In my last post, I started a discussion that previously had remained un-discussed. Sadly, to conclude it I must make a post rife with opinions and preferences. I created this blog to explore storytelling and get out my creative thoughts, and thus it might surprise some that I complain about the present post as being “not concrete,” but that is the difference between building a story with a solid framework and arguing whether an actor did “a good job.”

One could say de gustibus non disputandum est, but that’s just too bad when all forms of entertainment are culture. And Star Wars is certainly culture.

Star Wars is a surprisingly divisive topic for such a beloved part of popular entertainment. But perhaps this ties well with my point: I argue that the Star Wars prequel trilogy was made with the same standards as, and with great fidelity to, the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s just that the reception of a story depends also on the audience. Many have words to say on this topic, from Avner the Eccentric to William Shakespeare:

“The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing. / Our sport shall be to take what they mistake: / And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect / Takes it in might, not merit.”

Many felt disappointed by the then-new Star Wars prequels. In a time gone by, when I had only seen the first prequel, I was “not allowed to speak” in the grander conversation about the trilogies and did not get to explain these take/mistake matters to my associates. Surely the movies made mistakes: when watching the original trilogy a lifetime prior, I, as a child, simply didn’t notice mistakes in the originals. But then, I didn’t understand the movies anyway. Which shapes my segue back into the essay . . .

The legacy, the attempted legacy, and my grasp of the legacy

Consider how the six Star Wars movies have been received by children. Over the years, when I saw discussion on the internet about “my favorite movies” and “my children’s favorite movies,” there would be notes about “Well, my KIDS seem to like ALL the Star Wars movies, even the prequels.”

People said that the new trilogy was flawed, but, as I argued, the original trilogy was as flawed. The plot was as weak: things happened . . . just because they happened. You had to be charitable to overlook the mistakes and enjoy all the fun adventure. Charitable like a child. There are nonetheless some rare individuals who dislike the original trilogy, and I’d bet they just had different standards for what charity they’d give.

My conclusion was that people were feeling equally uncharitable after all the other stuff George Lucas had done. Remember that he had revised the original trilogy around then, which was fine when it came to certain visuals, but, well . . . the question of whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first has been so polarizing that it has been taken as a defining feature of George Lucas’s betrayal.

And then . . . the midi-chlorians.

This was one of the first and biggest complaints about the new prequels. In that era, I still hadn’t seen the other movies, so I still “couldn’t speak” to people who had formed such strong opinions. But I had my guesses as to what happened.

When George Lucas told us about midi-chlorians in The Phantom Menace, people felt betrayed: “How could you explain away the Force?” Well, I doubt he was trying to. A generation ago, “the Force” spoke to our spiritual needs, and every religion in the world pointed to Star Wars and said “Look! Look! That’s how our religion works!” Since then . . . we have become obsessed with DNA.

What if he was trying to duplicate the reception of the original trilogy? What if he was trying to ride the wave of public sentiment and help us enjoy the Force MORE? Sure, yes, I agree that it didn’t work: we continue to want something spiritual that cannot be explained by the physical. But how could he know that a little insertion of science WOULDN’T go over well in a society that now revered science?

So these thoughts were bouncing through my head for years. YEARS. What truly happened in the other two prequels? Opinion seemed to be that the second one was pathetic, and the third was only interesting in that it was “darker.” Still, I wasn’t “allowed to speak” until I saw them.

In truth, what would I really have to say if I didn’t have specific examples to present from the whole prequel trilogy?

Time to watch the prequels.

So I watched the prequels

The Phantom Menace is still pretty bad and I don’t think I can bring myself to watch it again. The problem is that I don’t seem to care: the movie did not have content to engage me. Next up:

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. I am stunned. Here the trainwreck of negativity must come to an end: I ask the public why people complained about this movie. Is it the title? Let’s not forget that this was the same series that gave us “the Death Star.” And remember when Harrison Ford was in this other movie about “the Temple of Doom“? That’s right: this era gave us names that make us wince today. Now that we understand we are here to be charitable, to work WITH the movie, shall we see what happens?

