Friday, September 14, 2007

More happenings...

Lately I've been doing a lot of creative writing, specifically for two things.

The first thing is a new game idea I cooked up a few months ago. It basically started as a game design exercise I started for fun but has bloomed into a pretty fleshed out design with a complete design document in the works and a small proof-of-concept prototype. The high concept is this; Build and manage the Pony Express from the ground up.

The setting obviously is the old west, specifically around 1860 in the United States of America western territories. I won't go to much into the history of the Pony Express, but it's story is truly an amazing tale worth reading about (I recommend this book for anyone interested).

The game takes place in "real-time" over the entire span of the Pony Express which was a short 18 months (after which the telegraph reaches the west and the game ends). The goal of the player is to hire experienced riders, buy horses, build routes with relay stations and home stations, and ultimately try to win delivery contracts from different municipalities, and ultimately, the U.S. government (a goal the original Pony Express was never able to fulfill). The west however is not without it's many perils and the player must be careful to protect his routes from many dangers like Native American unrest, outlaws, blizzards, storms, and wild beasts.

While certain aspects of the game will be historically accurate, the main emphasis is on simple yet thought provoking gameplay with infinite replayability (I highly regard Introversion's DEFCON for their achievements of these qualities). To allow for this the world is relatively accurate to what it was back in the 1860's with many cities and all states and territories left intact as well as the emigration trails existing as a starting point for the players routes. The player is presented with a map of the 1860's United States and from here is able to manage and build his mail delivery empire.

It's all still in the planning phase and I may or may never actually implement the design but even so it's fun to work on a new idea (it seems like all I've been working on at home the past few years is Star Trader). Here's a few screenshots from a quick little terrain prototype I came up with for the country map:

Here's another shot with some vector rendering I've been working on (for showing state borders). And yes, that _is_ Florida overlayed over California. :-)

The second exercise I've been working on is related to my cop game idea (Justice). The story basically revolves around two men with very similar backgrounds who end up diverging towards very opposite sides of the law. One is young and idealistic and decides to join the police academy after at a young age he witnesses his father being murdered in cold blood. The other cynical and broken after surviving a difficult childhood on the streets finds acceptance and importance in the criminal underworld. Both will eventually meet and come head to head in a tale of revenge, murder and ultimately redemption.

That's a brief synopsis, but what I've been trying to do is make the story mirror a bit more some of the work of Joseph Campbell. Specifically the hero myth (or monomyth) story structure. There's basically a number of stages that such a story must use, like the call for heroism, the tests and tribulations, the boon etc... If you're interested I definitely recommend finding A Hero's Journey by Campbell.

What I'm tring to do though is take the base skeleton of the story for Justice and see if I can mold it into a hero myth. The "good" guy character for instance joining the force after his father dies would be the call to adventure. The trials would be his time at the academy and first days on the job, continuing on with his success, or perhaps wrapping back around with another call to adventure (like through a promotion from patrolman to detective). Achieving the goal would ultimately involve solving the murder of his father and the admiration of his peer's (the reward).

I still have a lot of work to do but I think it can definitely help to craft a more interesting story. An example of a great implementation of this story structure would be the Matrix. A few weekends ago I picked up a new sub-woofer for my entertainment center (a Martin Logan Dynamo fyi) and decided to put in my favorite movie, The Matrix, for a test drive. So as I'm watching it I started realizing that it exactly follows the Monomyth structure. For instance, in the Monomyth, the hero first must have a call to adventure. The Matrix has multiple instances of this. The message from Trinity to Neo's computer. The Cell Phone delivery at his job. The red pill or the blue pill. All of these things draw the hero into his quest despite his initial reluctance.

Next the tests or trials. You can take these either literally or figuratively. When Neo fights Morpheus. The roof test. Morpheus' rescue. His first fight with an agent or more importantly with Agent Smith. In each of these Neo either succeeds or fails, but either way his quest continues.

Next the hero achieves his goal or "boon". Trinity's profession of love to him. His death and ascendancy beyond the rules of the Matrix. These things bring important self-knowledge to Neo, specifically in that he is indeed "The One".

Next the hero returns back to the real world. This stage requires little explanation except for being out of order perhaps (Neo returns from the Matrix to the "real-world" multiple times throughout the film. :-)

Finally the hero applies what he has learned. The destruction of Smith. His warning to the powers that be. His Super Man flight. Neo has now learned of his true potential and will go on to use his power's towards freeing the rest of humanity that are still imprisoned in the Matrix (a perfect segue into the disappointing sequels).

In some ways I think the Wachowski Brothers were greatly influenced by George Lucas' interpretation of the Monomyth. The Wachowskis so accelerated the process though that they ran out of room to develop the myth, resulting in two horrible sequels (as opposed to Lucas' 3 horrible prequels). ;-)

Alright, I'm out. Later everyone.

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