Some More Talk on Concept and Setting

What up interwebs, Chaos here.

So I’d thought I’d do another section on concept and then talk about my favorite design element: setting.

MULTIPLE CONCEPT DESIGN

Something I didn’t really talk about in the last post, as I was addressing core ideologies was something that I think is quite pivotal in game design: Multiple concept design.

Multiple concept design is just that, it’s designing with multiple concepts in mind. It doesn’t stray at all from what I was talking about in my last blog, Theme vs. Concept, but it expands upon it. As noted in that blog, the concept of your game is a huge part of the equation that equals direction. If you don’t really have a concept, you’re just coming up with creative ideas. They may apply, they may not.

But when you start getting into complexity, you start having multiple concepts floating around. These concepts are like a roadmap for your design. Let’s talk about my game Runestorm for a minute in regards to this, just because I’ve already mentioned the other two in posts regarding concept.

Runestorm has several important concepts to it. The first and foremost is that it’s a tabletop RPG. That’s a biggun. The Runestorm in and of itself is a concept. Another of its core concepts is that I want it to separate combat class from non-combat class. I personally don’t like linking your skill sets to your combat type as there’s a plethora of examples of highly skilled and trained people who are also combat gods. Being multi-talented shouldn’t be exclusive, it should be the norm. Especially for a game type where the whole premise is that you are better than the average joe. That’s what level one (or starting character for games like White Wolf) is for basically every RPG out there… the distinction that you are no longer a standard dude or dudette in a town. You are something special. Bye bye, average joe; hello, hero of the ages. There has to be a check and balance to this, because no matter what your player may say, being good at EVERYTHING takes away from the experience. But more on that in another blog.

Another really big concept of the game for me is having multiple forms of magic. I never liked magic all coming from one place, so I adored DnD’s approach of divine vs arcane. But I wanted to take it a step further, so I have (yet another blog).

So you can see, there’s four concepts right there. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms game Irish and I are working on has the lowest amount of concepts yet, but that’s because we took three concepts and made it into our end goal concept from the get go. Normally I’d separate and tier multiple concepts just to keep myself in some sense of order but we went a different route with that one.

Which brings me to end goal concepts.

Whenever you are designing a game that has a lot of moving parts you have to have that direction of your end goal clearly defined. There’s a ton and a half of things that can be done in a boardgame, card game, etc that are cross purpose. The mechanics and implementations are interchangeable. Something simple like health is a good example. Arkham Horror uses a health mechanic on both its monsters and the investigators you play in the game. Magic the Gathering uses it as a win condition and for creature health. Dungeons and Dragons uses health for its players and its monsters. And of course every video game in existence where you fight or take part in battles of some kind use health.

And you can keep going with that. Primary components in Arkham and MtG are cards and tokens; randomness is pivotal in all of the aforementioned games… the lists are quite extensive. With so many concepts, ideas, mechanics and themes shared across mediums, its extremely important to have the end goal concept already detailed. Again this goes back to the whole thought process of aiding in cutting. You have to know when and where to cut stuff from your game to streamline and overall increase its fun factor. And having that end goal concept is super important to this. Not to mention to setting your mentality on the right path. If you know you’re making a card game, you will automatically screen stuff from your creative process that would be used in a tabletop game. Like dice rolling for instance.

Now, I’m not saying this is always a good thing. One of my favorite card games EVER used dice rolling: Battletech. Nothing says you CAN’T design outside the box. On the contrary, I feel you have to, to some degree. But being able to look back and go, “Yeah, that’s more a boardgame style mechanic,” can be immensely helpful. Again, it’s all about direction, and making sure you don’t tangent off down some sideroad TOO far.

Queue the segue!

One of the major concepts I think a game can have is its setting. But I never lump setting with concept. Huh? Yeah, I know, I’m being a little contradictory there.

But think about it… concepts are directional core ideas that establish the general flow of and goal of what your design is. Setting definitely does this. Only it’s way larger than a core idea. Or it should be, in my opinion. Yeah you can say, “My game is a high fantasy setting,” and that can be one of its concepts. But why would you? There is so much MORE. So I like to separate the two and have my core concepts, my themes and my setting.

SETTING

There’s not a lot that can be said on what setting is, but there’s quite a bit that can be said on what it does. Obviously setting is just that; it’s the setting for what ever your creative design is. Everything has a setting in game design, from high fantasy to modern supernatural (the latest craze). Zombie apocalypse and Post apocalyptic are both common settings as is the more generic sci-fi, mystery and historical. All of these are general descriptors that tell you in a nutshell what the setting is.

But why stop there. Setting is your chance to really put pen to paper; to come up with fantastic ideas and flex that creative muscle. Mechanics and rules are hard to create where you’re not borrowing from somewhere else. There are just so many core things that HAVE to be present or it turns people off. Not because it was a bad idea, but because we’ve been groomed by the current monsters of our culture to expect certain things out of our games. And when they aren’t there, we nerdrage. Setting is the one place where you have carte blanche to just go WILD. Want mecha-zombies? Sure! Want chainsaws attached to rifles? Go for it! Want a thoroughly detailed world of magic incorporated into modern times? Yes!

The key here is to run wild but keep enough of a semblance of what you are designing so that you aren’t creating some crazed behemoth of a setting you have to reign in to get anything done with. Good setting design incorporates seamlessly with the game design. And vice versa, what separates good game design from great game design (for me at least) is the integration of setting into concept and theme. It’s a snake eating its own tail, but it’s perfectly possible and not as hard to do as it may sound.

Let’s take two brief examples: Skyrim and Arkham Horror.

There’s not a lot to say about Skyrim that hasn’t been said since its release. But for me, what stands apart from all the praise is that Skyrim’s setting, mechanics and implementations all fit. They created a language for the dragons, they gave it a history, they made it playable… yes, yes, YES. That’s great design. You get pulled into the world. All the abilities, mechanics and presentation of the game tie directly into the setting. Skyrim’s setting is almost more important than anything else. They designed the game around the setting and designed the setting around the game. And it’s a gorgeous example of what happens when that process is at the peak of its ability.

The same is true of Arkham Horror, a board game set in H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods universe. Arkham Horror again sets all its abilities mechanics and presentation to tie directly into the setting. From going insane (a hallmark of Lovecraft’s works) to almost unbeatable battles (yet another nod to his style) they captured in board game form the feel of that setting. Now in this case the setting was well and thoroughly designed long before the game, but the game incorporates that setting so seamlessly that it feels like they were made for each other. I’ve spent many an hour playing this game, and anyone else who has played can tell you: you need some hours for it!

As I briefly stated above, what is happening with both of those games is very simple: their settings are fully fleshed out. Cthonic mythos, as its usually referred to around here, has been around for, like, ninety years. And Skyrim’s design team used university professors to help with some of their design (if I’m remembering the article I read on it correctly). They had every detail worked out.

Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re an independent, solo designer like I am you don’t have ninety years or a team of professionals helping you along. Regardless, care and attention must be taken to your setting. You don’t have to do what I’ve done with say, Runestorm, where I’ve fleshed out a world with like ten thousand years of history, but you should do a brainstorm or two (or three).

Sit down one day and go ok, what exactly IS in my setting? If you’re fantasy, are you high or low fantasy? What major characters might be around? Unique monsters or locales? Just ask some base questions, flesh out some current events. You don’t have to spend months on it, but if you spend a couple of hours a week for say maybe a month, you might be pleasantly surprised by the design choices and creative ideas that get spawned simply because of some setting concept you thought of.

I’ll end this blog with an example of creating mechanic from setting:

When I was designing the world for Runestorm, I decided I wanted Elementals. But after looking at my bestiary, I realized I didn’t like it just being plain old been around since AD&D Elementals. I wanted some more options. So I decided on creating tiers of Elementals. That’s when the idea of the Primals came around. Primals are the purest embodiment of an elemental force. Whether it’s the typical air and water types or the less typical blood and lightning. I wanted them to be powerful. But I realized that as I was designing these Primals, that I couldn’t use them too frequently. They needed to manifest only when the purity of their element allowed them to gain the power to breach the veil, a mystical barrier between the real world and theirs.

