Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Return To My Brainstorming Days Of Old

Way back when, say, ten years ago, I had a dream of making a game. At first I wanted to make it a videogame like a JRPG (Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, etc.). Then it was going to be a pen and paper RPG (Dungeons and Dragons). And for many years, it kept bouncing around, back and forth between the two, I thought I was so very creative and clever. Eventually I started to realize that I was never going to be able to do anything like this on my own, and that neither I, nor any of my friends, had the time or energy to put into learning the necessary technical skills for a videogame, or simply the desire for a tabletop game.

Still, I really liked brainstorming ways that different elements of a setting would interact with each other, whether it be a game system, a fantasy world, a system of government, or a military force. Sometimes I'd write this stuff down, but more often than not, I just day dreamed about it. I think it was kind of like therapy. I still wanted to do something with all of this raw data that I was creating, though, because otherwise all those cycles of my brain power were just being wasted, and then I thought: "I'll be a writer!" How hard can it be? I've already got a dozen worlds built, I'll just put a story in there, and I'll have the next Harry Potter, or Shannara. How hard can it be?

Don't look at me like that, I was a stupid kid! The difference now is that I know I'm a stupid adult. One of the many reasons that I started this blog, was because I thought I needed more practice writing, and if I could think of something to write about every day, I'd have to get better at it eventually, right? I certainly don't feel like my writing has improved, but my wife and mother both seem to think I'm already pretty good at it, not that they're unbiased (My mom thinks I'm cool!).

This has all been a pretty long and rambling way to introduce what I really wanted to write about, which is a very general world setting I've been thinking about for about a week.

So, let's take a hypothetical world, it's populated by human-ish people, but it's probably not Earth, we'll call it Arena for now. The reason that we're calling it Arena, is because some sort of higher power(s) have decided that it's going to be the playing field for a game that's going to determine the winner of some sort of dispute. When I say higher powers, I mean some entity with god-like powers, maybe they're actual gods, or artificial intelligences, extra terrestrials, etc. Maybe it's all different kinds, and they settled on this mutual arena to settle a dispute, since they can't directly engage each other. The point is, it doesn't matter who they are, or what their motivations are.

The nature of this contest, is they've empowered selected humans to be their champions in this game. These "avatars" are functionally immortal, maybe they're physically immortal, or if their body dies, they simply get another body through some mechanism. This "game" while it is a war, does not directly involve the indigenous people. Each of the avatars is an army onto themselves, they all have the ability to generate troops within certain limits. Maybe they can summon elementals and demons, fashion golems from natural resources, manufacture robotic troops from automated factories, or grow clones of themselves with cybernetic implants in a vat. The native population certainly feels the impact of these battles, as the avatars battle it out in the middle of cities and farmlands, but it's completely beyond their control, and doesn't even really involve them.

After a while, centuries, or maybe thousands of years, the avatars have slowed down. They were not born to immortality, and their passion for the battle, or contest of wills, has waned, but as part of their elevation to this state, they've given up a measure of their free will. They can't just quit, but they don't necessarily pursue their objectives with gusto. Perhaps the higher powers have even moved on, whatever dispute has been resolved, and they just never bothered to stop the game. Or maybe they're beyond caring about how long it takes to resolve, and this ennui is part of the contest.

The result is that you still have a civilization, struggling to survive, amidst dormant, unstoppable engines of war. Now, that's just a setting, it would be really easy to try and make the story about our avatars, maybe have one of them get rebooted, and break free of it's programming/ennui to become a champion of the little guys, or take the fight to the gods. I find the idea of having a hero's tale within this framework much more compelling. Our hero is just struggling to survive, and bring prosperity to their family/city while living in the shadow of this unknowable, unstoppable powers. Maybe a hero, with the right tools, could defeat a few of the soldiers, but the idea of stopping one of the avatars, with it's replenishable army and unkillable nature is pretty absurd. Instead, the journey could be about finding a safe haven, or securing new sources of food, water, or building materials.

One of the big problems I have with this setting, is why would these higher powers bother to have this battle in the midst of a civilization like this? If they are really this powerful, couldn't they have created a brand new world, without an indigenous civilization and have their soldiers trash that? Of course an easy solution to that is to simply say: "They're higher powers, who knows why they would do that?". That does support the unknowable aspect that I wanted, but I feel there should always be an explanation, even if the characters don't know what it is. So, maybe the humans are some sort of resource, their existence is what fuels the avatars? You could make it as direct as they're forced to work in the factories, or are taxed on whatever resources they produce. You could also go along the line of the avatars having to "eat" the people in order to create/fuel their army. But what other ways could they be a resource? Maybe they're fueled by the prayers of the people that they control, so the game is a race to control the most cities, in order to get the most prayer juice, and make the biggest army.

One of the things that I like about this world as the setting for a videogame, is that it sets you up with a lot of different levels you can approach it from. I've always been fascinated by the idea of being able to play a game on multiple levels, the Suikoden games are good examples of that, where you can duel one on one, team on team skirmishes, manage your army, and then fight with your entire army at once. There was also a mod for Half Life 2 called Zombie Commander (I think), where a group of people were the human survivors, and they were playing a first person shooter, where they had to gun down zombies, and try to stay alive, and they were fighting against a player that was the zombie commander, who actually controlled the game by playing something similar to Warcraft or Command & Conquer. The Commander had to manage resources, and choose which types of undead units to send at the human survivors and where. Most recently, the makers of EVE Online, released a FPS for PS3 where you basically performed missions for players in EVE, and while your squad is storming a facility, you can call in orbital strikes from a ship in orbit, which is a player in EVE. That sort of interplay seems brilliant!

So, in our setting here, you've got my chosen focus, which is the civilization, you could have that be an action adventure, a shooter, an RPG, or you could go a different direction, and have it be a sim, where you're trying to manage your city, or you could do both, of course. The other level you could play it on is with the avatars, which could be a turn based strategy game, an RTS, or something more quirky and make it a brawler with army elements (Dynasty Warriors, Chaos Legion, Guilty Gear 2). You can go even higher, and have a game that focuses on the powers controlling the game. That could be a turn based strategy game, or some kind of digital board game. Or you could go more esoteric with it, and make it some kind of management sim, where you don't really have any control over the avatars, but you can choose to pay resources to upgrade them, or alter the conditions of the world in order to goad or herd them to where you want them to go.

Well, that's all I've got to say about that for the moment, hopefully some of you found it interesting. If not, well, I'll do more toy reviews soon

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