A Bridge To The Quiet Planet – Religion

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Let’s get to know more about the setting of my upcoming novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet.  It’s out late this fall but you can find out about the world now . . .

Religion

Religion on modern Telvaren and it’s colonies is a practical affair due to the simple matter that aeons of worship, theology, magic, science, and a few confused holy wars and philosophical battles have led to religion becoming an organized, well-understood part of culture.  It’s there, it has its purpose, and if you want to actually read up on it there’s extensive books, theses, and scientific papers that can bore you into knowledge.

At it’s core, religion essentially accepts that the gods are real (which is easy when they tell you they are) and that humanity and they benefit from the interaction.  There’s several hundred gods at last count so there’s plenty of gods to interact with, though they’re not always on the same side, or in agreement, or understandable.  But in the end, religion provides mutual benefit, as found by aeons of work and a few centuries of recovering from the devastating event simply called The War.

Gods

Gods predate humanity.  They are conceptual creatures, a face on the abstract forces and powers of the world and of life itself.  The variable nature of reality, often called magic, seems to play a role in this, but the simplest way people are taught to think about it is that life can evolve from anything – even abstract concepts or non-living natural forces.

The gods are the masks the world puts on, life that evolves “over” the abstract.

The evolution of humanity, of thinking creatures able to conceive and dream, and conceptualize was a boon for the gods.  Human minds and emotions manifested the abstract forces of life and thought more than anything else; their ideas and thoughts enriched the lives of the gods and helped them grow and become more aware.  Metaphorically (and to an extent, accurately), humanity is the environment gods live in; creatures of life and death, industry and war, thought and art.

It’s considered by many Evolutionary Theologians to be similar to how dogs and humans affected each other’s evolution, though no one is sure who’s the dog and who’s the human in the relationship.  The Sixth Sage is noted as saying the dogs probably got insulted by this comparison, which is a very popular saying among dog owners and seen on many t-shirts by people thinking they’re witty.

Gods and Humans co-evolved, with the humans providing a rich environment for the gods, and the gods happily lending their power and insights to people.  Out of this evolved worship and rituals and holidays to keep gods and humans in sync.

It is said that gods could indeed exist without humanity, and all evidence indicates this is true.  But their lives would be like living in an arid desert; you can live, but that’s all you can do.  The War is said to have terrified the gods and helped re-shape their relationships with humans and each other.

Religion

Religious practices are viewed practically, but they also vary extremely with god, families, neighborhoods, and regions – gods and humans tend to take different views of “what works.”  Usually this is close to, but not always the same, and when you throw a few hundred gods into the mix it’s confusing.

There are enormous efforts, especially post-Reformation, to ensure organized religion is even more organized.  This sometimes actually works, but it also means there are endless meetings and sessions and attempts to codify works.  There are always newly discovered holy text that may seem revolutionary to humans, but to a god are just something they “wrote down” and they didn’t think of the culture-changing impact.  The great Theopolis of Triad True is constantly abuzz with work, and boasts a bureaucracy that would make even the great historical mages of Phoenix Ascendant jealous – albeit jealous in an organized manner.

Among all this attempt to codify everything from clerical titles (which are known to change every few years) to agreements with the gods, the front line of human-god relations are clerics.

Clerics

“Cleric” is the catch-all term for a person who is in contact with a specific god, voluntarily, and has an ongoing relationship with them.  A Cleric is officially recognized by their god and their Church (or Temple, or whatever title) as being a direct line to the god in question.

Clerics provide advice from holy texts and occasionally the gods themselves.  They provide prophecy from the gods – which has only increased as Network usage has expanded and the gods took to email centuries ago.  They also provide blessings, channeling some of a gods power to the faithful.

However, Clerics also provide a service to the gods in that they are their connection to humans.  Clerics help the gods understand humanity and stay in touch with the world.  This part of the relationship is not always understood by other humans.

Clerics often have a variety of powers granted them by the god, sometimes without the god actually thinking much about it.  These are classified as:

  • Aspect: Almost all Clerics develop a talent or ability that reflects the sphere of their god.  A Cleric of the goddess of war may have supernatural tactical sense, a Cleric of the god of scheduling may have precognition, and so on.  These Aspects usually have to be called upon consciously, and though in theory unlimited, some “turn off” at odd moments if a cleric strays too far from their god’s plans.
  • Glamour: Though Clerics hate this title, most Clerics have the ability to inspire people with certain emotions related to their gods – sometimes without thinking.  It is called “Inspiration” by most Clerics, but popular opinion has left them stuck with “Glamour.”
  • Exorcism: All Clerics in theory can release some of their gods raw power to disrupt demons, malicious spirits and ghosts, and other anomolies.  Few actually use it – it’s basically the spiritual equivalent of putting a lighter in front of hairspray, turning a utility into a weapon.

Many modern clerics organize in Theocades, great multi-religious structures that can have temples, rooms, and the like reshuffled.  They also act as housing and community centers.

Shamans And Spirits

Shamans and spirits are sometimes classified as part of religion, sometimes not – and there’s been a concerted and not entirely well-meaning effort to exclude them from being considered religious professionals entirely.  This is an area of theological politics that many humans and most gods don’t like as well as don’t care about.

“Spirits” are not gods, though some have been mistaken for them and some gods employ them.  Spirits are the results of human interaction with objects, places, and ideas that, over time, shapes the magical forces of that object, place, and idea until it achieves consciousness.  Roads, vehicles, buildings, famous objects all can have spirits.

