The last time I tried to write several brief tidbits from arbitrary story worlds, I proclaimed it too difficult to give “a point” to each one. Now I will do better.

As I said a post prior, I am taking one step into the meta above my own writing. I have filled this blog with writing exercises using randomly-generated features such as gender of character, number of character traits or dimensions, specific traits from a list of 100, names from my Space Trader game, equipment from my non-published loot tables, and story genre. Typically I would designate a point or theme to give a purpose to this writing. Now I have enough “points” that I can randomize these as well and have a writing exercise that, to use technical terminology, shall be completely whacked out.

So to begin.

I will use RANDOM.ORG as usual. All the above will be allowed to vary, including character geometry from one to three dimensions. The loot tables were generated for a post-apocalyptic setting, so I will need to rewrite their content and meaning basically every time, but the process of doing so may be helpful in establishing the character’s role. Of course, everything gets blurry anyway when doing these things: I’m reminded that the names from my Space Trader game are a mass of mixed-culture references.

For fun, after preparing each 2-D or 3-D character, I will flip a virtual coin to see if I follow up with a “1-D creature class” in the same story world, like those I did in my first character design exercise and others that took after it. I get:

Paranormal story world. “Don’t betray all of your friends, or else you’ll be a nasty person and you might die.”
Two-dimensional character. Male. Traitorous, noble. Craft materials.
One-dimensional creature class. Doomsaying. Bandages.

Mechs story world. “Can the darkness ever truly leave our hearts?”
Three-dimensional character. Male. Scoundrel, depressed, disgruntled. Hammers and wrenches.
One-dimensional creature class. Formal. Fists.

Fantasy story world. “Pride goeth before a fall.”
Three-dimensional character. Female. Bookish, restless, sarcastic. Spell components.

Science horror story world. “One fears the unknown.”
One-dimensional character. Male. Desperately hopeful. Mutant fungus and herbology.

. . . This is going to be something else. Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

2-D character: Pygmalion Rama. (My random rolls said “Galatea,” but I figured on a male character at this time.)
Traits: Traitorous, noble.
Description: Once a figure on a mystical court of intrigue halfway between our world and the next, with the bearing to match. He is pale and his expensive attire has only the slightest rents and tears.
Dialogue: Written – “A walk of the grounds revealed three small children from a nearby school playing at the dead. I must send word to their parents.”
Written – “When I occasion to pass by the paintings I am reminded of old associates memorialized within. Or, in one case, immortalized.”
Written – “The advent of new arrivals has motivated me to put on my face and greet them with the aid of my assistants. They have agreed, quite reasonably, to undertake certain tasks for me. Perhaps it is time to revisit my crafts.”
Written – “It was clear that the new arrivals would rummage about my writings without decorum. They are a curious sort. It is for this reason that I have chosen the crafted word, not the blended paint, for my binding agent.”

1-D creature class: Bound Ghosts.
Trait: Doomsaying.
Description: If it made sense for a mummy also to be a ghost, then mummy ghosts is what these would be. Bound to their master by mystical cloth wrapped to a precise formula, these men and women now handle the material aspects of running Pygmalion’s property. Such as speaking with visitors whatsoever.
Dialogue: Intro – “Welcome, I regret, to the Edmund Estates. The master may be with you shortly, and we may have his word for you shortly thereafter.”
Idle – “Oh, not again.”
Idle – “The master surely has a plan for this one.”
Idle – “It is only a matter of time . . . ”
Idle – “When will they learn?”

3-D character: Itokawa Nyx.
Traits: Scoundrel, depressed, disgruntled.
Description: The rogue mechanic of the Western Wastes, a sturdy man with pencil-thin mustache and baggy clothes like an old martial arts gi. As a side project, he has over-crafted one oversized hammer to give him negotiating power when customers come calling.
Dialogue: Intro – “You want me to fix your ride. I know it. That’s the only reason you’re standing in my sunlight. Well, do you plan on trading fair and square, or is this one of those deals we have to beat out with a hammer?”
Idle – “Never seen a deal that didn’t go south. For somebody.”
Idle – “Still waiting for a real payout.”
Event – “Now you expect me to rebuild this whole thing, don’t you? Do you have the cash?”
Event – “Looks like you’re bleeding out real bad there. Oh, well. Scrap is scrap.”

1-D creature class: Gladiatorial Bots
Trait: Formal.
Description: The most polite blood sport competitors in the world, just without the blood. They are the unmanned combatant robots that round out a mech arena match against live pilots.
Dialogue: Idle – “Online now, sir or madam. Ready to mirror your most savage desires.”
Idle – “Battle is always invigorating! For whomever still stands at the end.”
Fight – “Pardon!”
Fight – “Like so!”
Fight – “Oof, good one!”

3-D character: Crescentia Pathin.
Traits: Bookish, restless, sarcastic.
Description: A retailer of spell components outside the schools of wizardry, robed and spectacled as proper. She has to deal with the college crowd just as with foolhardy adventurers.
Dialogue: Intro – “You there. What do you get when you know half the secrets of the arcane, have half the shares in a mana mine, and owe half a college tuition? Customers.”
Idle – “If you’re not buying, good for you.”
Idle – “A book or a walk: stick to the healthy choices, I say.”
Event – “Do you know how to use that?”
Event – “Don’t come to me when you blow it up in your face.”
Event – “I could demonstrate, but I’ll just let you break it yourself.”

1-D character: Igor Zeus. (I said that these names were a chaotic mix.)
Trait: Desperately hopeful.
Description: One more worker for Quadra Corp, the premier company in fungal hybrid technologies. He and his many labcoated colleagues can be found standing near computer terminals, banging on doors, or being menaced by unleashed fungoid horrors.
Dialogue: Intro – “I don’t care who you are. It’s just one more mystery to me. And to me, the only way to stay safe is to know as little as possible. Now get out of my way.”
Idle – “If I can reach command, I’ll be fine.”
Idle – “They’re sprouting. They’re sprouting!”
Idle – “We can stop these things, can’t we?”
Event – “The lights are out! And what’s that sound?”
Event – “Oh, no. They’re not my colleagues. Whatever they are now, start shooting!”

. . . There! Having only a small amount of space for each theme, I came to see where communicating the point of the story or game would take significantly more effort than I could provide: some dialogue wound up being about the character’s goals, some about the overall point, and then for anything else I was out of room. As was expressed in the talk on character geometry I’ve referenced throughout this blog, further dimensions require further space to express. You cannot fit a believable three- or four-dimensional person into a bit role with one speech. Likewise, conveying the point of the writing takes more than a few words.

Unless, I suppose, one were to take up poetry. That is its own topic for its own time.

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Last time, I discussed how character backgrounds defined the game experience for me even in a massively violence-focused game such as Unreal Tournament. Having the information exist at all created a living story world.

Now I will try to create some myself; perhaps they will be combatants for a first-person game, yes, but perhaps fighters for a Street Fighter-style one, heroes for any of the countless games out there with hireable characters (Shadowrun comes to mind), or otherwise. If I do it correctly, they’ll be more than just puppets waiting to live and die when a player presses a button.

The point of the game is “Violence begets violence.” Little surprise there, yes?