The prequel starts off with a bang. No, I’m not making a joke about the explosive used for the assassination attempt: I’m talking about the second assassination attempt immediately thereafter. The scene engaged me, drew me in. It was only near the end that I realized I was watching a Star Wars-style re-enactment of a classic samurai/ninja scene: there was the loyal samurai (Jedi) protecting the sleeping noble lady by slicing the venomous creature away from her bedside. In the dark. Without hitting her.

And then Obi-Wan Kenobi jumped straight through Venetian blinds to catch a droid in midair. “Oh, that’s right: Jedi are amazing.”

It kept going. It also kept making direct parallels to the original trilogy. Do you remember Princess Leia in Jabba’s barge killing her captor with the very chains that bound her? Yeah, Padme got to fight her executor with the very chains that bound her. And it wasn’t just a blind repetition of the original, but a new event that fit within the scene, not looking out of place.

What was the problem? Apparently, one complaint was that Anakin and Padme had unrealistic interaction. I disagree. I feel that Anakin’s presentation was of somebody struggling with the Dark Side. My only complaint is that, when Padme said to stop looking at her like that, he should have been shamefaced: we have quite enough presentations of relationships as harmful to women (remember: Twilight) that we don’t need more casual disregard.

And if I were to complain about any acting, then it would be Christopher Lee’s. I’m led to understand that he is a movie legend, but in this movie? Not so much, despite being given the opportunity to do both a Darth Vader impression AND an Emperor Palpatine impression (yet more efforts to make the prequels parallel the originals). When he fired Force lightning, did his hand even shake? It’s like he was depending on the special effects to make him look good. I absolutely did not believe that he had the power.

On the other hand, Palpatine’s performance was suitably chilling. All he had to do was put up the hood and he was the Emperor (-to-be). I hope it was as much fun to reprise the role after all these years as it looked.

You don’t have to like Anakin and Padme’s acting; just as I don’t have to like Count Dooku’s. But this movie actually ENGAGED me, giving me reason to be charitable where it was weak. In other words, it was a normal movie, and I’d hope that we can stop whining now. What else?

Right, there’s another one

I’m writing this immediately after watching Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Yes, yes, per all the reviews, “it’s darker.” However, these words seem to have been said in an effort to make up for how “we all know that George Lucas is terrible at making movies and just had a fluke with how good the originals were.” Again, I have to say that’s not so: he’s ALWAYS been this bad/good at making movies.

And, again, the sheer number of parallels to the original trilogy is stunning. They even got John Williams to rip off more classical music for them. Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony? I recognized it; did you?

Lastly, it seems very likely that George Lucas reacted to the backlash against The Phantom Menace by minimizing the parts that didn’t go too well. When I heard reference to the midi-chlorians again toward the end, I realized that the whole of the two final prequels had been cleansed of the things. Further, the idea of the Dark Side being able to prevent death . . . and invoking the biology-based midi-chlorians to do so . . . well, follow me here. This is good storytelling:

For one part, we have a balance in the narrative: the Jedi are unaware that the Sith may have the power to cheat death, but the Sith are unaware that the Jedi may have “Force ghosts” (Palpatine expected Yoda to leave a corpse). For another part, the Sith may have biology, but the Jedi have spirituality. That is, after we were disappointed by the arrival of midi-chlorians in the first prequel, only the Sith came to care about them in the later prequels: the Jedi spoke only of the spiritual matters that we in the audience wanted in the first place.

Of course, now I just want to see Sith-powered “Force zombies.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In any case

I come back right where I began: it’s fairly obvious to an adult re-watching the original Star Wars trilogy that these movies are flawed, but we in the audience are charitable and actively make up for the flaws. Now that I’ve watched the remaining prequels, years after displeasure with George Lucas has broken from its fever pitch, I’d argue that they are fine. And flawed. And incredibly faithful to the original trilogy. And I like them.

Now we are on the brink of a new Star Wars movie (or more). Once again, we have preview material showing a menacing character with a modified light saber. Light quillons? Awesome, I can’t wait to see that in action. Other people seem cautiously optimistic as well.

