Worldbin: Magic

Ah, Magic. How does it work? Well, there are tons of explanations for it, and quite a few cop-outs. So here is a list of the most common ones, and ways to explain each of them, and expansions on them.

General Cop-Out: Entropic Manipulation

Basically, you can summon Laplace’s Demon. You make somewhere very, very cold, and use that energy to create something. i.e. you create a fireball by making the centre of the “ball” cold, and the outside hot. This is the best explanation for heat/temperature stuff. Also, it allows stuff to be created from nothing. Energy is mass, so if you cool a sufficiently large area enough, you can create stuff from nothing. This also explains why there are elemental planes. All the hot stuff goes to the plane of fire, and the cold to the plane of ice, because they are magic, or something. This can be extended – the plain of air is a very low-energy place, due to it being basically an endless sky, whilst the plane of earth is a very high-energy place, due to all the ground there. So those two planes act as buffers to stop everything spiralling out of control, as they act as two “sinks” for magic, stopping there being too much or too little. Which explains why it is so damn hard to destroy the world with a magical doomsday device.

Blood Magic

Now this is the classic “evil” magic. You kill someone to become more powerful. This does make some kind of sense. Say that all people are at least slightly magical, and that magic regenerates over time. Therefore, over a person’s lifetime, there is a maximum magic that could have used. This is the magic that you are stealing. Simple stuff. Now, of course, they may die well before their natural lifetime is up. Instead of getting the big lump sum of magic, you get the most probable amount that they would get. So you need someone young, to get more magic juice, and healthy, so that the chance that they may die is slim. That’s why they always need someone, or something hale and hearty. Secondly, blood magic is also sometimes used to heal people, or extend their natural lifespan. This operates on the same principle as the magic – you gain their most probable amount of healing that they are able to do, and this revitalises you by that amount.

True Naming

Now this is always a tricky subject, as there are two types of this. The first is that you cannot lie in that language – if you say “I am an eagle” you become  an eagle. That one’s simple. The second one is that you can make anything you know the true name of do anything you wish, with in the laws of physics, of course. Now, in the first example, you are basically talking with God’s voice, here. Think about it. It’s not going to be easy, as a syntax error can destroy the world, and will most probably take something out of you for speaking in it. You know, with great power comes horrific immolation, and all that. It is more of a crutch – you use it to give shape to the magic you use, instead of trying to do it all by yourself.

Now, for the second version, the problem with that is that everything has a true name. Say, for example that there are 50 different consonants. Say that 125 billion people have lived, and only humans have true names, and each name is different (this allows you to use ghosts and all that jazz). That means that each person have a unique name of 6 consonants, if no more people are to be born. Now you can’t just shout streams of random gibberish to use true naming, otherwise it’d be too easy, so you’ll probably have to picture who you are naming, and have some hair or skin or something – the standard fantasy staple. Remember, though, that this is just for one world, and not allowing non-sentient life. If you have a sprawling multiverse, you’ll need another consonants for every 50 worlds, depending on the amount of people that live and die in them. Also, it would be weird if everyone had the same vocal chords, wouldn’t it? So you would assume that the true name depends on the range of sounds that species could make. It would be hard to Name something that lives 20,000 leagues under the sea, or a living zeppelin, or an elemental, without extensive modification, though they would be able to Name each other.

Druidism 

This one is the standard earth/nature/hippie magic. You make flowers bloom, crops grow, and generally green the place up. If there is a big Gaia-thing in this is simple – she (it?) wants a bountiful earth, gives you some of her power, and so you go forwards and cause it to happen. If not, there needs to be some duality, as you are creating something from nothing. Although grass grows at your feet, it dies with your passing. You can cause the flowers to bloom, and crops to grow, but you are simply accelerating their lifespan, and so they die faster. It’s the “give with one hand, take with another” kind of thing – you are dedicated to balance, and both cultivate and cull. You see, just making things grow, per se, is bad for everything – the (eco)system collapses, and there is needless death and destruction. Everyone seems to forget the second part.

Possession/Divine

These two are basically the same thing, when it comes down to it. You have some hugely strong magical bloke who wants to loan out his power to people. The God gives it to his priests, and the demon/devil/whatever gives it to whomever they made the bargain with. The question that arises when this stuff happens is why don’t the gods/devils/etc do it themselves instead of delegating all the time? Firstly, if they are sufficiently powerful, they could be delegating to thousands, or for gods, millions, of people, so they need to delegate in order to do so much at the same time. Secondly, they will all be powerful. If they are powerful enough, if they leave their realm, people will notice, questions will be asked, and things will be killed. I mean, if a demon prince popped up in the material plane, how long would it be before someone took a shot at him, and an all-out war erupted? This neatly brings us to the third point – safety. If I delegate my powers, and the idiot dies, I get my magic back, and the knowledge of what he did, without ever being in danger. It makes sense to loan your power out to someone, and them collect on it later, especially if your are a demon/devil/whatever, and you are simply doing it as a relief from boredom.

