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Author Topic: I'm making a video game! - and I could use your input/comments  (Read 683 times)

oddtail

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Here's some very brief background.

I'm working on a video game (no, I have neither a background nor tangible experience there). It's a long-term project. I wrote the first note on it, let's see... 4 years ago? Yikes.

The game is in the vague area between a simple cRPG and a resource management game. It takes design cues from "choose your own adventure" books, too. The central element is a semi-abstract representation of the current "Mood", which represents how the situation is developing so far (e.g. whether your actions have been persistent, risky, subtle, confrontational etc.). Based on the "Mood", the game semi-randomly comes up with the next danger/opportunity/story beat. So, to simplify a fair bit, it's "choose your own adventure" style gameplay, but semi-random instead of deterministic.

The player's main task is making the right decisions to stay alive and react to how things unfold. There's more to it, but that's the gist of it.

(yes, I know. This is an order of magnitude too ambitious for a first-time project. Don't worry, 90% of what I do is simplifying everything I can)

Anyhow. My main problem right now is with the narrative, even though I described the mechanics for context (I believe you can't divorce mechanics from story/writing, otherwise it's just very poor design).

The world is inhabited by sapient animals. Carnivores still eat other animals, but it has to do with social role and class (think feudalism, but the peasants are, say, rabbits and offer the wolves one of their own to eat, rather than give up their harvest). Basically, "species" is a stand-in for "economic/social class" or "caste", but with culturally-sanctioned murder.

You play as a female wolf who loses her family land to a more powerful neighbour. Your husband is murdered, your holdings are lost and you somehow escape.

Which is bad timing, because then you discover you're pregnant (with a healthy litter of five, as it turns out later).

The main focus of the game is a struggle to survive. Early on, you escape/dissuade/avoid pursuit, later you take care of your young. Based on how well you cope and how you secure your children's future (whether by reclaiming what's yours or starting anew), the game has multiple endings.

So, what's the problem?

I believe in games that tell the story at least partly via mechanics. Especially in a non-linear game where only the loose story beats are predetermined. I also think all art is necessarily political. It *will* have unstated assumptions, even if they're just genre-inherent. And since my game is about a fall from power - it's by definition about power structures and relationships.

And I do plan on addressing it in gameplay.

Take the "you eat people" thing. Avoiding starvation is crucial in-game; the player may (and early on, likely WILL) default to hunting or to "tribute" from loyal subjects. But as you make herbivore friends (a valid tactic in-game), the game will give you few options to ignore the reality of what your easiest food source has been. Even if you only associate with carnivores/omnivores, there will be hints to the consequences of your actions if the player pays attention.

I'm also subverting certain RPG tropes - for example, character advancement is via friends/allies (and who your children grow up to be), not personal strength and wealth. Without going into too much detail - traditional RPG progression has some disturbingly Randian implications.

Anyway. The game's implicit goal is to retake what is "rightfully yours" as per the game world's cruel, feudal system of power. With the player likely eager to try. That makes me uncomfortable, and I'm looking for ways to subvert this or point it out as a negative.

But how? I could make the game's antagonist actually rather egalitarian, in contrast with the heroine. I could double down on the "feudalism is evil" theme that carnivorous behaviour already explores. And I can always use NPCs and the heroine's children as mouthpieces, one way or another (and I likely will).

But the problem remains. It's still your goal to prop up an unjust system. And in a game, the player's "job" is to win. If the game simply punishes the player for doing what the game's mechanics support? It's lazy writing, bad design and it's preachy.

I do plan to include other win states, but I worry they'll feel like hollow lip service ("yes, you can go out of your way to do the right thing, but c'mon, COOL CASTLE. Don't you want the cool castle? So people get eaten, who cares?").

I'm looking for story beats, subversive choices OR consequences to strike a certain balance. I don't want a big neon sign pointing to "this is the morally correct thing to do, do this" - I want to account for moral ambiguity, difficult choices or even moral indifference if the player so chooses. I also don't want the game to simply say, after the fact, "how DARE you do exactly what the game told you to do!". It needs to feel natural, like the player decided a certain way and it led, among other things, to regrettable consequences.

So in other words, I want the player to mostly do as they please, but have the chance to realise "do as you please" is a meaningful decision, with meaningful consequences, too. And I want the player to understand - ideally, through what happens as they play the game - that the choice *is* actually there, without a tacked-on morality system or arbitrary (gameplay or narrative) punishment. I don't want to beat them over the head with a preachy "you did a bad-bad", but I don't want another narrative of "your character is special, and special people deserve more. Also, feudalism is not that bad, because you're SO NICE, see?".

Thoughts?

(and again - this is the tip of an iceberg. I'd *love* to talk about the game's mechanics, story, or design, but only if anyone expresses interest. So any questions or comments, even completely unrelated to the issue I described, are more than welcome)
« Last Edit: 24 Feb 2019, 06:19 by oddtail »
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I'm afraid I lack the spoons to read all of this and see if I can help. So I thought I would bump it at the very least.
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The thing that I always hear people say about making your first video game is that before anything else, you should have something that is fun to play as your foundation. Making a complex RPG as your first game is not unheard of, but so few people can do this that you're likely setting yourself up for failure and frustration, because getting your game to the point of something even remotely playable takes a colossal amount of work, even assuming you know what you're doing.

