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Designing: The Game and Its Content

Naming Techniques

Posted by , 02 September 2004 - - - - - - · 256 views

I suppose I had better cover naming techniques before I move on from worldbuildng to plot. Fortunately naming is one of the easiest, most mechanical and formulaic tasks in worldbuilding.

There are 5 kinds of names:
'Real' Names - Look in your phone book or a baby name book.
Meaningful English Names - Usually these are a noun, such as: pearl, joy, garnet, rowan, jay; or an adjective and a noun combined, such as: runningdog, moonflower, sixspears.
Foreign Language Names - Look in a foreign language dictionary. If you care whether they are properly conjugated then you need to learn how to do that of find a friend who knows how.
Connotative Names - These names suggest an english word or two without actually being real words. Start with one or more words you like the meaning of, e.g.: wrath, anger, jealousy, and either modify one, e.g.: rath, jealo, or mix two, e.g.: angrath, wreathalousy, jealger
Euphonic Names - These are meaningless names that sound nice. Make up some syllables, e.g.: phe, lo, sil, ken, ra, and then mix and match to get names like: ra, phesil, sillora, kenlophera.

Advice for naming your cast: try not to repeat first letters, final syllables, or number of syllables too much among your cast because these markers are what players use to remember the characters names, and you don't want players to mix your characters up, right? On the other hand, characters from the same culture should all have the same type of name - especially don't mix meaningful names with other types.


Posted by , 01 September 2004 - - - - - - · 409 views

Back to our circle of story elements:
characters - character dynamic - plot - atmosphere - wordbuilding - then back to characters again.

Having covered the basics of character and character dynamic yesterday, we can now slide around the ring to either plot or worldbuilding. Again, this is a matter of your orientation as a writer - I have a lot more worldbuilding inspirations than plot ones, so I'm going to talk about worldbuilding now. ;)

- Worldbuilding
- - Physics
- - Geography
- - Ecology
- - Culture

The physics type of worldbuilding includes gravity, electricity, weather, magic, gods, and any of the background forces that make your world behave the way it does.

Say you want to have people living on the moon - okay, what are they breathing? What are the consequences to animals and people if the gravity is much lighter than on earth? What about radiation and other hazards of a thin atmosphere? How does all this affect the weather?

If you want to have magic, where does it come from? How does it work? How can people use it, and what are the side effects of doing so?

If you want to have gods, how do they think? (Hint, probably NOT like people.) What powers do they have? What do they want from people? Why?

I'm not going to go on about this at great length because there's already a good book on the subject: World-Building, by Stephen L. Gillett

Anyone who has a high school education should know enough about the names of geographical features and food webs and ecological niches, etc., to put together a passable imaginary world. Just keep in mind that your geography should look like it could be a logical product of your physics, and that your plants and animals have to be functionally adapted to both of these (i.e. no giant bugs on normal gravity planets).

Now we get to the really interesting and complicated part: people! No man is an island, alone unto himself. Everyone is born into a society that teaches its members a system of ethics and a model of how the world works, which information these members use to decide how to live their lives. And each society is a product of the actions of previous generations, who were in turn products of earlier versions of society, and so on, back to the dawn of intelligent life. When you create a single character and their assumptions, beliefs, and personal philosophy, you to some extent also need to create the whole of this history.

The exception is if you are doing a near-present Earth setting, because your player will already be fairly familiar with these. But games in the story-dependant genres (RPG, action RPG, adventure, FPS, and interactive fiction) are usually set in cultures other than that of modern reality. So it follows that you will need to sketch this new culture out for your players as part of your story.

If you are not interested in sociology and don't want to tackle culture building, whch requires an understanding of about three different university-level fields of study, let me offer you a few easy ways out: 1) Research an existing historical culture and base your game culture on it. 2) Research an existing fictional culture and base yours on it, but don't forget to change the names of everything so you're not violating copyright law. 3) Invent just a magic system/different planet and work out how this change would affect an existing culture. 4) Invent just a race with a variation on human biology and workout how this would affect an existing culture.

If, however, you want to tackle this difficult but fascinating field of design, let's go with: 5) Invent your own culture from scratch.

Building Culture and Sociobiology

To design a culture you need to decide the stage of cultural evolution your society is at, the kin group patterns your society is organized around, the type of economy your society uses, the society's average moral philosophy, and the stage of technological evolution your society is at, for starters.

According to Elman R. Service's book _Origins of the State and Civilization_, all civilizations that arise spontaneously and free from the influences of previous civilizations go through the following phases: hunting and gathering, incipient agriculture, formative, regional florescent, initial empire, dark ages, cyclical conquests. Now admittedly this is not a very strong generalization because he had a sample size of only 6 spontaneously occurring civilizations throughout the Earth's history. (These being Mesopotamia, Egypt, N. China, N. Peru, and Meso-America.) But we might as well assume that this generalization is solid so we have something to work with.

So what do those phase names mean?