Well, that’s it. I know that there are other disciplines out there, and I’ll cover them in another post, if I ever get round to it.

Talking Shop #6: Shop Talking vs the World

To all of the 6 people that read this blog, and that strange cookinh (sic) site that once visited me 127 times in a single hour, a message.

You might have noticed that the site hasn’t been updated in a while.

Sorry for that.

The thing is, though, that I have exams coming up. Thousands of them. Well, 19. Starting from tomorrow, ’til July. And as much as I like venting my spleen of knowledge all over the pasta of the internet, I may need to stop that. So, this’ll probably become monthly, bi-monthly, until the exams are all over.

Gaming: Level Design

So, this is another foray into an aspect of gaming. Today it’s level design, as you can probably guess from the title. Can’t think of a good introduction today. Anyway, here I go;

The Corridor.

This is the easiest type of level to design. It is a long, long tube, down which the player walks. No matter how you might disguise it, the game is effectively on rails, and unless it is a rail shooter, you’ve done something terribly wrong. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Final Fantasy XIII.) However, this is the cheapest form of game to make, as you effectively have a series of 2D shooting galleries, if you “fix” the view of the player.

Branching Corridors.

Here you have the same set-up as the corridor above. However, there are now different paths you can take, either simple ones (through a firefight) or more complex ones (an alternate level). If the straightforward corridor above was Time Crisis, this is House of the Dead. This now only gives the player the illusion of freedom (as most of the levels should be unchanged, even though they might have made seemingly significant decisions, it also gives the game replay value, which is always good for any game.)

The Boxy Path.

Now, this, at the outset, looks identical to the initial “Corridor” set-up. A long path, full of environments where you get shot at. But now there is more freedom for the player. Where before there was a shooting gallery, you can now move about. There may even be multi-level environments. The player can move around, react, and there is now a lot more freedom. But now, of course, it gets a lot more expensive, as you have to model things which the player could not have seen before – parts of the ceiling, and areas of the walls behind and below the player, as well as the vistas. This is Doom-style gaming. You have one route to follow, and you cannot deviate from this. Unfortunately, as well as this being Doom-style gaming, it is also the way modern Triple-A shooters seem to lean towards. A great step backwards. They look lovely and photorealistic, though. And brown. And covered in lens flare. (Sigh)

Boxy Boxy Paths.

This is to the “Boxy Path” as “Branching Corridors” is to “Corridors”. However, the main difference is that, as well as being multilevel (gotta love that) it is also full of different ways to play through the level that can interact with each other a lot more than from the normal rail-shooter style. This also allows for more hidden paths, and for you to put more freedom in a smaller space. Continuing with applying this to games, this would be more like Quake – lots of paths, lots of secrets, and hardly any of them are pointed out to you. However, you still move through the same areas no matter which way you go through the level, and there are several segments per level that you have to do. This set-up is not a sandbox, but it gives the illusion of one, whilst remaining easier and cheaper to make.

The Sandbox

This one is where the level stops being scripted, but instead is created, and left at that. For every level there are many, many ways through, some of which are radically different to each other, utilising different skillsets and gameplay styles. If you want to determine whether a level is a true sandbox or not, is too test whether there is anywhere you cannot go, or is unlocked later, or “locks” later. If so, it is not a sandbox. Take Deus Ex, for example – one of the finest sandbox games out there. Each skill you have gives you different ways to play through the level, and your fragility makes you make serious choices about where to go. Nothing is locked, and with minimal points allocated to each skill, you can go just about anywhere. The “locking” comes from the fact that you can never max out all of your skills, so that’s where the replay value comes into play. Also, look at Medal of Honour: Airborne. It’s “gimmick” was that you spawned dropping out of a plane above the level, and had several objectives to achieve – take out the AA towers, kill the Nazi Commander, etc, etc – but when you dropped out of the plane, the level was laid out below you, and you could choose to land anywhere in the level below – rooftops, back alleys, next to said objectives – which meant that the level designers could not script as much as you could if you had to play through the game linearly. Instead they had to make better AI and hope for the best. Unfortunately, this came out at the same time as the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and this discipline of level design fell by the wayside due to poor sales, and it has not been revisited by any big-name studio as of writing.

General Level Design Stuff.

Space is of the Essence – you, really, want to design as little as possible, while creating the longest game possible. It means you can polish what you have created to a higher shine, and make more levels. That is why so many games let you see where you are going to go before you go there, as it means that they have to create a new vista, and can instead just copy and paste the later level. Or they might make you try to find the Blue Key, and then go all the way back to open the Blue Door, then try to find the Red Key. This is sloppy design, and is just a cheap short-cut. Instead, use your environments, by making them wide and deep, and make the paths through be both vertical and lateral. See the Storm Drain level in Mirror’s Edge as a good example. You spend 10-15 minutes climbing up this huge cylinder, criss-crossed with catwalks and struts, until you finally get to the top, and open a small door. F.E.A.R. does this a lot, too. When you fight through a warehouse, you fight through the whole warehouse, and every room that you can see, you can go into. You don’t have to be too shrewd with your level design, but then, you don’t want to end up like Halo 3, where the smallest room cost 300 man-hours of work, and you sped through it in 5 seconds, at most.