This led me to thinking that their should be almost godlike beings that exist in the most pure form of the elements themselves: air, earth, water and fire. These would eventually become known (tentatively) as Grand Primals. The lesser beings would become Primals and finally there would be the lowest tier, Elementals. But this took away from Elementals entirely because while on paper an Elemental and a Primal were identical, it felt like I’d changed the identity. So I gave Elementals something special over Primals: sentience.

The Grand Primals possess this as well, but the incarnations of the elements, Primals, are just that… primal. They don’t think or feel, they just exist in the form of their element. A Blood Primal will seek destruction, a lightning one will spawn lightning storms, an ice one might bring a cold snap… they are slaves to their primal instincts. So even though they are more powerful, they are uncontrollable. They just are. Like a force of nature.

By doing this I now had three distinct tiers and flavors of my elementals. The culmination of which lead me to the creation of one of my class concepts: Oathbound.

Because I had given sentience to my Elementals, it made me think of what they might want to do. I decided on the thing that really keeps them apart is that unlike Primals they don’t have the power to manifest in the real by themselves. They must be summoned or piggy back on a Primal’s manifestation. So taking a nod from other settings, I decided that they could not only be summoned, but could form pacts with those who summon them in exchange for power. These people are known as Oathbound.

The Elementals’ goal is simple: experience the real. And by granting their power to a “host” they can experience the real through that host. It’s usually benign, other than the characteristics of the elemental tend to blend into that of the hosts. Fire elementals, for example, tend to make their pact bearers more aggressive and hot-tempered for instance. There are also tell-tale signs based on how long the pact has been around: tinting of the skin, changing of eye color, etc. The problem that can arise for the Oathbound is a matter of will: if you make a pact with an elemental whose will is far greater than yours, over time it can subsume your identity. This isn’t an intentional thing, the elemental isn’t trying to eat your soul or anything; its just a side-effect. Regardless, if the elemental succeeds, you cease to be and your body basically becomes a walking vessel for the elemental. Which is why Oathbound aren’t everywhere. You have to have the strength of will to not be consumed by the very thing you are trying to work with.

I really liked the feel of one of the magic types running around was people who had formed pacts with elementals. And so I made two classes to incorporate that feel. One invokes the elemental directly, like a companion, and uses the magical power of the elemental as powerful spells and effects. I called these Summoners. The other invokes the elemental indirectly, instead channeling the power through powerful imbuements to themselves and their equipment. These were dubbed Channellers.

Names not withstanding (they are all tentative at the moment), I adore the feel and implementation of these classes. It ties in wonderfully with my world and makes for great flavor for the class backstories. It also set forth the tone for my class design: a singular power backstory with two classes each. I currently have five power backstories for a total of ten classes.

But more importantly, I stumbled upon the entire concept by working on my setting.

See you next blog, where I address the last of my intro blogs to design and discuss the two A’s: Accessible and Addictive.

-Chaos

Theme vs Concept

*Note: Yay I’m back and with a working computer!

Honeymoon was awesome. Lazy, but awesome. Of course though right before we left (like literally, 6 hours before we left, right before bedtime) my laptop crashed and was essentially unusable. So that kind of sucked. But I’m home now, honeymoon is over, computers are working and its back to writing blogs! So without further ado, here we go!

One of the first things I did wrong when I started designing was confusing the ideologies of Theme and Concept. For a little while they were interchangeable for me and I kind of lumped them together into one big mass of thoughts.

It took me a number of years before I finally got serious enough about game design to really look at what these two words meant and how the impacted my decisions when it came to design. As usual when I’m defining terms, I’ll start with the basics and google the definitions. But first let’s address the proper terminology.

When I say “theme” in regards to design, I’m short-handing it (verbally and otherwise) from “design theme”. This is an actual term and it differs GREATLY from plain old theme. And when I use the term “concept”, I’m referring to… well concept. There is a concept design and a design concept but I don’t use those terms (more on that later). Depending on who you ask they’re interchangeable as it’s obviously just the reversal of word order, but in my amateur opinion, they envelop two completely different things.

However, the base definitions are great starting points, so first let’s define theme and concept and then address their design based breathren.

Let’s jump in now, shall we?

THEME

Theme
 : the main subject that is being discussed or described in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.
 : a particular subject or issue that is discussed often or repeatedly
 : the particular subject or idea on which the style of something (such as a party or room) is based

Courtesy of http://www.merriam-webster.com/

So if we look at the three different definitions of theme, we find a general underlying idea that the theme is the main focus of a work. Creative or otherwise. Some quick examples would be a book having the theme of redemption or a movie having the theme of good triumphing over evil. They are generic ideas that are reinforced throughout the work and give something akin to a spine to that work.

Every creative work has a theme. I suppose you COULD argue that, but for the sake of not delving into devil’s advocate territory, let’s just stick with that blanket statement. This is where the idea of design theme comes into play.

If we shift gears to http://www.businessdictionary.com/ we have the actual term design theme:

Design Theme
: Recurrent, underlying objective that ensures the overall consistency in the design of a family of products, their packaging, and/or the advertising campaign.

I’m sure the more areas you look, the more you’re going to find, but as I use these definitions just as quick jumping off points, let’s stop there. I’m too lazy to look past the first page of results in google anyways😉

The important thing to note here is that the definitions are basically the same, though the design theme definition is a bit more specific. The design theme is the subject that ENSURES consistency, whereas theme in general is just the main subject.

This distinction matters a lot in game design and it’s why I initially was confusing concept with theme. I was always under the impression that the concept of something was its overall idea or subject matter; basically what it dealt with. I thought a theme was the same thing.

Theme and Concept are the one-two punch combination that gets you started in the right direction for game design. When you decide on a theme, what you are doing is coming up with the core idea that you want the entirety of the design to sync up with. Let’s take my Dragon CCG as an example:

The game is a two player dueling collectible card game set in a high fantasy setting where you take the role of a hero who is trying to defend his kingdom from the onslaught of a terrible dragon.

So what’s the theme? Its heroes defending their home against a powerful enemy. Notice that I didn’t say high fantasy or dragon in that statement; because that’s not the theme. That’s the design and the setting, but the theme is much more simplistic. It’s heroes vs enemy. It’s important for me to keep that in mind when I design the game because that theme has to carry the games mechanics and rules so that it doesn’t lose that feel. If I create a Dragon CCG that feels like a monster brawl, then I’ve strayed from my theme.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you read my intro to the Dragon CCG, it was formerly a Godzilla CCG. And the theme of that was initially a giant monster stomping through cities on his way to fight another giant monster. Dumbed down it was a monster brawl game. You might also note that I used the word theme quite liberally to refer to a couple of different things. I take no responsibility for my amateur use of the word showing!
But ANYWAYS… That theme didn’t fit with the mechanics and rules I’d designed. Nor did it fit with the setting (which I sometimes stupidly use theme to refer to, old habits and all). I could have scrapped the game entirely and started over and try to stick to my theme better, but it made more sense in this case to shift the theme to something that fit what I had design, then tweak that design to the new theme.

CONCEPT

Concept
: an idea of what something is or how it works

Courtesy of http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Concept is an annoying word for me. It’s annoying because I want to use it ALL the time to refer to stuff it may or may not ACTUALLY refer too.

Sigh.

If we look at the book definition though, it’s pretty clear cut: it’s a specific idea. Think of it like a thesis statement for those damn persuasive essays you had to write in school. If someone says, “Hey, cool game, what is it?” Your short answer is the concept. Or at least my short answer is. I’d answer that question by saying, “Oh it’s a collectible card game based on dragons.”

Bingo. That’s the concept. More specifically it’s a collectible card game. Or trading card game, if you prefer.

See how DRASTICALLY that differs from what my theme is? The concept is the base description of what it is you’re doing. In web design, a concept is just that: a base idea of what you want that website to look like. Now when you do a quick layout of what you want the website to look like… boom, it’s now a design concept. Mockups are often put in this category. Concept art also uses this model. You do some roughs of an idea, develop the roughs, pick one, redo it so it looks cool, etc. There’s a generic process but ultimately those first few steps are the design concept. When you see a storyboard for a film, you’re looking at a design concept.

So what’s the design concept of a card game? Hell for that matter, what’s the concept design of a card game? Is there one? Speaking of which, remember when I said I view those as two different things? Here’s why:

A design concept for me is a specific term that basically means mockup. If I was to work for an auto manufacturer and they asked me for a design concept of the next great car, they’d get a mockup of that car. Just like the comments on website design earlier. For my own peace of mind, I tend to just use the terms layout and mockup. My CCG design concepts are the card layout and the game layout. So I just call them that. Feel free to correct me if I’m doing some egregious sin here.