Spirits are conscious but erratic and unpredictable magical beings with a variety of powers and abilities.  They can easily be appeased and interacted with in assorted ways – conversation, attention, sacrifice of blood, food, and alcohol, and so on.  In times as spirits mature they become more powerful and more human.

Shamans are those that interact with spirits and have extensive knowledge of them.  Shamans and Clerics used to be the same profession for all intends and purposes, but over the last few centuries there’s been a noteable split as religion became more organized.  Now the two are on their way to being specialist professions, and there is conflict over this, especially as Clerics wield more political and social power – and as people learn more and more about interacting with supernatural creatures in school.

All of the Great Cities have a City Shamanic Department to deal with the spirits in a city.

Triad True

Triad True is a great Theopolis, and arguably a Great City younger than Highpoint if you want to argue what constitutes a Great City, which many people do just to be spiteful.  Located in the southern part of the Central Region, it has gone from a mix of temples and hastily-assembled seminaries to a gigantic metropolis in only three centuries.  Many clerics do some or all of their training there, great libraries and reliquaries abound, museums display history, and some great publishing concerns operate.

Beyond theological and educational business, Triad True is also a popular vacation spot with beautiful areas to visit, relaxing parks, and more.  Needless to say this additional financial influx is quite popular.

There is some unspoken issues involving the Bridges that connect works – Triad True much to people’s surprise does not have a permanent Bridge schedule with Godsrest.  Why is not entirely understood, and its suggested economics and politics plays more of an issue, though superstition may as well.

 

– Steve

Aggretsuko, Style, And Experiences

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I’ve just run a marathon of Aggretsuko for a bunch of friends.  If you haven’t seen or heard of this Sanrio cute-dark office comedy, it’s worth checking out.  It’s the story of a twenty-something office worker, her lousy job, her friends, and her attempts to do more in her life – and the tales of the people around her.

The obvious part of why you want to check it out is that it’s well-acted, surprisingly deep in its look at pathological office environments and people being supportive of each other, and more.  The fact it’s all done cute makes dealing with the horrific parts of life more palatable – until you realize what you just saw is something that should have depressed you.

But what stood out for me was not just the content – it was the style.  Aggretsuko has lots of brilliant stylistic choices, tricks, callbacks, and more.  Such as:

  • Using Avatar The Last Airbender like mystic visions (yes, in the middle of a dark office comedy).
  • Callbacks to anime/martial arts – for death metal karoke (and how music is like comedy).
  • Use of mask metaphors in animation for people’s interpretations of others.
  • Very effective use of character body languages – with simple and cutsey characters, how you use body language is both limited and enhanced.
  • Even the dub makes certain choices of translation to give context – it’s not word-for-word, but instead smartly thinks of the audience and makes appropriate pop culture callbacks.

Many of these stylistic choices, many derived from other media, work well in service of a story.  Music can be combat.  We do wear masks – but we put them on others.  Aggretskuo is clearly made by people who understand other forms of media and learned from them.

All in the service of a cute animal dark office comedy.

The show thus becomes a lesson that my friend Serdar has often repeated; to be good at any form of media you need to learn from many forms of media.  Each influence, no matter how unexpected, or odd, or not related to the media you make is a chance to grow, get insights, and get lessons to apply.

Aggretsuko could have just done cute animals and dark comedy.  It may have been amusing or insightful, but it wouldn’t have had the impact it had.  It used lessons from other media to tell its story to make it more impactful and more powerful – everyone I watched it with was relating to it and taken by it and we had fruitful discussions of what we took from it.

Always be sure to try and experience new media – and be open to learning from one form of media to use in another.  A few examples for myself:

  • Dave Barry, the comedic/commentary writer has influenced my fiction writing.  His style dovetails well with my Pratchett/Aspirin influences, but also he has a gift for commenting on the human condition.
  • I use comics as a way to visualize fiction, how things may appear or be described.  It also helps me determine what I might be missing.
  • Witty writing in a Dragon Quest game had some stylistic choices with alliteration I tried in my nonfiction.

You’ve probably learned more from other media than you realize – what more can you learn when you’re aware of it?

– Steve

Civic Geek: An Update

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

So what have I been up to as a Civic Geek?  I figured I’d do a quick summary.

  • First, still doing social media work for a local political group.  I’ve been focusing more on making sure people are aware of local and national/international groups they can join, as well as doing daily activism posts – ideas of what to do that day.  I may have mentioned this recently, can’t recall as it’s been awhile.
  • I’ve also started to add a news roundup mostly every weekday.  There’s so much damn stuff to keep up with it’s necessary.  Because of that . . .
  • I’ve had to work harder to keep up on local news as national/world can be distracting.  So that’s taking some effort for obvious reasons.
  • I’m trying to get back to being more active – calling, writing, etc.  That’s been surprisingly hard considering so many recent changes, but I got a bit closer this week – I think you need to have a strategy for these kinds of things.
  • I’m also trying to remember that when I miss calling a representative I can always email them.
  • Because of all the crazy news, I find the news reporting I do for the group helps me keep the big picture.  If you’re having trouble keeping up on the news then maybe sitting down to round it up yourself will help.
  • Because more and more is becoming apparent in what’s going on in the world, as more things are exposed, as we have people push for change it’s educational.  Pay attention and think philosophically about what we can learn from all of this – and how we got where we are (good and bad)

– Steve

Steve’s Update 5/19/2018

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Looks like I forgot an update last week.  Things are still a bit busy.  So let’s get to it!

So what have I done the last week?