Variety, Colour and Rainbow Goodness.

Next time you are going to buy a game, look at the colours in the pictures on the back of the box. They will be brown, brown, brown, and black. The same goes for the enemies, and for the players. What you really need is colour and variety. Rainbows optional. Paint everything in technicolour raiments, and bright and cheery scenery. This will not make things more “realistic”, however, as the colour palette for that is very reduced, but, for a fun game, it will provide both contrast and allow you to make your various enemies look unique. If the player can immediately differentiate between the enemy, his allies, and the terrain, that is always good. For example, compare Gears of War to the first Unreal. In Gears, all the enemies, environments, vehicles and allies are brown, to the extent that it becomes hard to tell what’s what. In Unreal, there a huge, multi-coloured monstrosities, vivid outside environments, diverse indoor arenas, and a whole medley of kaleidoscopic weaponry.

Also,remember, if your level is large and colourful, then it is very hard to get lost, or not know where to go. You can get the brown cathedral area confused with the brown warehouse area, and the brown castle area (all of which might feature in a single level), but it is a lot harder to get the electric-blue water area confused with the lush, green tropical area, or the arid yellow-red desert area.

I can’t think of a good outroduction either today. Well, that’s it. Have fun.

Talking Shop #5: Stop, Drop & Roll

One week into my new posting scheme to post twice a week, it clearly hasn’t worked, due to a combination of incompetence, laziness and upcoming exams. So it’ll be the normal one-post-a-week schedule, until it isn’t.

Worldbin: A Proper Villain

Every story needs a villain. Someone, or something, for the protagonist to struggle against, and ultimately overcome. In this post, I’m going to talk about designing a Big Bad, the most common type of Villain, and explain some of it’s idiosyncrasies. They can be the Evil Emperor, the Ruthless Warlord, the Omnicidal Nether-Horror, the Annoying Manager, depending on your setting and genre. If your story does not have a villain, then it is most probably a bad fanfic.

Note: The other 2 most common Villains are the Mindless Villain, and the Villainous World. The Mindless Villain is the Virus, the Zombie Outbreak, the Alien Invasion – an enemy that cannot be argued with, talked to, or even understood. All you can do is to defeat them before they defeat you. The Villainous World is a world in which everything – fauna, flora, mineral, you name it – wants to kill you. It’s either a Death World, and you are (perceived to be) weak, or it’s a (pseudo-)Intelligent World, which knows what you are doing, and doesn’t like that, so it tries to kill you. It may or may not have warned you first, though.

Anyway, back to the crux, or nub, or the piece. Designing a Big Bad Villain.

First of all, he must be Evil. Or Ruthless and/or Unprincipled enough to be hated, or at least detested by the Hero. Common ways of doing this are;

  • Hedonism. He’s a big eater, and only eats the finest pickled dove’s eggs on iceberg lettuce, grown on real icebergs. All fed to him by beautiful consorts, of which he has many. If they are also slavegirls, it intersects nicely with the next point, which is;
  • Slaver. He supports slavery, or at least treats his serfs like them. Even if they are indentured servants, and entitled to some legal protection, he doesn’t care. He’s doesn’t care about lesser people than him. This leads to;
  • Nepotist. He believes in Sovereign Power (Nobles have the right to rule because they are Nobles, and have the support of God) and sees all those without blue blood as lesser. He’s a bit of a dick, and may also be terminally stupid, having inherited his title or;
  • Homicidal. 3 Years Ago, he was 12th in line to the Throne. Now he’s King. Everyone that opposes him vanishes. If you try to rebel against him, he kills you, your family, your friends, your friends’ families, and the village you grew up in. He’s not a man to cross.

Secondly, he needs to have crossed paths with the Hero at least once, normally when he is rising to power, and the Hero is still young / is disillusioned / has taken up a life of prayer and meditation /is full of angst. (delete as appropriate) Whilst this happens, he does a completely, unambiguously evil act – killing their parents is the most conventional way of doing this. He might also burn down the lovely little idyll the Hero lives in, as well. Also, if the Hero has any younger siblings, he will either a) Kidnap them and force them into a life of servitude (if it’s a girl) or b) Kidnap them and indoctrinate them to become his lieutenant (if it’s a boy). If the Hero has any older siblings, they will give their lives to shelter the Hero, or give him time to escape. The Villain’s Henchmen might also rape, murder and pillage their way through the surrounding countryside, causing widespread death and destruction in their wake, just so you know that the Villain is Evil. Something you can play around with this here is for when, in the final showdown, the Hero confronts the Big Bad about the terrible event that he caused in the past, the Big Bad does not remember it, or considers it a small matter, or was simply an unintended side effect of a larger scheme. For the Hero, it might have been the most important day of his life. But for the Villain… it was Tuesday.

