Jack Monahan’s blog, Gausswerks Design Reboot, is a wonderful internets-finding of a great idea followed with wonderful execution.  The idea here is to take concepts and ideas found in previously-released games, and breathe some fresh life into them – and his life-breathing is a wondrous thing, presenting fascinating windows into sequels of what could be.

My favorite was his treatment of Gunther Hermann , one of the top partially-cyborg agents of UNATCO in the fantastically visionary game Deus Ex, and the game he envisioned was called Laputan Machine.  While I have no idea what Laputan means (turns out, it was where Gulliver went in his travels.  Thanks, Wikipedia!), here is the original concept:

In Deus Ex (2000) Gunther Hermann is mostly a punchline: a psychotic dinosaur, a mechanically-augmented agent rightfully fearful of being made obsolete by the new-model nanotech Denton brothers.

But picture a prequel centered on Gunther’s descent into monsterhood. Start with a well meaning field agent with the deck stacked against him. End with an echo of a man, steeped in blood, pleading for a clean slate.

A friend once told me what they wanted out of games was feeling “like I had just jumped out of an airplane with no parachute.”

Laputan Machine is about that suicidal freefall: a series of choices between bad and worse, how a man’s moral compass is broken by way of desperate self-preservation.

Monahan continues forward with concept-level artwork and, surprisingly perhaps, concept-level music taken from other artists.  In this case, he chose Portishead’s Machine Gun – a song I’d not heard before (must be on the neweralbum?), but find chillingly fitting with his painfully dystopic vision of Gunther.  The bits of concept artwork he throws into the mix are also painful in their presentation, and when taken with Machine Gun, well – the idea of Laputan Machine is pretty much driven home like a knife in the dark.

But his greatest ideas aren’t in overarching ideas for game concept; rather, they lie in the specifics:

The more indiscriminate the killing, the higher the bodycount, the more unstable Gunther becomes and the more he gives in to the mech-augs enabling the bloodshed, dimming his conscience and humanity. Give in to the machine too quickly, or kill too many and Gunther loses it, the game ends prematurely with the first major alternate ending: Gunther being put down like a rabid dog by his disappointed handlers.

He even draws on further games, like the time-honored cyberpunk favorite Syndicate, and its system of agent upgrades – slowly, the avatar of the player becomes more man than machine, and as with the best cyberpunk fictions, this loss of humanity represents the greatest struggle of Laputan Machine.

The Design Reboot blog looks to have around 20 entries.  Some, such as the most recent, pull from horror-game Alone in the Dark, and others, in a vein similar to that of Laputan Machine, pull further from Deus Ex in the form of Flatlander Woman.  While I won’t go into the specific details of this one, I’ll tease you with a quote and say that it sounds to be every bit as engrossing of a game concept as I found Lauptan Machine to be;

It seems legitimate to assume that an elite assassinwho can turn invisible would equate morality to a single question: did anyone catch me? And of course, Anna Navarre has never been caught. Not yet.

Consider Flatlander Woman: a stealth game where the years of training, mechanical augmentations, and the cloaking device ensure that stalking prey is only as sporting as cat and mouse.
Killing isn’t the hard part, but it is the problem: like most FPS players, Anna prefers to resolve her issues with a liberal application of violence. It also happens that there are no unkillable NPCs in her world.

note: all images in this post are courtesy of Jack Monahan.

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