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: I got the first set of pre-read feedback in and it looks like my second big pre-read feedback and my own final twists can be integrated in one go – so that starts this week.
  • Agile Creativity I got this blog-posts-turned book into one book, formatted it and have it out to people!  Let me know if you want to take a gander.
  • Blogging: Posted my thoughts on an Overwatch MMO (quite proud of those) and more details on the Avenoth solar system from A Bridge To The Quiet Planet – Magic and Technology
  • General Chores: Getting ready for Fanime!

What am I going to do this week?

The name of the game here is “focus.”  I also have a baby shower to go to and an event to run, so it might be a bit occupied.

  • A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Start the final editing run.  I have no idea how long it’ll take.  I also hope to get more character work back on the cover!
  • Agile Creativity: Send it out to a few more pre-readers.
  • Fanime: Gonna be busy there!

I also realized I have to get back to fleshing out the Nexus at Seventh Sanctum – got a bit rushed in various things (maybe I overdid it there and should have paced myself).

As a note, I’m going to try more “bookblogging” – trying out posting some blog posts out of a book idea to see how it works and if its worth fleshing out.  Look for more soon . . .

– Steve

Book Cover Musings

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet (Motto: “Sorcery, Science, Sarcasm”), I’m back to practicing book covers. I’ve been doing more of my fake book covers, with attempts at colorful kitch and e-book pulp action. I’ve realized I want to get better because I’ve got more books coming out – though my “tentpole” books are best with professional art.

I also realized some of my other books desperately need a cover update, so if you start seeing some of my older or smaller stuff look different, you know why. This has led me to get all philosophical about book covers, and you get to read about it.

Actually, this is pretty good stuff if you’re an author.

Royalty Free Art Grows Over Time

CanStockPhoto and Shutterstock are great resources for royalty-free art cheap, but even free sites like Pixabay have good resources – and think how more and more is being made over time. Every artist who joins, every upload of that “thing in the portfolio I haven’t used,” every additional piece, is another resource to be used. Over time, there will be more art available to users.

That would mean that in time it may take more searching but *the perfect piece of cover art will be more likely to be out there over time.* Also this means the perfect piece is just going to run you $8-$15 (as of 2018 numbers). even in my experiments, which use free sites, I’ve been surprised how I could find close or near-perfect art to my vision.

Cover Art Resources Keep Growing

I tend not to use stuff like Canva, etc. that let you build book covers I like the control of learning and of building my own templates. But these resources are out there and there’s more and they’re getting better. It’s going to be easier to make a good book cover over time.

Combine that with the above truth of more and more art being available and it’s going to be easier to have a half-decent cover for your book – at least an ebook.

Cover Art Ages

It’s weird to think how some of my books that looked appropriate for the time look a little aged or just poor right now. I can also see which styles may last versus which may become outdated.

For instance, now the trend of covers for fantasy and sf that are abstract or minimalist or symbolic is kinda wearing thin on me. I miss the covers that looked like they should be posters on your wall.

Also, some trend-jumping is going to be problematic. Remember how many things looked like Twilight Covers? Have those aged well? How many trendy things won’t work a few years down the road?

Cover Art May Matter More

When you see how people can make their own covers, how there’s more resources, and how art ages, I think good book covers matter more and more. At some point the market changes, the competitors ramp up, or your style is outdated.

Maybe authors need to consider swapping out cover art every two years or so. Of course if we do that then the value of art changes and it becomes far more a disposable commodity.

This Changes The Market For Cover Art

At this point I see that the market for cover art is changing and may change more rapidly. This is going to affect artists.

A good piece of cover art can run you $300-$1000 right now. Meanwhile a premade cover like you see at GoOnWrite might be $30-50. Something from CanStock Photo applied to an existing template may cost you $8.00.

If art becomes a variable commodity, the value changes – as is what people will pay for it.

Going Forward

Not sure if I found some massive magical trend (or if I’m seeing something everyone else has seen), but it’s something I’ll be keeping in mind. All we authors have to live with what’s happening – and decide where to invest our time.

 

– Steve

A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Technology

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Let’s get to know more about the setting of my upcoming novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet.

Technology

The humans of the worlds of Avenoth find the division between Technology and magic to be very clear.  This is probably why some people talk about it too much.

Magic is defined as that requiring direct human involvement to exist, calling upon the magic in the world.  Items created using magic (enchantment or alchemy) are also considered magical if they rely on magical sources or power or magic to channel power.

Technology is defined as that which does not require a human to invoke and rely on the magic in the world or magic to power an item.  If magic doesn’t touch it it’s probably technology.

Of course, this area leads to assorted debates.  Is piece of equipment incorporating an enchanted component magic (most say no).  Is something manufactued via magic as many things are magical (most say no).  Does it mess up other enchantments or screw up hard-cast spells (it better not).

Thus the debates continue, though the larger population probably doesn’t care, and wishes the debates would slow down.

Magic and Technology are unavoidably intertwined.  Much technology originated by scholars studying items created or altered by magic.  Technology has helped created testing devices and training tools for magic.  Enchanted components are common in exotic technologies – or in some cases cheaper.

The supposed separation remains an area of debate.

The Involvement Of Magic And Manufacturing

Magic has been involved in manufacturing for centuries or perhaps aeons.  Trained mages can easily shape stone or metal, lift objects, and stoke fires.  There are mages and magical practices that focus only on practical applications – mages that do this often practice only a single element, and are often called “Fab mages.”

Over time, manufacturing has become more and more automated and less and less magical.  Science has figured out how to duplicate magical creations – without the issues of creating enchantments sensitive mages may feel.  This has accelerated in the last century or two, and is producing disruptions in both the manufacturing and magical communities.