Supposedly the first hominids were similar to modern-day bonobos (a type of chimpanzee). They lived in nomadic bands on the plains of Africa and fed themselves by scavenging and browsing. The exogamous gender was the female one, with female children generally switching to a neighboring tribe at puberty, while males stayed in the tribes of their mothers. They communicated simple concepts via a few grunts and motions. The only ties they acknowledged were mother-child and friend-friend relationships, and the only ways they controlled each others' behavior were by physical force, intimidation, and favor exchange.

There was a balance of power between the dominant male (who usually had one or two sidekicks and was often supported by his mother), his rival (and his sidekick(s)), and a network of the dominant females of the tribe, organized into little cliques of tree or four friends. There probably weren't monogamous marriages or any understanding of how fatherhood worked at this time, but there were certainly 'couples' of men and women who preferred each other and shared food, and just generally were friends. Oh, and they already had war - bands of a few males and possibly some females with no children would occasionally go purposely into a neighbor's territory and, if they caught one of the other tribe's members alone, would beat and/or rape him/her, sometimes to death. All in all, much like high school. o.O

Hunting and Gathering (Stone Age)

Then something changed in our brains and we began developing language, and through language we cooperated to develop tool-use, food-storing technology, clothing, and cooperative hunting. Persuasion, rules, and taboos were invented, and we tamed fire and learned to cook. These tribes were still nomadic within a territory, moving around so as not to exhaust the plants and game in any one area, and to take advantage of seasonal changes (like living in a cave in winter, hunting big game on the plains in summer, and harvesting the forest's bounty in autumn).

Along with language we gained the ability to tell stories, and mythology aka religion was consequently also been invented. Technology at this point included wooden, bone, and stone tools, and baskets and clothing made from animal skins and woven animal or plant fibers, which were wrapped, knotted, or tied with cord through holes pierces by awls, but were not sewn. Anthropological evidence suggests that probably a group of women and their children lived together permanently, and the men went on hunting trips in hierarchial groups for anywhere from a day to two weeks, then brought the game back to the women to trade for sex. A primitive form of marriage was invented (basically a mythological confirmation of the gift-preference-jealousy sexual economy that already existed). Similarly primitive adoption, naming, initiation, chief-making, and blood brotherhod rituals developed to mark various changes in relationships and social status within the tribe.

Art was invented, mostly tattooing, scarification, body piercing, body and object painting, carving, and patterned weaving/knotting/braiding of hair or baskets, often accompanied by hand-drilled beads. Some cultures of this type still existed until recently (nomadic native americans, indians of the amazon, australian aboriginies). The best fictional example I have seen of a culture of this type is Jean M. Auel's _The Clan of the Cave Bear_

Incipient Agriculture

Some tribes, following their religious beliefs, buried dead tribe members them with food (and other objects) for various reasons. Some of this food was grain and tubers, and these were observed to sprout from the grave next spring. Thus agriculture was invented, spontaneously in each of the six civilizations. Generally the first gardens and fields were tended by women, while men continued to hunt and then domesticate and herd animals; this created, for the only time in history, a matriarchial system. Women owned the land they farmed, and the Chief of the tribe was generally the brother or son of the richest woman.

The problem with agriculture was that you couldn't take the plants with you; the solution was to live in a cave or build huts near where the plants grew best, usually a river valley or delta. Animals were domesticated somewhere in here too, and the ability to fire clay into pottery was discovered, needles were invented and soft metal jewelry (gold, silver, and copper) along with beading and cloth dyeing began to be worn as visible signs of wealth. Wells were dug and cisterns and troughs built to facilitate watering crops and flocks.

But giving up nomadism meant reducing your chances to mix your genes with another tribe. The solution to this was recognition of a more complicated kin system (usually splitting of the population into two phratries and totemic sub-groups) and a primitive type of arranged marriage, often involving a bride-price paid in herd animals. Settlement in one area also meant that there were some resources a group just didn't have access to and some that the group could get very easily (specialization), and an organized barter system evolved to even out the distribution of goods.

Examples of this type of society were dark-ages england, african herdsmen, hawaiian islanders, polynesian islanders, easter islanders, and new-guineans. You see a lot of islanders on this list because this is often the highest level of civilization a small island can support.

To read more about phratries and totemic groups you should read: Emile Durkheim's _Elementary Forms of the Religious Life_

Regional Florescent Period (Bronze Age)

Now comes more organized farming (now converted to a male profession), construction of complicated wood, brick, and adobe buildings, the working of soft metals, the birth of bureaucracy and simple writing for record-keeping, and the first monetary systems. The construction of towns fed by the surplus of outlying farms enabled some people to leave the production of food to others while they specialized in being artisans, producing technological objects. And the artisans built workshops and machines to help them in their work: Pottery wheels, spinning wheels, looms, improved furnaces and forges, grain mills, pulley systems, aqueducts and irrigation systems and other plumbing, ploughs, wagons, chariots... the list goes on and on.