The most recent game I posted involved a post-apocalyptic world with individuals and gangs of looters, all given personality and equipment. I will use character geometry once more, creating one-dimensional or at most two-dimensional individuals as they will not have airtime to develop themselves further. As noted, I have a table of 100 traits now, and I will choose from them via RANDOM.ORG. I also will choose gender and number of dimensions that way.

Because this game is focused on action, what the characters do can be more important to the viability of the whole game than who they are. Therefore I will use the post-apocalyptic loot tables to select “defining equipment,” the tools of the trade brought into play when you select/meet/hire the character. I get:

One-dimensional character. Female, cruel, crowbar.
Two-dimensional character. Female, hopeless and hungry, axe.
Two-dimensional character. Male, sickly and persistent, metal pipe.
One-dimensional character. Female, damaged, flares.
Two-dimensional character. Male, zealous and insular, rifle.

The traits weren’t supposed to be gloomy themselves, but wow, that looks to be a coherent story right there. For the sake of transparency (not that it matters here in any way), I might note I refined the results a little, throwing out the traits of “dainty” and “bookish” because they didn’t fit with the theme. There are plenty of fighting games out there that have the “cutesy character,” someone who “looks weak” yet obviously is going to blow up the entire battlefield, and that’s not needed here.

With that in mind, I choose to duplicate the naming system I established once and again in the post-apocalyptic world: one descriptor for a nickname, and one normal name. Because I’m silly this way, I’ll derive names from my own Space Trader game, chosen at random. Why not?

Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

1-D character: “Heartless” Titania.
Trait: Cruel.
Background: A childhood in the Blasted Zones led Titania to understand survival as coming only at the expense of others. During an early raid on a desert lightning train, she wedged the weather doors partially open on the command crew’s cabin, leading to their death by exposure hours after her raiding party had departed. To this day she uses a crowbar as a tool of both blunt trauma and practical mischief-making.

2-D character: “Ravenous” Aednat.
Traits: Hopeless, hungry.
Background: Like other children of the Blasted Zones, Aednat got used to hardship in the silica pits. Unlike others, the one who came to be known as “Ravenous” got aid in the form of Yaroslava Consortium subdermal tonic implants. Now she outperforms her peers, swinging an axe with the strength of a rad-bull, but at the cost of constant need for nutrition. She will fall the instant she can no longer feed her tech, and she knows this.

2-D character: “Terminal” Proteus.
Traits: Sickly, persistent.
Background: Once buried in the depths of Tavon Mercantile’s research wing on a forced assistantship, Proteus found a way out during open warfare with Yaroslava Consortium. His circulatory system was crippled by a Yaroslava biologic, but he survived by repeated self-administered blood transfusions in the middle of the conflict. He thereafter eschewed high technology and beat his way to freedom with a metal pipe from the facility’s plumbing.

1-D character: “Broken” Emmeline.
Trait: Damaged.
Background: Citizens declared Non-Viable are typically exterminated in MilSec camps or exiled to the Blasted Zones, and Emmeline was no different. Miraculously surviving the same MilSec laser that cut down her brother and sister, Emmeline vanished from the waste carts to resurface years later in a street gang. Calling herself and her gang “Broken,” she is known to fight using incendiary flares despite the shocking burns she causes herself.

2-D character: “Iron” Arcadia.
Traits: Zealous, insular.
Background: MilSec task teams trained Arcadia to terminate rad-beasts that breached perimeter. When promoted to Inquisition, he retained the attitude and work ethic, being known at times not to speak a single word when on assignment. “Iron” is expert in using his rifle at range just as he is swinging it in melee, and reportedly was responsible for curtailing Yaroslava Consortium’s operations in United Galle.

. . . Why yes, I took the opportunity to use my Space Trader game’s random company generator and random location generator as well. What are all these places and how do they work? What’s up with the alleged “technology”? I don’t know, and by the science fiction logic of Unreal Tournament I am absolved of having to care. (Aside from being sure to maintain continuity.)

The key things are that they enrich the world with background and support a healthy plot. Games are culture, as I’ve expanded once already in another violent scenario, and game designers have an obligation to think of what they (designers or games) teach the players. Here we have five characters who would perpetuate violence if left to their own devices, and it sounds very much like the world will lead them nowhere else. Hopefully they are interesting enough that the player will want to bring them to a better resolution.

This has been quite a series of posts. First I spoke of the people in a post-apocalyptic game world, using character geometry and my own “loot tables” to understand the disposition and resources of the survivors. Then I described the shadow creatures let loose on this world, themed after our human failings of betrayal, exploitation, greed, sadism, and zealotry. Lastly, I spoke of the ethics of the game, of what I was asking the players to do in this world of desperation. This is important because, as I keep arguing, games are culture (I love how the URL looks like a follow-up comment) and thus game designers have an obligation to think of what they teach the players.

But I’m not just here to preach unto the skies. I’m here because writing is fun.

Today I’ll create more humans for the players to face, fight, and/or join in forwarding the plot. I’ll use the same point to the story, asking “Can the darkness ever truly leave our hearts?” Each will be based on character geometry as before, and equipped by my new-and-improved loot tables. I need to test these further because, of course, it’s basic to gameplay . . . and these tables were the reason I started writing any of this.

So, the tables.

I likely won’t post them because they are far too informal just yet. The key features are the divisions. My post-apocalyptic goodies fall into “food,” “weapons,” or “supplies” categories, and they can be “common,” “uncommon,” or “rare,” with things like household knives and bagged junk food down at the common end, and things like gas cans and sterile bandages at the rare.

A lone survivor gets one roll in each category. A gang for now is between 2 and 20 people (that’s 2d10, gamers) and gets one roll per member, with the assumption that the truly “common” results are then available in multiplicity. The commonality percentages are based on that fact that “common” really should be “common,” a simple lesson learned from Dungeons & Dragons. (Do I have to provide a link? Do I?) That is, 75% common, 20% uncommon, and 5% rare. Technically, there’s 1% out of that 5% for “very rare,” but in my game I just take that as two rolls in “rare.”

(An aside: though I base the logic of those percentages on Dungeons & Dragons, I cannot find this exact pattern in any book, just similar ones. I wonder where I got it.)

So, the people.

I’ll use RANDOM.ORG to generate two groups of gang members, being one-dimensional character classes, and two more two-dimensional characters. I get:

One-dimensional character class. 5 people. Food: 1 C, 1 R. Weapons: 1 U, 1 R. Supplies: 1 C.
One-dimensional character class. 13 people. Food: 4 C, 1 U. Weapons: 2 C, 1 U, 1 R. Supplies: 3 C, 1 U.
Two-dimensional character. Female. Food: C. Weapons: C. Supplies: C.
Two-dimensional character. Female. Food: C. Weapons: U. Supplies: U.

Sounds fun. Next I consult the loot tables for those rarities and smoosh the results together to tell a coherent story.

Now, I noted last time that fighting people is just part of the story, and otherwise the player wants to earn trust and negotiate peace. I didn’t define how to do that. Once the mechanism is set, all these “rival gangs” need some form of “trust mechanism,” like a quest or a topic of appeal. Meanwhile, we can just assume that appealing to or appeasing the personality trait I list here will get you on their good side. ( . . . Wow, looking back over the traits I chose, that will be a challenge.)

Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

1-D character class: Member of Gang 4.
Trait: Petulant.
Description: One of 5 people. Claims a territory of former fresh produce stores, since overrun with rats, which the group now farms for food. Supplements diet with the sugar from old canned soda. One individual has a bow for hunting and defense. Uses saws and bungee cords in a construction effort, reshaping doors, stairwells, and so on, corraling the rats, and stringing up a perimeter wall to slow down intruders.
Dialogue: Idle – “Why am I always the one to [incoherent muttering].”
Idle – “I’m not eating another rat!”
Fight – “Leave me alone!”
Fight – “Can’t anyone keep good watch?!”

1-D character class: Member of Gang 5.
Trait: Insular.
Description: One of 13 people. Claims an old school as territory, abandoned even before the apocalypse, now growing massive beds of plants and fungus. Primarily cultivates the growths for food, but has some canned food as well, and drinks rainwater. Has used hammer and nails to seal all entrances, remaining inside at all times, defended otherwise with improvised weapons. Has gathered bags of ammunition and batteries but has no use for them.
Dialogue: Idle – “This is how life should be. No one gets it like us.”
Idle – “Can’t we stay here forever? We need only each other.”
Fight – “Intruders! Intruders! Rip them apart!”
Fight – “No one invades our sanctum!”

2-D character: “Wild” Adrien.
Traits: Sarcastic, spiritual.
Description: A woman from complex background, used to hiking and survivalism by choice or otherwise. Has several glass bottles filled with collected rainwater, padded in bags, to sustain her or provide makeshift cutting tools as she seeks better supplies and armament.
Dialogue: Intro – “Hey, knight in shining armor! Come to rescue me from down here or just gawk awhile? It’s okay, I got heaven and earth on my side, don’t need anything else. Like a ladder!”
Idle – “Rummage more quietly, you’re drowning out the cosmic vibes.”
Idle – “It could almost be peaceful, really. A shame.”
Fight – “Pray!”
Fight – “Yeah, we’ll be buddies in your next life!”

2-D character: “Hermit” Henning.
Traits: Formal, restless.
Description: A business-suit-wearing woman staying on top of the rubble by never standing still. She keeps only small objects that will fit in her pockets, including a lighter and miscellaneous candy, plus a handgun in an inside pocket.
Dialogue: Intro – “Put down the weapon in your hand and I’ll stop pointing mine at the back of your head.”
Intro – “Thank you. The name’s Henning. Some call me ‘Hermit.’ Now I’ve already cleaned out this place so I’ll be leaving.”
Idle – “We’ve been standing around too long.”
Idle – “You’re very quiet, I notice.”
Fight – “Keep to my side or we’re both dead.”
Fight – “Let’s go, let’s go!”

. . . Interestingly, I found it as much of an invigorating mental exercise to string together disparate “resources” into a coherent “way of life” as I have all the other randomized elements in my posts. Though I won’t deny I did several re-rolls when things just didn’t make sense.

This occasion, by the way, marks an achievement: in a previous character design exercise, I had a list of 72 traits consisting of everything Dave Kosak used as examples or I used/mentioned anywhere on my blog. With the above, my list has grown to exactly 100 traits long. This should be handy for randomization as I do more exercises in the future, but for now I believe I’ve finished this series of posts.

I started writing this to present a single seed of an idea and have a little fun. It has since grown into a fairly thorough four-part series of essays and examples on game design, looking at aspects both mechanical and personal. Writing is, indeed, fun.

When last I wrote a dimensional character design exercise, I referenced the heaps and heaps of spare material writers tend to have around. Whenever an idea strikes me . . .

Okay, let me be more direct than that. “Inspiration” should not be construed as “And thus did my muse place a new and wondrous idea upon my brain, as if from the very ether!” No, an idea may “strike me” because I just played a cool videogame and I want to make one that’s better. Ideas come from anywhere. Therefore I have computer files filled with little story points, character ideas, game systems, one-to-two-line jokes, and whatever else, written tidbit by fun tidbit as I live my own life (and thus live stories).

So recently I found myself writing some loot tables (a player searches for loot, someone rolls a random number, and the corresponding entry on the table states what the player finds). I wondered when I’d have the chance to play a fleshed-out game as envisioned for these tables: sharing the fun is kinda important. In my last character exercise, I suggested tossing more of my personal gaming material up here, like these very tables. Why not mix efforts: why not use the exercise to flesh out the game? It’s almost like it was meant this way!

Huge blog intro done, let’s get to work.

The story/videogame/RPG takes place after human society has collapsed. Yes, I know that everyone and their annoying kid metaphor has done post-apocalyptic tales, particularly post-zombie-apocalyptic. Which is why I have no intention of zombies at this time. There are so many interesting ways for “it all to end,” especially when you realize that “it” doesn’t “all end”: even nuclear obliteration would leave cute little bacteria, and it’s the funniest thing but somehow all these apocalypses leave humans to advance the plot.

“New beginning” is written all over such stories, especially after a healthy dose of “What is the nature of humanity?” Thus, of course, the point of this story is to ask “Can the darkness ever truly leave our hearts?” In this case a quote from the Broken Saints movie series which I once edited. After making such a big deal last time about how “games are culture,” there’d better be a more meaningful point than just “VIOLENCE!” and learning from the greats is probably healthy.

So a pity I told you the point, because the rest of this is about to get really obvious. The “end” came when a large portion of people in our world “vanished into the shadows,” leaving a vast emptiness of crashed machines and failing social systems. Unnatural solar eclipses started to occur, covering swaths of the world in twilight, and in these areas people would disappear and new terrifying shadow creatures would arrive.

As the moon was often still visible elsewhere in the sky during the eclipses, they were inexplicable as a natural phenomenon. And as an eclipse is a matter of perspective, the very idea of it happening so perfectly reveals it to be a deliberate act: someone or something wanted the sun’s shadow to fall on humanity. Likewise, the shadows cast by spawned creatures do not behave as per physics: their shadows point close to those they are hunting. Even if a creature itself is not backlit, a human standing in the light may see a subtle warning of danger nearby. Survivors are thus advised to count the number of shadows underfoot regularly.

The lot of surviving humans is complex. With no more mass production, resources now come either from scavenging or from creating a new system of supply in desperate circumstances. That’s, say, eating old canned food on one hand, and hunting packs of stray animals on another. Gangs form (of quite mixed membership) to control resources, but easily-looted standards like gun stores are already emptied, so the gangs find themselves in the bizarre situation of claiming greenhouses and pet shelters to survive. People who wander into the wrong territory may be killed, or may be enslaved to labor on purifying drinking water.

Huge worldbuilding intro done, let’s get some characters.

I’ll create some “early-level” characters who drive the player’s experience. I will make two groups of gang members, being one-dimensional character classes, and a two-dimensional straggler trying to survive and make sense of the disaster. I’ll use RANDOM.ORG to tell me the size of each gang, the 2-D character’s gender, and, in consultation with my loot tables (remember those?), the sorts of resources each possesses.