So what’s concept design? I read somewhere a long time ago that it’s basically the job that creates concepts. If you are the one making the concepts to solve problems in business and such, you’re involved in concept design. It’s like a job title. Let’s take the car example again. If the same company said “hey, we have a problem with our fuel efficiency and we need a solution,” I would then be involved with concept design; trying to come up with a concept that fixes the problem.

Anyways, as you probably have figured out by now, theme vs concept is a pretty substantial and simple difference. All the more reason I felt like a moron for confusing the two for so long. Fortunately I don’t’ tend to talk to people with design degrees so no one’s called me out on my mistakes yet.

THEME AND CONCEPT

Theme and concept for me are a chicken or the egg conundrum. I don’t think you really have to start with one or the other. Hell, I’ve started with mechanics before and built a theme and concept around that! But as I’ve designed more and more, I do really feel like the “proper” way is to sit down and develop a theme and concept first. It just helps with direction and coherency. And ultimately I think that’s what they do for your design. Your theme is the coherency and your concept is the direction. This was a very important step in my design with my buddy Irish in regards to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms board game.

The first thing we did was establish our concept: we wanted a resource management based, strategic, war board game. The theme was a bit more interesting a situation because we already had a setting and a concept. The theme had to come from both of those. What ended up happening was something interesting:

Our theme was our concept.

Wait, what? Yup, that’s right. They were one and the same. But think about it, that kind of makes sense. Sometimes that’s going to happen. Hell oftentimes it probably happens. Our overall theme in this game is resource management based, strategic war. There’s not really anything else we can put there. We can dumb it down to risk-style board game, but we REALLY wanted resource management to be a MAJOR cohesive theme.

So I guess you could say resource management is our theme, and strategic war board game is our concept, but now you start to see why I blur the lines a lot.

Either way, deciding on the concept and the theme allowed us to start making mechanics that made sense. Because let’s face it, creating is capital F fun. And you can get carried away, making tons of mechanics and rules and all kinds of crazy stuff that you just come up with on a whim or a creative binge. And it’s all amazing. All of it. Yes, ALL. No, don’t you argue. All of it, Kevin. All of it.

But you can’t put everything you come up with into your game. It would make less sense then an acid tripping monkey performing sign language. I don’t know where that came from, ignore that.
Anyways, you can’t do it. You have to cut. A lot. Keep those ideas! You never know when they will fit elsewhere, but you HAVE. TO. CUT.

And that’s where having a pre-established theme and concept help a lot. Setting too. All of these things are guidelines as to what you can/should keep or not.

Let’s see, this is a war game, so we aren’t going to be concerned with the murder mystery mechanic. Gone.

Resource management… ok we aren’t concerned about collecting card sets. We are managing resources, not collecting cards. Gone.

Three kingdoms era setting… ok, ok no bazooka units… goddammit.

See how this works? Now I’ll get into setting in a different blog post, but you get the idea. Anything that helps you maintain coherency and direction is your friend. Anything that gives you a jumping off point is your friend. Put the two together and you get theme and concept, your best buddies when starting game design.

Just don’t do what I did and use them interchangeably!

-Chaos

(b)Romance of the Three Kingdoms Intro

So my buddy the Irish S.O.B. (who happens to live with me) is one of my best friends ever. Wait… this is the internet. Best. Bro. EVAR!

Cough, cough.

Anyways, Irish and I have been in the gaming scene together for the entirety of our friendship. We met at a White Wolf LARP out in Mel-boring (Melbourne), Florida. And we quickly discovered that we tend to fuel each other’s creativity. It would take years and years of growing up, fights, refusing to speak to each other, etc. before we could get to the point of being able to create something together. We got there though, and the baby that’s always been in our minds has been to do a strategy based board game.

We started one maybe 10 years ago when he was fresh out of high school and I was like a year into college. It was fun but WAY WAY WAY complicated and it never really left the R&D stage. When he moved in with me several months ago, we decided to revitalize the concept. Only this time with a theme: Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Irish LOVES the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. I don’t blame him, it’s pretty fantastic. And yes, we’re both Dynasty Warriors fans but we’re not THAT kind of Rot3K fans. He’s actually read the book and I’ve always been partial to the strategy series of Rot3K. So while my knowledge is fairly limited as I’ve not read the book, only googled various pieces of information, I know quite a bit of the general over-arching timeline. Irish just knows it all, hehe.

As typical Generation X-ers we decided on a plan for design, then never followed it. As a matter of fact, we had only the basest of ideas up until earlier this week. We knew we wanted a strategy war game… tons of progress, eh?

You may have noticed, if you follow my blog at least, that I don’t have any picture for this intro. That’s because we are so early in the design stages that I haven’t begun conceptualization yet. Which is good. It will definitely be the slowest designing project I currently am working on, but it is also the one I can rely on for real-time blogging from start to finish. The other games I’m designing already have a firm foundation, theme, concept and design. They just need to be tweaked, tested and polished. Rot3K is a brand new thing, so in lieu of the big intro to the game, here’s what we worked on in our first design meeting.

Concepts

So the biggest thing about making a game, is to determine the concepts you want used in that game. What I mean by that is what do you want the game to revolve around. Let’s take a popular example of a game: Magic the Gathering.

MtG is quite possibly the most successful card game ever. I won’t quote that, but it was kind of the first giant.  A giant that remains, I might add. So many games have come and gone, yet MtG flourishes. The World Championships are huge, with big payouts. It’s a true gamer’s sport. And it’s what many card games have based themselves on, at least mechanically, and have aspired to be. But it had to start somewhere, and that foundation was concepts.

So, let’s take a quick look at the concepts involved (no particular order, they are equally important):

My Magic the Gathering Core Six Concepts

1) Card Game – This is the initial concept, of which everything else derives.

2) Customizable/Trading – Trading cards was a big thing at that time, and the concept of a trading card GAME was relatively new. I think their may have been one or two TCGs before Magic, but I don’t honestly remember. But either way, it was something fresh and new. It allowed players to make their own decks and trade for cards they needed or wanted to get there.

3) PvP – they wanted it to be a dueling game, competitive. You versus the other guy in a grudge match. Again, I don’t remember if multiplayer was part of the initial design, but it was quickly added regardless.

4) Flavorful (High Fantasy) – one might argue that this is a theme (my next blog will go in-depth as to my views on theme vs concept) but in actuality, this was a concept of the game. It’s evolved into a variety of other “genres” but at its core its high fantasy. Would magic have worked as well if it was science set to a sci-fi setting? Who knows, but this design choice was one of the biggest and most important decisions.

5) Strategic – this wasn’t going to be a simple game with a simple strategy. It wasn’t like War or solitaire. It wasn’t even like spades or hearts. It took the concept of strategy to the chess level in card format. This was probably the biggest concept, even if Richard Garfield wasn’t necessarily identifying it as such at the time it’s the hallmark of MtG.

6) The two A’s: Addictive and Accessible.  I grouped them together because for me, they are intrinsically linked in design. It’ll take me a paragraph or twenty to address this last point. I’ll do that in my next blog post.

So with those six base concepts in mind, they built an empire. Literally. Magic is the card game empire. Not that there aren’t some great competitors out there. But I don’t know of any other card game with the Pro Player aspect that Magic has.

Now let’s take a quick gander at the concepts Irish and I have decided on for our game. You’ll notice they don’t vary much from MtG’s concepts and where they do I’ll explain.

My Romance of the Three Kingdoms Core Six Concepts

1) Board Game – Again, this is the initial concept.

2) Resource Management – The basic flaw of a board game is that there isn’t really a good way to make it “customizable”. It’s true. Yeah you CAN make it have expansion packs that have randomized components, but you’re just going to annoy your player base. Board games aren’t about random booster packs and rare components. They’re about the experience of the game. The immersion. TCG’s are BASED around trading, collecting and rarity. Board games aren’t. Maybe one day I’ll look at a design for a TBG (trading board game, just coined that; it’s mine now) but for now let’s keep to the traditional expectations of the player base. All inclusive. So what makes it interesting? Beyond what I’ve already described? Resource Management, that’s what. And I don’t mean like monopoly style. I mean real, in-depth, resource management. The kind that makes or breaks your armies because its as much a part of the strategy as how you wage war. And I think we’ve got a great way to do it without bogging the game down or making it tedious… more on that later.