I hope it turns out to be a good movie; and, particularly, because it will have a number of repeat actors, we can expect it to have a certain fidelity to the original. Perhaps with George Lucas holding less of a prominent role, it will even have fewer “blunders” and “betrayals.” But if, once it is released, it nonetheless does something weak or foolish, I ask that the audience keep a little perspective. Please remember that we’re talking about Star Wars here. Who’s more foolish, the fool . . . or the fool who STILL buys overpriced tickets and waits in long lines because “wow, it’s Star Wars“?

P.S.: Now that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has been released upon the galaxy, I am pleased to see that it meets all my hopes and expectations as outlined herein. It is a “perfect Star Wars movie.”

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This is an essay perhaps 10 years in coming. Not so much about gaming as about storytelling in general. It turns out that there are many factors in the reception of a story: we in the audience might think of ourselves as objective viewers, but no, we too are part of the experience. Our expectations and understanding and more. Or as Avner the Eccentric said:

“You thought you could just come and sit and be the Broadway audience. No. You’re the audience, and you’ve got work to do.”

I’m prompted to speak because a new Star Wars movie is coming soon. Are you excited? Remember, though, that people were excited about the prequel movies, and that turned out a bit complicated. So here today’s essay begins.

It all started in conversation with friends somewhere 10 years ago. I had watched the first of the new Star Wars prequels — excuse me, I had watched Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. But I hadn’t watched any of the others. General public sentiment was that the prequels were terrible, and, going on The Phantom Menace alone, I had to say I was disappointed. Not disastrously, though, and I had hopes for the rest: after all, it was obvious the effort George Lucas had put in to making that first prequel match the original trilogy in style.

So my view was that the two trilogies were basically the same sort of movie. I spoke with the group about that. Then it happened:

“Have you seen the other two?” “Well, no.” “Then don’t talk about it until you have.”

Of course. What was I thinking? It is literally impossible to have an opinion as an outsider. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the advertisements, watched the “making of” material, read reviews from informed experts, and followed conversations from everyday people, you can neither think nor speak of a creative work unless you have absorbed it from start to finish.

You know, like Twilight.

. . . People, this is why the Vampirely blog exists. You don’t have to roll around in poison ivy to get the impression that it is poisonous. And once you’ve torn yourself away from horrified fascination at that blog (do check it out if you haven’t), you may recognize this sort of statement as part of a larger double standard: “You must be an insider/outsider to be ALLOWED to speak,” with either format used depending on whom is speaking. I could go on yet another essay about THAT.

But I want to have the conversation that I missed 10 years ago. Because hey, guess what just happened? That’s right. I WATCHED THE OTHER TWO PREQUELS.

Thesis: The Star Wars prequel trilogy was made with the same standards as, and with great fidelity to, the original Star Wars trilogy

I’m not trying to convince you, unknown reader, that the prequels were any good: just that, if you think they were flawed, be advised the original trilogy was just as crippled with flaws. And I’m not trying to convince you that your beloved original trilogy was any bad: just that, if you think it was wondrous, be advised that the prequels were filled with as many wonders.

Follow me on a journey of discovery.

The essayist in the days before the prequels

I loved the original Star Wars movies. Ta da! I’m already on your side, aren’t I?

Except there’s no guarantee that you love the original trilogy. There are quite a few people who believe they were terrible. How can this be? Simple: people have different tastes, different preferences, and different mistakes they will forgive.

Have you ever seen, read, or performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The play ends with a remarkable play-within-a-play, a device for which William Shakespeare was rather famous, but one he put to surprising use here. He explicitly taught his audience the “right way” to deal with a play they didn’t like: to make it better in their head. To make excuses for the mistakes and help tell the story.

I was to find this important shortly.

On the arrival of The Phantom Menace

As with most people (except those who disliked the original trilogy; see above), I was excited to hear that George Lucas was going to fill out the trilogy of trilogies. And, wow! Look at that preview material! A light saber quarterstaff? Creative!

Somewhere around the release, I enjoyed a “making of” feature that they showed on TV, and it too was surprising. I was impressed — deeply impressed — with how dedicated they were on fidelity to the original trilogy. And there was a line about one specific detail of the movie that I only half-heard, and I’d really like to remember it better: something about “capturing the sneer.” I will return to this in a moment.

What did I think of the movie?