Thirdly, he needs a Plan. This is crucial. Every Villain needs a Plan. It can be as simple as “Kill The Hero”, “Rule The World” or “Live Forever”. Alternatively, it can be a multi-stage complex scheme in which countless projects weave together, culminating in a (seemingly) unstoppable nefarious strategy to “Conquer The Multiverse” or “Become A God”. Bonus points will be awarded if it appears to be one of the former, but is actually one of the latter variety. The Plan can allow for the Hero’s victory. He might defeat the Villain in the Western Marshes, but that was just a ploy to allow the Villain to succeed in the East! If this happens, remember – It’s All Part Of The Plan. That evil, evil plan which the Hero has to stop, for the sake of all Mankind! (or something similarly dramatic)

Now you have a Villain with the Hero knows, hates, and has a plan. Now you have to give him the means to carry this out. And this means that you have to give him some redeeming qualities. Take Julius Caesar. He worked to undermine the dictator Sulla, and participated in at least 2 coups. He arranged show trials in his career as a lawyer, and managed to get himself elected Pontifex Maximus – the chief priest of Rome, a position which gave him tremendous power. He became the governor of Spain, where he began to annex his Roman allies and expand his governorate. He managed to become Consul, and when he was declared an enemy of the state when the political tide turned against him, he marched upon Rome, caused the Roman Civil War, and disbanded the Senate when he assumed emergency powers, hunted down Pompey, his former mentor, and ruled until he was killed on the floor of the Theater of Pompey. The resulting power vacuum quashed any hope of Roman Democracy, and Emperor Augustus ruled after him, and the Augusto-Caesar line lasted until Nero. But them again, he strengthened the dying Roman Empire, got rid of the corrupt and inefficient government, and brought civilisation the most of Europe. So, it all balanced out in the end. (well, kind of)

Here are a lot of things Villains have, and how they could achieve it;

  • A Huge Empire. They are a statesman without peer. They can soothe old wounds between embittered countries in an morning, and have them pledging allegiance by afternoon. The bureaucracy he has set up runs smoothly, and everything ticks over like a finely-tuned machine.
  • A Devoutly Loyal Legion. These are people he has saved. They used to live in squalor, and were treated like filth. He might even have been one of them. But now he has raised them up from the slums where they used to live, and they are so, so grateful for what he has done to them. He might even have cured them of something horrific that caused them to be outcasts in the first place.
  • Monstrous Minions. This one of the easiest ones to answer. The reason you have hoards of trolls, orcs and swamp creatures under your command is simple. The world is a horrible place to live, especially in the outer regions, so you need personnel who can deal with those conditions. In the marshes, the Swamp Creatures keep the Empire safe. The Orcs patrol the Sunless Wastes, where their aversion to light is not a problem. Trolls defend in the Sulphurous Deserts, as only those hardy enough, or with significant regenerative capabilities can survive there for long. They have both. This is why, when they are drafted in to fight your peasant uprising, they are so ineffective. They have never been trained to fight on a field, in lines, or in formation. They have no idea what to do.
    Note: You can mix this one with the Loyal Legion one above, if you wish, as they work together very well.
  • His Evil Mines Of Evil. Everyone knows there was an obscenely advanced race that came before, of which the Hero has one of their fantastical weapons. The Big Bad has found a veritable treasure trove of Precursor Artefacts down in this mine, and send people down there to dig them out. This may be purely so he can use them for his own gain, or maybe it is for the good of the Empire, but either way, he’s getting them out of that hell-hole one way or another.

If you are going to make a good Villain, be sure to check out the 36 Stratagems, a Chinese book detailing 6 sets of 6 ruses to help you win. (In I Ching, six is the number of Yin that is associated with the dark schemes involved in military strategy. As thirty-six is the square of six, it therefore acts as a metaphor for numerous strategies) They detail the Stratagems for Winning, Dealing With The Enemy, Attacking, Causing Chaos, Gaining Ground, and When Near Defeat. They are invaluable when you need inspiration on how the Villain could deal with the Hero.

Also, there is the Evil Overlord List. It deconstructs the traditional Villain Clichés, and within it contains 100 Rules any competent Evil Overlord should follow. These include; not taking the Hero’s love interest as your consort, not assuming that the Hero died in that fall, not leaving people alive as an example to others, and never playing fair. Check them out. They’re both good reads.

Well, I think that covers most of the tropes and clichés commonly associated with Big Bads. Don’t hesitate to tell me if I missed any. Hope you enjoyed that.

 

 

Talking Shop #4: Electric Boogaloo

Small change in my update schedule for posting stuff. I’ll now be posting an article on Monday, and an article on Thursday! That’s right! I’m now posting bi-weekly! Rejoice!

