As the Houston Press’s current game reviewer and expert, I tend to think about gaming rather constantly, even when doing other things. If I see a differently colored bit of a wall, I actively have to suppress the urge to hit it in case there’s a secret passage. I think in dialogue trees when I talk to people. I award myself experience points when I complete basic tasks (I’m a Level 14 Jef, thanks for asking).
So whenever I’m out and about in Houston, I am usually thinking what type of game the area I’m in would be. There are some really first-rate locations that would make awesome game settings. For instance…
10. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Walking through the trees at the Arboretum already makes me want to pin drawings of the Slenderman to things and see how many people I can freak out. Plus, a lot of the trails feel as if they’re right out of the first level of Deadly Premonition. It’s a really fun place to spend an afternoon, but, speaking from personal experience, it’s easier to get lost and a little freaked out than you may think. Especially if you venture through the tunnels under Woodway.
9. Elder Street Artist Lofts
The former Jefferson Davis Hospital is now home to a thriving community of artists, but having been inside, I can tell you it is still a pretty creepy-feeling place. Back before it was renovated, sneaking into the abandoned hospital was something of a rite of passage for macabre teenagers. It’s a beautiful location, though, and still used for the occasional horror movie. I imagine a ghost or serial killer investigation game similar to Life Is Strange would fit perfectly. The roof would make for a fitting final location with its superb view of the city.
8. Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center
Being the husband of a nurse, I’ve been inside a lot of hospitals, and if I had to pick one that made me feel like I was in Rapture from Bioshock, it would definitely be this one. It’s a grand combination of open spaces, narrow corridors, mazes and conflicting architecture designs that would lend itself well to, say, a nice zombie shooter. Plus, the Life Flight launching pad is perfect for a triumphant getaway sequence reminiscent of the first Resident Evil.
7. Numbers Night Club
Genre: Rhythm / Dating Simulator
Goth dancing is one of those really unique styles that few people seem to know anything about, although I thoroughly recommend wasting a day watching some of it on YouTube sometime. A rhythm game dance-off set to Numbers goth standards like Covenant’s “Call the Ships to Port” or And Ones’s “Military Fashion Show” would be extremely fun for those of us who remember titles like Bust a Groove. A gothic dating simulator would serve as a minigame as you win over prospective mates with cloves, ankhs, boots and your sick dance moves.
6. The Bayous
Genre: Racing Combat
One of the old nicknames for Houston was Baghdad on the Bayou. Ten major waterways wind their paths through the city, and that means ten levels for a boat-racing game. Cruise down White Oak Bayou trying to blow your opponents out of the water as you pass a concert at Fitzgerald’s, or head down Buffalo Bayou, where sharks that have escaped from the Downtown Aquarium attack your vessel. You could even use the Port of Houston as an open fighting arena for a Twisted Metal-style free-for-all.
5. The Wilde Collection
My favorite game of 2014 was Thief, and one of the best aspects of Thief was the hidden unique loot that you found throughout the world to bring back to your hideout in the clock tower. Wilde Collection, Houston’s best and most morbid curiosity shop, could serve a purpose similar to that of the Garrett’s clock tower, with a stealthy rogue venturing out into Houston at night to rob people of their most grisly treasures before escaping back home. Conversely, a mobile game where you sneak into Wilde Collection and try to lift loot while avoiding haunted and booby-trapped items would work, too.
4. Northwest Mall
9500 Hempstead Highway
Genre: Business Simulator
To the complete bafflement of everyone I meet, Northwest Mall is still open for business. It sits nestled in the densest freeway construction in the city, there are better malls almost within walking distance, getting to it is kind of a pain, and yet it remains. It’s a perfect shell for a business simulator in which players try to revitalize their aging, unpopular mall to become an economic powerhouse. Partner with events like the H-Town Sneaker Summit to draw new crowds, and build a better indoor playground than Memorial City Mall has to make family shopping popular.
3. Bernie’s Burger Bus
Genre: Business Simulator
Houston is becoming a nationally known food destination, and the best burgers to be had in the city come from Bernie’s Burger Bus. What started out as a food truck business has turned into a restaurant franchise. In a game, owner Justin Turner could hire you to join the company. Start out on a food truck and navigate to the best spots in Houston to sell burgers in games similar to Cake Mania and Diner Dash. Eventually the customers come to you as you open and manage your own brick-and-mortar franchise location.
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Genre: Multiplayer Shooter
I predict the country will fall into a Mad Max-esque dystopia before anything concrete gets done about the Astrodome, so I’m just going to proceed from that assumption. Let’s have our own Thunderdome where crazed killers and odd mutants battle their way to supremacy in a shantytown built inside the rusting hulk of what was once the Eighth Wonder of the World. A zombie Brewster McCloud, complete with flight powers, could be an unlockable, optional boss for everyone to take down.
1. David Adickes’s Studio
Genre: Shadow of the Colossus clone
If you’ve merged onto I-10 West from 59-North, then you’ve probably seen the massive statue of Charlie Chaplin sitting in David Adickes’s studio down below. Adickes is famous for these giant creations, and wouldn’t it be awesome to see them actually come to life? I picture a lone hero trying to take down these titans as they roam an evacuated Houston like Wander does in Shadow of the Colossus. Adickes’s Beatles would become a four-headed behemoth, and his president heads could form a rolling ball of great statesmen. The final boss would be that Bill Hicks statue we’re supposed to be getting, and its audio could be recordings of Hicks’s famous “It’s Just a Ride” bit, slowed down to sound like whale song. It would be beautiful, if admittedly kind of silly. Perfect for the strange and wonderful place that is Houston.