Wow, those computer animated characters were annoying. Yoda was so much more expressive as a puppet than as a 3-D model. There were stupid jokes where they didn’t belong and our beloved droids were just comic relief.

In the plot, it seemed things happened . . . just because they happened. I couldn’t feel like anything important was going on. And then, however much importance was placed on the light saber quarterstaff in the previews, they killed its wielder and got rid of the element I liked! Hopefully they had plans to make things more interesting into the future, because they didn’t have much left going for them.

Still . . .

There was something about “the sneer.” Watto, that slaver . . . it looked like he had a sneer scanned straight from the face of the bartender of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Did he? I can’t find any evidence online that this was a fact, but it stuck with me. There were other similarities, too.

Huh.

Time to re-watch the originals.

On the realization that the original trilogy was not given to us from the heavens

I enjoyed the original trilogy, but of course I had seen it most when I was a child. Eventually I got around to re-watching those three movies.

It was remarkable. For one, I was reminded that the original had jokes throughout. As a child, I perhaps had taken it too seriously, just as many children from a slightly earlier generation mistakenly thought that Batman and Get Smart were all serious.

I also saw more parallels than I ever realized. There was even a bit of an embarrassing moment for me. At the end of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader had his helmet removed, I found myself at a loss for words and exclaimed “It’s Anakin!” Well, yes, of course it was Anakin: but what I meant was that I felt an instant visual connection between that actor and the young child that George Lucas carefully found to represent him in The Phantom Menace.

I also saw the problems.

. . . Wow, but the original movies were flawed. Did you realize that? Yes, you probably did . . . unless you took William Shakespeare’s advice and made up for their own failures.

Consider:

You are in a snowspeeder on Hoth. You want to shoot down an Imperial Walker. What do you do?

If you’re a fan, then I’m sure you’ll immediately have an answer like this: “Their armor’s too powerful to get through, so first you have to topple them, sort of stretch out their neck. When you do that, the strained neck is a weak point where you can blast through their armor.”

Great. Then it’s a darned shame this “neck” stuff was never explained in the movie, isn’t it?

Seriously, go watch Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Do it. All you hear is somebody exclaim how their armor’s too powerful to get through, and then, a few moments later, someone blows up an Imperial Walker. If you blink at the wrong moment, you won’t even realize that the shot is fired at the stretched-out neck. YOU in the AUDIENCE have to piece together the explanation and make up for the flaws in the original. Or, as in the case for many of us, we small children never understood the plot anyway and we had to ask our parents why things happened.

Things happened . . . just because they happened.

Or how about content that not even fans can defend? Take Luke Skywalker’s training in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. You’ve heard this happen: the nervous laugh in the audience. Okay, so, he lowers the blast shield on his helmet and blocks the laser shots, but Mark Hamill’s acting is lacking. He just sort of wiggles the light saber prop around and then pops back up on his heels like a little child re-enacting the same scene. You simply cannot believe that he has learned anything about the Force, and, consistently, I’ve heard a disbelieving laugh from any audience with whom I shared the experience.

So where does this leave us?

At a good place for a break. I will allow a recess for you to digest the above, then it will be the return of the author in my next post. After all, there are a few more movies to consider together, and perhaps you need a moment to re-watch them before a new one comes out . . .

This blog is, ostensibly, to present online the writing and gaming musings of myself. As stated repeatedly, I possess spare material files on my computer where I get these ideas out of my head, and sometimes they provide also the inspiration for blog posts, like the lengthy four-parter lurking in that tag.

Once upon a time, I had a thought. It was prompted by one of my roommates. If it interests you enough to bring to greater fruition (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

My roommate saw online a discussion about warning future people that hazardous materials had been stored in a location. Given that the materials could remain hazardous for ages after the demise of all humanity, the warning would have to communicate to unknown civilizations with unknown standards.

One guess was to set massive durable metal spikes sticking at all angles out of the ground, hopefully communicating that nothing else should be built on the spot. Would this work? Who knew? Surely an entity could misunderstand anything. And then I started thinking . . .

Stonehenge.