No, but seriously, it’ll be a Worldbin-thing on Monday, and a Gaming post on Thursday, if all goes well, which it probably won’t. It probably won’t last a week, but, still, Yay!, for mindless optimism!

Worldbin: Creating Realistic Characters

In most games you play now, most of the characters are quite shallow and two-dimensional. This happens because the writers either try to make too many characters appealing to you, and fail, or, most commonly, they just didn’t care. Take, for example, Gears of War. Or Halo: ODST. Or Black Ops. Now tell me something about the characters that isn’t related to how well they can shoot, or how badass they are, or even what their full name is, in some cases. Most characters can be summed up in two adjectives and a noun. The hot, nerdy scientist. The arrogant, loud-mouthed rival. The evil, British antagonist. When the entirety of a character can be said in three words, something is wrong.

The most common set-up is the Five Man Band. It goes a bit like this; (I’m stealing this shamelessly from TvTropes, here)

  • The Hero— The leader of the group. He’ll be a upstanding American bloke, no matter what the setting is, and will adhere to American values, be exceptionally noble, generous, and perfect in every way.
  • The Lancer —  The second-in-command, usually a contrast to The Hero. He’ll make snarky remarks, and bring a touch of humour to the game. He’ll probably be a bit more laid-back than the relentlessly meritorious Hero.
  • The Smart Guy — The physically weak, but intelligent or clever member. He’ll be the youngest, and might wear glasses. He will probably have no real-world knowledge, but can hack a computer in 4 seconds, and will talk constantly in long, long words.
  • The Big Guy — The strongman of the team. May be dumb. Or mute. If he has any characterisation at all, it’ll be that also he is a bit thick and clumsy, but will be soft on the inside, until his comrades are attacked.
  • The Chick —  A peacekeeping role to balance out the other members’ aggression, bringing them to a nice or at least manageable medium. Also the love interest. Because the Hero will be white, she’ll be Black (But not too Black), Asian or Latino. If it’s fantasy or sci-fi, she might have differently coloured skin. Most likely Blue or Green.

Now keeping this set-up is fine, as it is a tried and tested set-up, and should be easy to work with. However, characters need to be expanded on in order to make them both believable and likeable. (unless it’s the antagonist, in which the player should hate him with an ungodly passion) The simplest way to do this is to add another layer to the character, via backstory, sidequest or dialogue, that either explains why the character is how they are, or gives you an insight into how they think, and how they became who they are now. In both cases, this should give you greater understanding and empathy about the character, and maybe even raise some moral questions. In better cases, this should help the plot along. An example.

(Mild Metal Gear Solid 4 Spoilers in the next paragraph. Nothing big, though.)

Johnny Sasaki, from Metal Gear Solid 4. He’s a bit thick, and has a profoundly stupid haircut. He wets himself in combat, and is overpowered many times throughout the series, and is a bit of a joke character. Solid Snake frequently escapes because of his incompetence, and his bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. He constantly draws fire, attracts unwanted enemy attention, and is mostly useless in combat. However, it is later revealed that he never had an injection of the combat nanomachines that every other soldier has due to his fear of needles. These nanomachines control your hormones, share your senses with your teammates, and give people a “combat high” – quicker reactions, faster aiming, and better accuracy. However, when Liquid Snake shuts down all the nanomachines, he suddenly becomes extremely useful, as hardly any of the other soldiers had ever had to fight without their nanomachines doing all the hard work for them, and becomes a great asset to the team.

He is set up originally as a comedic sidekick with some legacy appeal, a standard flat character. But the game explains why he is less effective than everyone else, which, although originally is a nice bit of trivia, and becomes a (minor) plot point later.

Here are a few things you should not apply to your characters, unless you can do it very well.

  • They are the last of their kind.
  • They are the secret heir to the throne.
  • They have sworn vengeance against the murderers of their parents.
  • They have an evil sibling they have to kill.
  • They are stuck in an unwanted arranged marriage.
  • They were abused when they were young. (Seriously, it’ll be trite and spoil the tone, and maybe even destroy the character. Be careful with this one, it’s exceptionally hard to pull off well. Look, don’t even try OK? And don’t say I didn’t warn you…)
  • They are subject to prophecy / are the chosen one.
  • They were born in extreme poverty.
  • They are grieving over the loss of a loved one.
  • They are suffering from a terminal illness.

Now, I’m not saying that these are bad, per se, but just that if you do not construct your character from the ground up with these traits inbuilt, and just try to slap them onto them later, then there is a high chance your whole character concept will fall apart. Here’s some ideas, taking these ideas above, and modelling some possible characters around them.