So start small. Want a strong choice-and-consequence narrative? Start with a Twine game. Want an impactful predator-prey society? Start with a little simulation of cattle herds versus single predators or pack hunters. Want a game about feudal territory disputes? Start by thinking of something strategy-esque to do with that. Focus on one thing, and relegate the rest of your ideas to set dressing for the time being.

Once you have something that meets the bare minimum standard of playability, you can refine it and build on it, or put it out there and get feedback. It could be as basic as chasing colored boxes around a flat plane, or a 500-word Twine game, as long as you have something to do in it. Having something that's kinda fun to play for a little bit is enough. This foundation is enormously helpful for keeping your motivation up and makes your progress tangible. Plus, if the idea isn't working out, maybe because it's too large in scope or because you can't think of anywhere to go with it, you can start over on something new without having wasted too much time on a dead end.

Disclaimer: I'm not a game developer, not even an aspiring one, but I read about and talk to enough of them that I have a good idea of the challenges and pitfalls that new developers face, and there's one piece of advice I see over and over again: Start small.

And personally, I would suggest looking for inspiration in other recent games with strong narrative elements but nontraditional gameplay. Cultist Simulator and Pyre are both examples of games built on a simple foundational mechanic that fans out to create a vast range of narrative possibilities.
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Cornelius

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My two cents: please don't reduce feudalism to might makes right. I know it's a common fallacy, but it makes the middle ages increasingly become shorthand for brutality. There were abuses, like in any system you care to name, but on the whole, while different, it worked, and had its own protections for the peasants rights.

Other than that, it sounds like an interesting concept.
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oddtail

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@LTK: it may not seem like it, but I *am* trying to simplify and start small. The concept I'm working on CAN, technically, be reduced to "a screen with text appears, it has three buttons to choose what you do, and depending what you click, another screen appears. Rinse and repeat until you win the game or die". This is how the game structure will look for a while. I am deliberately designing the entire game so that every system, every part of it can start simple like that and be made more complex as needed/possible, one step at a time. Many, admittedly much more ambitious, game concepts I have in mind may be introduced graduallly as I work on the game, be reduced in scope or ambition, or be thrown out if they turn out to be too much work.

Heck, everything in the game is designed to be as modular and optional as possible. In-game events and story developments are ultimately to be linked, but they are still designed to have definite endings to each tiny plotline, so that I can start with very few of those (even one) and experiment by fitting new ones in. So I don't have to go all-out on either game mechanics *or* story. In fact, the first playable version that I will show anyone will be reduced to a few decisions about how the heroine escapes immediate pursuit, and will be completable in like a minute or two.

Besides, I'm designing the game on the basis of what I actually do know. I've made (hobbyist style and not published, but still) board games that I actually played with friends. I've written tabletop RPGs from start to finish (of arguable quality and extremely small in scope, yes, but I still created them to completion). I couldn't make an action-based or manual skill-based video game that'd be any kind of fun - but I know a little bit about what works in games where you essentially roll the dice to have a chance to succeed at something. On a mathematical level, tabletop RPGs can be very reductively thought of as "pick the goals, then have a random chance of succeeding to varying degrees in the goals you picked. To win, either pick safe goals, or work extra to make your rolls easier to succeed". And my game concept mimics this approach - including making what "actually happens" the interesting part, rather than making the numbers overly exciting or complex. Or in other words, the game technically *could* be written as an Excel spreadsheet, in many ways. To an extent, it has/will.

So - yes, every part of the game I work, or will work, on starts with something that can technically be played, but is as bare-bones as possible. Often starting with "have a screen and a button or two, and those buttons do one simple thing when you click them, like display a box of text". Can't get simpler than that! ;)

-------------------------

@Cornelius:

That's actually an interesting point, and exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping for. Of course, allowing for certain "buts":

- I take a pretty dim view of feudalism as a whole, even though what you say is true. Peasants had some protections, but the system was still skewed towards those with military might. Peasants were still, especially in the parts of Europe I'm taking inspiration from, mostly bound to the land they worked. They still had fewer legal rights than nobility. They still largely didn't own much property. They were still forced into work whether they agreed to or not. And so on. Fundamentally, feudalism was still a system based on the idea that some people have the *right* to rule (I don't think it's coincidence that the European feudalism coincided with a powerful Roman Catholic church, nor that European monarchies were so in love with the concept of the divine mandate to rule).
- Also, I see parallels between feudal serf's duties and modern capitalism. I am not going for a lazy parallel of "feudalism is capitalism", because I do want to take inspiration from history rather than have an allegory that's both blunt and bland. But the notion is not NOT there. Every story about the future, the past or (especially) a fantasy land is in some way a commentary about what the author knows. Just like Macbeth was a way to prop up Elizabethean monarchy, a game made by someone as strongly mistrustful of modern structures of economic power as I happen to be will show feudal structures even more rigid than modern neoliberal systems in a negative light. I can't exactly make a story I write devoid of my own view on things, nor do I aim to be objective at all cost.
- Not to mention the fact that feudalism is still a starting point for an allegory. The game is not necessarily about realistic feudalism in that it's explicitly about carnivores feeling it's their right to eat other animals. This is automatically different from a historically accurate depiction, pretty self-evidently so ;) Feudalism is just the most useful tool for the allegory and a way carnivores justify staying in power. I imagine a story like that could very well be read as, dunno, pro-vegan rather than anti-feudal (that's not my intention, but again - unspoken messages and so on).