What if we failed to understand the famous standing stones? Well, more than we already do. Imagine an ancient architect being transported to modern day, seeing the tourists pressing eagerly as close as they can, seeing the religious brethren performing ceremonies inside the rings, and recoiling in horror. “You fools! Horizontal repressing stones atop multiple uprising stones! What do you think we buried there?!”

I leave this thought with you.

This blog has had its share of news about my Kickstarter projects — because I’m in them, this is my blog, and I post about my writing and gaming. As discussed by Dave Morris, it can be very inefficient to fund a publishing project on Kickstarter. This has led me to wonder about other sorts of projects, such as videogames.

Videogames seem to do rather well on that site, particularly older properties from the 80’s and 90’s. Say, Shadowrun. Understandable, given that the people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s are now the young adults spending money on the internet. These digital projects have the advantage of lower “printing” costs (unless the creators will it otherwise) but still need to create a compelling “updated” version of classic content. For instance, Shadowgate (seems to be a theme here) was not promised as “the original game now on your newfangled computer,” but something dramatically expanded. If you’ve read my About page, you know this is what I’ve done for years.

My most recent non-Kickstarter posts were a game design where I developed a whole RPG world and system. Today I brainstorm a videogame project — not because I’m launching anything on Kickstarter, but because I feel like it.

I choose to renew the Temple of Apshai Trilogy.

This was a game from when I was growing up in the 80’s, an era where game mechanics were changing left and right. Long before “health” was standardized to “hit points” (and long before people forgot that a “hit point” was something you suffered, not something you had), Temple of Apshai had a “wounds percentage” that was influenced by multiple factors. You haggled over prices, and, if you looked closely, your loot heap just might include “a partridge in a pear tree.” The game introduced me to role-played character statistics (strength, constitution, et cetera) as well as to “donjons,” “salves,” “parlaying,” and, for that matter, “parrying.”

It’s surprisingly difficult to find a good link for it, though. The most in-depth pages seem to lack the attractive Commodore 64 graphics. However, beyond the graphics, what’s most relevant here is the text: the game came with a large booklet of role-playing-game-style descriptions of rooms, traps, treasures, and foes. Sometimes dramatic, sometimes comedic. Bringing the game back means a new writing project in addition to a careful design project.

As I’ve argued, a well-designed game explores its elements and mechanics fully. It’s possible to go too far and flood something with “filler,” yes, but there seems to be something in general gaming consciousness that leads people to say “Ugh, this game had such a good idea, but they didn’t do anything with it” or “Wow, they really took that idea and did everything they could.” It may be worthwhile to remember Lewis Carroll again:

“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'”

What I’d like to do, in this hypothetical world where I have the rights, the artists, and the programmers to create a videogame, is to resurrect Temple of Apshai and explore it fully. Here’s how. 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.

Step 1: Identify what the original has and where it’s incomplete

The original trilogy consists of three chapters: Temple of Apshai, Upper Reaches of Apshai, and Curse of Ra. The first contains four levels in a single theme, exploring the abandoned underground depths where once dwelled the followers of Apshai, the insect god. The second has four levels with unique art, each the domain of a character from the game world. The third is another single-themed area like the first, but moving on to an Egyptian theme.

The change to a “real-world” Egyptian theme means some fun content but nonetheless could seem out-of-place. New content should explore both the original themes and further “real-world” ones.

The characters utilized for Upper Reaches of Apshai are an odd mix. The game is known to include the Innkeeper, the basic character who tends to your needs and with whom you haggle for purchases, and three other adventurers: Olias the Dwarf, Lowenthal the Mage, and Benedic the Monk. This is four people, but Upper Reaches presents only three — the fourth is an unknown character named Merlis the Mage, whose home you visit instead of Lowenthal’s.

New content should include Lowenthal’s domain as well as other unique areas.

Your basic character statistics develop over the game, and, in at least one horrifying circumstance, lower: some enemies strike you with “a chill . . . ” and your constitution drops permanently.

New content should round out the possibilities for raising and lowering statistics. I only have limited information on the original’s scheme and would have to research this aspect further.

Step 2: Complete the original and expand it where appropriate

I propose that a Kickstarter project promise first to update the game to a modern engine with faithful graphics. Proving that it works would be essential. The text should appear in-game, certainly, and should also emphasize what is so special about this gaming approach: with text, you can draw attention to different senses. So, for instance, when a chamber has the odor of vanilla, the text would place this in bold. And fans of the original would know why this is alarming.