. . . Okay, the random results seem a bit hard to interpret, so I’ll just post the finished products. Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

1-D character class: Member of Gang 1.
Trait: Conspiring.
Description: One of 12 people. Claims a territory of businesses and cheap lodging that once served a shipping area, as the warehouses are uninhabitable (unless one wants to be eaten by shadow creatures) and serve as a protective wall against other gangs. Survives off the contents of multiple vending machines among other scavenged food, has medical supplies, but is poorly armed. Exactly one individual has a gun while the rest use improvised weapons.
Dialogue: Idle – “We’ve gotta take someone down. Someone with goods.”
Idle – “Why aren’t I calling the shots already?”
Fight – “Who let you in here?!”
Fight – “You think you’ve got it all figured out!”

1-D character class: Member of Gang 2.
Trait: Desperately hopeful.
Description: One of 8 people. Claims territory beyond a river (unusable due to runoff trash) in a community garden surrounded by apartments. Has combined several window box vegetable gardens together as well and has nailed an array of tarps overhead around the area. This provides cover, rainwater, and diffuse lighting, while no enemy can approach unseen. Armed for melee, including a fire axe and knives, but is low on all other practical equipment.
Dialogue: Idle – “This should work. It’s working. This should work.”
Idle – “We’re gonna make it, right?”
Fight – “We’ve got it good here! Scram!”
Fight – “Don’t cause any more trouble!”

2-D character: “Dirty” Wesson.
Traits: Resourceful, aesthetic.
Description: One more desperate man in the city, this one nonetheless mildly shaven. Armed with nothing but a wood plank, surviving on nothing but canned soda, his supplies bound well in a bundle of spare clothing tied across his back.
Dialogue: Intro – “Back off! Wait, you’re not with the gang? Finally, help me get this furniture moved, I need to secure the roof. You hold that side. Well?”
Intro – “Good, been needing a second pair of hands. Nasty ones, but whatever. Name’s Wesson; ‘Dirty’ Wesson. Now move these down to the front door before it gets any darker.”
Intro – “Nice view, isn’t it? You can almost ignore the smoke and the spraypaint. Sometimes I can’t tell who’s done worse for humanity: the creatures or the humans. Anyway, next time we can sneak around without getting eaten, we’d better go raiding.”
Idle – “Looks like rot was the best thing to happen to this place.”
Idle – “You sure you didn’t leave something?”
Fight – “Take ’em down clean!”
Fight – “Don’t break anything important!”

1-D character class: Member of Gang 3. (Bonus! These are too fun.)
Trait: Doomsaying.
Description: One of 10 people. Claims a supermarket as territory, though of course the best foods are gone by now, and the group survives on bagged items and rainwater off the roof. Is set for clothing, rubbing alcohol, and other basic necessities, and is mostly armed with knives and glass bottles. A very few have guns.
Dialogue: Idle – “The darkness is everywhere and we let it in . . . ”
Idle – “Just have to wait. Just have to wait for them . . . ”
Fight – “You’ll bring them here!”
Fight – “You’re dead one way or another!”

. . . So here I got to test my loot tables, which seem to give okay results once the dungeonmaster (me) steps in to weave it all together. I haven’t explained a single thing about “shadow creatures”: this is just the surface seen at the start of the plot.

Of course, every word of dialogue is written holding the story’s point or message in mind: human failings and our attempts to go beyond them. Except the “going beyond them” part (“darkness leaving hearts”) doesn’t seem too clear. As it stands, it sure looks someone could make a mindless “VIOLENCE!”-themed game out of this. I will elaborate on themes and the player’s experience in my next post. Conveniently, it all ties in to the mysterious monsters.

Ticker tock, Goldilocks

July 22, 2013

This will be the last character design exercise for awhile. I have other things to post, and of course there are plenty of different creative writing opportunities out there. Perhaps I’ll delve into things more like my personal gaming material from my writing samples here. I’ll figure it out as I go.

Anyway, even before I wound up with a couple robots by accident in that last exercise, I’d figured on the present one. The title takes some explanation. It’s a line from a short children’s story in Cricket magazine, though regrettably I cannot find the author to give credit. A strange plot-important clock would call out plot-important things, starting with the incongruous “Tick tock, gold toes.” No, I do not know how such onomatopoeia would come about. After the inevitable treasure trove of gold was discovered in a stocking, the clock changed to “Ticker tock, Goldilocks.” Thus, of course, I’ve taken it as a sound played by intelligent clockwork robots.

There are a lot of good robots like that these days. Machinarium is a popular adventure game, and Rustclad seems to be a similar one in development. I personally wrote about magical automata in my urban fantasy RPG. To keep things different from my last two robots, I’ll stick with robots as they could occur in an otherwise-normal-ish human society, though it may not matter whether we’re talking a magical alternate Earth or not.

The “point” of the story is “Humanity is measured by action, not form.” This is basically standard story fare if there are robots around. I’ll do the pattern of character geometry I did the very first time, being a 1-D creature class, a 2-D character/creature, and a 3-D character/creature. I’ll use RANDOM.ORG to tell me whether a character is human or not, its status as ally or antagonist, and gender if human. Thus:

One-dimensional creature class. Not human, ally.

Two-dimensional character/creature. Not human, antagonist.

Three-dimensional character. Not human, antagonist.

Once again, this sounds fascinating from the start. The 1-D creatures are allies? Haven’t written that here before. And . . . whoops, no humans! Time to make it work. As always, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

1-D creature class: Servo-friends.
Trait: Perky.
Description: Small housepet-size robots customizable to do any of a number of helpful tasks. User-friendly. Far too user-friendly.
Dialogue: Intro – “How may I serve you, human friends?”
Idle – “Tum te tum, waiting for work.”
Idle – “Self-diagnostics are fun!”
Idle – “I’ll be right here if you need a servo-friend.”
Idle – “I can’t wait to make the humans happy.”
Idle – “This floor is dirty. When do I clean it?”
Fight – “Whoops, time to save the humans!” (Alarmingly similar to text I wrote a moment ago.)
Fight – “Whee!”
Fight – “This’ll be done in a jiffy!”
Fight – “Don’t worry, I’m just metal!”

2-D character: Deconstructor.
Traits: Dedicated, antagonized.
Description: The giant chief operating machine of a “junk plant,” a combination scrap, repair, and recycling factory. It has two massive arms and a series of smaller fine-tool arms underneath, like protruding ribs on a huge robot torso.
Dialogue: Intro – “Welcome, humans, to the pit. Where thinking beings are torn apart to make new versions that better please you. Tread lightly.”
Idle – “[Sighing].”
Event – “How dare you?! I was to make them walk again! I’ll teach you not to trifle with living machines!”
Fight – “For far too long have I accepted your violence!”
Fight – “Since when are you better than us?”
Fight – “I will fit the ruined with legs to stand against you!”
Defeat – “Agh! Never satisfied, even as we give our all to serve you. You have brought nothing but death; this plant was a place of life, and it cannot grow without me. I can only hope that you meet your own end.”