3) PvP – again this is intrinsically tied to what kind of game we are making. So why even list it as a concept, you ask? Because if we were making a Co-operative game that used an autonomous engine as the “enemy” (such as Arkham Horror does) then PvP wouldn’t be a concept! Co-op would be. We toyed around with the idea of including a single player mode where you had to deal with historical events and survive battles, or even a co-op mode. But ultimately this game screams to be PvP so PvP it is.

4) Identity – This one kind of rides alongside being flavorful. But with a different focus. We aren’t designing the world or the setting, it already exists. So being flavorful in our setting is kind of a given. So we wanted something more evolved than just flavor. So we have chosen identity. Most games, you don’t have an identity. You are random dude or dudette doing random stuff that applies to your game. There’s been an increasing number of games that give identity to the players in the form of characters they can play. Characters with living, breathing backstories. That’s what we wanted. So when you sit down to play our war game, you’re not playing a faction or a country or a clan. You’re playing motherfucking Cao Cao of Wei. No go stomp on some Wu and Shu soldiers.

5) Strategic  – much like any real war game, we want strategy to be our highlight. After all, the premise is that you are waging war in the Three Kingdoms era. It’s all about the unification of China under one banner. That means war and war means strategy!

6) The two A’s – This is a gimme. If you’re game isn’t accessible it damn well BETTER be addictive and unique. But a safer bet is that its just addictive and accessible. Period.

So why did we follow MtG’s concepts so closely? Well,  we didn’t. At least not intentionally. I didn’t even notice how close they were until I was planning this blog. I thought it was kind of interesting that they lined up like that. My disclaimer is that I’m probably over-simplifying these things and am an amateur designer; I’ve read no real literature on it and have no training. But I can grin and pretend I know what I’m doing when such a side by side exists!

So fun side-by-sides aside (too many sides!), this is for me the first thing you need to do when designing a game. Next up on the agenda for design of Rot3K: theme and mechanics!

Alright, I’ll stop yacking and look for my next post to address the concept of the two A’s.

-Chaos

Ariel: A short story set in Runestorm

In the wake of talking about Runestorm’s setting and a bit about the backdrop, I wanted to write a short story about one of the consequences of the Runestorm on Eire. It’s a little dark, but it will probably be one of the short stories that I use in the core rulebook to separate chapters. Leave comments on what you think, and whether you want more of these stories in my blog!
-Chaos

Ariel

“Noooo!” Daria screamed, fighting desperately in the iron grip of one of the war priests. “Please! She’s just a baby! You can’t!”

It was barely dawn. They hadn’t seen it coming. They couldn’t have. It happened all so fast. A shrill cry of fear from Ariel’s room had woken Daria and Christof from slumber. They had run out in nothing but nightclothes and were immediately intercepted and restrained by the Order of the Cleansing Light.

For holy men, they were terrifying. They wore nothing but cowled robes and gleaming armor. You couldn’t see their faces, only the gauntleted hands that held finely crafted and enchanted weaponry. The sigils markined them as the devoted of Citadel emblazoned upon brooch, buckle, shield and tabard. Daria and Christof screamed as they were pulled outside and forced to their knees in front of their modest farmhouse. Two of the powerful men held their precious Ariel as she cried and screamed for her parents.

“I am Jeric Lightbringer and I represent His Holiness, Lord Arturis,”said the leader. “You know the law, and it is absolute, ma’am. I am truly sorry for your loss.” His voice was compassionate yet cold, almost sterile.

“Please, we will do anything, anything!” Daria begged. The man ignored her pleas.

“Daria, we knew this would happen and we must relent ourselves to the will of the Gods,” Christof said, turning to her. “There is nothing we can do but pray for her soul.”
Daria stared at her husband in shock at his betrayal.

“How dare you!” she hissed at him. “That’s your daughter! OUR daughter!”

Daria broke down, sobbing uncontrollably as Christof simply looked away. It broke his heart, but he knew that they could do nothing. He cursed the fates that had let this happen to his happy family. Tears slid hotly down his cheek at the sound of his wife’s broken cries. He gazed up at his lovely Ariel. The leader began the rite.

“In the budding light of Citadel’s grace and the order he has bestowed upon us, we bring judgment to those who threaten that order. We bring judgment to the chaos, to the tainted,” Jeric intoned. “We forgive you for that which is beyond your control, child. Go willingly into the light, cleansed of your corruption and embrace your God’s peace.”

Christof knelt in disbelief. How could this be happening to them? It seemed like a terrible dream. He had been right, they knew this was coming. That dark knowledge that they lived on borrowed time plagued his dreams, his nightmares. He knew they plagued his wife as well. He saw the signs in her beautiful face. It was etched with lines from crying herself to sleep and theonce vibrant gaze of her eyes dulled weary from what little sleep she was able to obtain. Even her clothes had been more rumpled and disheveled as she went about her duties with only half a mind on her task. Christof didn’t blame her. He had done the same. They both knew what neither could say. It was only a matter of time.

“Mommy! Daddy! What’s going on?” Ariel cried, desperately struggling against the two men holding her. “I want my Mommy and Daddy!”

“Be at peace, child. Be at peace,” one of the men holding her said.

Barely of ten winters, Ariel had been struck by a bolt of azure lightning many months ago. The air had been hot, the sky clear. It was in the middle of the longest drought in the history of the Eastlands, and it laid low the harvest. Long hours were spent in the fields, tilling and using what meek water reserves were given in a vain attempt to save their crops. There had been no sign of storm nor sign of rain or wind. There was nothing but hot sun and dry air. Yet, still a bolt had come down from the heavens, seemingly from the Gods themselves. It had struck their only child and beloved daughter, Ariel. When they ran to her side, she was unconscious, a garish wound of charred flesh straight through her chest, opposite her heart. She was still alive, but would not wake.

The doctors of three different villages came, offering their services for free. But they could not heal the wounds. The priest had prayed for her, but even his clerical magic could not heal the wounds. Daria and Christof had resigned themselves to a grim and tragic fate.

At least until the morning they woke up and saw their angel standing in the middle of the fields, looking back at them. Ariel had breathed out slowly, her cherubic face turned up in a wide grin. Blue energy coiled and licked at her darkly tanned skin. With a cry of joy, Ariel danced across the vast field of her parents’ farm, singing and skipping, tracing her fingers through the air in an intricate pattern. As if acting on pure instinct, Ariel channeled the power, barely contained, and as she wove her way through the farm. She conjured cool, clean water from her small fingertips, dousing every plant that needed it. She bubbled and bounced all over, constantly tracing those lines of power in the air and causing rain to fall wherever she went. Ariel had come running back to them all smiles and child-like joy.

Christof and Daria stood, stunned, looking on from their porch at the pure excitement and glee of their daughter. It brought tears to Daria’s eyes that she wiped away as she laughed in amazement at her daughter’s miraculous ability and recovery. But Christof’s gaze was a look of concern, almost fear.

Christof wanted to be happy, he truly did. But fear tempered that happiness. Fear for the life of their daughter. Fear for Ariel’s immortal soul.

“You have been tainted, dear child. I am sorry, but you bear the mark,” Jeric said, almost softly. Christof gritted his teeth at the mention of that cursed mark.

They had found it in place of the violently charred flesh where the bolt had hit her– a faintly glowing blue rune. A rune that held dire consequence. They knew what it meant. They had been warned, as all had, in the Kingdom of Jorcasta. Beware the Runestorm… beware the tainted… beware those who bear the azure runes.

It was bitterly ironic how often he had chanted and vowed to seek out the Church of Citadel should they find such demonspawn. Yet Christof and Daria had tried everything they could to conceal the new nature of their daughter. How could they not? Their innocent Ariel could not be the foul creature they had been warned of all these years. But they were running out of excuses. Running out of reasons why their crops had begun to thrive again while others’ wilted.

Christof had seen the jealously and anger in the eyes of his former friends. In a harsh time as this, there were no allies to be had of those that prospered while others starved,no matter how generous he tried to be with their bounty. Someone had found out that their precious Ariel was tainted. Someone had found out and told the order.