Then I propose unlocking new content in sequence: three more chapters, perhaps with the first unlocked from the start. This allows for a large amount of content available to gamers who wish to design their own adventures.

Beyond Apshai. A similar chapter to Upper Reaches of Apshai, with four unique areas based on characters within the game world. One is the home of Lowenthal the Mage, the missing classic character. A second is for a new druid character from the subsequent Wrath of Eire. A third is a smaller and more distant temple to the insect god, so some “classic Apshai content” would be present even if the project went no further (though the temple would be abandoned so as to maintain mystery about the doings of the cult). A possible fourth could be another area dedicated to Geb, God of the Earth, the patron of Benedic and his fellow monks. This could be appropriate as Geb is the only other (non-Egyptian) god to be so important in the series. Alternately, the fourth could be Egyptian so as to use said content further.

Wrath of Eire. Similar in principle to Curse of Ra, this chapter is a single-themed realm dedicated to Irish mythology. Or at least as much “Irish” as Curse of Ra is “Egyptian,” so it could have referential, ahistorical, and tongue-in-cheek things like serpent enemies. The prevalence of faery curses makes for excellent opportunities in lowering character statistics: a “horde of wee folk” could “twist your features into a grotesquery,” reducing your ego score (the statistic for influence and willpower). Leprechauns are a given, and of course pots of gold, not to mention emeralds (tongue-in-cheek) and clover.

Return to Apshai. This chapter is a direct continuation of Temple of Apshai. Newly-revealed depths in the cave system that the Apshaians excavated lead to more discoveries and more mysteries. The existing lore says the insects dwelled underground before the Apshaians ever settled here, and also that they may be making incursions elsewhere such as near Benedic’s Monastery — there could be plenty to uncover, both humanoid and not, in a subterranean world only partially carved by hand.

. . . And there is a pitch. Will it ever go online? I’m not involved in wrangling rights and I don’t have a development team, so for today it is but a design exercise. It is one I enjoyed contemplating, though, for the same reasons I enjoyed the other game worlds from my childhood (case in point: Lone Wolf), and for the reason that I love solving puzzles. Design is a long and complicated puzzle, and in the end all the best solutions are the fun ones.

Why not keep rambling? Last time I wrote the basics about a world from my spare story and game files, using character geometry to add humanity and some playable content. Mostly gang members to beat up. But that’s okay, since really I was testing loot tables for a post-apocalyptic world, so put two and two together and I have enough for a playtest with friends.

I didn’t explain the “shadow creatures,” though, which are supposedly representative of the “darkness” inside humanity. You know, the whole point of the thing: “Can the darkness ever truly leave our hearts?” Today I’ll explain those creatures.

So! Shadow creatures!

If the super-subtle you-don’t-actually-know-this-from-the-start point of the thing is that these monsters are connected to our own human failings, then it’s time to get symbolic. Tons of people have taken the “seven deadly sins” and tried to manifest them in people or beasts, like the artist Joe England and his rabbit version. (Please take it as meaningful that I present this and only this.) For a videogame, it would be more like the monsters in The Suffering, which came about when certain foolhardy individuals asked Stan Winston Studio “Can you, I dunno, design monsters that are symbolically connected to means of execution?”

But I want human failings, so I go back to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and the Inferno. Not his poem, though: my own. After devouring the Inferno in high school, I took it upon myself to write a new one, and the result was the longest poem I ever wrote. I think it even sounded good in a couple places. Not all the “sins” were amenable to game adaptation, so today I choose these five: betrayal, exploitation, greed, sadism, and zealotry.