New machines and new techniques of production like glass blowing and casting from molds combined to result in the production of enamel and other glass products, more advanced waterproof pottery with glass glazes, bronze tools and weapons, stamped coins, woven fabrics and sewn clothing, tooled leather, furniture such as chairs, tables, beds, and wardrobes, small mirrors and windows, cut gems and complex jewelry... oh, writing evolved, resulting in the first books, handwritten and copied by scribes, or sometimes carved into the wall of a temple or tomb.

Acient Greek civilization is the archetypal example of this type of culture, and also Feudal England, the Pueblo Indians, Celtic civilization before the Roman conquest, and Hebrew civilization as described in the _Bible_. Or you can think of Rohan, Rivendell, and the Shire in _The Lord of the Rings_. Many computer games take place in a setting of this sort, or at least have villages of this sort on the frontier or in backwaters of a kingdom/empire where the castle or capital city is at the next level up.

Initial Empire (Iron Age)

As the exponential growth of human civilization continued, things continued to get more complicated. The printing press (block printing, not moveable type yet) fostered the creation of private and royal libraries, organized schools which grew into academies and the first universities, and organized religion. Advances in engineering, transportation of building materials, and drafting of peasants for public works projects enabled the construction of walled cities and stone castles. Metal forging advanced further to allow the working of brass and iron. Artisans organized into guilds and instituted formal ranks and hierarchies among their members, and the first factories were built to supply the government and its army. Art and philosophy blossomed. Gunpowder was invented and guns evolved quickly from primitive flintlocks to rifles. Water-clocks were invented, and advances were made in optics and astronomy. Various types of government including a police force and a national standing army evolved to deal with distribution of goods and resources, and to mediate between the increasingly larger numbers of people living in a small area: Feudalism, Monarchy, Oligarchy, Theocracy...

Since these cultures are more varied and have ample historical documentation I won't try to describe them thoroughly, just mention some ones you are already familiar with and can go research further if you like: Athens and Sparta, Carthage, the Egyptian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Incan and Aztec Empires, the Chinese Empire, the Japanese Empire and basically every country in early Renissance Europe.

Dark Ages and Cyclical Conquests

I'm going to skip these because they are optional in a civilization's history and don't include any new technology or social customs. So now we've gotten beyond Service, who wasn't interested in modern civilization, but there are still a few more ages to go.

The Modern Age (Steel Age, Machine Age)

You probably learned about this one in middle or high school - this is the invention of moveable type, steam engines, hot-air balloons, coal-fired blast furnaces, construction of railroads and factories, the beginning of automation, and the displacement of people from the country to the city. More innovations followed quickly: concrete, wrought iron, steel, sheet glass, sky-scrapers, airplanes, automobiles, assembly lines, standardization and interchangable parts, dynamite, automatic guns, electricity, telegraphs, telephones, radar, etc.

The Postmodern Age (Computer Age, Information Age)
This is where we are currently. Hopefully you know about it, since you're living in it and I'm tired of writing. Major innovations: equal rights, global airline network, space travel, lasers, biotechnology and medical technology, credit cards, computers and other computerzed appliances, and the internet.

The Future...?
Theorists speculate that the next age after this one will be an age of customization and virtuality; computers will be able to generate one-of-a-kind objects and entertainments, and the concept of marketing will have to change to cope with this. Technological advances may make money obsolete, whch would completely alter our economy. Anticipated major innovations: nanomachines, genetic engineering, terraforming, regular space travel, virtual reality, cryogenics, true AI...

Some links to help you with your worldbuilding:
Patricia Wrede's Worldbuilding Checklist
Worldbuilding Tools
Contact Alien Creation
World-Create Yahoogroup

Finally, a bit about how to convey all this info to the player during the game:

You have neither the time nor any real necessity to tell the player the whole history of your civilization, of course. The most important things to describe are those which affect the plot events, characters' motivations, and characters' patterns of reaction. It will generally be necessary to describe or imply the culture's prevailing moral beliefs at the time your game occurs. (E.g. do they think theft is a social pastime or a soul-destroying sin? Or is the concept of theft impossible because they don't have the concept of property?). Players frequently enjoy a direct statement of a culture's beliefs, especially if in the form of a 'traditional' chant or poem that you have invented.

An example from Ursula K. LeGuin's _The Left Hand of Darkness_:

Light is the left hand of darkness
And darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
Together like lovers in kemmer,
Like hands joined together,
Like the end and the way.

This works best when the chant is foreshadowed by an 'ignored assumption' in your characters' comments. Thus instead of relating a boring piece of exposition, you have satisfied the reader's curiosity. An ignored assumption: Character1 says, "The flurbing should be better than ever this year!" Assuming that the reader doesn't already know what flurbing is, he/she will think the following: "Flurbing happens on a yearly basis; the character thinks flurbing is a good thing; that flurbing is getting better may be an effect of the way(s) the culture has been stated to be changing." The one of these that's an ignored assumption is that flurbing is good. It's an ignored assumption because the reader will assume this solely because the character thinks so. When the reader finds out what flurbing actually is, he/she may think it's a terrible idea.