  • The foolhardy, highly religious character is plagued by visions of the future every night, most of them concerning how he is going to die. This explains how he charged into combat readily, as he knows how and when he will die, but he is so obsessed about death and the afterlife because it is such a prevalent theme in his life.
  • The gallant paladin is conflicted over whether to depose his brother who stole the throne from him, as under the current occupant the country is finally better than ever, and the populace love him for all the improvements he has made. He is happy to seem how the country is now, but he cannot forgive his brother, and is conflicted by this quandary, and instead retreats back into his puritanical teachings for solace.
  • The cheerful spoony bard is in fact noble herself, as in stuck in an arranged marriage, but she requested a grace period in which she could see the world before she takes a much more active role in running the the estate. Her fiancée is likeable, open-minded, and is fairly comely, and she’s quite fond of him, too. It’s a professional, mercantile affair, and will benefit both of their families greatly.

Ah, well, these are just a couple of ideas. Feel free to steal them if you wish.

Gaming: The 3-Act Story

This is a technical post, of a sort, so feel free to skip it if you were expecting more space travel goodness. Basically, it’s an introduction to storytelling in games, with a couple of examples, and some soapboxing at the end.

First of all, here are the 7 plots;

1. The Quest
2. Voyage and Return
3. Rebirth
4. Comedy
5. Tragedy
6. Overcoming the Monster
7. Rags to Riches

However, a couple of these are not applicable in gaming, or at least not for a mainstream game, so in gaming terms, it looks more like this;

1. The Quest – this is the staple of any shooter / RPG / whatever. The plot is “You want to do X! Now do it!”
2. Voyage and Return – The big JRPG one here. “You are in another world / time / dimension! Find a way to return home!”
3. Overcoming the Monster – This is more horror than anything. Plot is “X is bad! Overcome X!”

Now, for a brief explanation of the 3-Act structure.

Act 1 – Set-Up.
The protagonists and antagonists are set up, exposition is given, you learn about the world in which you are set, and the Inciting Incident kicks off the plot. This is the tutorial, when you meet your team, but then your home town is destroyed, and you set off into the big wide world.

Act 2 – Confrontation
You now know who the Big Bad is. Now you grind, do sidequests, and collect all the pieces of the Deus Ex Machina Plot Device to defeat the Evil Empire. You learn more story, visit exotic locations and play through all the loyalty missions. When you have recruited everyone, and reached Level 99, you set out to kill the bad guy.

Act 3 – Resolution
Fight your way through the fortress, defeat the Minibosses. Meet the Bossm, kill him, watch the cutscene, start a New Game Plus.
Standard time allowance is about 10-20% for 1, 60-80% for 2, and 5-10% for 3. Because of the huge amount of time Act 2 has, it can be broken up into 2A and 2B.

2A – This is when you explore your world map, recruit your party, and discover magic. You will meet your first Bosses (outside of Tutorial Bosses) and see what the Antagonists have wrought, and be angry. Meet the people of the land, and marvel that they all sound like white, middle-class Americans, even though they look nothing alike.

2B – Now you’ve specialised, and reached advanced classes. Loyalty missions are here, and you discover all the heavy lore-based stuff. You start to understand the idiosyncrasies of the world further, and do a couple of Serious Moral Choices. The Bosses become more varied, and your party gets all the top-tier gear. Then the suit up and go off to face the Big Bad, and have your horrifically cheesy romance cutscene.
Of course, these Acts only hold true for games with story – RPG’s and the like. Modern Brownfare 8 – Brownfare Evolved can’t have the same level of story. However, it can have a similar set-up – Basic Training, then learn how to use all your weapons, then advanced tactics, then kill the Big Bad Corrupt Multinational. (or something equally bland)

The 3rd Act, however, is where a game can truly shine. It is also where most twists come. (Spoiler – it’s always a betrayal.) If it has been foreshadowed enough, then it can make the game go to new heights, and reveal hidden depths in the world, the story and your companions (Jade Empire, System Shock 2), or make it worse for you due to the twist being trite (Star Ocean 3) or downright confusing (Metal Gear Solid 2).

A risky gambit is the 4th Act. Here’s an example;
1. You meet the Evil Guy. He’s killing people, enslaving them, and forcing them to work down the mines of in his hell-hole empire. He also kiled your father, or something.
2. You meet like-minded revolutionaries, and set out on a quest to restore PollyAnnaLand back to it’s original glory. You disrupt all the evil things he’s done, free slaves, and rob trains. You even find your missing sister/mother/whatever! The people revolt, and you march on the Fortress of Doom.
3. You kill everyone in the Fortress (why else would they be there?) and free the rightful Prince from the dungeons, go to the Throne Room, defeat the Black Dragon of Doom, and prepare to kill the Emperor.

Normally, this is where you chuck him in the dungeons, and watch the sugar-sweet, clichéd epilogue. However, this is where it diverges.

4. The Emperor reveals that Horrible Lovecraftian Monsters are going to invade in world in the next 8 months, and the Ancient Superweapon is the only way of defeating them once and for all. The weapon in question is in the mines, which you have just closed down. He’s really got your best interests at heart, but no-one will believe him if he told them, and if you work down there, you will die within the year. Now the player has to make a Serious Moral Choice about whether to

a) Kill the Emperor or Not
b) Believe him or Not, and
c) Re-open the Mines or Not.