I’m neither Joe England nor Stan Winston, so I don’t really know how they look, but probably each beast is a scrawny/hulking/gangly/muscular brute/wretch of some sort. In dark colors. More important is how they behave. They are intelligent, most act slowly and deliberately upon spotting prey, and all use a thematically-appropriate means of approach. They will gladly kill and eat you, but each also has a special way of “catching” you: if you succumb to their themed failing (“sin”) while one is hunting you, then you’re in trouble. The very next instant you stand in a shadow, you will fall through reality. The only way to avoid this fate is to kill that monster while remaining in the light. Obviously, this morality-themed “catching” mechanic works best in a pencil-and-paper RPG, with fleshed-out details for what happens when you’ve “vanished into the shadows,” how you get back out, and what lingers afterward. I’m thinking effects like Wizard’s Twilight from Ars Magica or Frag from Continuum.

Anyway, to log those creature details. 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.

Betrayal.
Behavior: Lure prey into attractive-looking ambushes to kill and eat them. Prepare dead ends with lots of light so they look safe. Open doors and windows to provide tempting escape routes, then make noises (subtle or scary) to channel victims along.
Catches those who: Leave behind companions in a fight. Lie to get ahead when cooperation is possible.

Exploitation.
Behavior: Set humans to kill each other so as to feast on their remains. Identify those who don’t wish to be noticed (intruders in hostile territory) and make a loud commotion to ruin their stealth, then hide while fighting ensues. Unlock points of entry in a gang’s lair to leave a route for intruders.
Catches those who: Send others to face risks they refuse to face. Use a human shield.

Greed.
Behavior: Devour human food and steal their supplies, then wait patiently for the victims to weaken before striking. Learn what humans value and quietly raid stashes while defenders are out. Locate further resources and despoil them if victims approach.
Catches those who: Sacrifice a companion for material gain. Destroy anything or anyone because “If I can’t have this, no one will.”

Sadism.
Behavior: Use hit-and-run tactics, crippling victims before granting the finality of death. Engage in direct assault, switching from target to target quickly after a strike. Target both humans and their supply stashes, and in the case of food and resources either devour or despoil them.
Catches those who: Kill for amusement. Injure an individual or destroy resources to “make a point.”

Zealotry.
Behavior: Bluntly assault prey, destroying the victims themselves and all signs of humanity’s presence. Use no subtlety, tearing down walls and throwing furniture to keep victims terrified and in their place. Deface corpses to the same end.
Catches those who: Kill for a vendetta, even against the shadow creatures. Evict companions based on ideology.

(“Kill a surrendering opponent” should be in there somewhere, but I’m not sure where yet.)

I won’t write any dialogue for these monsters, but effectively the above themes could be one-dimensional character geometry. Simple enough. And if this were a printed RPG product, then the “catching” mechanic would be part of the basic draw: “Be judged by your actions” and such on the back cover of the book.

Sure, players are pretty good at figuring out criteria and would try to avoid the “sins.” Good game design here must present a cost-benefit analysis. Many unethical actions are beneficial in a post-apocalyptic world, which gamers know as they’ve seen movie “heroes” be led to betray their friends, or played games where the system explicitly let them use a human shield (“exploitation”). The related costs can appear low or manageable since a creature needs to be present before crime results in punishment, and creature frequency is impacted by eclipse status. If this were a pencil-and-paper RPG, perhaps character generation could demand the player choose one flaw they must risk exposing: perhaps an RPG character must have tendencies towards betrayal, exploitation, greed, sadism, or zealotry, just as Unknown Armies has a Passion system.

So what then about my ethical obligations as a game designer? I keep saying that “games are culture,” and apparently right now I’m trying to get gamers into a “morality play” of some sort. That’s a topic that deserves more attention, and I reserve it for next time.

The blog part

April 27, 2013

This is the blog part of my portfolio, and this is the first post. Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Richard S. Hetley, and if you click on any of the navigation links (except “Welcome,” I suppose) then you’ll learn more about me than this post ever could tell you. I’m a writer, editor, game designer, dungeonmaster, psychologist, vision scientist, computer programmer, and cook, though no one pays me to cook. Today I am also a blogger.

I come from a family of those who are good with words and clever with ideas. I also come from a background of extreme cynicism toward social media. So as I “launch into blogging,” I find myself thinking to a few years ago, when my mother (fully cognizant of meaning) observed:

“Today I saw a magazine article about ‘How to develop your web blog.’ I couldn’t help but think this was a bad idea. If I were a spider, and my web had developed a blog, I would be none too happy.”

Wisdom most appropriate, I think.