I *am* open to suggestions as to how make the picture more nuanced. I do plan on the game not being explicitly judgmental (as I mentioned), and carnivores will not be presented as malicious, just used to the way things are (and to an extent, relying on eating meat as logistically the most viable option, and to an extent a biological near-necessity that is difficult to avoid. If I ever make a sequel, I plan to introduce cats in it which, unlike canines, are obligate carnivores in real life, and the issue will be explored via fictional "cat culture"). But I don't want to accidentally have a message of "what the carnivores do is OK, because they can't help it", so I'm careful to present a picture where bad things happen because the system is unjust because of the way it's set up, but it's still a harmful system.

I'm open to suggestions as to how make it more interesting and not a reductive "the strong rule the weak". One way I could do it is basing it less explicitly on feudalism. Another is highlighting omnivores and how they navigate the system (currently, omnivores fulfill the social role of soldiers or mercenaries more often than not, at least in the context of the narrative). Yet another is the fact that larger herbivores are perfectly capable of defending themselves, are more independent, less scared of predators and often friendly towards them. So, again, not a one-to-one parallel to feudalism.

But any suggestions as to how to make the world more interesting without going too simplistic are VERY welcome. Bearing in mind that all this needs to be expressed, ultimately, via player choice and player-visible consequences. The game has too small a scope to present every facet of its setting from every possible angle. Everything is by necessity confined to a narrative about personal loss of the heroine, and filtered through the lens of her having to survive and take care of her children (heck, this is the reason why the game will not unequivocally preach "carnivores are bad". The game includes very real and immediate threat of starvation, hunting will often be the most immediately obvious and accessible option, and the player will make of that what they will).

At any rate, your comment *does* help on its own, I'm already thinking about it and its implications, and furiously scribbling notes about certain plot moments that I might introduce or change or reconsider. Thanks!
« Last Edit: 26 Feb 2019, 00:22 by oddtail »
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oddtail

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(double post because if I keep editing the previous one, I will keep doing it forever)

@LTK: I hadn't heard of Twine, but I just checked it out and it might be just what I need for many of my purposes. It's immensely helpful, actually! I will almost certainly make large parts of the game in it before I go to any other platform. Thank you so much!
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Cornelius

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Well, with the risk of complicating things, while at the same time oversimplifying; much depends on when and where exactly you are looking. While we speak of the Middle Ages as one period, there are vast differences between say, 800 and 1200. The development of cities, and the trade networks connected with that, formed a drastic change, with trade and banking, and, arguably, the first multinationals, there was a move away from the much more interdependent model of the earlier times.

One important factor is that the peasant is bound to the land, like the lord himself is also bound to the land. Neither can be ousted, unless it can be demonstrated that they neglect their duties. Add to that the existence of commons, and common rights in the forests and hunting preserves, and a peasant is not, in fact, dependent on the lord for sustenance. (Which, incidentally, was a consideration in the enclosure of commons in the later ages.) Peasants could do very well for themselves. The rise of a middle class of craftsmen and tradesmen testifies to that, to the extent that some trader's palaces are easily thought of as noble dwellings. Although I'll admit that that is more common in an urban environment.

And once we're talking about an urban environment, there's the guilds to consider. Much simplified, a guild acted as social security, trade union, and standards authority.

Regional differences also play a role; Brehon law, for instance, differs from English common law, differs from French law, et cetera. And customs, of course. Not to mention the ethnic and religious differences that might exist within certain regions. Generally, the Assizes of the Kingdom of Jerusalem are more or less accepted as an ideal representation of feodal law. Notably, trial by combat or ordeal is, if I remember correctly, not present there, having been outlawed by Rome some time earlier. In common law, it was still accepted - though the form differed greatly between regions - if decidedly uncommon. One mention of it in the 15th century shows that it was regarded as a spectacle, as it had been a century and a half since the last time anyone had called for it. Tellingly, most of the specatators, both common and noble, were utterly disgusted by it, and deemed it legal murder.

The divine right of kings, however, waxes and wanes. The way I see it, it's not been overly strong during most of the era - note also that there were several elective monarchies, that, aside from term limits, are perhaps not so very different from what some republics now practice. The idea was very much strengthened at the end, and later, when we really get absolutist kings, who not only reign, but rule. On the other hand, the idea of someone's place in life being predetermined to some extent, is present - but then, we find that same idea in most pre-christian societies as well.

You mention the military mighty. Until fairly late in the middle ages, that means, the person who can mobilise most people in his fief (and can find and retrieve the weapons and armour issued, as that often was repurposed to some more homely application, like jackchains being turned into hinges), and has the support of other lords, and vassals. And your levies might well appeal to justice, if you call them for reasons not within your rights and privileges to call them. Mercenaries did exist, but again, your fief, the support of vassals and peers, determines how many of them you can hire, and for how long. With the risk of, if you don't pay in time, having them turn against you. As such, your people, as much as your land, are your wealth and power. There might be a useful parallel there.