To create ignored assumptions and flesh out your culture in other ways, it may be necessary to invent some vocabulary. Perhaps even a whole language. While it's a neat idea to write a book in 'alien', and the finished object would make an interesting coffee table piece, you'll make more money if you write it in English and put a note in the introduction saying, "Translated from the original 'alien'." However, there are situations where having an alien language characters can speak and write in can really add richness to your world. Certainly 'alien' inscriptions can make a nice addition to your game's art. You may want to create just a few 'alien' or 'futuristic' or 'elvish' or whatever words to help create a rich atmosphere.

If you want to try to create a language (this is a huge project and I don't recommend it for a computer game), read this_Model Languages_ by sunandshadow

Designing Characters

Posted by , 31 August 2004 - - - - - - · 274 views

As I said before, there's no best order in which to create the various elements of a story; if anything, they all have to be created together because they all affect each other. Also, it depends on what kind of writer you are.

There is a theory of writing called the Circle of Story Elements. It states that there is a circle of 5 story elements that a writer must work through before you have created a complete story. You may start at any point on the circle, but you have to get to all of them before you're done. The circle goes like this:

characters - character dynamic - plot - atmosphere - wordbuilding - then back to characters again.

Me personally, I am a character dynamic writer. That means that the most important element of my stories is the relationships between my characters and how these change over time, and the theme or moral of my story is explored primarily through these character dynamics. Therefore I often start with an inspiration for a relationship, and work outward from there. I fill in the details of the individual characters, the worldbuilding that made them who they are and that now provides obstacles to their progress, the emotional and social atmosphere that provides context for the relationship, and finally the plot that challenges the characters' relationships and pushes them to change.

You, however, may be much more interested in one of the other elements and have more inspirations in that area, so you should probably start there. (Note - for an MMORPG or adventure game, which are strongly atmospheric, you probably want to start with worldbuilding and atmosphere.)

For the purposes of this tutorial, however, I am going to start with characters. First it's useful to know how many major characters you want to have in your cast. A 'major chracter' would be any playable character, plus all NPCs who get a lot of screen time. For a single-player RPG I personally would recommend having about 8 deeply developed major characters, but many commercial games such as FF7 and Crono Cross go for variety over depth and have 10-30 major characters. Aristotle's _Poetics_, which could be considered the first how-to-write book, teaches that one of the major goals of writing fiction should be unity, which in the case of characters means that 1) characters should not just appear and disappear again, they should be present throughout the work of fiction, and 2) you should use as few characters as possible to tell the story, because then the audience can get to know each character in more depth. Spending more time with each character permits the audience to identify more with each character's motivations and goals, and this makes the whole story feel more personal and intense.

Right then - how do we make major characters? Well, each character must be designed individually in the following areas: name, dialect and speech habits, archetype, role, and motivation. However, the cast must also be designed as a group, so that each character is unique, and they contrast and complement each other in interesting ways that create your character dynamic and are useful to exploring your themes and worldbuilding. Of course we don't know what your themes and worldbuilding are yet... >.<

In what ways, exactly, are these characters complementing and contrasting one another? Well, there are many axes along which people may be divided and classified. You may, for example, have heard of the Myers-Briggs personality index, which is the basis of the Kiersey Temperament Test. Or you may be more familiar with the astrological system (western or Chinese) which ascribes a personality type to each astrological sign. The Hogwarts Houses in the Harry Potter books are another example of this sort of system (and I'm creating one in my novel). Anime fans may be famliar with and the Japanese belief that ascribes a personality to each blood type. And then there are enneagrams, tarot systems, the four humors, the four elements, Jungian archetypes, the Dramatica system... the list goes on and on.

To develop my own, less haphazard, system, I took the systems listed above, plus a few psychology books, and tried to extract some of the major ways in which human personality types vary. Here's what I came up with: (These are only the extremes, you may want to add a 'middle' category for each; but then again you may not, because 'in the middle' characters are usually boring.)

Personality Axes

Social Position (Leader, Follower, Switch, Loner)
Social Orientation (Introverted, Extroverted)
Serotonin Level (Optimist, Pessimist)
Testosterone Level (Excessive, High, Low, Insufficient)
- Male: Brute, Alpha, Mama's Boy, Poof
- Female: Butch, Alpha, Mothering, Fainting Lady
Energy Level (Intense, Laid-back)
Anticipation (Paranoid, Cautious, Easy-going, Reckless)
Acting Ability (can't lie worth a darn, lies passably, professional actor/spy)
Self-Esteem (High, Low)
Self-Discipline (Hedonist, Ascetic)
Attention (Attention-seeking, Attention-avoiding)
Morality (Immoral, Amoral, Relativistic Morality, Absolute Morality)
Base Emotion (Bored, Annoyed, Happy, Anxious, Content, Sad, Angry, Mischievious, Self-righteous, Stoic)

So, if you select an element from each of those axes, that should give you a fairly good start on your character's personality. Each major character should also have about 2 motivations:

- fear/protection/defensiveness
- anger/dislike/revenge
- rivalry/competition/urge to dominance
- desire to be helpful/useful/submissive/loyal
- ambition/need to live up to personal mythology/vow
- loneliness or other desire/lust
- desire to be part of a group/good citizen
- curiosity/boredom/love of mayhem
- whimsy/playfulness

That should give you a character with a 3-d personality but still generic enough to fit into any worldbuilding. You can fill in the details like names, professions, skills, and backstory when we design the worldbuilding.