Magic is still very prominent in construction, where Lithomancers shape and mold stone and stone derivatives like concrete.  They can very quickly raise buildings with the help of others.  Such shaped stone is called magestone.  The guild Crimson Cornerstone is the largest Guild of construction mages.

More exotic technologies may use enchanted or specialized mage-manufactured components, such as unusual weapons or special slate components.

Common Technologies

Aerobarges – Extremely large Flyers relying on anti-gravity technology – large, aerial platforms akin to ships of the air.  They are slower than Flyers, but their stability, safety, capacity for cargo, and ability to offer a less confined experience.

Autocoaches – Powered vehicles for transport – what we would call cars, trucks, and buses.  The term is used for  any powered human transport, but terms like “bus” or “hauler” may also be used.

Bridges – Bridges are teleporation devices used to travel between planets, large platforms powered by techno-magical creations to instantly send people and cargo between worlds.  This requires two Bridges to syncronize – and between orbits, timing, breakdowns, and planetary rotations, schedules can be notoriously unreliable or strange.  Bridges are run by an organization called The Bridgers, a non-religious but very philosophical organization that takes their job as serious as any creed.

Clackers – Flashminds bonded to mechanical bodies, usually used in combat during the War and at times for executions.  Clackers are, like AI, forbidden technology.  As many were designed for hardships, however, they can last for centuries – and recovering them is a sure insight into past technologies if one doesn’t accidentally reactivate one . . .

Flashminds – Artificial intelligence, often ones made by magically copying a human mind. All AI is forbidden on Telvaren due to past experiences and disasters.  Attempting to use or create them is met with stiff penalties – often fatal (if unproveably fatal)

Flyers – Aerial transport devices – what we would consider airplanes.  Many use anti-gravity technology for takeoffs, landings, and stabilizing the passenger.

Slates – Slates are portable, flat screen devices used to access the Network.  They are used most commonly for email, video calls, and research.  They are similar to cell phones and tablets in our world.

The Network – The Network is a world(s) spanning communication tool for transmission of information.  It had existed in several incarnations, and is now on version 3 – the former versions having fallen to magical problems and strange technical problems like Flashminds.  It is usually used for email, video calls, and visiting “sites” of information.  It’s obviously similar to the internet, though the heavy need for security and caution over technology mean it tends to be used more practically and cautiously.

Variable Weapon – A term for customized weaponry, often weaponry that transforms between multiple states, at times in ways that seem to violate the laws of physics.  This functionality is due to magical components that many contain – or components based upon magically created templates.  Variable weapons are carried by technics, members of Warrior Lodges, and some military specialists – but are looked down on as flashy and hard to maintain by many Constables and members of the Military.

 

The god of technology and engineers is Xomanthu, who is the arguable head of a large gaggle of gods and goddesses involved in the spheres of technology.  He is not the oldest of the gods, but seems to be the most forward thinking and social of his company of deities.  He’s usally portrayed as male or gender-ambiguous, with multiple arms – “Xomanthu’s many hands” is a common invocation, oath, or curse.  Xomanthu likes to be involved in people’s lives, though at times his involvement can be complicating.

– Steve

Finishing Flawed Fiction And Processing Piecemeal Prescriptions

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to get it ready for my awesome professional editor, I reflected on what I went through to write the book.  I see now this could have been faster if I hadn’t spent time editing as I went, chapter by chapter until the halfway point.  In short, I actually aimed for quality too early.

At first this violated my expectations.  Being into Agile, I figured that doing it piece by piece, making chapters available to prereaders, would result in better quality.  It’s something I’ve read about authors doing before, and I’d read several articles on how instructional writing (which I’ve done for awhile) can be released in modules.  Shouldn’t a story be something you can release chapter by chapter and get good feedback?

Not entirely.

Now I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to make fiction available to prereaders in parts, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s of very limited value.  Here’s why.

Instructional and nonfiction works are often something we can break down – and indeed, should break down – into pieces that almost anyone could edit.  Yes, some may miss context or seem borderline useless on their own, but nonfiction is often very modular.  We process instructions, history, documentation, etc. in discreet chunks – we think step-by-step.

Nonfiction works are a lot like modular software or dishes where you can sample individual ingredients and get an idea of their combined taste.

But fictional works?  They’re different.

Fictional works are much more of a whole.  They’re intellectual and emotional and literary, requiring many modes of thought and feeling to appreciate them.  They often have mysteries and callbacks and references – indeed, deception is part of some some fiction writing.  Fiction is hard to evaluate apart from the whole of the work – to truly “get” it you need the whole experience a complete work.  Finally, as fiction involves imagination, you often discover your work as you write it.

Fictional works are like software that requires a lot of code to be done before it functions or a crude alpha before it can be evaluated.  They’re like a dish that you can’t appreciate until it’s done, or ones requiring careful tweaking to get “just right.”

I now realize that I could be delivering A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to you quicker if I’d decided, as opposed to editing chapter by chapter, I’d just run on and pushed myself to finish the thing and accepted it wasn’t perfect – maybe put out one or two chapters to get my groove.  Now that I have a complete work, all the edits are far more richer, far more revealing, far more coherent – and much of my best edits were made when it was done and I could see the whole thing.

When I write fiction in the future, I think I need to accept that my initial effort is basically going to be like a piece of alpha software.  Good planning and thought can make it a very good alpha, but my focus should be to get it done so I have enough to work from.  Many things in fiction writing only become apparent once you have the whole picture.

