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Dragons you guys, Dragons!

I love dragons. Let's just get that out right off the bat. Love em. Not in a scary internet way of course, in a kinder, gentler, more awed and excited socially acceptable way. I'm writing this as I glance over to the pre-owned Spyro Skylander my boyfriend tracked down at a local Gamestation, whilst the disc for How to Train Your Dragon spins for the umpteen billionth time ( soundtrack of the mugglefuckin' ever by the way).

So yeah, love 'em to bits. Have done since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and I'm not alone in this. Dragons manage to capture people's imaginations in a way that few other pieces of our collective mythology and folklore have; they're endemic in our stories, our pop culture and of course, our videogames. I for one think that this everlasting appeal is down to one very simple notion:

Dragons are dinosaurs that are magic.

Seriously guys. Dinosaurs. That do magic. Fuckin' A man. Fuckin' A.

Now as I said and as you're all aware dragons are all up in our vidjagames. All up. From the colourful Saturday morning cartoon of Spyro through to the hack-o, slash-o, monster mash-o business of Skyrim.

However, despite such far-reaching saturation I can't help but feel that game play wise-much in the same way that sword fighting hasn't ( for now)-dragons have never quite been served as well as they could be. So, as a thought exercise I've recently been pondering over how games could really deliver ways to do dragons justice for anybody who loves the damn things.

First up lets consider some of the ways that dragons tend to show up in games. Not exhaustive obviously, but in a lot of cases.

A) Mythical flying machines. You know the type of thing; game play pretty much devoted to gliding around shooting fireballs at all and sundry. For the most part the dragon is just a vehicle, without much point than flapping and fragging. This is games like Lair, the Panzer Dragoons and so on. Sure, these can be fun but for me at least these types of games are at best shmups with fireballs and at worst scaly flight simulators.

B) Spyro games (or similar). Again, these provide plenty fun to be had (still some of my fondest PSOne memories are to be found in Spyro and the sequel Gateway to Glimmer), and it's great seeing the dragon take centre stage, but ultimately they don't feel much different from any other cartoony, mascoty, platformers.

C) The collectable battle monster. Here dragons are just critters to catch/trade/win and smack around in cage fights. Obviously you've got your Pokemons, the HTTYD tie-in, and games such as Combat of Giants for the DS. Obviously it's great to have your own stable of flying murder lizards and to be able to mush enough beasties to become the biggest toughest mutha around; but for the most part dragons feel pretty interchangeable with other monsters on parade.

D) Finally (and quite possibly the most prevalent example) dragon as enemy monster to be killed. Pretty much ubiquitous in rpgs and the like as boss fights, road blocks, or even ultimate villain forms. Now often in such cases dragons are used because they're a great shorthand for big brutal sumbitches that will tear your self up six ways to Sunday. Unfortunately beyond the instant moment of "Holy hell that is a big fuck off dragon" I find it hard to get excited. If you've killed one once you've killed one a million times. Just keep wailing on it, maybe dodge the fireballs and use some water/ice magic to bring down the sucker-occasionally spicing things up with a palette swap and holy shit guys this guy is blue and shoots bubbles at yo' ass! Shit's getting real!

Now don't get me wrong, I love seeing dragons in my games-not every game natch- but when, for the most part, the experience can be summed up as just one of the above I can't help but feel that a trick has been missed somewhere down the line. Hell, between those types of encounters I think are the ingredients for a really great and exciting game with dragons at the core. It's just a case of figuring out how to mix things up to make a more involved and in-depth dragon experience.

Okay, so lets talk ideas. So far I've been spit-balling mechanics and game play elements only not really considering plot or setting or so on. I want to get the dragons down pat before starting to build a story around them. With that in mind I'm throwing up standard disclaimers for anything that makes very little sense, isn't all that different from what currently exists or just sounds down-right stupid. What can I say? I'm a broad strokes guy, kinda just throwing ideas at a wall. Not so much good with the nuts and bolts.

For the player character I couldn't decide between playing the rider/trainer/breeder/whatever or the dragon itself. I think there is potential for both so I decided "why not both?" letting players switch between the two on the fly could really help expand the feel of a dragon game plus provide an interesting variety of game play.

Right off the bat I think an rpg style development system should be used, but preferably one with less of a traditional fight/exp/level set up. Rather it should be something more active and fluid along the lines of the Elder Scrolls games or even the original Digimon World for PSOne.

Digimon World, for those who never played, featured a player with their own personal monster trained from birth through maturity at each stage developing and training it's skills. Training and development was achieved through a mix of diet, environment, battle and exercise. A gym wherein various workout regimes yielded different stat increases was key to developing your monster into different evolutions and forms. The system wasn't perfect to say the least; but I do think there is merit in the concept of physically teaching and training your dragon to have different skills and abilities, in a similar manner as you would a real life pet.

To my mind this is where the human/dragon switching could come into play. As the human trainer you could hatch your dragon and feed it, keeping it healthy and fit (I think that poaching the notion of having to manually give medical attention and aid to your dragon such as described at one point in The Last Guardian could be great here). Alongside this, you could set up exercises and obstacle courses for it to develop new and existing skills.

For example, dummies or targets could be placed to hone fire balls or breath powers. Say you want it to breathe further or more powerfully? Different targets could be placed at long distances or be made of tougher, more resistant materials. Then, by switching to the dragon you could run them-bringing in the gradual skill progression of the Elder Scrolls series (of course this could go far beyond training courses into the wider world with survival skills such as hunting and tracking or camouflage and so on).

Likewise with flight, start off with small jumps then glides until you can finally soar through the skies to your heart's content. I think that the idea of really earning and working for these skills could be a lot of fun and really engage players beyond just grinding exp until ding! You can now shoot lightning for some reason (Not saying that there isn't room for that, I'd just prefer more organic development or at the very least some more imaginative abilities-say swimming or digging underground, or even climbing ladders).

Beyond training there could be opportunities for breeding and customisation. Abilities and traits from parent dragons could be passed down. You want a dragon with massive wingspan that can glide for miles? Shack up a mummy and daddy with high flying stats! Hardly ground breaking concepts I grant you but could still add that little bit extra to the whole shebang. You could have dragons of all shapes and sizes! Imagine a litter of tiny mole lizards, or a long sleek wyrm perfect for underwater exploration? They're fantastic beasts why limit yourself to the same tired tooth and claw blueprints?

As I said way back when these are all just things off the top of my head hardly a gold star design document. Heck I've probably given this far more thought than most ever would but hey, I like me some dragons and I'm preeeetty sure there are a few more of you out there that do and maybe you too would love to see a game that shows you the same level of love for the scaly buggers.

So, thoughts? Suggestions? What would you want to see? I'd love to hear what people thought or would want in their ideal dragon game. Lets bring that dragon love right in. But not in a scary internet way of course.
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Jon Hartley   1



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About TheCiderManone of us since 5:56 PM on 09.28.2012

This is my blog. It's sarcastic nine months of the year and ill-informed the other three. The blogs posted here are backward and confused. The one who posts them even more so. The only upside are the links. While other places have ponies or memes this blog has...


Currently enjoying some classic Squaresoft JRPGs as well as the stuff I got for Christmas.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is the best title of any game I've never played.

Eat more fruit!