Now we're moving on a bit into character dynamic, which is composed of the role(s) a character play(s) and the relationship(s) they have with (an)other character(s).

Roles - A role describes how a character thinks he should act in relation to others (leader, sidekick, advisor, skeptic, persuer, avoider, loner, etc.), and is expressed in the way in which that character affects the plot (by driving it forward, obstructing it's progress, helping, hindering, etc.). There is no general consensus on how many roles there are or what they are, so here are a few systems for your perusal. Remember that some roles may be played by inanimate objects/situations/principles/groups of people. More than one character may play a single role, and one character may play more than one role.

Pirandello said there are 6 roles:
Leo - protagonist
Mars - antagonist
Sun - object of protagonist's desire
Earth - recipient of sun, rival
Moon - helper (most npcs are this)
Balance - arbiter who decides victory between leo and mars

Propp said there are 7 roles:
Object of Desire (usually a princess)
Donor - gives foozles. Is really pretty similar to a helper.
Dispatcher - hero's superior, usually a king
False Hero - a rival

Vogler lists 7:
Mentor (guardian, see below)
Threshold Guardian (usually donor)
Shadow (usually antagonist)
Trickster (usually contagonist, see below)

The Dramatica system lists 10 roles characters may play in a story:
Main Character (empathetic viewpoint character)
Impact Character (interacts the most with the MC)
Protagonist (drives toward a goal)
Antagonist (blocks the drive toward a goal)
Guardian (provides an example for the protagonist to emulate)
Contagonist (delays or sidetracks the protagonist)
Sidekick (has faith in the protagonist)
Skeptic (doubts the protagonist)

At any rate, one of your characters has to have a goal and be pushing to achieve it, or your plot won't go anywhere. In game stories it is often the major villain who is the antagonist trying to carry out some evil plan, leaving the PC to be the hero/protagonist who tries to stop him. Sometimes there are two factions each persuing their own conflicting goals who take the roles of protagonist and antagonist, and the PC is more of a mentor/guardian/helper arbitrating between them. In a game with an adventuring party the party usually contains all of the roles except antagonist, which belongs to the villain(s). Sometimes the role of antagonist is taken by society or nature. But the PC is always the main (viewpoint) character.

Character Dynamic - Character dynamic is the relationship between any two or more characters. I have never found a good list of character dynamics, so all I can give you is my own attempt. My list is almost certainly incomplete, but I hope I've caught all the most common ones:

ruler-champion, leader-sidekick, friends, brothers, arch enemies, prankster-victim, mentor-student, protector-protectee, lover-beloved, rivals, victor-defeated, and master-slave. If you consider these, you may notice that each is a relationship where either the two participants are equal or the one has more power; and the type of power can be knowledge, a dominant personality, rank/political power, intelligence, sexuality, physical strength, or competative ability.

There are also more complex triangles or hierarchies like:

lover-beloved-rival, leader-gang, gang-low man on totem pole, rival-rival-rival, sidekick torn between two leaders, lover torn between two beloveds, etc.

And of course a character can participate in more than one character dynamic, even with the same other character. For example, a clever mage and her bodyguard might be leader/protectee-sidekick/protector, which would make their relationship interesting because in some ways one has more power but in other ways the other does.

For the main characters of your story, these should change over the course of the story; beginning, growing deeper through being tested, or being destroyed. When it finally settles into an equilibrium state this subconsciously signals the player that the story may now acceptably end. In other words, no one will complain, "Hey! Where's the rest of the story?! This doesn't feel like the end!"

Working With Source Characters

And finally, here's an exercise in taking an existing character, breaking him down into his essential traits using the principles I explained several entries ago in the context of concept art design, and recreating him as my own original character:


I was initially interested in the character Tomo from the anime _Fushigi Yuugi_. He is a minor villain who is slavishly loyal to the major villain for reasons of unrequited love. Perhaps the most interesting thing about his character is that he had very poor self esteem with regards to his leader/love object and was quietly begging for affection, but acted very egotistial and angry/defensive to everyone else. He was also intelligent, creative, and somewhat immoral in thinking of assorted villainous plans. His profession was acting, but I didn't think that was essential. He had a weird appearance that made people shy away from him and no friends, and was powerful because he was a 'celestial warrior' with a magical fighting ability.