Again, with the risk of complicating things, whilst trying to summarise the highlights of about a millennium.

I entirely agree it is a good base for an allegory, though.

Edit: switching languages is not always good for spelling.
« Last Edit: 26 Feb 2019, 01:56 by Cornelius »
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oddtail

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@Cornelius: I wrote and deleted like five responses. It's surprisingly difficult to articulate comments and questions about what I've been working on for years without writing a novel-length post.

Here's a more concise version:

I think I need to narrow down what elements of feudalism I need and why. Entire games, even genres, have been completely built around very narrow aspects of life associated with the Medieval period. I mean, there are literally video games that are about little else but building Medieval-style castles. Not warfare in general, just castles.

So, to narrow it down:

- I'm defaulting to Central or Eastern Europe, but that's mostly because it's what I can envision the best and probably know relatively more about.

- time period is tricky. Europe in AD 800 and Europe in AD 1450 obviously have very little in common with each other. I'm going for "little infrastructure, large areas of untamed land, large cities are becoming a factor but haven't risen to prominence yet". But that doesn't narrow it down even to a specific century, seeing as 12th century Sweden and 12th century Italy weren't exactly on a similar level of development.

- the "sapient animals" part complicates things too. Civilization doesn't exactly need to advance to tame the wilderness if the characters you meet ARE the wilderness. Overall, the medieval-influenced setting is secondary in my mind to the animal-like behaviour combined with human mental faculties. Mostly in a "culture and systems of power justify certain behaviours" way. As in, wolves being wolves and sheep being sheep, but pretending to be civilized about it.

- Early Medieval period makes sense in that the relationships between carnivore leaders and their soldiers would work best for the narrative if they were more personal, less formalized and less complex. I'm thinking 10th-11th century Poland, with no powerful overall authority on a very large scale and with local leaders more war heroes and gifted generals than anything else. But that clashes with the premise of "people accept the system", because I can't envision herbivores accepting a wolf's authority due to his personal charisma and war prowess. There *needs* to be an expectation of predetermined social roles for the setting to work, and from what I can gather, that solidified later than 10th century. Then again, animal species differ much more than different groups of humans, so that may have influenced the culture of the game's world a lot.

- another complicating matter is that I want the setting to be somewhat low-tech, the reasoning being that claws and teeth and horns are a good stand-in for weapons and help enhance the feeling that it's a story about civilized animals, not humans that look like wolves or oxen for extra flavour. And obviously, advanced weaponry and armor, not to mention firearms and big castles, would make claws and teeth as weapons of war seem a bit silly. I'm going for a "owning a sword is a big deal, even for a soldier" vibe. BUT, that creates a problem with the narrative, because the dynamic of losing what's yours doesn't work when there isn't a place that represents holding power (i.e. castle). So there's a conundrum - an impressive castle doesn't mesh with the overall need for a low-tech feel to emphasise the animal nature. No castle means the central conflict makes little sense or needs to be reworked - you can't lose your lands if owning your lands amounts to having a semi-nomadic lifestyle and basically treating a patch of forest as your hunting grounds. There's no big symbolic "loss" when there's betrayal or you lose a war (which is the inciting incident for the game), losing your hunting grounds to a stronger wolf pack would just require the heroine to retake that immediately or admit defeat. And that's not the dynamic I'm going for - it'd undermine the "left homeless" narrative.

These are some somewhat disconnected thoughts about the setting, without any real central point to them. I'm mostly trying to figure out a starting point for discussion of how feudalism would even work when a wolf protects villages in his/her domain in return of periodically being offered villagers to eat.

(and let's not get into demographics of sapient animals that have typical animal breeding habits and yet live in a humanlike way, have humanlike settlements etc. This is something that HAS to be delegated to "suspension of disbelief" completely, because there's no way to justify that without building the world completely from scratch and throwing out any similarity to the real world)
« Last Edit: 26 Feb 2019, 04:57 by oddtail »
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Cornelius

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I can understand it's difficult to reply concisely. Trying to capture an entire society is challenging, to say the least. But a few elements can go a long way to make a narrative.

As you say, location and exact time period do tend to go together. But as you're not aiming to make a historical game, it's not of very great importance. I can see what kind of society you're going for, though.

So, what I read is effectively an early mediaeval setting, where we have strong tribal influences, of bands gathering around heroes/warlords; much like how Tolkien (but not Jackson) envisioned his elves. Though I can't say for sure what was the case in 10th century Poland, in other places, the idea of distinct roles was present. It's amongst others one of the earliest datings of the Rígsþula, although that's been dated from the 10th to 12th century and back. 

There are animal dens, and you could consider territorial claims to water holes and such, as well. A castle being important, but not necessarily all that elaborate, would mesh well with an early medieval feeling.

Herbivores accepting a wolf's authority, could be managed by portraying a credible outside threat - Have you seen the havoc those boars wreak when they come to raid us? Or by some accepted rule of society - or mythology. The one doesn't preclude the other, as long as you can present a good narrative. Or you could look at Beowulf: what made Scyld a good king.