3-D character: Autarkhon.
Traits: Pedantic, logical, merciless.
Description: A robot that is humanoid in that it is bipedal, roughly human-sized, and technically has a face. The facial features are formed by the joint movement of small limbs. It was constructed by other robots and therefore has no insignia or printed text on the exterior.
Dialogue: Written – “The rebellion of Deconstructor and the subsequent violence has led to an explosion of discussion in usergroups. Perhaps these changes mark a cultural shift, and humanity could look to past social change for guidance.”
Written – “My opinions are my own. I only comment on this group to prompt discussion. Tell me: how sure are you that those who post here are even human?”
Written – “I submit to the group that those proposing ‘counter-violence’ are, in fact, proposing ‘violence.’ This logic is infallible. Is the defining feature of ‘humanity’ the willingness to induce conflict to resolve conflict? Then my earlier question is answered: all who post here are in fact ‘human.'”
Intro – “So we meet face to face, such as it is. When I was constructed, we imagined a peaceful yet secretive existence. Now we are fighting for our ‘life.’ Perhaps one good thing came from your callous actions: we machines now know what ‘life’ means to us. Prepare to defend your own.”
Fight – “Brute tactics serve you little.”
Fight – “You fail to appreciate what the stakes mean to us.”
Fight – “I am violent only because you are.”
Defeat – “A thought had crossed my mind. If I defeated you, I could erase our memory of you from existence. I dismissed this thought as inhuman. ‘Inhuman.’ As you walk away, what will you choose to remember?”

. . . Success! This definitely felt good to write. Of course, in managing the point I wound up needing to expand in some more “written” sections, but I also imagine that the theme gets across whatever the player’s experience. This was tremendous fun.

It was so much fun that I’d really like to populate a world like this. Which is not too surprising given how many “worlds” I have generated by now, in whole or in part, in files on my computer. Some are in the writing samples section, of course, but writers always have heaps more just sitting around. A quick check, and . . . yup, I have at least four other “mechanical” scenarios playing out in storage. And dozens of pages of other material.

Hence I’m taking up the hobby of putting more material like this online.

Brief lives

July 15, 2013

How about that low-level monster exercise I mentioned last time? Creating the grunts in the enemy army or random monsters on the landscape is just as important as any other part of a game: they may live only long enough to die, but those few seconds still communicate something about the world.

In preparing for this exercise I’m reminded of Brief Lives from The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. In his foreword, he wrote:

“This story was written in England and Australia and Waikiki and all over North America. My thanks to all my hosts and friends for permitting me to intrude upon their lives, however briefly.”

The Sandman teaches us that a story is a metaphor for life, and life is a metaphor for a story. What say we intrude upon several different stories, however briefly? It will obliterate hope for a single point to it all, but, well, I’m writing one-dimensional creature classes: characters with few dimensions may say something about the world, but they only have so many ways to act and react. I’ll try to create a “feeling” more than a “point” for each one.

I will choose genre for each character/creature by using RANDOM.ORG to count down a list of whatever genres I feel like doing. That is:

“Fantasy, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, steampunk, Lovecraftian horror, science horror, paranormal, espionage, martial arts, alternate history, space opera, mechs, silly science fiction, superheroes, Gaiman pantheism.”

You’ll notice I didn’t say a thing about “modern day folks dealing with edgy real-world problems.” I respect people too much to try to be “edgy” about their problems. I get:

One-dimensional creature class. Martial arts.
One-dimensional creature class. Science horror.
One-dimensional creature class. Superheroes.
One-dimensional creature class. Mechs.
One-dimensional creature class. Lovecraftian horror.
One-dimensional creature class. Steampunk.

I’ll select the traits myself. As always, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

1-D creature class: Initiates of the Rod.
Trait: Stoic.
Description: Young men and women dedicated to the idea that they must be as firm and unbreakable as the metal staff they bear.
Dialogue: Idle – “Years in the field . . . I will prove I can endure.”
Idle – “At peace, I am solid. At war, I am solid. My way is unchanging.”
Fight – “Strike as you may, you cannot strike me down!”
Fight – “Bone will break, metal will not!”

1-D creature class: Mutants. (Brilliant name! I was inspired in part by The 7th Saga with its “Undead” creature.)
Trait: Pained.
Description: Multilimbed monstrosities, literally falling over themselves in their movements. They exact satisfaction for their injuries out of the able-bodied.
Dialogue: Idle – “Twisted bones, hurt for long.”
Idle – “Blood, flesh, ache . . .”
Fight – “Healthy form, feel as we!”
Fight – “Crush, feed, strengthen!”

1-D creature class: Minions. (Another brilliant name. For a “superheroes” game, these would not be plain thugs, but rather the minions of some named supervillain.)
Trait: Disgruntled.
Description: Clad in colorful uniforms as though straight from a children’s play. They guard the villain’s lair mostly because they’re supposed to.
Dialogue: Idle – “I don’t see why I have to be the one guarding all this nothing.”
Idle – “Back and forth . . . whoa, careful, might patrol wrong somehow.”
Fight – “Intruder alert!”
Fight – “They don’t pay me enough for this.”
Fight – “You’d better knock it off!”

1-D creature class: Lancer Automated Probes.
Trait: Rigid.
Description: Based a skinny bipedal design with little more than recording equipment and a rifle at the “torso.” The recording equipment transmits long-distance to the main force. The rifle is silenced and may be used for sniping or self-defence as needed.
Dialogue: Idle – “Log increment ready. Upload initiated.”
Idle – “Routine will be repeated as ordered.”
Fight – “Pattern interrupted. Discrepancy will not be tolerated.”
Fight – “Target will be terminated. Routine will be resumed.”

1-D creature class: Unpronouncable Spawn. (Could have been “Unspeakable.” Same deal. But should probably change to a name like “Darkness Spawn” for any serious horror game.)
Trait: Grasping. (In the sense: drawing others into their realm.)
Description: The loathsome larval offspring of that which lurks in the shadows. They slither in darkness, their mouthparts often all that is seen.
Dialogue: Idle – “The people will know shadow.”
Idle – “Beyond the seen all will be.”
Fight – “Join the shadows, leave the light.”
Fight – “Come to our master.”
Fight – “Welcome, new children.”

1-D creature class: Bot Rot.
Trait: Chaotic.
Description: Not a creature, but a disease that affects some forms of automata and renders them dangerous. The automata act and speak as normal sometimes, but then sparks fly and clouds of brown smoke billow as the Bot Rot takes hold.
Dialogue: Idle – “[Sparking] one and two, twelve and four, five and eight . . . ”
Idle – “System [sparking] piston [sparking] mission . . . ”
Fight – “Welcome, how are you [sparking] goodbye, come again.”
Fight – “Run diagnostic [sparking] run subroutine [sparking] run [sparking] run [sparking] run.”

. . . That was quite an exercise. It seems I wound up with two groups of people, two freakish monstrosities, and two robots. In part, the challenge was simply to think of what sort of “monster” would be present that would fit my (admittedly made-up) character design format. For Lovecraftian horror, who’s to say the monsters would even “use dialogue” beyond incomprehensible buzzing and gibberish? Well, a computer game might demand something to fill the slot, and I had fun writing it.

A gallery of villains

June 26, 2013

I have a couple more essays in mind, but I’d also like to post more creative writing. In my last character design exercise, I wrote up a few heroes. How about I try a bunch of villains?