Next I encountered the character Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. He isn't described that much in canon, but he is definitely a sort of 'tame villain' - his students are all scared of him because he is a powerful and weird-looking wizard who appears to be a bad guy, but really he's a spy for the good guys (sneaky and good at acting). And like Tomo he is intelligent, has no friends, and is generally angry/defensive. Fanwriters have developed his character in several ways, often speculating that he is slightly sadistic and amoral, and often adding a element of unrequited love to his story.

Then I saw Grima Wormtongue in _Lord of the Rings_. Again, a minor villain with a weird appearance and no friends, motivated by unrequited love, intelligent and sneaky (advisor to a king), and angry/defensive/egotistical except toward his leader and his love object, towards whom he was pleading instead.

So combining these three characters and removing unnecessary details I had an archetype (I dubbed it the 'self-defensive sociopath). Then I added my own details to create my own character, Lieann Lord Aravian:

As a beta male, he has generally been maltreated by his society, to which he has reacted by becoming sharp-tongued and sarcastic, and sneaky, creative, and immoral in trying to force the world to give him what he needs. His bitter and bitchy defensive anger combined with his attitude of superiority because of his intelligence scare off anyone who might have been willing to befriend him despite his appearance/gender. Desperate for affection and feeling that everyone hates him already and he has nothing to lose, he is thus the perfect candidate to abuse his power as a nobleman to take an extreme action such as kidnapping the object of his affection, blackmailing someone into sleeping with him, or even acquiring a slave to use as a lover (which is what I wanted to happen in the plot).

Designing the Story

Posted by , 30 August 2004 - - - - - - · 308 views

At this point in your game design process you, if you are a writer, or your writer partner should begin designing the story to fit with your features wishlist. (The lead programmer should also be planning out how to program these features at this point.) Why am I putting the story at the very beginning of the design process like this? Is it just because, since writing is my first love of all the fields of design, I am biased in evaluating its relative importance? Does a game design team really need a writer? Anybody can write a story can't they? Would a real writer even be interested in writing game stories? It's not like game stories are literature...

There have been several threads over the years arguing these points. My considered opinion is that story design belongs here in Phase 2 of the game design process because:

1) In any entertainment, whether it is a game, a movie, stand-up comedy, or what, story is the backbone of that entertainment, organizing all the other elements. The art illustrates the story, the music creates the mood called for by the story, the gameplay tasks gain significance within the context of the story, and the GUI and programming allow the player to interact with the story.

2) Artists and musicians need some instruction for what you want them to create - giving them the story as inspiration is a good starting point.

3) Everyone likes stories. Not particular stories, but stories in general, you could even call storytelling one of the fundamental behaviors that makes us humans rather than animals. As such, an appealing story is an excellent means by which to persuade your team members to commit to and contribute to your project.

So hopefully you can see why it's essential that every game design project have a good writer or two involved at the earliest stages of the process. And IMO game stories can be meaningful, philosophical, and literary if you write them that way, just like any other form of entertainment. They can also be funny, endearing, heart-rending, horrifying, educational, and anything else you have the skill to make them; there's almost nothing you can do in a novel that you can't do in an RPG.

That, however, is an important 'almost'. There are a few types of stories that games as a medium are not suited to, just as there are a few types of stories that don't work as movie scripts. The unique challenge of game story writing is making room for the player. In a novel you decide every thought, feeling, action, and bit of dialogue your main character has. In a game you can't do this, because your main character is being played by a real live human being with his/her own thoughts and feelings. And you know very little about the player - gender, sexuality, age, moral philosophy, IQ, interests... you don't know any of that. Plus, each copy of the game is gong to be played by someone different.

However, this actually makes things easier instead of harder. We can start making statistical assumptions about our audience, such as there will be some players of each gender, but probably more male than female, some of every sexuality but more attracted to women than men, etc. Continuing in this vein, there are some things we can assume about our audience:

1) They are interested enough in the concept of your game that they start playing it. Maybe they even bought it, instead of borrowing it from a friend. But the point is, whatever story you decide to write, the people playing your game have decided it looks cool, so at least you don't have to worry about trying to win over a hostile audience.

2) The player will get annoyed if you put opinions that they disagree with in the mouth of a character they are supposed to be controlling and identifying with. Ditto with making the player's character take an action the player thinks is stupid or morally reprehensible or just plain yucky, like being in a romance with a romantic object character the player doesn't like. The way to work around this is to have opinions stated by NPCs and then let the player choose how to react to them, let the player choose whether to carry out any action that isn't completely essential to the plot, in general envision yourself, the writer, as the god of the game world and NPCs, but not the player; present things to the player, and let him/her choose how to react. Like your game is a big psychology experiment, and the player is the rat, you amuse yourself by poking them and seeing what you can get them to do. ;)

3) The result of having many players and letting them make choices is that you have to anticipate every possible choice and how (if at all) the story should change in response to these choices. This can result in plot branches and multiple endings, which may a bit difficult to write for a writer who is used to creating stories that have only one ending, which is shown to be the 'right' ending by the fact that a problem which harried the main character throughout the story has finally been resolved, usually accompanied by some narratorial moral pronouncement about the right way to be a person and go about living one's life. But it's really tough to write a game story to show the main character learning a lesson of some sort, because you don't know whether the player 'needs' to learn this lesson, or has already learned it and is now bored by it, or thinks your moral is wrong, or thinks your issue is irrelevant to his/her life.