It might be inspiring to look at Reynard the Fox (Caxton's translation). It shows a feodal society, that's only just processing the change from common, customary law, to written law, with due process, with animals. There's not all that much description of the court and such - though it does preserve some Arthurian norms. There's humans in there, but they're not central to the plot.
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oddtail

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So, what I read is effectively an early mediaeval setting, where we have strong tribal influences, of bands gathering around heroes/warlords; much like how Tolkien (but not Jackson) envisioned his elves.

Yes, that's pretty much what I meant. I think "Tolkien but not Jackson" sums it up perfectly. Tolkien has a semi-mythic and simultaneously very cosy and personal feel to the elves, especially within context of not just LotR, but also Silmarillion.

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There are animal dens, and you could consider territorial claims to water holes and such, as well. A castle being important, but not necessarily all that elaborate, would mesh well with an early medieval feeling.

I didn't even think of sources of water like watering holes as crucial, I sort of assumed by default that towns and cities are built near rivers. But "watering holes as important to the community" is actually brilliant and helps scale things way down, and also reinforce the idea that there aren't many big centres of civilization (cities and towns being replaced by communal burrows and whatnot). Also, puts more emphasis on hunting as part of everyday life. Being caught off-guard would be deadly, which - now that I think of it - might be interesting.

I vaguely remember from nature documentaries that wolves and animals they hunt don't really care much about each other when the wolves are not hunting. A wolf may be within a few feet of a group of bison, and they will not even bother to lift their heads to look. But when a group of wolves move in hunting formation, bison get jittery and soon run away or attempt to chase the wolves off.

I'm thinking of replicating a similar dynamic culturally. Herbivores casually interact with carnivores in certain social settings, but a meeting out in the wild is dangerous and makes the prey wary. I suppose a naturally fearful species could come to accept feudalism if it meant the everyday fear of being eaten goes away. A savage rabbit is afraid of any savage wolf he meets. A rabbit peasant meets a wolf knight with no fear, because they both have "an understanding". A community of rabbits lives in peace, and drawing lots in winter to send a few of their own to certain death may seem like a small price to pay.

I mean, from a human perspective, it seems perverse and crazy. But making it part of rabbit culture would be just alien enough to be interesting. I think I had a seed of that idea before, but your comments helped me formulate it clearly - so thanks for the help!

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Herbivores accepting a wolf's authority, could be managed by portraying a credible outside threat - Have you seen the havoc those boars wreak when they come to raid us? Or by some accepted rule of society - or mythology. The one doesn't preclude the other, as long as you can present a good narrative.

I actually hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. I think I was subconsciously applying modern notions of mortality to a medieval setting, to an extent. In modern world, if someone dies, it's rare and terrible. In pre-Industrial times, death to disease, hunger or accidents was a fact of life. I suppose protection from some the realities of everyday life (like the scary outsiders) seems like a pretty sweet deal in a dangerous world - at least to some. And others don't exactly have much of a choice if that's the social expectation.
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Cornelius

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I chose the boars in the example specifically, as they can be a credible threat, compared to the predators. It's not just a personal threat, but also a threat to their subsistence, and to the entire community. That's one element for understanding much of the middle ages: thought centred more on the community, than on the indivicual.

That, and, though I doubt personally that it was the case for many common people, the way to think both of the material and the spiritual world as coexisting. I've heard that likened to how we have an online and offline presence nowadays.

Either way, happy to have been of some help!
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LTK


- the "sapient animals" part complicates things too. Civilization doesn't exactly need to advance to tame the wilderness if the characters you meet ARE the wilderness.

Before civilization, humans were just as much part of the wilderness as other animals, and even today there are tribes who have never changed their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They have no need to 'tame the wilderness' because they don't have runaway population growth to necessitate it. If different species of animals formed a society in the absence of humans, it would probably be the herbivores, who have more to gain from creating a safe place from predators. Also consider that, without humans, there might still be cave bears, cave hyenas, woolly mammoths and giant deer in Europe, so once such a society had been established, medium-sized predators like wolves might consider joining it if larger predators are a major threat to them. Maybe it's a last resort for wolves that have been banished from their pack.

At that point you might see a clash of cultures occur between the animals living in the wild versus those living in civilization. If the mixed-species society encroaches on the wilderness, like burning forests to create larger grazing fields just like humans did, the animals living there might form an uneasy alliance and raid the cities to cull the herd and preserve their own way of life.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like an interesting setting full of possibilities. I hope you can make it happen!
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I just got the image of a midwife and a woman giving birth swinging towards each other on a trapeze - when they meet, the midwife pulls the baby out. The knife juggler is standing on the floor and cuts the umbilical cord with a a knifethrow.

oddtail

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I chose the boars in the example specifically, as they can be a credible threat, compared to the predators. It's not just a personal threat, but also a threat to their subsistence, and to the entire community. That's one element for understanding much of the middle ages: thought centred more on the community, than on the indivicual.

That, and, though I doubt personally that it was the case for many common people, the way to think both of the material and the spiritual world as coexisting. I've heard that likened to how we have an online and offline presence nowadays.

Either way, happy to have been of some help!

