Sometimes the best game ideas come out of the unlikely collision of disparate genres. Indeed, the creative directors at Sony Worldwide Studios have a little excercise they carry out while brainstorming new ideas – they’ll put a bunch of game names into a bag, pull out two, then hammer out a design concept that combines both.
I’m not sure if that’s how Teddy Diefenbach, a game design student at the University of Southern California’s famed Interactive Media Division, came up with Moonlighters, but it’s certainly conceivable. Set amid the glamour and sophistication of the ’50s (we’re think Las Vegas and LA rather than austerity Britain), the title effectively combines the heist movie,the stealth shooter and the Japanese RPG into one adventure experience. The player controls a bunch of misfit crooners and nightclub performers whose gigs have now all been taken by rock-n-roll singers. Facing financial ruin, they decide to use their thespian skills to attempt a series of elaborate heists. “They getthe idea from a heist movie theyall starred in together,” says Diefenbach. “so they figure, if we can do it in the movies, we can do it in a real life. But they can’t really. They’re terrible.”
The RPG-style action is viewed from an isometric perspective, with each member of the party bringing their own items and abilities: the comedian can distract guards with his jokes, for example, while the stage magician has the power of hynpnosis. At the outsetof each job, the player has to put each character into a set criminal role – for example, the driver or the grease man, each with their own responsibilities in the job.
Diefenbach describes the game as a sort of homage to the JPRG, and there are elements of mid-nineties classics like Grandia and Shining Force in there. But this is also a fun little pastiche of classic heist movies, with a broad range of missions, from busting into a rock concert to breaking out of prison.
“I made this as my thesis project at USC,” says Diefenbach. “Now I’m just trying to find some funding to make it a real thing and get it out there.” He and two colleagues have set up a studio, Rad Dragon, and finished the intro mission, but are hoping some funding comes out of their Indiecade showing. He should be successful – although the visuals are a little rough at present, it’s a lovely concept that’s been well-planned. And USC has a record of producing fine designers – it was here that Jenova Chen developed his first game prototype, Clouds.
There’s no release date pencilled in yet, of course, but Diefenbach is aiming for a console release via PSN or XBLA as well as Mac and PC. We’ll keep you up to date with his progress.