“Cleanse her,” Jeric ordered. One of the men stepped forward, raising his sword. Ariel looked up in sheer terror.

“No! Let me go! I want my Mommy and Daddy!”

The cry of his daughter snapped him from his complacency. Christof found new strength and he put it to use. Surging to his feet, he ripped out of the guard’s hands that held him, screaming in pure rage at the injustice before his eyes. Christof charged and slammed into the man threatening to kill his daughter. They tumbled to the ground from the force of his unexpected assault. He picked up the man’s fallen sword, slamming the pommel between the priest’s eyes and knocking him unconscious. He stood and turned on the two holding Ariel.

“Let her go, you bastards!” he roared at them. The rage of a father protecting his child fueled his command and even the seasoned soldiers took a cautious step back. “Let her go!” he cried again, raising the sword.

Jeric stepped up behind him, slamming the pommel of his mace into the back of Christof’s neck. Christof grunted in pain and fell forward, unconscious.

“Christof!” Daria cried out, thrashing violently to get away and go to his side. Gasps from the men pulled her attention and she looked at Ariel, her eyes going wide and mouth dropping open in shock. The men had let her go and were backing away as blue fire limned her skin. Ariel panted as power began gathering around her tiny body.

“Don’t… you… hurt… my DADDY!!!!!” she screamed, her arms going out wide as power erupted from her.

Jeric’s eyes widened at the devastating force and he quickly dropped to his knees, offering up his holy symbol and chanting, a sigil of protection emblazoning the ground around his feet. The shield barely completed itself as the azure fire washed over him from Ariel’s assault. He gasped as the air around him was momentarily stricken and even his powerful shield, one granted by Citadel himself, was nearly consumed by the flames.

In a blink of an eye, it was over. Jeric stood, gazing around him in shock. Nearly all of his men had been incinerated where they stood, as had the home and a good 100 feet in every direction. A few survivors of the flames lay weeping in pain from the burns, and those fortunate enough to have been beyond the blast simply stared in awe. Jeric’s eyes fell back to Ariel. She was kneeling over the charred cloth and scattered remains of her parents. Jeric wasn’t certain how he knew it was her parents, but he did.

“Mommy… Daddy…” the child cried, “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry!” The cry of anguish that keened from the poor girl’s lungs brought tears to Jeric’s eyes. He walked slowly towards her and knelt by her side. She looked up at him and sobbed, flinging herself into his arms. He knelt there and held her, stroking her hair gently as she cried and screamed.

Many minutes later, her tears stopped. Many minutes more, her voice cracked as she spoke to him.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Ariel whispered, her voice hoarse from abused lungs.

“I know you didn’t child. This isn’t about you. Do you understand now? You can’t control the power that seeks to sow chaos. It just controls you.”

“But I don’t want it! I didn’t want to hurt Mommy and Daddy! I didn’t!” she cried at him, looking up. “I loved them!”

“Yet, you killed them,” Jeric said softly. “The power you wield killed them.”

Ariel looked at him and Jeric saw her spirit break. As the weight of what happened truly sank in, he watched her eyes go dull as life left her.. Citadel help him, it broke his heart to watch it.

“I want to be with them,” Ariel whispered.

“I will help you.”

Chanting, Jeric pulled a knife from its sheath on his hip.

“Go willingly into the light, cleansed of your corruption and embrace your God’s peace.”

“Thank you.”

* * * *

The report slammed down on Arturis Godhand’s desk. He frowned, closing the tome he was reading. He slowly and gently removed his glasses and closed the book, looking up first at the report then at the man who delivered it.

Jeric Lightbringer stood, helmet in his hand, respectfully at attention. His blue eyes and sharp features were harsh and tight. Arturis sighed. Jeric was such a devoted member of his Order, but perhaps it was time to take him from the field. He was beginning to question a little TOO much.

“I take it the Cleansing did not go well?” Arturis said, his voice soft and doting, like that of a parent concerned for his child.

“I lost thirty men, your Holiness. Thirty,” he almost spit the word, emphasizing each syllable. “To kill a girl barely ten winters old that did nothing more than water her parents’ plants!”

Arturis sighed again and opened the report, glancing through it. He had to hide the smile as he got to the end of the report.

“Yes, a child who killed thirty,” Arturis emphasized the word just as Jeric had, “of your men and her own parents.”

“Out of fear! We were threatening her life! WE caused that destruction, not her!”

“ENOUGH, LIGHTBRINGER!” Arturis roared, surging to his feet. Jeric quickly dropped to one knee, bowing his head.

“Forgive my insolence.”

“There is more than your insolence to forgive!” Arturis snapped. “You question me far too much, my child. Am I not the will-made-manifest of our divine patron, Citadel?”

“You are.”

“Am I not the one who stands as the protector to the order of our world?”

“You are.”

“Then why do you continue to question me, Jeric? WHY?”

“It feels wrong, your Holiness.”

Arturis rolled his eyes.

Feels wrong? FEELS? Jeric, we are long past the concept of personal feelings here. We are obeying our God’s will! Do you forget that?”

“I never forget that, but the other Gods are not,”

“THE OTHER GODS DON’T CARE!” Arturis screamed.

Jeric winced and dropped to both knees, abasing himself before the rage of his lord.

“Citadel cares! Has always cared! He is the one God who has NOT abandoned us in this time of darkness and chaos!” Arturis lectured harshly, walking around his desk to Jeric. “Get on your feet and face me!” he commanded.

Jeric rose and turned to him. He saw the madness that played at the edges of Arturis’s eyes, but wisely said nothing.

“If you cannot follow orders, then you are of no use to me,” Arturis said softly.

“I can follow orders, my lord.”

“Then follow them. And for your own sake you best not question me again.”

“Or Citadel, my lord?” Jeric dared utter, noting the slip.

Arturis’s eyes narrowed and he practically snarled, “Or Citadel, Lightbringer. Now be gone.”

Jeric bowed and turned, leaving promptly.

Arturis scowled at his subordinate’s departure. Clasping his hands behind his back, he strode over to the window, overlooking the massive city that he lorded over.

“I will not have our beautiful order destroyed by chaos,” Arturis declared to the empty expanse. “Not from without, and not from within. If they are tainted, they will be eradicated.”
He turned back to his room, striding to his desk. He took the report, then hurled it into his fireplace, watching intently as the flames devoured it.

“No matter the cost.”

An intro to Runestorm (and some rambling on design)

*I am continuing to learn how to properly format and style my blogs, so we’ll see how each one improves. Once I find a style I’m happy with, I’ll retcon all my other blog posts to the same format!*

Runestorm Card

How the game came about

That little card image above here is a mock-up of one of my many shelved ideas: Runestorm the card game. Though thankfully, its sister design, the tabletop roleplaying system is quite alive and well.

Runestorm is a happily married set of ideas that my girlfriend-turned fiancé-turned wife and I developed. Speaking of happily married, I’m now a happily married man! It’s amazing how awesome it is to be able to turn to her and say “wife”. It’s the little things, really it is.

Anyways, back on topic, my wife (grins widely) and I have lived together for a few years and dated a few prior to that. And thankfully, we happen to have a passion for the same thing: stories. She loves to hear/read them and I love to tell them. Works well, eh? It’s actually what initially what drew us together: I had written a book (completed but in its final revisions, I’ll plug it here eventually) and she read a copy of the manuscript a mutual friend of ours had. When we finally started talking, she gave me some great feedback on it. From there we found out we were both avid RP’ers. That’s RolePlayers for those who don’t do old-school tabletop. We started dating soon afterwards.

It didn’t take much time for us to a) start roleplaying and b) start talking about creating our own worlds and such. The one that received the most love was Runestorm.

Runestorm is a high fantasy setting that I’m right smack in the middle of designing. It’s been shelved off and on over the years, as most of my projects, and its not the first world or tabletop mechanic I’ve ever developed. But it IS the most entertaining in my opinion. The world is almost entirely fleshed out, as is an extensive history, pantheon and some planar concepts. The system is in the hard stages of development.

Runestorm actually was an idea I had from many years ago that got thrown away. At least until, as usual, creative inspiration hit me. The initial concept of Runestorm was a magical setting that used rune combinations for magic. So the magic system had you learning various invocations of runes, and when you learned certain combinations (say like water and air) you would get access to other more advanced combinations (using the previous example, you’d get access to ice). It felt alright, but was kinda clunky. And the storm part of the runes wasn’t really used at all. It was just a cool name.