The real-life annoyance of "boars destroying farmers' crops" does take on a very surreal (but also kind of cool) atmosphere when the boars are very much aware of what they're doing, but they just don't give a crap because they are easily twice or thrice the size of any individual farmer.
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oddtail

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The more I think about it, the more it seems like an interesting setting full of possibilities. I hope you can make it happen!

I hope so too, but if I go even a little beyond skin-deep, it'll certainly not be in the first game. I have ideas for like five different narratives in the setting (including possible sequels to the first game), but I'm trying to keep my eyes on the prize - namely, completing even a single viable game.

Forcing myself to write down and subsequently forget great ideas that just do not FIT the coherent game I'm trying to make is very frustrating, but I imagine that's part of any creative process.
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Tova


It definitely is.

Keep them in a notebook somewhere. They might fit a future project, who knows.
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oddtail

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Couple more worldbuilding-related questions I've been pondering.

One is the issue of lifespan. Since I'm going for sapient animals, but with biology and mating habits roughly corresponding to the actual animals they're based on, human lifespans would be weird. Also, since I'm going for differences from humans as a thing that fuels the game world, it wouldn't be that interesting, either.

Completely realistic lifespans, on the other hand, would make it difficult to handwave away complex culture, especially projects that take a while to accomplish (like, oh I don't know, building castles).

Since sapient animals would probably live longer without much genetic change otherwise, and since captive animals life significantly longer than wild animals anyway (and civilised animals would live a bit longer, too, probably), I settled for a reasonable middle ground. Animals do live longer, and that tacked-on "bonus" lifespan is larger for short-lived animals. Meaning that if the lifespan is measured in single years, I'm more than doubling it, and for animals that live almost as long as humans anyway, I barely extend the lifespan at all.

Which gives the rough ballpark of small rodents typically living for 3-5 years, other small animals up to 10-15 years depending on species, wolves usually not going far beyond 30, and very long-lived, large animals easily going beyond 50, sometimes even 60.

Which, of course, led me to think about how it would impact the culture.

1) wolves might be more warlike and politically active, because 30 years is not that long to accomplish much. Preserving your dynasty requires you to conquer or expand somehow, seeing as if you're lucky, five or more of your kids might reach adulthood. They will likely not be able to subside on the holdings inherited from parents or grandparents. So it stands to reason conquering the neighbors' lands would be a frequent occurence for the high-born. You can't take your time, because unlike humans, wolf nobility do not have up to 5-7 decades of scheming to build the family/clan a bright future. Which I'm just fine with, seeing as "neighbour conquers your land" is the game's inciting incident.

2) This in turn gives interesting possibilities both for the game's main story and semi-random events/quests. I already planned to confront the player with a change in perspective regarding the player's own actions, so a flip from an initial inevitable reaction "the main character loses all she has, and it's terrible injustice" to a situation where the natural progression is to do a similar thing for the heroine's own children might be interesting. Especially if the game's antagonist is substantially older than the heroine and secondary antagonists include his adult children, especially if/when he dies of old age like halfway into the game.

3) This is partly sequel material and partly just speculation (because the game will not have the time or scope to go into these things), but I was wondering about issues of holding land and inheritance. Human knights or nobles did have many children, often, but we tend to have children one at a time. The common European system of giving the central lands to the oldest would not work that well in a society where you have anywhere from two two five "oldest".

Which actually led me to look up Mongol systems of inheritance and fealty, of all places. And while I'm not going to explicitly model the wolves' culture on Mongol culture (I'm still going for an overall European vibe), it does seem like a good fit in many places. Inheritance took age of sons into consideration for Mongols in the Middle Ages, yes, but inheritance of titles from siblings was a bigger deal. Issues related to distance from the family's home tent in addition to land size also seem to mesh with what would be relevant for wolves, who would have (even symbolically) hunting grounds rather than just arable land to divvy up. And the Mongol empire had a notably hands-off approach to conquered lands as long as they paid tribute properly and didn't rebel. This seems more in line with a world where various species exist. Loose governing of places and populations of other species makes more sense, at least in parts, than a more rigid feudal system of most of Europe.

4) Heck, I am starting to question whether the premise "the heroine's husband got killed" is necessary for the game's start. I was never all that happy with it, because it always felt a bit cliché and also made the heroine the wife of her husband. Which kinda sucks and puts her in a box and reduces her agency in the story implicitly. If instead this was about conflict with a brother or sister, that'd create a more interesting story dynamic, and could be incorporated into gameplay (are there other brothers or sisters? Whose side are they on? Did they gang up on the poor protagonist, were some of them killed or otherwise removed from the picture, or maybe they're just indifferent or distant, literally or emotionally?).

Also, that's great story misdirection. A player will probably bring his or her own preconceptions into the game world if there's not an exposition dump right away (and I'm not planning on including one). "My brother/sister betrayed and dethroned me" has a very Shakespearean vibe (or if you prefer, Lion King vibe), so the default assumption will be that this is honorless betrayal. And as the player explores the story and the world, it might be revealed that no, this is a dick move, but it's pretty much how sibling interactions in this particular wolf culture work. Which means the player still has the motivation for the heroine, but is thrown a bit of a curveball partly into the story. Seems like more interesting writing than a boring "avenge my poor husband".

