Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’

This might contain very minor spoilers but don’t worry, I haven’t even finished the book yet so I can’t really ruin anything.

I don’t read much but whenever I go travelling I need something to keep my occupied that doesn’t rely on battery power. Therefore every time I fly, I read. Now I don’t fly a huge amount, probably twice a year, so I definitely couldn’t class myself as a reader. However I do enjoy a book every now and again, although they’re such time sinks that they’re confined to periods of my life where I have no electricity.

My most recent trip had me picking up The Stand by Stephen King. I like Stephen King, yeah it’s not really an inspired choice… he’s pretty popular and mainstream, but whatever, I like his stories. The last King book I read was Cell, which was really cool. I wanted to get Under the Dome but it was only released in hardcover, and at 1100 pages that’s a pretty heavy book (and expensive). I wanted an epic to read, something I’ve never done before, so I went to the King area and looked for the biggest book. The Stand is what I decided on.

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I’m about 75% of the way through and I’m loving it. I didn’t really know what to expect, it’s a post-apocalyptic (although it includes the ‘apocalypse’) thriller about a biological weapon which is accidentally released in the US. The weapon was an advanced form of Flu and has a 100% fatality rate. Luckily, some people are immune and the story so far is about 2 groups of survivors who have been united under the ‘Dark Man’ or ‘Mother Abigail’.

What interested me about the book is that I was barely a quarter of the way through and everyone was dead already. I was imagining the whole book to be about the flu, but it turns post-apocalyptic and becomes much more interesting. There are a lot of characters from all walks of life and there are so many intriguing events which I’ve never really thought about before. It’s definitely worth a read.

So what’s the point of this post? Well as I was reading I couldn’t help but think The Stand would make an incredible video game if it could be pulled off. It should definitely be an MMO of some kind. What makes The Stand such an interesting book is the huge amount of characters. There has to be a massive component to the community to really simulate the complete randomness of who survived the flu.

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Tom Cullen & Nick Andros first meet.

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For example, Nick Andros is a deaf-mute. He is immune and the only person in his town who survives the epidemic. He is alone and does not know what to do. He begins to travel towards Mother Abigail, a woman he sees in his dreams (as all the survivors do). Eventually he stumbles across another survivor. This guy is Tom Cullen and he is mentally retarded. The two of them find it difficult to communicate (Tom takes a while to realize that Nick can’t talk or hear) but eventually they get to Mother Abigail’s place. The chance of the 2 people both being handicapped and surviving the flu is extremely slim.. but this dynamic is what makes the story so interesting. The whole book is full of unique characters, most of them crazy in some way shape or form.

So it has to have a large community, that’s for sure. But when do you start the game? You cannot start while the flu is still killing people, it would suck if your character wasn’t immune and just died. Plus it could not be a persistent world because the victims have an expiry date. It would have to start just after the flu had killed its last victims. Players would have to start in a random location (not in a starter area with other people), alone and with the only instinct being to survive. One idea that came to me, and one that made me surprised that it hasn’t really been done before, was to have 2 games in one.

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The Stand could be a single player game at first, one where you are taken linearly through the storyline of the flu epidemic. This part cannot be persistent so it could not be a MMO game. However it would be criminal, and confusing to players, to omit this important part of the story. The characters in The Stand are so interesting because they’ve all had a flu story. They’ve all seen their loved ones die, they’ve all had unique experiences which unite them. Players need to have these experiences too, they need to play the single player component of The Stand and then, when they meet the first survivor  online say, “Holy shit, you’re alive?! You won’t believe what happened to me…”.

If this could be done it would be amazing, although I’m not sure how viable it is. How can you have a single player story which isn’t the same for everyone? You could make it sandbox style, but these games lack emotion (in my opinion). You can’t really connect with characters in a sandbox game because you’re not guided through the relationship like a traditional story. They just don’t matter. So that would be a problem.

Ok, so once the players have finished the single-player component they are then allowed to enter the MMO part. Now I see why this hasn’t been done before, as it’s not really fair to restrict a huge part of the game to those who haven’t finished the single player. However, if the game is good enough then people will see it through. It would not have to be a lengthy experience (no games are these days), just a sort of prologue to the ‘real’ game.

Another factor which is conceptually flawed is death. The Stand should be hardcore. It should be like Diablo’s hardcore mode. If you die, you’re dead forever. It has to be like this because it’s a game about survival. It’s not about awesome loot and killing boss monsters, it’s about surviving in a world that’s been turned upside down. In a survival game you should be constantly afraid of death.

But, how do you do a hardcore game in an MMO environment? You’re going to get griefers who just stand around starter areas and kill everyone who spawns. That’s what the internet is like, unfortunately.

Firstly, death must be rewarded. It’s what I like to call the Funeral Mechanic. Your funeral is a celebration of your life. In The Stand there should be some persistence regarding your character. Even though you die and have to create a new character from scratch, you should receive some form of bonus which makes you stronger in your new character. If you had a successful previous life, you will be rewarded in your next one. Very zen! We want people scared of death, but we don’t want them to quit (or not play) because their life has been wasted because some idiot griefer decides to shoot them in the back.

Secondly there does have to be some form of punishment for assholes. The problem with this is that we want the game to be ‘realistic’. There are assholes in real life. Hell, even in the book you get tons of assholes who hurt others for the thrill. Removing the ability to kill someone as and when you please would be terrible for the theme. However there has to be some form of disincentive to kill new players, otherwise people will never communicate in game. Everyone would be scared of each other. It would be a very interesting social experiment but not a viable game I feel. My main idea is that there should be a bounty on players. If you kill one or two guys a day then you’ll be fine, your bounty will stay relatively low. However, if you start killing lots of low level players in a short period of time then you’ll accrue a hefty bounty.

There are two ways this could now work. The first is that other players will be told about the bounty. There could be vigilante justice. When there’s an incentive to kill some guy then there are gonna be some players who want that reward. This would be a great system because it’s non-interventionist. Intervention in a game like this will just ruin the mood. The second option would be to have bounty hunters, AI bots who patrol around the area. They would obviously not look like police, they’d just be some crazy Mad Max style gang. As your bounty increases, the chance of them finding you will be greater. You could probably evade them at first, but if you take the piss then you won’t sleep a wink at night.

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A prisoner left to rot in jail is forced to take desperate measures of survival.

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This is getting to be a pretty long post so I’ll end it soon (thanks for reading!) but there are a few other things I’ll quickly mention. There has to be food and water. If you don’t eat and drink enough, you die. This forces players to meet each other and also adds a unique dynamic which further emphasizes the survival tone. Finally there should be a random generator of genetics. When you create a character, you could be anything. You might be stronger than most. You might be stupid. You might be old, you might be young. This will make every experience unique and perhaps players won’t mind dying because it will be like playing a new game.

In conclusion, someone make this damn game! Well, at least a game based on The Stand.

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Sam

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