Let me explain ...
If you know much about me, you know that I'm a huge comic book fan. Comics have been a part of my life since I was a little kid picking up issues of Daredevil and Ghost Rider on road trips shuffling between parents for holidays, summer vacations, and the like. Growing up, I started reading more comics with more superheroes. The X-Men, Captain America, Cloak & Dagger, etc. [Ed. Note: First, yes, I loved Editor's Notes like these in the comics. Second, I DID read DC Comics too, but I'm sticking with Marvel for the purposes of this example.]
The idea of a singular unified setting for stories ... a consolidated universe ... has been a huge facet of the comic industry since its early days. The idea that Hero A from one book could show up in Hero B's story to team-up and fight Villain C at any given moment kept readers on their toes and eager to see what the writers would come up with next. Of course, this paved the way for MASSIVE crossover events too, like Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, Inferno, Armageddon 2001, etc. Eventually, other publishers got in on the action, with Dark Horse's Comics' Greatest World, Valiant's Unity. IDW even found a cool way to bridge the gap dividing its multiple licensed franchises with Infestation, which saw a zombie outbreak spill over into the worlds of Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and even Star Trek.
Right about now, you might be asking "Where's he going with this?" Of course, some of you might have already figured it out (especially due to the title of this blog post). Thinking about the comic book universes and the characters' occasional interactions with each other made me start to ask what would happen if a game studio/publisher decided to build on this creative model? What if someone decided to build a unified world (or worlds) for their characters to interact with? I know, it sounds like it could be a huge stretch (and a definite creative risk), but think about it for a second. You could have huge epic space titles tied to ground-based smaller urban thrillers tied to comedic goofball offerings, and still build a cohesive universe. Look at Marvel, whose books include the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil, and Deadpool. It's a world where someone like Squirrel Girl can share a page with Wolverine or Captain America and no one bats an eye. Best of all, the effects aren't usually self-contained ... the ripples are felt throughout the stories.
Now, imagine for a second that some of your favorite video game studios could pull something like this off. Keep in mind that what I'm talking about in this scenario isn't simply a one-off bit of fan service. Yes, I know there are oddball crossovers (like Nintendo's recently announced Hyrule Warriors or Capcom's Project X Zone), but those are not generally in-continuity tales and they're certainly NOT part of a unified story. Instead, I'm talking about multiple characters, tied together through narrative threads, building both self-contained AND linked plots. Right now, Ubisoft could be laying the groundwork for this very idea. In the latest Assassin's Creed game, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the modern day portions take place in the offices of Abstergo Industires. While exploring the offices, players can find multiple references to ctOS and Blume ... the security software that's the key element of Watch Dogs and the company that created it. Also, there's a reference to the player's boss at Abstergo taking a business trip to Chicago, the very city in which Watch Dogs takes place. Sure, it might be (and likely is) nothing more than just a couple of Easter Eggs tossed in for the heck of it, but what if it isn't? Also, it wouldn't take too much work to retcon a couple of minor things to connect both of these games to other Ubisoft hits, like Splinter Cell. Or maybe have a past Assassin run across the Prince from the Prince of Persia reboot?
The point is, these titles could tie together, but still be left separate from one another until some cool creative idea arrives. Like a great comic book crossover, the seeds could be planted here and there to build a unified world, and then left to germinate over time. Then, as in comics, there could be some greater threat pop up or some threads that are woven together could ultimately come together to create a tapestry that would put all of these diverse and distinct characters into play with a common goal. The crossover could draw interest from gamers who might be on the fence about other titles, and the inevitable collected edition could be an extra source of income for the publisher, much like trade paperbacks are for the comic world. Hell, for that matter, the publisher could even release the "crossover" in episodic format, with each chapter bringing together different characters.
Despite these potential pitfalls, I still think that exploring the idea of a unified narrative and creating a single universe for multiple games has way too much potential to ignore. It's a big budget gamble, but then again, so was a unified Marvel Cinematic Universe, and look how that paid off. Now Fox, Sony, and even Warner (with its DC Comics lineup) are playing Catch Up to get their own slices of the big box office pie. Like the Marvel movies, creating something like this for a video game environment will take a substantial chunk of time, money, and dedication to the project ... as well as that dreaded blind leap of faith ... to pull something like this off, but if a company like Ubisoft is willing to take the ball and run with it, it's hard not to imagine gamers going along for the ride.
So what do YOU guys think would make for a good unified game universe? Which titles/characters could you see working in the same world together?