5) On a more general note, I am thinking about how lifespans might influence the cultures of the game world. The wolves I wrote a bunch of paragraphs above, but a few more disjointed thoughts:

- small mammals less likely to rebel if they don't have much of a lifespan anyhow. It stands to reason.
- interspecies contact and cooperation makes more sense when long-lived animals naturally jump into the role of scholars, scribes or wise old men. It also explains why wolves might not be the be-all, end-all of power held. Which is a parallel to the struggle between the military power in Europe and the legitimacy of that power from the Church, without the world having to have a dynamic identical to Christian Europe. Or a Christianity-like religion with serial numbers filed off.
- the dynamic of a year measured by seasons, especially as related to agriculture, becomes more interesting and a bit darker when a substantial portion of the population will not see the next harvest. I'm thinking harvest festivals as a celebration of death as much as life, and seasonality of life much more important to herbivores than (large) carnivores. Still thinking how to play up that contrast in dialogue options during encounters.

6) I was wondering about religion. I don't want a transparent stand-in for Christianity, as I said. Plus, it'd make no sense. I'll go somewhere between fictional religions, leaving things purposefully vague, and taking inspiration from pre-Christian pagan religions in Europe. The question is, would every species revere gods based on their own species, or others? (I can see herbivores having dark gods represented by carnivores as a personification of a fear of being eaten). Would different species have the same, or different religions in the same region? Maybe carnivores would impose their own religious worldview of a world where it's just to eat and fair to be eaten? Or perhaps the opposite - herbivores might be more religious and superstitious. Or perhaps different species would worship aspects of the same god or gods, envisioned as their own species, but understood to be the same entities? Since most every mammal is sapient, would that make animist religions more likely to exist (since "everything has a soul/life/personhood to it" is already half correct), or less likely (since anthropomorphising inanimate or non-sapient things is less of a psychological need?).

----

Anyway, that's a bunch of convoluted, tangled half-concepts, I'd be very happy to hear any thoughts, loose ideas or comments =)
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LTK


Quote
The common European system of giving the central lands to the oldest would not work that well in a society where you have anywhere from two two five "oldest".

Why not? Mammals still give birth one at a time, and even eggs don't tend to hatch simultaneously.
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Quote from: snalin
I just got the image of a midwife and a woman giving birth swinging towards each other on a trapeze - when they meet, the midwife pulls the baby out. The knife juggler is standing on the floor and cuts the umbilical cord with a a knifethrow.

oddtail

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Quote
The common European system of giving the central lands to the oldest would not work that well in a society where you have anywhere from two two five "oldest".

Why not? Mammals still give birth one at a time, and even eggs don't tend to hatch simultaneously.

Yes, but animals like wolves give birth to litters of a few pups at a time. I am not convinced a few minutes' or hours' difference would be culturally significant. Seniority is not something that is "natural", I think it is a cultural echo of the expectation that the oldest son or daughter is the most mature and responsible. Laws regarding inheritance are a reflection of that.

I just don't think animals would develop a culture where the younger pups from the litter would be less significant. If anything, such a rule would automatically make the younger resent the older, and that's not the sibling dynamic for wolves in real life. They are close and tend to cooperate and form close bonds, at least when they're young. It's advantageous, and there's no real incentive to act otherwise.

What I'm saying is, there *would* be a rule to establish seniority if wolves were for some reason *given* a culture where a difference in time of birth is significant. But I think it very implausible that such a culture would arise in the first place. I think human culture is a reflection of how we naturally tend to our children (mostly) one at a time, and how older siblings interact with younger siblings (and they may be separated by a few years, because women are not necessarily constantly pregnant, and not all newborns survive infancy anyhow).

Or to put it another way: if I imagine pre-sapient humans (or other animals that give birth one at a time), there are already dynamics that are not governed by culture that differentiate younger from older siblings. We are not that different, with culture, in how our family dynamics work from the non-culture-having apes that exist. Similarly, I envision sapient wolves as not that different in family dynamics from their non-sapient ancestors. With some leeway given to artistic license and anthropomorphising, of course.

But again, taking from human cultures that put siblings on a more equal footing (like what I managed to look up of Mongol culture) makes more sense than inspiring the setting ONLY by more hierarchical, primarily age-based views.

EDIT: if I saw a culture that differentiates the social and legal status of different pups from the same litter, I think who is the largest or the strongest one would be more of a factor than whoever was given birth to, first.

EDIT 2: or to put it yet another way: without any significant age gap, there's also no time to groom the oldest, to secure their position, to establish a hierarchy. A system that arbitrarily favoured one son or daughter just because they are very slightly older seems like something that would be extremely unstable. Both from within the family and societal changes at large. The feudal system in Europe was already unstable (primogeniture is arguably a bad idea compared to ultimogeniture, because it gives the most power to the oldest child, who ALREADY is going to have the most power and clout), but at least it's excusable and it can tend towards a shaky equilibrium, sometimes. Heck, for humans it's conceivable that there's only one child, or two at most. That eliminates the problem altogether. For wolves, it may eventually be the case (after all, not everyone survives to receive inheritance), but it'd be rarer.
« Last Edit: 11 Mar 2019, 05:21 by oddtail »
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Cornelius

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Yes, but animals like wolves give birth to litters of a few pups at a time. I am not convinced a few minutes' or hours' difference would be culturally significant. Seniority is not something that is "natural", I think it is a cultural echo of the expectation that the oldest son or daughter is the most mature and responsible. Laws regarding inheritance are a reflection of that.