As such, stories of personal growth don't work so well for a game; external problems (like evil villains and ticking bombs) work better, particularly since these lend themselves more to giving the player missions and gameplay tasks, and doing these is, after all, why the player is playing a game rather than reading a book. But personal growth stories are generally considered deeper or more literary, so you may really want to write one. There are two ways to do it: either you can devote the whole plot tree to testing how the player actually feels about this issue, then challenging their beliefs, or you can displace the issue onto a major NPC and have the player watch as this other character 'learns their lesson'.

So, alright, we still haven't started designing our story. Well, let's revisit the story portion of my outline of game design areas:

- Characters
- - - Archetype/Personality/Motivation/Backstory
- - - Character Dynamic/Roles
- - - Dialogue
- Plot
- - Beginning
- - - Initial Incident
- - Rising Action
- - - Resolve to Action
- - - Failed Attempt(s)
- - - Complication
- - - Further Attempt(s)
- - Climax
- - - Crisis
- - - Resolution
- - Ending
- - - Denouement (Closure)
- Worldbuilding
- - Physics
- - Geography
- - Ecology
- - Culture

You can really start anywhere: by creating a character, a scene, a culture, a location, whatever you have some inspiration for after answering (or looking at the game designer's answers to) the questions in my previous journal entry. If you are a writer working with a designer's answers, you should first go back over the questions and add your own details and ideas to them, and make sure the designer is happy with your additions/changes.

VERY IMPORTANT: Keep records! Write everything down! Preferably on the computer rather than paper, so you will later be able to copy and paste things into the design doc or email them to other team members to get their opinions/approval. If you discuss story ideas in chat, save your chat scripts. Trust me, I know from first hand experience that you will really regret it if you don't do this, good ideas can be accidently lost forever, time can be wasted in retyping, you can get confused about what you discussed with who, and many other headaches if you don't make the effort to keep your work organized.

So in conclusion, I recommend that you start designing your game story by looking over that features list and the answers to yesterday's questions, then taking the outline above, pasting it into a new document in your word-processing programming program, and then going through the outline and jotting down all the inspirations you have for each area.

That's enough for today. Next I guess I'll give advice on how to design each of the different story elements, as usual I would like a comment or two letting me know what you all think of what I've written so far (pwetty pwease?), and also if you have a particular story element you want me to cover first, feel free to request that. :)

Gimmick and Story

Posted by , 29 August 2004 - - - - - - · 346 views

Well okay, since nobody has requested any other genre descriptions, I'll move on. If you are using this journal as a how-to for starting your game design, you have presumably now chosen your gameplay genre and worked up a features wishlist. Is any of these a brilliant original feature that you thought up previously? If so, you may already have a gimmick.

What is a gimmick (aka a hook)? This is the seling point of your game, what you can write about on the back of the box to get people excited enough to buy it. 'Customizable appearance', 'digital DNA', 'fly your own space shuttle', 'a billion unique combinations', 'emotional response AI', 'a vivid, unique fantasy universe', blah blah blah... if you think back, you can probably recall seeing thousands of these little soundbites for one game or the other. If you have a few of these for your game you can use them to help keep your design process focused towards these goals, and you can also use them to pitch your idea to potential team members. Many people think of advertising as evil, but it's really just trying to communicate enthusiasm - you love your great idea, you have to show other people what's so great about it and hopefully they'll fall in love with it too. (If you don't love your idea you have no business trying to get a team to produce it - go back to the drawing board.)

So, some gimmicks are part of the gameplay, but others are part of the story. And, conveniently enough, we have arrived at the point in the game design process where I recommend starting to work on the story.

If you are not a writer and do not have a writer partner yet, try asking yourself the following questions before you place a helpwanted ad. If you are a writer and you don't have an idea yet, use these questions to help you narrow your focus. If you are a writer and you already have a brilliant idea, it should be easy for you to answer these questions about it.

1) What literary genres are your story? I say 'genres', plural, because most games will have a trope genre (science fiction, fantasy, gothic, punk, western, realism, historical, war, sports, political) and a plot genre (romance, comedy, tragedy, action, mythic, mystery, suspense, horror, psychodrama, drama, melodrama). Many games will have more than two genres. You could perfectly well have a story whose genres are 'western-science fiction-punk (aka steampunk) romance-comedy-action'. So, what kind of story genres would you like your game to have? Please don't limit yourself to my lists here, they are not complete. Think of the kinds of movies you like to watch and books you like to read - what genres are they?

Note: Some of the story's genres are more important than others; if the romance is only a subplot, you wouldn't refer to it as 'a romance-X', but rather as 'an X with romance elements', or something like that. Remember that clarity, while always important in communication, is absolutely vital in trying to get two people to share a vision and work together to create it, which is what you're trying to do as a game designer with a partner or other team members.