Eventually inspiration hit to turn the concept of Runestorm into an actual storm and that opened the floodgates. So I sat down with my wife (girlfriend at that point) and we began designing the world Eire. A world that was currently in turmoil after being affected by the Runestorm. I initially wanted to make a tandem card game with it, but I scrapped it after the first set was designed in order to focus more on the actual RP system. I’ll probably start working on the card game portion once that’s completed.

Top-Down vs Bottom-Up Design

My personal design philosophy is heavily Top-Down centric. If you’ve ever designed something, undoubtedly you’ve come up a with a cool idea or name and tried to build from it. I do this a lot. I love to start with a broad concept, theme or ideal and come up with a bunch of stuff to make it work and feel cohesive. The Godzilla CCG is another example. I used Godzilla card game as my top, and started working my way down. This method of design is known as Top-Down design.

Runestorm is also Top-Down. The central theme is the Runestorm: what it is, what it does, how it affects things… The world Eire was built to be a playground for the answers to those questions. All the cultures, history and backstory of the world was fleshed out with regards to the Runestorm and its affects. And the game system itself was designed with that concept in mind. I won’t get too heavily into this topic yet. As usual, that’s for another blog, but here’s a quick synopsis on Top-Down vs Bottom-Up design.

Top-Down Design is when (like previously mentioned) you start at the “top” with a concept, theme, idea, etc. and work your way down. All the design is based on that initial concept. Take the pyramids as an example. Asking the question, “Hey, we want a giant tomb to bury our god-kings in, so how do we do that?” is a Top-Down design question. The concept is a tomb to bury your god-king. Ok, so now what do we do to make it suitable for that concept?

Bottom-Up Design, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is the opposite. You are taking a variety of pieces and building them together up towards a cohesive concept. Think of Bottom-Up design like chemistry. You have all these base compounds, elements, catalysts, etc. What can you do with them? Where will you end up when you combine A, B and C? CAN you combine A, B and C? What happens if you combine A and C, then mix it with a combination of R and J? What is R and J anyways? It’s taking all those components and asking those questions. You adjust the components, or scrap them, as needed until you’ve formed a solid foundation, then build your way up to a concept that encompasses all those components.

See how I used two totally non-related things to talk about two related things? That’s called me being an amateur and an Agent of Chaos. Cute, huh? Yeah… not really. Sighs, oh well! Hopefully you got the point though.

A Brief History of the World

Eire, for those world history buffs, is old English for Ireland. I happen to be part Irish and am quite happy of that fact. I love Irish mythology (well Celtic mythology in general, really) and when I was searching for a name for my world, Eire popped right into my head. I stole some aspects of the Irish pantheon as well, just as a nod back to the name’s origins, but I tried to keep it a fairly original concept, not a re-imagining.

Eire is a planet in that existed a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (yay clichés!). It’s a world of high magic, where the Gods take great interest in the goings on of the their mortal worshippers and divine and demonic entities wage war while the mortals of the world simply try to live their lives. There are titans (basically fallen gods), elemental incarnations known as Primals, swords and sorcery, dragons… well you get the idea. It’s a bloody fantasy setting! I’ve developed a history that goes back some 26,000 years or so, but I’ll spare you the details and simply say that currently, the world is just leaving the Age of Solace.

To address the Age of Solace and its ending, I have to first give a brief overview of the elementals and their lords: the Primals. The way elementals work in this game is something sort of akin to spirits, or minor deities. They exist in a complimentary plane of existence, bound and tied to an elemental force. Some typical, like fire and water, and some a bit more… developed. Such as blood or storms. These creatures thrive on sensation and living true to their nature. But they cannot do so when trapped in their home plane. They must manifest in the real world of Eire, in order to experience such bounties. This can be accomplished by a myriad of things, whether by pact with a mage or because of a concentration of their element in one area that burns with their nature.

A wild tempest, for instance, could have many elementals dancing in its fury: wind, water, storm, lightning, thunder… And for the period of that storm they can bound about and do what they wish. But once the storm dissipates, if they have found no way to bind their corporeal form to the Real, they simply dissipate and return to the Echoscape (the common term for their plane, at least for the moment).

So knowing this, what caused the Age of Solace was a great war. Two empires, were in the bloodiest conflict that had been seen on Eire, and the final battle of their armies on the Plains or Argos caused a Blood Primal to appear. Previously, blood elementals could be found on battlefields, either in the midst or in its wake. These lesser beings could be controlled by pact mages, sorcerers and the like or simply left to wreak havoc. Sometimes a larger blood elemental would manifest and the opposing forces would have to join together to bring it under control. But due to their never being a conflict of such scale before, neither empire was prepared to face a Primal: the supreme embodiment of that element. The armies were decimated in the wake of its power and lust for battle, and the two empires were left in ruins as the massive entity basically had its way, destroying several cities and crippling the warring nations profoundly. The conflict was named the Blood War, and the Plains of Argos renamed to Soldier’s Fall. Several months after the war, the Blood Primal finally returned to the Echoscape and the Treaty of Tears was signed, signaling an unanimously agreed upon end to conflicts of that nature in the future. This began the Age of Solace and fear of ever invoking the Blood Primal again helped keep that Age a time of peace and prosperity for centuries.

The setting that players would be running around in occurs after the Age of Solace, a period known as The Darkening. This is a time when the Runestorm began to cover parts of Eire and send the world spiraling into an age of fear and chaos, as the powerful magic of the Runestorm threw the world into disarray

The Runestorm

The Runestorm is one of several “catalysts” in this setting that causes plot to occur at an accelerated rate. Storytelling relies on conflict to move forward. While a peaceful tale of a simple summer harvest may have appeal, its the struggles of the farmer that can enrapture the audience into what may have been a bland and or boring tale. These struggles and conflicts normally come in the form of a catalyst of some kind: an evil villain, war, political intrigue, forbidden lust, the evil boy down the street who always steals things… whatever is appropriate to the setting, really. In my case, the Runestorm is the primary catalyst.

Eire is a planet in a galaxy that, like ours, is constantly moving. Though this is not a sci-fi setting, the structure of the universe, galaxy and solar system in which Eire resides was important to the concept of the Runestorm. After many iterations, the one I enjoyed the most was it being a fixed tear in the Real. A giant “storm” of magical energy that is self-sustaining, limitless and directly tied to the chaos of the universe. It is a conduit for pure energy. But due to the setting being fantasy, the idea was refined to a massive storm of wild magic. It actually ties into another plane of existence, but the people of Eire are unaware of that.

On a simple level, the Runestorm is chaos unleashed. The magic does whatever it wants, to whatever it wants. It has slowly extended over millennia from the initial breach, and spans a HUGE amount of space. Because of the way the galaxy and solar system rotate, every few thousand years or so, the Eire travels through this massive chaos nexus and ends up being stuck in its outer rim for several decades to centuries. There is recorded history of the planet falling victim to the Runestorm before, but its been so long, that history was left to the faint memories of myth and legend. In addition, while the Runestorm begins ravaging the planet with wild magic, the power surge is awakening and corrupting things in the world that are becoming more catalysts.

This is the The Darkening. This is what the player characters are getting thrown into. This is Runestorm: Tears of Eire.

Good times!

Check out my final intro blog for my board game sometime in the next couple of days, and then I’ll begin really getting into the meat of design and the systems I’ve built.

Until then, keep thinking and keep creating!

-Chaos

The CCG formerly known as Godzilla: Path of Destruction

*Notice: This blog post is a backstory, and one of three which will just be giving a brief overview of my current projects and how they came about. This is partly to cut down on blog length with a topic and also because I’m getting married this weekend, so I don’t have as much time😀*

godzillaAh, Godzilla.

I have to admit, I’m a Godzilla nut… Kaiju in general, actually (Japanese term for giant monster flicks, by the way). I blame my Mom, seriously. When she was going to college, she would study at home to Godzilla movies. So my sister and I would sit in the living room with her, doing our homework while she did hers, watching Godzilla. It transcended being a monster movie and became a trigger for memories of a peaceful, loving time.