Again, I don’t think this means you can’t put unfinished fiction up for review.  I just think people need to accept the limits of such things – and ask what delivers the most value for them and the audience.

I also find this very satisfying to think of.  I can accept that fiction starts imperfect because of all its factors and charge ahead, admitting it won’t be perfect.  It’s just that when the imperfect version is done, the perfect version follows more easily.

(By the way that title took me forever to come up with so I hope you appreciate the attention to alliteration.)

– Steve

Playing Producer: An Overwatch RPG Character System

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Taking a break from my more dramatic posts to do a bit of game analysis here –  I’m playing Product Owner and Producer in my head asking just what an RPG of hit game Overwatch would need.  I’ve noted that it’s probably viable (if the target date is 3-4 years from now), that it’d have to be highly personal – so now let’s get to the final question.  Also feel free to use any of these ideas.

What would the Character system be like?

Overwatch as noted is a Superhero story through a sci-fi lens with some mysticism thrown in. This means characters people play have to be UNIQUE. When you create a character in an Overwatch RPG they should feel just as unique as the characters in the game. That’s a tall order, but I actually believe it can be done.

In addition, there’s certain gameplay challenges for this uniqueness; loot and crafting. But again, I think this can be handled.

So let’s get to it.

Characters: Backgrounds Must Matter

Character’s need to be able to have some kind of background and have it matter. Uniqueness comes with history, and a paragraph of charcter description doesn’t cut it. That means you need some kind of way to portray backgrounds so they matter.

I’d suggest the followin:

  • First, cover different basic characters – human, altered human (like Genji or the Soldiers), Uplifted Animals (like Winston) and Omnic.  These should alter options and maybe offer benefits and disadvantages.
  • Ensure factions matter (let’s face it, there will at least be Overwatch and Talon).
  • Give those characters some background choices that flesh out history, some bonuses, and probably initial reputation. Maybe even a short almost choose-your-own-adventure type thing.
  • Allow the final summary of said choices to be made so they can be tweaked.
  • Background affects certain elements like training mission, initial reputation and NPC reactions, and so on.

Imagine you start Overwatch the RPG, and try to get wild by playing an Uplifted animal with healing technology. You pick an Uplift and get a few species choices, and pick a Bear. A few more choices and you decide you were created by an independent scientist and have healing abilities due to some kind of biology-altering process (nanites, cybernetics, whatever). With your story in place, you design your character, and your first mission might be a test of said abilities (taken from a stock list of missions, or a stock mission altered for you).

The choices would be deep in that you might get bonuses to certain aspects and a few summaries on your character profile, and the first mission and character reactions are different. One change to your choices would result in different experiences, but meanwhile every scientist NPC is cautiosu around your bear because they know he had a hard upbringing and they don’t want to anger several hundred pounds of traumatized muscle.

It’s not that the individual choices may be that radical – but they must add up.  In fact, this is a major theme you’ll see . . .

Characters: Appearance Matters

Overwatch presents a diverse cast of characters because it is basically a Superhero game.  Therefore it must have a very diverse character appearance engine and option.  The original game contains a robot monk, a genetically engineered gorilla, a giant dude in a suit of armor, a skinny time-jumping soldier, a plump scientist, and more.  Each character looks unique – as must any created character.

This means a few things:

  • Actually different builds.  No more “skinny, muscular, and average.”  Let’s have a range of heights and weights and builds.
  • You should be able to build someone that looks like they’re from our world – a range of skin, hair, face, eye types and so on.  Hire actual experts to ensure all the differences among humanity are represented.
  • Makeup, hair, jewelry, and clothes options that represent a range of past, current, and projected future cultures.  Every character has their own look, and many characters in the game call back to their culture, to legend and history, and so on.  Sometimes Blizzard has been a bit ham-handed on this, so again call some experts.
  • Ensure there’s also plenty of superhero-ish and sci-fi-ish options because hey, it fits.
  • Make sure missions and levels and purchases let you get really unique cosmetic items and choices.  Let people’s appearance reflect their experiences.
  • Don’t do anything insensitive.  Again, consult the experts.  Have this game have a bibliography.

I figure Blizzard can do this easily.  But to have something allowing diversity while keeping the aesthetic?  That’d be an achievement.

Also if you can get people to sit in a game for 30 minutes playing with options?  You win.

Characters: Characters Must Be Iconic And Individual And Easy

Now let’s get to the challenge and the chance for glory – the character creation system.

An Overwatch game has to let you make iconic heroes that are unique individuals with a system an audience can understand – as an Overwatch RPG may attract people of diverse gaming background.  It also has to be something a team can actually develop and test and patch.

How do you let people make characters as unique as a vigilante techno musician and a crazed life-manipulating scientist who looks like a Sailor Moon Villain?  How do you code and test this?

