me-too gameplay that has sunk the best of franchises, but the opportunity for an interactive version of this richly drawn (literally and figurative) universe and its inhabitants is undeniably compelling.

Y The Last Man Story and Images Copyright Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and DC Comics
Replicated here for purposes of analysis



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