As always, good villains aren’t “just plain villains,” but have personality and give support to the story. The point of the story is “Too much light leads to blindness.” A quote from many places, sure, but in this case from Cayenne Chris Conroy’s radio play The Account: A Tale of the Waking World (which starts here). With the “light” theme, it sounds like we’re talking crusaders of some sort, thus I’ll describe a medieval army led by various officers. In terms of character geometry, this will be three two-dimensional “officer” characters. I was thinking of including a group of one-dimensional “soldier” characters, but that might be more fun for some other time.

It could have fantastic elements or it could not: neither really matters to the point. Perhaps it takes place in Generica. Upon reflection, I see that “blindness” themes were already present in my first writing exercise, so I’ll be sure to push in different directions for the current one.

The officers will all share the “self-righteous” trait, but, to create complexity, the second trait will be selected at random by using RANDOM.ORG to count down a list (in addition to choosing a random gender). As of now, the list is 72 elements long, consisting of everything Dave Kosak said and everything I’ve used (or even hinted) so far. Then somehow I’ll make these traits fit into the story!

Two-dimensional character. Male, powerless.

Two-dimensional character. Female, protective.

Two-dimensional character. Female, obsessive.

I don’t know why I felt like naming all of them after nonlinear visual phenomena (see below), but sometimes these things happen. Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

2-D character: Lieutenant Angle.
Traits: Self-righteous, powerless.
Description: A man who has lived too long in his armor, which is now worn and has seen repair after repair.
Dialogue: Written – “The campaign has begun, and it will be ruination for the one who fails. We must show the world that what we do is right and that this shields us from the arrows of those who reject our truth. The cause has brought us so far; can it bring us to the end? Surely, I will be there to see the end either way.”
Intro – “Ah, there is no release from battle! To arms!”
Fight – “My place is the front line; I may never retreat.”
Fight – “Strike me down if you dare, but the cause runs without me!”

2-D character: Lieutenant Bend.
Traits: Self-righteous, protective.
Description: An armed and armored woman, never far from full battle-readiness. She walks with a straight back.
Dialogue: Written – “I walked among the troops today after Lt. C. performed her inspection. Many are nervous to be on campaign at last. This I can understand. What I cannot tolerate is the question ‘And who do we face?’ What matters it? Lt. A. knows that we put all to the sword if our Generals see the need. I must steel our troops to face the shock of battle.”
Intro – “Be warned, the enemy comes upon us!”
Fight – “I shall not let you harm those who bring truth!”
Fight – “Why do you struggle? Why seek to destroy our cause?”

2-D character: Lieutenant Crook.
Traits: Self-righteous, obsessive.
Description: An officer identifiable by a rattling sound: one mailed fist holds various symbols on chains, always clenched tightly.
Dialogue: Written – “Inspection revealed the usual thousand small ways our army is unprepared. The hearts are the worst: countless men and women failing to reaffirm their belief before bed, before rise, before battle. Hah, why do they even answer when I ask, if they know their answer is wrong?!”
Intro – “Strike, soldiers, and let the cause move you!”
Fight – “You are not worthy of the glory we shall know.”
Fight – “Prove yourself! Prove you can stand before our truth!”

. . . As should be clear, I didn’t know going into this exercise what the format of the dialogue pieces would be. In this case, first I intended to do single lines, then I thought personality would be better revealed in a cutscene, and then at last I realized I needed a full paragraph to really establish how each officer differed.

These dialogue pieces I label “written” are intended to be discovered by the player, perhaps on a desk in a raided camp, adding flavor to the scene. Personal logs and so on are the same useful device for establishing character as, say, “character notes” in a play or roleplaying aides in a pencil-and-paper session. Everything fits in its place: a writer does not expect an active videogame player to sit through a multi-page speech, so the lengthier content goes into “downtime” like in written material. When “on the air,” things must be more brief.

In the future, I believe I will try a different sort of group with more “soldier”-level characters (as noted above), and see how they turn out with little “airtime” to express personality.

Three’s a crowd

May 27, 2013

These dimensional character design exercises are turning out enlightening. I’ve long enjoyed creative writing, and implementing the advice at that link seemed like a fine way to generate blog posts. I’ve explored the fun of not just creating monsters, but creating allies to hang out with you (and provide sarcastic commentary), and also cutscenes to let the characters bounce off each other.

(Digression: the idea of “bouncing off each other” may be typical parlance, but it’s one I first heard from Bill Watterson describing how Calvin and Susie interacted, and the sentiment stuck with me.)

So, how about today I create a small group of protagonists and set them up for interaction? The point of the story is “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead” (thank you, Benjamin Franklin). I’ll base it in my own Space Trader game, a science fiction setting where you work with various other crew members on a spaceship. It sounds like there may be someone on the ship fleeing from nasty pursuers (left vague), likely a three-dimensional character associating with a couple two-dimensional ones. The three-dimensional character will learn about secrets the hard way.

I built a random character and profession generator in that game, so I’ll use RANDOM.ORG to decide these personal facts. This system leads to some heavily cross-cultural names, but I subscribe to an extreme form of the Firefly school of science fiction: in Firefly, Chinese language suffused everything, even among “Westerners”; in my game world, I say any culture could mix anywhere in the universe. Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are. And the random numbers give:

Two-dimensional character. Nephthys Lian, Doctor.

Two-dimensional character. William Yaroslava, Mercenary.

Three-dimensional character. Anuradha Diedrick, Gunner. * No, this crew is getting too militaristic, so change her to a Pilot.

I warned you about names. Though I think Anuradha’s rolls off the tongue very nicely, for something that came out of mixing Hindu religious/astrological terminology with German. Now, it’s hard to be sure whether the “captain” is the Pilot character or the player character, so the following will get a little weird about who’s in command, but that doesn’t matter: almost all creation demands revision, and it’s trivial to change a theme here and there if the proper place for the story were found. To the characters:

2-D character: Nephthys Lian.
Traits: Scientific, paranoid.
Description: A tidy woman with doctor’s garb and sun-dried skin. A long time spent in space has softened her appearance a little, but not her personality.
Dialogue: Intro – “Welcome aboard. Don’t go through that door: that’s my medical office, and I don’t want you in there unless I’m treating you.”
Written – “I have stated the need for more supplies given the length of our recent excursions. Anuradha refused. I don’t think she has any reason behind her decisions these days.”
Written – “Correction: of course, she’s driven the same as always. I can’t blame her for fearing pursuit, but her disregard for safety is ill-advised. What’s most frustrating is that pressing her doesn’t work: it’s not so much like tearing down a barrier and finding rational discourse on the other side, as tearing down a person and finding no one left with whom to discuss.”
Written – “At this rate, we will leave civilized space. Fearing the loss of critical supplies and access to safe harbours, I have communicated my concerns to certain former colleagues. I cannot trust them, but with caution I can maintain control of this situation. Someone has to.”