As I look over various Superhero games, game systems are always a challenge to develop.  You need a system to reflect the ability to do anything, while needing to make it understandable, createable, and testable.  But in my gaming over the years I’ve noticed a few trends that give me an idea

  • Skill Trees are a great way to provide customizable characters, but in ways that don’t become an overwhelming system.  The Borderlands series does this very well, with iconic characters that have three “trees” that allow them to be uniquely customized.
  • A lot of superhero games – and indeed games period – put characters into broad categories with options – even Champions pen and paper eventually acknowledged there were only a few major archetypes.  City of Heroes/Villains did this well, having you pick a character role (Ranged, Tank, etc.) with a variety of power options within it.
  • Interacting Iconic Ideas” is something I’ve seen work well – give people a few kinds of iconic choices that together produce a unique character.  Wildstar Online did this in a marvelously simple way – you pick a fighting class (Stalker, Warrior, etc.) and a profession or social role (Explorer, Scientist, etc.)  Even these two simple choices would yield unique characters – like a Medic who sought out combat, or a brawling Warrior who build settlements.
  • Categorical Choices” – DC Online’s superhero system is brilliantly simple, even if I have issues with the implementation.  A character choses a way to fight, a type of superpower, and a type of movement.  You can be a magician with pistols who flies, or a high-tech martial artist who can run up the side of building.  Simple, elegant, effective.
  • For clarity, some options should be simple either/or choices.  Make it easier on everyone.
  • Make simple characters choices customizable.  If your character has a plasma rifle that’s nice, but maybe they have options to tweak the speed of fire, ammo capacity, and so on.  Sure you can not change it, but maybe in time you want to make it “your own.”

From my years of playing different games, I think I see an ideal Overwatch character system:

  • People pick a Field Role based on the four groups in Overwatch – Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support.  These represent (to an extent) your combat role in the field.
  • The Field Role gives you a range of Weapon Specialties and you pick one.  This provides your basic weapon or weapon set.  Much like current Overwatch, it’s what you usually are shooting or hitting with all the time.  There’s also probably a skill tree associated with the choice, letting you customize your choice over time.
  • The Field Role also gives you a range of Field Skills to choose from.  These are individual and highly iconic like “Explosives” or “Stealth” or “Healing”  You’d probably get to choose one or two – these are more or less your special powers and gadgets.  Like current Overwatch, these are special abilities you use – and should be customizable.
  • You then select a Profession role – your noncombat role.  This would be general professions like Scientist, Doctor, Engineer, etc.  This is for non-shooty adventure elements.
  • Your Professional role gives you optional skills – like Biology, Botany, Computers, Deception, and so on.

So the idea I see is that you pick how you fight, what combat abilities you have, how you function professionally, and a specific profession.  These would give you a few skill trees that are simple and clear.  So your character is already pretty unique from the start – and more customization can follow.

Yet at the same time you can sum your character up easy – “I’m an Offense Type with a Shotgun that uses Explosives and Scanners, and a  Survivalist specialized in healing and salvage.”  There you just summed up your characters – a person who likes big booms and setting up gizmos to find enemies, but they’re also good at helping people heal and salvaging cool stuff from combats.

(It’s not hard to imagine even a few sets of options would yield thousands of basic character types).

Character progression would be handled by expanding and customizing skill trees.  Take that Crusader Hammer and add extra impact.  Jazz your healing skill with an option that draws health from enemies as you heal.  In fact . . .

Characters: Handling Loot

Loot is a big part of RPGs, but also in Overwatch it seems kinda an odd thing to have.  I mean Overwatch is a semi-military organization and they probably, you know, have equipment.  Talon may be a criminal organization but they’re an organiziation.  You don’t exactly want people to be constantly trying to unlock treasure and hoovering up loot when they’re busy saving or stealing from the world.  It doesn’t fit the scene for most characters (looking at you, Junkrat and Roadhog).

Also a superhero game shouldn’t be about managing tons of loot.

I think this can be addressed in a few ways:

  • First, ditch money.  Go for the classic “reputation” system where doing actions gives you a spendable reputation.  That’s . . . well, like money.
  • Character weapons should be iconic – IE they can’t swap them out.  Like JRPGs and some other games your weapon choice is very narrow – classic Superhero.
  • Skill trees should allow for customizing skills and weapons – representing leveling up technical skills, being cleared for new components, etc.
  • Specific missions and amounts of reputation would let you upgrade your core weapon or purchase a new one.  This represents your increased reputation an rewards.
  • You may also get rewards for certain actions that let you customize your skill trees.  A mission may yield a new barrel for your rifle or an “insight” you can choose to enhance a non-combat skill.  City of heroes did something similar – people would find icons that represented new technology or mutations that you “dropped” onto a power to make it customized.

So in short, money that isn’t money, standardized weapons that are otherwise customizable or replaceable under some circumstances, and “customizable” skill trees that represent new technology and unique learnings.

This is fuzzy, it’d require thought.

Characters: Handling Crafting

And finally the hard part – crafting.  In a game that is highly social, but also has iconic characters and doesn’t focus on loot, how can you handle crafting?

I’m not 100% sure to be honest.  You want people to be able to make stuff and share it, but inventory management isn’t a big part of superheroes.  So a few thoughts:

  • Crafting unique clothes and items for one’s room/personal base is de rigeur.
  • Crafting “items” seems to either be out or something that should be onerous.
  • Maybe add “resource” missions that let people go into the field to get valuable resources – of course it’d be a challenge.
  • Crafting powerups and special one-use items would fit well, especially if it fit certain skillsets.
  • Crafting the “components” I mentioned above seems very viable.

This one is a bit hard for me to figure out – it may be the hardest part of the game.

I would add, finally, that if the game could add crafting-only and/or non-combat professions for people to play it would expand the game’s reach.

In Closing

So there we go, my large-scale analysis where I play Product Owner and Producer and ask about an Overwatch MMO.  It can be done with the right mix of simple ideas and complex interactions.

– Steve

A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Magic

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Let’s get to know more about the setting of my upcoming novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet.

Magic

Magic has three definitions to the humans whose worlds orbit the star Avenoth:

  1. Magic is the potential for a person or being to alter beyond its nature and/or the liklihood of probability.
  2. The alteration of something by a person whose mind is able to, via various disciplines, call upon the potential in themselves or a target to alter it’s nature and/or bring about an otherwise improbably event.
  3. The results of the alteration in #2.