Not necessarily. If we look to the inheritance of early medieval Europe, we have Salic patrimony and gavelkind, where the inheritance would be equally divided between the (male) heirs. Succession by seniority only came about when this kind of inheritance led to too much fragmentation, so people decided something else was in order to keep the land and society united. (That is to say; to limit the number of warring factions.)
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oddtail

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Yes, but animals like wolves give birth to litters of a few pups at a time. I am not convinced a few minutes' or hours' difference would be culturally significant. Seniority is not something that is "natural", I think it is a cultural echo of the expectation that the oldest son or daughter is the most mature and responsible. Laws regarding inheritance are a reflection of that.

Not necessarily. If we look to the inheritance of early medieval Europe, we have Salic patrimony and gavelkind, where the inheritance would be equally divided between the (male) heirs. Succession by seniority only came about when this kind of inheritance led to too much fragmentation, so people decided something else was in order to keep the land and society united. (That is to say; to limit the number of warring factions.)

Does it invalidate my entire point, though? I still think human cultures value older children and build a somewhat hierarchical relationship - not universally, but often enough - in a way that animals that have larger litters would not, were they sapient.

(of course, the odds of an animal having large litters and being sapient are very small, because sapience is in part related to slow development of infants and large heads, and both of those require "litters" of one. But I have to draw the line somewhere with trying to keep things realistic...)
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cybersmurf

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I went over the first few posts, but didn't read them all [yeah, at this point it's a TL;DR for newcomers to this thread].
This kinda feels like Hunger Games to an extent, but totally not. It appears to me like a HUGE piece of work to get even the background for the game done.

Since Tolkien and LotR came up: When Tolkien wrote LotR, he already had Middle Earth and its lore done. He could draw the story from there.
So I believe you want to do something similar: make the world work first. Draw a few short stories from there, and then decide which you could throw at the character to live through. That's hard enough per se.

After having at least sketched out a few paths to go, take a look how you can make your game framework integrate these storylines, or adapt the mechanics to your story. And don't be afraid to drop mechanics to tell the story, since I feel you want the game to tell a story, not have some generic stuff fit just another RPG.

That's what I figured might help you find your way through the Death Marshes that is your first game.
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LTK


I dunno how applicable that is given that Tolkien didn't make a game.  :wink:

Personally, among my favourite games, the ones that have a fully fleshed-out world that the story draws from are a small minority. Most of those games with a strong narrative are more occupied with creating the ambience and sensation of the world around them, rather than trying to determine its smallest details. Supergiant Games are especially good at this.
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Quote from: snalin
I just got the image of a midwife and a woman giving birth swinging towards each other on a trapeze - when they meet, the midwife pulls the baby out. The knife juggler is standing on the floor and cuts the umbilical cord with a a knifethrow.

oddtail

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@cybersmurf: thanks for the comment!

Yes, it's entirely fair that the posts are TL;DR by now. And how. I'll make future questions/comments more concise if I can help it.

The thing is, game mechanics are my main point of interest. I do want to tell a story, but I want the story to be told through the mechanics, not - for the lack of a better word - in spite of them.

Creating a world and setting a game in it can absolutely work and game designers go that route all the time, it's just not necessarily the ideal approach in my case. If ideas for the kind of story dynamics (which include game mechanics) that I'm going for clashed with specifics of the game world, I'd throw out the elements of the world that don't work, and probably not the rules. Heck, I've done that multiple times. Neither the game world nor the main narrative even look anything like my first drafts. The mechanics have evolved as I kept designing and test running elements of them, but their core ideas have remained largely the same.

Of course, the story, world and mechanics ideas feed into each other and none are unimportant, but emergent stories and a game-like mechanic are a priority for me.

I did put extra emphasis on world-building in the forum posts, which may have given a different impression. But that's mostly because world-building is still in a state of flux, while game mechanics is something I've been hammering out for literally years. And I figured explaining the mechanical systems of a game I'm working on, in a vacuum, would not be that interesting.

(and also, the mechanics are fleshed out enough that I don't need as much input and help on them as I might on the story or the world)
« Last Edit: 11 Mar 2019, 16:40 by oddtail »
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oddtail

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That being said, there are absolutely story elements that are necessary. Mostly because they reinforce, and are reinforced by, certain game elements.

The "non-negotiable" elements include:

- the story has to be about a single mother and be primarily about saving not yourself, but your children;
- it has to be about safety and survival above gaining wealth and power for their own sake;
- anything done by the character is in service to her children and that's the main source of both mechanical and story tension;
- the story needs to be set in a setting with no strong outside authority.

Other elements are optional and have changed. Even elements now central to my concept were not a necessity. Notably, the whole "talking animals" part is a major case of author appeal, what with me being furry and all. But the core concept of the story could in theory do without that. In fact, the story was originally about some destitute, human noblewoman. Adding the anthro animal angle was a good decision, but I incorporated it because it sounded neat and meshed with some mechanical ideas, not because I necessarily wanted to tell such a story from the get-go.
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