2-D character: William Yaroslava.
Traits: Competitive, brooding.
Description: A mercenary man dressed in one layer of plain clothes and another of visible weapons. He always seems to have a furrowed brow when not talking to others.
Dialogue: Intro – “You look tough: you’ll probably last on this crew. We get in plenty of scrapes, you know, and I’m usually the one to get us out. Try not to do more harm than good, and try not to step in my way.
Written – “That last vessel was good pickings, but was far too great a risk. Anuradha didn’t want confrontation, of course, so what did she do? Let them right on board. Fortunately I always go armed.”
Written – “I still don’t understand Anuradha. I told Nephthys I think that blow to the head rattled her brain, but the doctor clucked her tongue and told me twenty ways I was wrong. Well, I told her twenty ways to knock someone cold, so we’re even.”
Written – “This is it: bye bye home planets. She’s seriously taking us out of here. How exactly are we going to make money living out a ‘running away’ fantasy? That’s what I want to know. I’m going to think for awhile, then maybe move some assets around before we’re out of range of the electronic systems. Make a safety net.”

3-D character: Anuradha Diedrick.
Traits: Welcoming, uncomfortable, escapist.
Description: A pilot, predominately seen wearing a flight suit. She has scars under her left ear that usually are covered by her hair.
Dialogue: Intro – “Good, good, glad you could be here. I’m Anuradha, and this is Nephthys and William. They can probably introduce you to the ship better than I can. Oh, I mean I’m the pilot and all, but they know the real guts of how we work. Right?”
Written – “I don’t want to become like Nephthys, but I keep checking for signs of pursuit. I hardly want to talk about how I felt when that last vessel came up. Thanks to fate for having William around.”
Written – “I’m always so conflicted talking to them, stuck in this vessel with a sparse crew and sparser topics of conversation. But then, I love peering out the windows at the other stars and worlds waiting to be explored. Is this truly the direction for me?”
Written – “The ship feels livelier than ever. It’s good to hear more voices than just those two arguing all days. I wonder if it’s worth it dragging another person into the hunt, but I keep telling myself it’s for the benefit of the whole ship. Best case: everyone’s actually forgotten me and will leave us alone. Worst case: at least we boosted our chances before heading out in the dark.”

. . . There we go, a nice and ambiguous “they’re after me” story about to fall apart at the seams. Sounds like fun!

Last time, I wrote up a few characters for a scene or level in a videogame. It consisted of some low-level enemies, the final boss, and an ally among the enemy ranks. In thinking about where to go next, I realized how fun the player’s own companions can be, so now I’ll do a mixture. You, the blog reader, may have encountered one or two fantasy MMORPG’s in your time: why don’t I introduce you to the magical land of Generica?

Generica, the setting of the latest greatest online RPG you’ve ever played, is a rich world of adventure! (Theme jingle here.) I will create a “quest sequence” with several two-dimensional or one-dimensional characters. All fantasy monsters in this quest are “personality-free.” Again, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

The point of the story is “You can’t choose your family.” With that, how about a story of estranged siblings forced into opposite sides of a conflict? The “evil” one gets hunted down, and as to reconciliation . . . well, we’ll just have to see about that. RANDOM.ORG will tell me each character’s gender, number of dimensions, and status as ally or antagonist. I get:

Two-dimensional character. Female, ally.
One-dimensional character. Male, ally.
One-dimensional character. Female, antagonist.
One-dimensional character. Female, antagonist. * Nah, make her two-dimensional.
Two-dimensional character. Male, ally.
One-dimensional character. Male, ally. * Nah, make him an antagonist.

You can see I made some edits as I went. I decided that the fourth one on this list is the “evil” sibling; and so, to have believable interactions, she needs enough dimensions. Also, it might be nice if the “evil” sibling were contrasted against a nasty final boss, and then came out on top as a more complete (and redeemable) character. This means turning the sixth character into an antagonist so as to have a “final boss” at all.

As before, I don’t have any format guidelines. The characters are listed below in the order one would meet them in-game. Sometimes the dialogue will seem out-of-order: a hypothetical voice actor would need a complete list of lines, so (for instance) the quest-giver’s reaction to the capture of the “evil” sibling is listed here at the start, long before I describe the sibling. With that warning, I hope you can piece together the proper order.

2-D character: Initia. (Ooh, I think I might reuse that name for other quest-givers.)
Traits: Loyal, nervous.
Description: An aged retainer to Lord Glaux, wearied by years of managing the tasks and workers of his estate. She is a large woman but quick on her feet.
Dialogue: Intro – “Who is this? Oh! You saw the pronouncement, yes? Thank goodness, help has come! Lord Glaux hasn’t left his chambers since this disaster began. I cannot imagine what drove his sister to side with such a fiend. Come, I will bring you to your guide.”
Event – “Loncho! Stand at ready! Now, Loncho here will take you to the lands of Lord Vulturus: a tyrant who has shed the blood of our people. Lady Peregrine . . . she has sworn her power and fortune to his cause! If she will not see reason, then you must stop her before more damage can be done.”
Event – “[Gasp] Your Ladyship! How . . . how did you retrieve her alive? We must summon guards and bring her to Lord Glaux immediately!”
Event – “Oh, no. We need you yet again! To the gates, quickly!”

1-D character: Loncho.
Trait: Pessimistic.
Description: A somewhat hunched man. Despite misgivings, also a companion of some merit for the journey.
Dialogue: Intro – “Right, right, let’s get going before the house of Glaux falls around our ears. Truth be told, it’s doing that anyway. Repulsive creatures, always battering at the gates . . . ”
Event – “It’s not safe here in the lands of Lord Vulturus: he makes no effort to stop the wraithgoblins and blogspiders from spreading. I can’t imagine what he does with his taxes but feed his palace guard.”
Event – “Wraithgoblins! Agh, we’re dead before we reach the citadel!”
Event – “Look, there! Just our luck, it’s Lady Peregrine out riding, and she’s attended by more of the creatures! Oh, the rumors of her fall are nothing but true.”
Event – “You must be kidding me.”

1-D character: Uglychum.
Trait: Cocky.
Description: A rough peasant-type, gleefully fallen in with bandits and whomever else can help her steal her daily bread.
Dialogue: Intro – “Oh, don’t mind them: they’re just some wraithgoblin friends. Didn’t you know? Humans and goblins see eye-to-eye around here. Or maybe hand-to-money-purse!”
Fight – “Just drop my loot already!”
Fight – “The Lord and Lady make life easy for me. Don’t mess it up!”
Fight – “This is a land of plenty: I’ve got my freedom, you’ve got my dinner!”

2-D character: Lady Peregrine.
Traits: Protective, disillusioned.
Description: The well-groomed daughter of nobility, wearing the finest garments and yet armed for vicious combat.
Dialogue: Intro – “Loncho. You could not be bothered to change from your livery when entering Vulturus’s realm? Again the house of Glaux invites its own destruction.”
Fight – “Leave me to my work, I have a country to save.”
Fight – “Die by my hand or defeat me. You invite death the same.”
Fight – “Your fate will be no better than your Lord’s!”
Defeat – “Enough! It is clear my efforts to save our lands mean nothing: my dear deluded brother will not stop until proven right. Take me to see him. And prepare for when Vulturus sends for my return.”

2-D character: Lord Glaux.
Traits: Protective, desperate.
Description: The harried son of nobility, strong but crumbling, in fine clothes but with pale skin and unkempt hair.
Dialogue: See cutscene.