If people don’t expect this, then it can come as a fantastic plot-twist. However, if it is implemented badly, it’ll all fall to pieces. Fable 3 tried to do this, but everyone knew about the twist, and the choices were stupidly polar. (Do you want to destroy the Adorable Woods, and die in a year, or do you want raze them to the ground, kill everything in them, and survive? No, you can’t strip-mine half of the woods. Or reforest somewhere else. Choose one.)
Another 4th Act Twist is changing the genre of the game suddenly, due to an left-field introduction.

Example – a horror shooter. You’re going along, having fun, and have nearly , but then a new strain is released, a gate to Hell opens, or the Mothership arrives, but either way, it’s not good. Everything goes to pot, and you run out of ammo quickly, and the monsters are much, much more powerful than anything you’ve seen recently. Their health can regenerate like yours, and they are quick, jumpy and fast. Your exploration of the derelict ship / scary island / strange town  is now lower priority. You retrace your path through the earlier levels, and try to get to the exit, and back to your ship / vehicle / airplane before you become food.
Most writers have this grand idea of a world, and want to implement it. The set-up is good, too. So that’s Act 1, and some of Act 2. But people tend to forget that it doesn’t stop there, and Act 3 is generally the most disappointing. You’ve got to plan each Act out, scene by scene in some cases, and make sure you try not railroad your players at any opportunity, or make the decisions the character makes illogical. Put a bit more love into your work, and don’t dumb it down for the “mainstream” audiences. They’ll enjoy a good plot as much as the next man.

Gaming: The 1 Hit Point Problem

Health is a tricky concept to put into game systems. There is a whole spectrum of health systems that have propagated over the years, the most prominent at the moment is the fast regeneration, popularised by the Halo series.

The reason regen is popular is simple – it makes the game easier for the designers, and to some extent, the players. In the old days of medkits, if you were a good player, you would get the the climatic boss fight with 100HP remaining. However, if you had screwed up the early stages of the level, you would be fighting it with 15HP. This meant that the level designers had to either put large amounts of health and ammo directly before the boss fight, telegraphing what was about to come, or they could try to balance the boss fight for players with different HP. The second option requires excessive testing, and is expensive, and hard to do. (A good example of this is in Half-Life 2 – when you have lower HP, the Combine get less accurate. Most people don’t notice it, therefore it is a good example.) But with regen, you know how powerful the player will be, meaning it is easier for the designer, and the game requires less testing.

Unfortunately, this also means that weapons now have to do more damage, in order to compensate for people being able to go back to full health after 3 second’s hiding. This is why Call of Duty multiplayer is so fast-paced – the regeneration speed, and resulting increased weapon damage, means that whomever gets the drop wins. Contrast this with, say, Team Fortess 2, where it is a lot slower – you can empty a full clip into somebody, and they still might not die, depending on the characters you are playing. This means that there is a more tactical play, as reflexes are no longer the be-all and end-all.

 

The other way, with fixed-health, as the titular 1HP problem. This is prominent in D&D, and goes a little like this;

I have full health, and can walk, run, climb, swim, fight, whatever. The world is my oyster.
Now I have 1HP, and can do everything I can do at full HP with no penalties, even though I have multiple stab wound, been recently electrocuted, suffered massive blunt-force trauma and am on fire.
Then I take stub my toe, take 1 point of damage, fall over and die. (or bleed out, or whatever)

Perfectly realistic.

The 2 easiest ways to combat this problem is to have  a sliding scale of damage, and the associated penalties.

Sliding scales are always tricky, as they can feel a bit arbitrary, or they can have only quite minor penalties. As someone gets more and more hurt, they get slower, hit lighter, and can’t run as far. In the end, a long-running battle would end up moving at glacial speeds. Locational damage is a good compromise, but is trickier to implement, though Deus Ex did it well. Your body was split into six sections – left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, torso and head. Each had it’s own health-bar. If you lose one arm, your aim goes shonky and your reloading speed is slow. Lose both, and it’s spray-and-pray with a long reload time. Lose a leg, and you’re hobbled. Lose both, and you are shuffling along the floor at crotch-height. However, if your torso or head goes, you’re dead. As Deus Ex was a shooter, it was relatively easy to assign damage – where you we hit, you took damage. However, other than called shots or random hit tables, it is much harder to implement in tabletop games. (Unless the thing you are attacking is huge – then you can call it simply by which way it is facing, and where you are when you attack it.)

However, due to the advantages of regeneration, and the fact that it is the current status quo, then a way to combine it and static HP is for slow regeneration – you still have 100HP, but you regenerate at 1HP/second, after not being shot at for 15 seconds. This means that when you move from room to room, you will have max health, but in a hectic fire-fight you cannot rely on ducking behind cover for 5 seconds and wiping the jam off your eyes. Medkits are now a combat item, and bullets do not have to be the insta-kills they are in faster-paced games. It’s a nice middle of the road for people who prefer the older style of gaming, but with the convenience of the newer games.

