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.

Advertisements

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.