Hello, and welcome to our new series which picks out interesting things that we’d love someone to make a game about.
This isn’t a chance for us to pretend we’re game designers, more an opportunity to celebrate the range of subjects games can tackle and the sorts of things that seem filled with glorious gamey promise.
I’ve never heard a train station described as “hell on earth” as frequently as Birmingham New Street Station. After it’s redevelopment a few years ago the station turned into something that’s great for shopping and bad for catching trains, and travelling stress – whether it’s at an airport or a train station – is one of the great equalisers, unifying people across nations and languages through mutual dislike. New Street offers fertile ground for this dislike through a system that requires you to cover quite a lot of ground in a short amount of time when changing trains, as well as a concourse divided into ‘lounges’ which were meant to make access clearer but somehow do the exact opposite.
When I thought about New Street making a fun game, I thought mainly about the feeling of utter befuddlement it causes me – too many people, loose-limbed and arranged by a magical hand to be in your way at all times, dragging suitcases and children behind them while frantically looking around for the sign that may reveal the location of their train and save them from being too late. There are many games that are great fun just by virtue of how they exaggerate confusion and lack of control. Think Octodad, Manual Samuel or Human Fall Flat – a difficult control scheme or overzealous physics engine provides hours of fun simply by working against you.
I get very nervous whenever I have to visit a new train station, especially when I have a train to catch, so I always come prepared with maps and apps and any modern form of compass available. It struck me how this, just the act of traversal, is essential to games. We’re always going somewhere, and how often getting from A to B in one piece is the only task, simply manoeuvring around obstacles. Nothing at New Street provides you with a straight line from A to B. An online commenter on a review portal went so far as to describe the station as a place “where ticket barriers and exits pop up and vanish at will” and another made a similar observation, comparing it to the vanishing steps at Hogwarts. How marvellous would that be to take a place you know and recognise and use it as your adversary, not just a setting. To conquer a supernatural version of a thoroughly mundane train station in a game could be a great way to see a place that I now feel nothing but anxiety towards with fresh eyes.
Of course it wouldn’t necessarily matter if it were a recognisable version of Birmingham New Street – confusing train station like it exist all over the world – but at a time where great cities and sights frequently find their way into games, I’ve developed an unlikely soft spot for the idea of putting a fairly regular, fairly ugly part of British everyday life into a game, minutely rendered in UE4 just for me to rush through it on my way to the next quest.