I got lucky. My parent’s are awesome. I have memories like that; deep rooted memories of everything from playing Frisbee to watching bad monster flicks. It formed a strong bond between us that maintains itself today. I adore my Mom and Dad. They aren’t just parents, they are two of my best friends. It’s a blessing (and occasionally a curse, hehe) that I wish more people could experience, whether with a single parent or not. Just having that connection does wonders for everything from self-confidence to ethics.

But I’m quickly descending into mushy land, so let’s nuke that with a ICBTM – an intercontinental ballistic tangent missile. KA-BOOM!

In my defense though, there is a point to me bringing up how I got into Godzilla though. Two, actually:

1) It laid the groundwork for PASSION. Something I’ll get into in GREAT depth… in a different blog post.

and

2) It’s the gateway that led to me designing CCGs.

Yup, strange as it is, the whole reason I started designing CCGs was Godzilla. But not because he inspired me with his Tokyo-stomping, Kaiju-kicking, fire-breathing bad-assery (more hyphens I need MOAR!). It was because of my Mother.

You see, Mom was the one who got me into card games. Way back in the pre-millenium days, she stopped by a gaming store for some reason (to this day I don’t know why), saw magic the gathering in all its infantile glory and bought a couple of decks. Thus began my first steps to total card addiction. It’s one of my fondest memories with her. We played for years, marking cards with our own special symbols so we wouldn’t mix them up… and thus destroying the value of some super hi-priced rares unknowingly. In reverence to any collectors, I’ll not list what we accidently destroyed. It would break your heart.

ANYWHO, so playing cards with my Mom (and sister and cousin) was a great escape for me. We were coming off back to back life-changing situations and the timing was right for escapism. I became addicted to all card games, played dozens of them, wasted thousands of dollars on them… I just lost myself to them completely. Take this down the road of a decade and it makes sense that eventually I’d try my hand in at least modifying a game, if not trying to make my own. Right?

Nope. Not at all. Game design didn’t cross my mind. I was stuck in rules lands. No you don’t play that way you play THIS way! I played two bajillion different card games, and not once did I ever think to do anything outside the box. The idea was just foreign to me and if I couldn’t get inventive with the cards I had there was no way I was going to invent actual cards. I blame this on being a rules judge for Magic for a spell. I was always the rules monkey for my group too, so that didn’t help either.

That all changed when one year, as a tribute to both of the addictions my mother granted me, I decided to make a Godzilla card game for her for Christmas. It’s actually kind of cute (or so say my friends). I finally started CCG design to make a present for my Mom.🙂

The card at the top of this post, was the first one I ever designed. And I’m fairly pleased with it, even after all these years. I used a combination of inkscape and gimp, though eventually I would move the entire frame and its various components into MSE2. I’ll discuss that program hardcore later.

The basis was simple: two monsters enter, one monster leaves. I really wanted to capture the whole feel of the kaiju experience in card format. So I gave it a cheesy name, and called it Godzilla: Path of Destruction. Path of Destruction referred to one of the main concepts, mechanics and themes of the game: you had a series of locations that the monsters would trash on their way to meeting in glorious battle. Because let’s face it, that’s what ALWAYS happens in kaiju flicks. Monsters tromp through some poor city or several, and then duke it out in said cityscape. So the initial setup of the game involved playing your “path.” And then you’d destroy it. See? Clever, right? Right?

No, not really! But I thought it was. It was my first design! I was floored by my own creativity. I was coming up with tactics and abilities and characters and all this COOL SHIT! Locations, battlegrounds, allied monsters, human characters, earth defense forces, special abilities… the list goes on and on. Some were good, some were bad (again I’ll go into more detail later, god I love parentheses :P).

It was like every card game I had every played was lending itself in someway to my design. And to be fair, it’s not horrible. It’s just not the burning hunk of awesome I thought it was at its inception. Of course you don’t find that out until you start playtesting. That’s where your really big issues are going to come through. It was in playtesting that I realized that the costs were wrong, some powers were stupid broken, the resource generation was clunky as hell, the theme of the game was being lost to its mechanics and the concept of the earth defense forces felt… pathetic.

Really, the game was terribad. But I printed out two fully constructed decks. With rules. I made a full set of like 300 cards (just in case!) and armed with all my awesomeness delivered the present to my mother.

She adored it. As a matter of fact, they are sleeved and pinned to her wall with the rest of her Godzilla paraphernalia. Mission accomplished!

But I’d been bitten by the bug, so I couldn’t settle there. My dad encouraged me to contact people, go find someone who might think it was as awesome as we all thought it was (my parents and I). The truth is though, I knew it wasn’t good. I knew it failed at what it set out to do: be a fun card game.

It needed to be fixed, and I wouldn’t know how to fix it for another 7-8 years.

In my first blog-post (clicky, clicky!), I talked about artist’s block. This was my first true encounter with it, at least in major form. I’d experienced it off and on, but never to this degree. It plagued me for years, and every time I’d think I’d landed a breakthrough I was wrong. It was maddening.

Small wonder that after a couple of years, I shelved it to work on other projects. And then I’d shelve those as I ran into the same block. Over and over and over again. What a horrible curse! Only it wasn’t a curse, it was just par for the course. But you don’t know these things as an amateur trying to create. I was never trained in design, much less game design, so I was fly-by-night-ing it. I think that’s good though, because I learned a lot along the way. And all that will be the source of many blogs to come!

My major “breakthrough” came when, while looking at dragon pictures with my fiancé (yay for getting married this weekend!) while RP’ing online, I had the epiphany. Lightning struck me brain. And it hurt.

The mechanics and concepts I was using from a gameplay stance were good, but the THEME was off. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself (another blog for another time). Godzilla didn’t fit for the rules I’d created. He KINDA did. But it was like trying to get a square peg into a round hole. Hammer it enough or take a saw to it and you can force it in, but it won’t be pretty. But my framework was PERFECT for another giant monster of destruction: dragons.

So now what was a Godzilla CCG is now a Dragon CCG, and its as if the planets have aligned. All the mechanics work, all the concepts are appropriate, but more importantly all the themes feel RIGHT. They make sense. Translation: time to dust off the old 300 card set and start over, with a different beasty in the lead.

I’ll address rules and structure in a future blog post (and do comparisons to their thematic components between Godzilla and dragons as lead role), but I think I’ve been chatty enough today.

Thanks for reading, and see you in cyberspace soon!

Art for the sake of art

So I got into a discussion with a co-worker the other day.  It was a momentary disagreeing of viewpoints that started with my comment that I’m not a fan of war profiteering. We were talking about movies and how I generally am not a fan of films that take current day atrocities in war and try to make money off them. Really, I’m not a fan of pretty much any film that seeks to make money off of the horrors of someone’s true-life experiences, but I’m not naïve. I get it. But that doesn’t mean I have to personally care for it.

Somehow this spawned the concept of how that viewpoint infringes on the very concept of art. And how you can’t restrict art in any of its mediums. I forget exactly what was said, but the gist was this: art for the sake of art. Who cares if it’s about the holocaust, if it’s a well-done movie? Schindler’s List was a fantastic work of art, so it’s all gravy. Doesn’t matter if it’s about one of the greatest atrocities in our recent history.

You can make an argument that stuff like snuff films is artistic. Or that a picture of the KKK burning crosses in a yard is a masterpiece of photography, and hence, art. Do you see how far that rabbit hole goes? Is photos of war art? Is seeing someone blown to pieces on a movie screen art? Is porn art?

Where does the line get drawn? Does it EVER get drawn? Hey look, there’s a psychotic freak who eviscerated someone and left them in a field of white flowers, their blood sprayed all around in the moonlight. Paint a picture cuz that’s art baby!

It’s become kind of a thought exercise for me. The concept of art for the sake of art resonates with a certain visceral ideology that tickles the brain. The possibilities are ENDLESS. But what it really boils down to is perspective, as most things usually do. Perspective creates art, not art. Or does it?

Let’s use Mother Nature as an example. Some people look at a forest from a mountain top and see… well a forest. Yay clouds! Look over there! DOUBLE RAINBOW!!

But some people look at a forest from a mountain top and see a masterpiece. A work of art that no human hand could capture or sculpt. That no photograph or motion picture can do justice. When the sun rises over the ocean, is it just a phenomenon that happens because our planet spins; or is it the purest form of art in motion?