When mages don’t want to mess around with semantics they usually put it simply “people can both instinctively and in practice change reality because people and reality are malleable.”  However, as magic is common (and indeed, everyday), most of humanity gives it little thought.

Reality has the potential to be altered, it is alive with probabilities.  Humans have over the aeons developed disciplines to allow them to use their own mental effort to “align” with new potentials and bring them about.  This is akin to a conversation, a dialogue where reality is rewritten, though in modern magic it happens extremely quickly.

It is akin to a dialogue as this change is created by visualizing various symbols in one’s mind that align a person’s mind with the potential in reality.  These symbols and methods have been hard-won over the ages, crafted and improved to create the most efficient ways to invoke magic, and to do so in the most efficient and least painful way possible.  Combined with practiced meditations, the understanding of other relevant sciences such as chemistry and physics, and guiding physical actions, mages can create powerful changes in their environment.

There are still disciplines and individuals that require such things as magical circles, runes, and diagrams created to help visualization.  These may be used by less practiced mages, but also by those who have to invoke complex forces such as Necromancers or those creating powerful warding magics.  Sometimes having a map is just easier.

Many mages discover an aptitude for magic without training, and there are some disciplines (such as Shadowing and Divination) that develop instinctively during a person’s life and experiences.  A surprisingly large amount of people do low-level magic instinctively with no training or detection, such as luck manipulation.

Modern mages tend to train in specific disciplines and elements, such as manipulating stone or calling upon fire.  Specializing in a few forms of magic means they learn quicker as similar lessons play into each other – to try and manipulate many elements or forms over time requires extensive learning and practice, as well as unpleasant potential accidents.  The more elements or forms one can master, the higher ranked a mage is considered by their various Guilds and organizations, though certain complex specializations (Necromancy, Illusionism, and some forms of Divination) have their own ranking systems.

Magic is taught in large schools and universities, and is carefully regulated because of it’s nature.  A mage, as respected as they are, as much as they are a part of society, is powerful – and with all the unpredictability of a human.  Responsibility is emphasized by schools, parents, clerics, and society.

All mages are required to either join one of the many Guilds (which provide services and employment) or register with appropriate Universities in whatever Great City they live in (which is very rare).  All mages must wear Guild colors and badges or logos at all times to identify themselves, no matter how poor the Guild’s fashion sense is.  This policy, enforced over the centuries, goes virtually unquestioned – and has helped people trust mages.

The god of magic is Ivonau, The Spellshaper, The Eye of Magic.  Ivonau is a thoughtful god who focuses on knowledge, education, responsibility.  A bit of a “wet blanket” among the gods, Ivonau isn’t exactly exciting at parties, though occasionally they get off on a tear or an odd experiment or impart some new idea to a sorcerer that is world-shaking (and probably the other gods would have wanted to know).  Ivonau as of the 250’s has decided it’s time for them to “rethink” this whole god of magic thing and has been conducting research and polling.

 

– Steve

Playing Producer: What Would An Overwatch RPG Need To Be?

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Taking a break from my more dramatic posts to do a bit of game analysis here –  I’m playing Product Owner and Producer in my head asking just what an RPG of hit game Overwatch would need.  Last column I identified that it’s probably viable and has good synergy, but it can’t be too much like the core game and probably wouldn’t be good to introduce to the market for at least 3 years.  Also feel free to use any of these ideas.

It’s also a fun look and exercise to think about products like games and products.  So now let’s move on to asking just what an Overwatch RPG would have to be to meet the market we know.

It Must Be Lore Filled

Overwatch has a lot of Lore, individual and worldwide. Any RPG/MMO of Overwatch has to be fairly dripping with lore and details. It should be enough that you don’t feel you’re playing a game, but reading a book or a seeing a movie.

That’s a tall order, but also a place the game can stand out. What an Overwatch RPG/MMO needs to be is the SF/Superhero version of the Fallen London Universe; you have to feel immersed in a place, a lore and a feel when you play or it doesn’t work. It has to be designed down to wording choices and colors.

In addition, Lore has to be everyhwere. Hunting down Lore has become a part of Overwatch fandom, which means sticking it everywhere. You want people crawling through restrooms in Junkertown to discover a photo taped to the underside of a label on a pipe. Then they get an achievement.

If this is done right, then right here you can differentiate it from most games – and get people interested. If you can get people who like Lore but not a frenetic FPS, you win.

This of course drives a lot of other choices.

NOTE: Imagine if the first person to discover new lore got a special item or title, and the first 100 also got some bonus. There should also be some kind of experience gain or benefit for lore discovery for each character.

It Must Be Playable In Chunks

One of the great things about Overwatch is that I can sit down, play for 15 minutes, and walk away. I often don’t but its tight mission structure means I can. When I do. Which is rarely.

A problem with MMO’s is that they can consume people’s time – I think that actually drives people away. But you also want retention. Playable small chunks means you get both – people can grind away, but you don’t drive them away with long slogs or a massive commitment.

Thus every mission should probably be small, or several independent missions strung together, enough for people to get in, adventure, and get out. This of course fits Overwatch’s military-meets-superhero style – go and do the mission and get out. Or if your Reyes, screw them up and then listen to your team complain.

Larger missions, as noted could be strung together – which also provides the bonus that people can play large content how they want. That increases retention, allows your friend to go to the bahtroom before your team starts the next mission, or just finish something off later. Sure we might have some larger/longer raids and such but make this the core.