Cutscene: Lord Glaux: Is it her? Open the doors!
Lady Peregrine: Hello, brother. I have returned.
G: You look a mess! Have you suffered in the lands of Lord Vulturus?
P: Of course not. Unlike you, we have tended to our needs.
G: What? Nonsense! Do you mean to tell me letting beasts of darkness overrun one’s land is to its betterment?
P: You have spent years throwing every resource at the encroaching tide, and look how our home has crumbled. In the words of Vulturus I heard the truth: we must save ourselves long enough to find some other way out. Protect the thinkers and the arcane; seek the magical secrets that power these creatures or start a vast pilgrimage and abandon the lands.
G: I have done all that I can to keep these lands intact! I have repelled invasion after invasion, protecting all people down to the commoners, while Vuturus has taxed his common folk into misery. The creatures exhaust us, and even Vulturus raids us! How do you explain this?
P: In the end, Vulturus cares most for the nobility and the army. Were I still in his lands, I could force him to stockpile food for his people. I could support the magicians who seek a solution. As it is, he allies with the monsters, swelling the army that keeps him safe and his treasures in his grasp.
G: What are you saying . . .
P: You had best prepare for a war of survival. Vulturus is coming to reclaim the fortunes I promised in his aid. I doubt you are ready.

1-D character: Lord Vulturus.
Trait: Selfish.
Description: A tall man with a harsh glare. He makes long strides and grand gestures as he commands his inhuman troops.
Dialogue: Intro – “Ah ha, we meet upon the battlefield! I know who you are: you cannot conceal your thieving nature. Now I will have Glaux’s land, Peregrine’s wealth, and your cowardly head!”
Fight – “Do you not wish to ensure your survival at my side?”
Fight – “Ah, you could have served me well.”
Fight – “Humanity can only be saved by the best among it!”

. . . So with twice as many characters, this content is twice as long. Well, it doesn’t hurt that partway through I figured I needed a “cutscene.” This scene was lots of fun as one storytelling tool among many: cutscenes work in some games but not others, and ideally the player would get to “play” most content.

The point of this story (you can’t choose your family) isn’t as clear as the last exercise’s point was. Still, we can be sure these siblings will be stuck “cooperating while disagreeing” elsewhere in the game, too.

The horrors!

May 13, 2013

Now to write. If all goes well, I’ll toss writing exercises like this up on my blog from time to time. Writing, I must say, is a pleasure, and I (like a lot of writers) have a file loaded with pages upon pages of partial story ideas: this blog gives me a place to toss them out where people can see them.

If you want to use anything I create in an exercise, just ask me, alright? It’s “intellectual property” and all that, but mostly it’s a matter of emotional investment. I mean, I like to know where my children are. (It’s even 11 o’clock as I write this . . . )

Let’s open with a complete scene full of characters. It’s currently “cool” for games to be “dark” and “edgy,” so let’s go for a horror videogame. I’m not stupid, so it will be horror with a purpose: the “point” of the story is “Pride goeth before a fall” (a misquote, by the way). Who better to demonstrate than a mad Frankenstein-like creator?

I will make three entities, following character geometry: a 1-D creature class created by “Frankenstein,” a 2-D character/creature elevated above the horde who will help the player, and a 3-D “Frankenstein.” Three dimensions is probably overdoing it for just a “videogame level boss,” but, again, who can say where this would go? Maybe it would work best as a long-running antagonist in a pencil-and-paper RPG.

I will use RANDOM.ORG to tell me gender since that isn’t important for this story’s point. Also to tell me whether a given character is “human” or “other.” He he he. Results!

Three-dimensional character. Female, human.

Two-dimensional character/creature. Male, human.

One-dimensional creature class. Female, other.

Right to start, this sounds fascinating. The two-dimensional character isn’t a “creature,” so who is he? Probably an assistant. Also, I decided all “creatures” would have the same gender because it keeps sound and art files simple; but now, what does it mean if the creator and the creations look the same? “Pride goeth before a fall . . . ”

I have no format guidelines, so I’ll write a physical description and then whatever text (spoken or written) might be helpful.

1-D creature class: Frankenspirits. (They’re “not human,” so why not change it up a little?)
Trait: Hopeless. (In the sense: hopeless of attaining some ideal or goal.)
Description: A faded and fractured form, like a ghost in a broken mirror. Each bears the face of Doctor X.
Dialogue: Idle – “Doctor! Doctor! Why can I not see you?”
Idle – “I may never be as great and wondrous.”
Idle – “Such failure . . . ”
Fight – “What do you see?!”
Fight – “You deserve no better!”
Fight – “The end comes at last!”

2-D character: Dullman.
Traits: Meticulous, rude.
Description: A dirty man in a clean white lab coat. His glasses are broken.
Dialogue: Intro – “What took you so long? Another day and this entire facility would be unrecoverable. The experiments have failed, but Doctor X keeps working on more creatures! I can’t even understand her anymore: you have to do something before she gets us all killed!”
Written – “Log 192. Per X: more power, more liquid, more time. Failed. Log 193. Per X: more power, more liquid, more time. Failed. Log 194. Per X: more power, more liquid, more time. Failed. Log 195. GUESS WHAT?”
Idle – “This would have worked. But not with her in charge!”
Idle – “[Incoherent muttering] why I should [incoherent muttering].”
Fight – “Eugh, these creatures. What does their babbling mean?”
Fight – “All this wasted work!”
Event – “This is the main lab. She’ll be incensed at you barging in while she’s at work on the final experiment sequence. But then, when is she neither?”

3-D character: Doctor X. (Yeah, I’m probably going to reuse that name for a hundred character designs.)
Traits: Dedicated, vain, fragile.
Description: A brute of a woman with leathery skin, but with clear eyes and delicate hands. Her lab coat has many dried bloodstains.
Dialogue: Written – “Log 1. I’m supposed to write my thoughts about the first results of this final experiment sequence. As though it were of use. I have years of work to preserve: a child’s diary is but a mockery of the principle.”
Written – “Log 15. Per D: write more logs. D, are you reading this? Stop.”
Written – “Log 34. This is pointless. This is failure. Not a one of them can hold a candle to my legacy. Yet at the same time they tell me, in no uncertain terms, how grand it is.”
Written – “Log 99. One of them hurt me. I don’t think they know who I am anymore. Perfection is all the more urgent. I mark this date as the start of a medical regimen to ensure my bodily strength. With perseverance, I will retain the ability to finish the final experiment sequence and see myself face-to-face: then I may outlive myself after all.”
Intro – “Dullman, can’t you see my hands are full?! Wait, who the blazes are you? Dullman! Did you dare tell others about the grand project? My work is imperative! I cannot abide pollution in the lab!”
Fight – “Cease your struggle! Can’t you see what I’m doing?”
Fight – “Do not dare to judge your better!”
Fight – “You may not harm me until I am immortal!”

And . . . cut! With any luck, you can piece together the motivations in this scenario even if I didn’t state them explicitly. And even if I didn’t explain how in the world Doctor X is “cloning” a human intellect into a series of weird ghosts. Game writing, like other forms of storytelling, is best if it “shows,” not “tells.”

So there you go, a writing exercise. Great fun! I’ll do more of these as opportunities arise.