2) What is your setting? If you picked 'historical' as one of your genres, when and where in history? If you picked 'fantasy', describe what makes this fantasy world different than Earth, and where it is in relation to Earth if it is possible to travel between the two. Choose a limit for your game world - one planet, one country, one city, even one building. Big settings are for epic and mythic stories involving travelling, quests, wars; small settings are for personal stories with more intensity and an emphasis on psychology and emotion. If you have two worlds in your story make sure that you answer this question separately for each of them and develop them seperately when you do your worldbuilding and concept art, otherwise they won't each look and feel unique. If your story has locations that have ethnic appearances or atmospheres, what what cultures are these from? If you are making up one or more original cultures, what are their characteristics that make them perfect for setting your story in?

2b) While we're at it, what's your time scale? Action and suspense stories often take place in as little as 6 hours of story time, while romances or sports tournaments may take weeks, and a heroic quest or a war may take a year. Sim games often take many years, but it's difficult to write any story that can maintain a reader's interest when stretched out that long - a better approach if you wanted a sim game with story might be to write lots of little stories or missions and have years pass in between them. Do you know anything else about the time period? Is the length of time until a bomb explodes or some other critical event happens? What time of day is it whan the story starts? When the climax happens? When the story ends?

3) Who is your main character? You don't have to know his/her name - what you have to know is the unique ability that makes them perfect to be the main character of this story. This might be a physical ability (in which case it's probably also a gimmick), it might be a physical trait such as being the heir to something or other, bearing the royal birthmark, or resembling another character enough that you can have an identity mix up, or it might be a personality trait such as courage, cowardice, persistance, ambition, open-mindedness, risk-taking-ness, etc. Abilities go with action stories, physical traits often go with comedies or gothics, and personality traits go with psychological stories.

If you are not a writer, that's probably enough for you to advertise for a writer who can do what you want. If you are a writer, oh we have barely scratched the surface. ;) I mentioned, many entries ago, that I am the moderator of the writing forum, and you may have known this fact before glancing at this journal. But I'd like to take a moment to explain who I am and where I'm coming from in terms of writing before I start telling you how to write your story.

I have a B.A. in English, with focuses on fiction, publishing, and literary theory including linguistics and comparative mythology. I have studied types of fiction from oral mythology and the most primitive written tales up to postmodern novels. I have also studied evolutionary psychology, sociology, and anthropology. I read mostly science fiction, fantasy, and manga, and I have been writing for 10 years now. But, I have never professionally published anything. :( This is mainly a result of the fact that I only write novel-length work and I am bad at plotting which often hinders me from finishing any of these large projects, and also that I split my time between a lot of other hobbies such as writing non-fiction and drawing concept art. But, I am currently working on a romance novel called _Learning To Kiss Dragons_ for which I have great hopes. So if I am lucky and persistant perhaps I will be able to publish that in 2007 or so. o.O *sigh* Or maybe someone will hire me to write the story for the romance RPG I described in my previous entry? *looks around hopefully*

If you happen to want to read a sample of my writing, some is available on the internet. :) Most of them are incomplete, a lot of them are gay romances, a few of them are erotica you should be 18 to read, and some are fanfiction that wouldn't make much sense unless you'd seen the original movies or anime series. o.O I have some song lyrics and poetry around also.

So here are links and descriptions of some of my pieces of fiction:

_Shapers and Shaped_ - Short, G-rated MMORPG creation story

_Jessop's Story_ - Furry alien children start going to kindergarden. ^_^ Rated pg-13. 7 1/2 chapters, somewhat fragmentary.

_Hearts Or Nello_ - Complete! ^_^ Cute little historical bisexual romance arranged marriage story. Rated PG-15 for discussion of bisexuality, but really very innocent. Not actually the sequal to _Jessop's Story_, even though the characters have mostly the same names.

_As the Moon Loves the Sun_ - Lord of the Rings fanfic with the pairing Faramir/Grima Wormtongue/Eowyn Rated PG-15 for discussion of homosexuality, but no explicit sex. Complete, but with a sequel intended but never written.

***Stuff below this point is only for readers over 18!***

_Facepaint_ - My personal favorite of everything I have written. Fanfic for the anime series Fushigi Yuugi, rated NC-17 for explicit homosexual sex among other things. 10 chapters, ongoing

_Uke On Top_ - Script for an original historical anime, rated NC-17 for homosexual sex and attempted suicide. About 85% complete. Drawings of these characters are available if you are interested.

_Howl Together_ - OMG heterosexual sex?! Did I really write this? ;) A twist on the idea of werewolves. Rated NC-17 for explicit heterosexual sex and beastiality. 2 chapters.

Please let me know if you have a problem opening any of the files, or, as usual, if you have noticed anything incorrect or incomplete in this journal entry, or have requests for future entries. The next few entries will probably all be about writing the story.