NOTE: Provide titles, items, cosmetics, etc. to people who complete various numbers of mission. Also, for the people who love marathons, provide the same for people who do various numbers of missions IN A ROW.

It Must Be Social

An Overwatch RPG must be social. Despite complaints about toxicity in the community, I think those complains exist because it clashes with the overall spirit of the community. Overwatch fans love lore, speculation, teaming up, and exchanging fan art and such. I find it surprising positive, cynic that I am.

So any Overwatch game has to be a social engine big enough people can feel part of the community. I’d say if Overwatch RPG/MMO’s social features are so interesting you’re templted to play ONLY to use them then you win.

This almost certainly means:

  • Strong matchmaking tools.
  • Strong social tools to keep up with people.
  • Gift giving and exchanges of stuff in game (or purchased, we need those microtransactions)
  • Toxicity control and blocking tools. I almost wonder if a kind of LinkedIn recommendation system could work.
  • Home/room crafting. That’s becoming de rigeur, so put it on in.
  • Crafting things for others.
  • Bonuses for good social behavior.
  • Social areas and events in the game.
  • Community things like fashion shows, backstories, and art contests.

Social tools have to pretty much appeal to people from Day 1 – you need an embarassment of riches that’s also managable and comprehendible.

NOTE: There should be missions or mission parts that are non-combat where characters solve puzzles or just go and talk to people. This would not only fit Overwatch, but also encourage social activities.

It Must Tie Into The Big Picture

The game has to tie into the Overwatch universe in a meaningful way. Characters can’t be sitting on the sidelines forever in the shadows of everyone else – they have to make their own paths.  They can’t outshine the heroes of Overwatch the game, but also have to achieve things.  The Lore of the game has to tie into their experiences to bring the in-game fiction and the player experience together.

To me this means:

  • Things the characters do and missions they’re assigned should fit the Overwatch universe.
  • * Lots of in-game events and special events – maybe even one time – to make it feel like things evolve. STO is a great example of this.
  • Use of proper settings – while exploring new ones. For instance, you know at some point everyone will want to go to Junkertown or the Moon.
  • Evolve the storyline to a point where it allows for people to create masses of new heroes (I figure it’d be set a few years after the Recall) to have their own tales.
  • Have missions and events that let characters “own” their own experiences.
  • Move the story along for the other Overwatch characters – their achievements should change the game for the players, but they players should make their own way.

This’ll take effort – and constant content. But if you make it feel like a living world, that will keep people interested. Plus if it can tie into the game and media . . .

NOTE: This is going to take real work, to truly be a media production with growing lore and a world.  It’ll be like running a TV show.

Characters Must Matter

Overwatch at its heart is about people making a difference. Oh, it may be a terrible difference. It may be for revenge or greed or dressing like a human Hot Topic. But people in the story have impact.

That has to translate to the game. Which will be challenging, but players have to feel their story is important – and it has to be made important.

Some thoughts on that:

  • Have regular events where the winning “faction” get some bonus or achieves some victory. That should create temporary in-game alterations and may give some bonus to those who participated.
  • Have areas that are territorial battles, where factions can take control. Good for PvP.
  • Have people contribute time or resources to non-combat events to get results – like building new areas.
  • Have characters have their own storylines and choices for certain elements that have impact; such as choosing which character to agree with in a conflict.
  • Characters in game must comment on action and character actions.
  • Players must get a chance to make unique in-game choices, such as crafting or getting rare loot or costumes.

NOTE: This will need special attention in the game design – it will need to be core.

It Must Be Personal

The game must have a very personal feel to it – almost intimate. your character’s choices, actions, factions, and so on must make the game feel unique. It should feel that, if you started over, you’d experience an entirely diffrent game.

Many of the common things in RPGs and MMOs do this – character choices, cosmetics, factions. Those, obviously would be here – especially cosmetics, it’s Overwatch.

May of the above items would personalize it – and I’ll cover characters in a separate post.  But I think an Overwatch RPG MMO needs to make most missions personal, unique.

Here’s what I think it’d need.

  • Event/historical missions should have a personal quality or at least a random quality. Maybe an end boss is customized for your loadout.
  • Missions should be multi-option. Choice should matter and bring about different results.
  • Missions must be able to fail and have partial successes.
  • Have a reputation system, but not one that’s simple – your reputation should be a kind of reputation.  You may be popular with Overwatch, or Talon, but what kind of popularity – the killer who gets sent to gun down enemies, or the team player who gets rescue missions.
  • Most missions should be – I’m seriously – randomized, procedural, and/or customized. A mission you play should be unique and unrepeatable. That experience is for you and your team alone.
  • Actions should have effects over time. Maybe your character ends up constantly annoying Doomfist and thus he is swapped in for a boss in another mission as he seeks revenge. Have enough successful missions at Blizzard World and someone mentions it later or it unlocks a special scripted mission.

But what of the Lore, which is a bit hard when you have random missions? I’ve got an idea for that too – Virtual Reality. As you “rank up” in your faction, you can experience “simulated” story missions as “training.” This loads in lore and gives scripted missions – it’s just not the main source of story. It’d be like the Overwatch Archives.

Everyone gets their own story – and everyone gets to relive the same history together.

In A Nutshell

So to round up an Overwatch RPG that I think would succeed would be a lore-soaked social game that provides a lot of randomized missions on top of more scripted ones, has a shifting/changing setting based on actions, and produces a highly personal player experience.

Is this doable? Actually, I think so. Most of the parts are obvious or in place, it’s probably the procedural balance and elements that’d take work.

Next up – characters.

– Steve