Worldbin: Space Travel.

(Sorry for the gap – I was in Scotland. Nice place, wide open skies and blisteringly cold, but no internet)

Space, as I have already said before, is big. And because it is so big, when you travel across it, you have to go into ludicrous speeds in order to get anywhere anytime soon. Here’s a few real-world projects that have been floated about how to accelerate stuff in a vacuum.

Ion Drives

An ion drive (also called an ion thruster) is quite simple. Space is not empty – it has about 1 atoms/cm3 (this can rise to 1000 atoms/cm3 in gas clouds, however), normally in the form of Hydron nuclei – protons.  Your ship fires these backwards via electrostatic or electromagnetic force, and Newton III means you accelerate because of this. Now, the speeds at which you accelerate are very, very small. However, the energy needed to use the drive is also very, very small, and can easily be powered by solar cells. It is a lot more effective on smaller craft, like probes, as you can have a body that is mostly ion drive. But for larger ships, you need to factor in things like living quarters and air recycling. Also it will take years to get up to any decent speeds, which is not useful for crewed missions. However, as it accelerates, it will move quicker, and cover more space, so fire more protons, and so move quicker still. That’s nice. Also, to slow down – just reverse the polarity of the neutron flow electric field.

Railguns

Yes, you read that right, railguns. Now, I hear you cry, how can a railgun launch ships into space? The atmosphere is too thick and too turbulent to launch from Earth, and without a space elevator, how could we construct one in space? Both are realistic points. Without power beaming, carbon nanotubes and batteries a magnitude more efficient, we cannot have a railgun in space. But we can have one on the ground, as long as we sort out the atmosphere first. Now, I’m not talking about pseudo-scientific weather magic, nor putting the railgun on Mount Everest. All you need is magnetised ice. Ice itself is not magnetic, but if you add iron filings to the water as it congeals, then you can accelerate it in a magnetic field. To launch someone, you will need quite a few megaton, maybe even gigaton, blocks of this ice, as well as your ship. (NB- the ice blocks must be larger in size than the ship, otherwise this will not work at all)

You get a long railgun – several km in length, and in quick succession (and I do mean quick), you fire your ice blocks, then the ship. As the ice hits the atmosphere, it will “burn up” and release high-energy, high-pressure water vapour into the atmosphere in a trail behind it, like a comet. This will mean there will be a low-pressure “tube” where the ice has passed. The second block will go further than the first, as it has less atmosphere in the way, and will extend this “tube”, as well as dropping the pressure of the original tube. As this goes on, you should create a low-pressure, stable area where you can fire you ship. If you time it right, the “tube” should start to collapse at about the time when the next ice block moves through it to stabilise it. But when the ships passes through the near-vacuum, it will collapse behind it, propelling it forwards, and accelerating it further.

The big downside to this, however, is that when the “tube” collapses, there will be some atmospheric fallout because of it. For example, the shockwave. This will deafen anyone without ear protection in a 20km radius, and flatten anything within 5km. All free-standing structures (i.e. everything that isn’t a bunker of 1 storey tall) in about 10km will be destroyed. Then there will be the second shockwave, as the atmosphere rushes backwards, which will do the whole thing over again. Yay. Also – the weather. If you’ve ever seen one of those super-storm things on the TV, you will now be able to see it in real life. And the atmosphere will be exceptionally ionized, due to the passing of the charged ice, meaning that there will be al lot of lightning. So really, this thing is only viable in the desert, where everything is tightly tied down. But still – think of the speeds you would obtain!

Project Orion

This is actually an older idea, first mooted back in 1946. However, you may know it by another name – nuclear propulsion. (Un?)Fortunately, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (or, to give it it’s full name the “Treaty banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water”) means that it will never get off the ground. The idea behind it is very simple.

1. Construct a large ship (most likely a colony ship) in Low Earth Orbit, with a large dish at it’s rear that could collect the energy.

2. Move it away from Earth via Ion Drives, or Solid Fuel Rockets, whatever.

3. Detonate many, many nuclear bombs behind it.

You see, nuclear bombs no not need oxygen to work. Only the critical mass. The energy released would propel the ships forwards as it landed on the collecting dish, which it could then use.

The downside to this is that there would be some serious fallout. As in nuclear fallout. The amount of it, and the danger it would pose, would be determined by how far the ship was away from Earth, in which direction it was facing, and how powerful the bombs would be. The “ideal” situation would be when you spend 6 months moving the ship away from Earth, and then hit the big red button. The EMP would do minimal damage, as Earth would be shielded by the Sun, and the fallout should have dissipated and decayed enough to be safe by the next time Earth came around.

So, in summary;

Ion Drives – clean energy for probes to hit c and to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Railguns – launch small crews to Europa, but destroy the surrounding countryside.

Nuclear Propulsion – get rid of the excess nuclear stockpile in order to launch generation ships to Proxima Centauri.