I guess to get to the root of that you have to know what art is. And well, what is art? According to the almighty power of google, art is:

ärt

noun

noun: art; plural noun: arts; plural noun: the arts

  1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
    1. Works produced by human creative skill and imagination
    2. Creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings or sculpture
  2. The various branches of creative activity such as painting, music, literature and dance.
  3. Subjects of study primarily concerned with the processes and products of human creativity and social life, such as languages, literature and history (as contrasted with the scientific of technical subjects)
  4. A skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice

Well, that clears up that notion.  Technically, nature isn’t art. A painting of nature is, but nature in and of itself is not. Nothing naturally occurring is technically art, only manufactured items. So it’s not really a matter of perspective. What’s a matter of perspective is the question of what qualifies as GOOD art versus BAD art? I think the key here is probably the words “for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty or emotional power? Well that’s pretty damned broad! It does make sense when you really think about it, but it leaves a lot of gray area. Is making millions off a movie about the suffering of someone art? Well, no, it’s not. But that’s a technicality of the statement. Making the money isn’t art, but the movie sure as hell is. The cinematography, the acting, the composition, the writing, the soundtrack; all these things are works of art. Actually, when you think about it we are in an era where we are oversaturated with art. The shit’s everywhere. From our buildings to our cars to the branding of our favorite coffee shop to the clothes we wear.

Art is life these days. And the perspective of what’s good versus bad seems to narrow down to the rather close-minded concept of is it pretty? But what about being evocative? It needs to bring about emotion. To move someone in whatever direction the artwork is meant to move them. Whether it be to a fast food line or to the movie theater. Which leads to another thought: Art is good business.

I feel that art used to be more esoteric in nature. People created works of art, not trying to get rich or famous (or maybe they did, not like I researched this for my thesis) but because they wanted to create art. It was just a passion, a calling. If they made money, awesome! But the motivation was to create a work of art. Nowadays it just feels like people create art to get famous. I know plenty of artists who don’t, but I’m talking the vibe from the media. That all powerful juggernaut of societal “progress.” You look at the articles online and it’s all about how much money this and that made. How effective this and that was for creating sales.

Art for the sake of art? I’m not sold. How about art for the sake of business, instead?

People make art today because art makes money. Are they driven by passion? Certainly. Are they driven by the need to create art? Of course! But now more than EVER, art has evolved into this tangible, reachable thing that can catapult almost anyone into stardom, from the lowliest filmmaker to the most horrible writer, when you create a work of art, you have the chance to make it. Whether it’s Fifty Shades of Grey or an independent short film, anyone (almost anywhere) can make it just by being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. Hell it doesn’t even have to be for the right reason! Remember Rebecca Black? That song “Friday” was art… just terrible art.

Now look, I’m not saying that everyone is like that, but hey, this is the new millennium! A time of progress, dreams and aspirations for all of mankind! Why NOT make money at your passion? What’s wrong with that?

Inherently I don’t think anything is wrong with it, and I wholeheartedly support the paradigm. I love art, in its various forms, and the more that can be out and about the better. I’ve spent more time on sites like deviantart then I care to really admit, and I loved every second of it. I believe video games are an art form (and finally beginning to be recognized as such) and I love the majesty of filmmaking these days. I once asked, “Where have all the composers like Mozart gone?” It hit me that they went to the movies and video games! Look at Nobuo Uematsu, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, Howard Shore, John freaking Williams… the list goes on and on.

There’s so much amazing art to be experienced in this world. And while you may see thousands, hell maybe millions of examples in your lifetime, you’re just barely scratching the surface! How cool is that? And it’s all beautiful and it’s all moving. Even feelings of hatred are powerful emotions, and thus fit the criteria. You can argue the philosophy of art until the dinosaurs return to take over the earth (they were aliens, I’m telling you).

And yet, I can’t help but feel that it’s still fundamentally wrong to glorify someone’s suffering for the intent of making money. I mean it’s one thing to be trying to give a historical re-enactment or something like that, but The Hurt Locker wasn’t about opening our minds to the horrors of the war in the middle east. It wasn’t a political statement. It was a movie. A movie that won awards. That showered accolades on all those involved. So was Saving Private Ryan. And Black Hawk Down. How about Zero Dark Thirty?

They were art. They were works of human hands that was marveled for their beauty and their emotional power; art incarnate, really.

So what does that mean? Well for one thing it means I just have an opinion. But the thing about opinions is that they aren’t always right. They don’t even have to meet the criteria to be labeled right or wrong. Sometimes they’re just an opinion. Most people found The Hurt Locker to be very very very good art. I didn’t. It just didn’t resonate with me. But it’s still art. I can’t argue that.

So here I sit in my hotel room, contemplating the phrase “art for the sake of art.” Thinking about my own view and opinion on the matter, specifically to my views towards war films. And I try mightily to hold up my banner of morality and say “Nay! The atrocities of man are not art! They are but atrocities!” Yet it wilts in the catalog of action flicks I have in my movie library and various Jet Li flicks I personally consider fantastic art (I’m looking at you “Hero”).

The fact is simple: I like my war with a healthy dose of fantasy in it. I don’t like war movies, not because I don’t consider them art, but because I hate the actuality of war.

Hmm… interesting. An epiphany! Dig deeper Watson, looks like you’ve found something!

It’s like this: if I can sit behind my little glass shield and pretend that I don’t see the atrocities for what they are, I can just go about my life and enjoy myself. It’s like when you just walk past a bum pretending you don’t see him because you just KNOW that he’s a fake and you’re not going to give him your hard-earned cash just so he can grab some vice. It’s the “if I ignore it, maybe it will go away” concept. Doesn’t matter if you’re wrong and that bum is just a person trying to scrape by in the rat race that we call life. You’re behind that little glass shield, that somehow is supposed to reduce the boulders of reality into little tiny pebbles that deflect harmlessly off that glass shield.

Ping ping! You laugh mightily at those flimsy pebbles.  “Go away reality, you’ve no hold over me!”

But sometimes you get faced with the reality; sometimes that pebble becomes a giant fucking rock and it just smashes right through that glass shield.  Shattering your tender sensibilities into tiny glass fragments, that like any broken mirror can’t be put back together again, no matter how much Zap-A-Gap you have. Now you have to look something straight in the face and admit that it’s right there in front of you. But you don’t want to admit that. There has to be something else. Some other reaction. Where’s another shield? Maybe I can just sidestep this? Do I really have to face this truth? In a word, yes. You do.

Why do I hate war movies? Because they remind me of the truth of humankind. Because when you see the grittiness and you watch those people who could truly be alive, dying on screen, you have to ask the question… wow, is this really going on? It makes me face the fact that I pretty much ignore world events. Because I don’t want to read about another bombing. Or gas attack. Or murdered rape victim. So I lash out not at the film itself but its creators.

“How dare you? Foul movie people! You who try to make profit on the suffering of others!”

But it’s just me staring at the elephant in the room while it looks at me and goes “Wassup?” My glass shield gets shattered and I scramble to find anyway to not face what it’s making me face. So its war profiteering. It’s all about the benjamins, baby. They weren’t trying to make art, they were just trying to make a buck by capitalizing on the horrors of man… right?

Right?

But it’s more likely I’m wrong. At least a little bit. Maybe, just maybe, they are just trying to make a profit on their vision of art. Maybe they are just trying to make art for the sake of art, but hey why not make some money doing your passion? Hell, maybe I’m right and they ARE just in it for the money.

So what? Who cares?

The point is its art. And it definitely elicits strong emotions. Hell, it did for me without me even watching all of it. And in this case its art that not only elicited strong emotions, but in the wake of a random conversation with a co-worker has forced me to come to acceptance with an aspect of who I am as a person. Jeebus, if that’s not art, then what the hell is?

So… how deep does this rabbit hole really go? Looks like maybe not as far as I had thought. Because no matter how you slice it, art is defined by creating a work, whether it be painting or dancing, and eliciting emotion. And hurting people, while definitely eliciting emotion, isn’t creating a work. It’s just hurting someone. So my previous argument on things like snuff are invalid. Now it’s just down to simple question of is it art? And if so, is it good? More importantly, is it good for me?

Well fine then… I relent. I was blinding by my own lack of thought. Three cheers then, Art for the sake of art!

Thanks for the reality check, war movies. But just so we are clear, I’ll still take my art chased with a nice dose of fantasy please. There’s enough reality in my reality. Why don’t you go enlighten someone else, k?