Category Archives: Video Gaming

The Writer’s Game: Wildermyth

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

Wildermyth (released 2021, Worldwalker games) took the computer gaming scene by storm even after nearly two years in Early Access.  It was well-praised by many, and I can personally attest that it was both fun and gripping.

In the game, one takes a series of generated characters through various adventures, facing monsters and challenges.  Your party faces enemies tactical battles with enemies, wanders the land scouting and rebuilding towns, and engages in unique story moments.  Characters may become legends and be used again in other games – or even reappear randomly – and become more powerful and famous.

It is a game of making legends and remixing them – much as humans do anyway.  It also provides many lessons for writers.

Nail The Feel

Wildermyth ensures it feels like a you’re experiencing an epic tale.  The game’s graphics look like storybook art – on the battlefield, characters and scenery look like paper cutouts.  Appropriate moody music plays throughout your adventures.  Character appearances change, sometimes radically, as mythic powers and experiences change mind and body.

Wildermyth communicates with you by having the proper aesthetic.  Every part of it says “storybook legend.”  Storytellers – whatever their media – need to set the mood as well.

Wrap The Mechanics

As mentioned, in Wildermyth, you save characters after successful adventures and other actions.  This lets you reuse them, “remixing” heroes old and new in adventures and even improving them for later games.  The game portrays this as a “Legacy” of stories that is remixed – like our own Arthurian legends.

Of course, this is just a classic “Roguelite” mechanic of past adventures paying off for later play.  But Wildermyth cleverly wraps the mechanic in a kind of “meta-story” that works with the feel of the game.  Sometimes in writing, “recasting” a common idea differently both enhances a tale, but also ties into the aesthetic you’re aiming for.

Wildermyth contains other familiar mechanics as well – grid-based tactical battles, choose-your-own-adventure options, etc.  But all of these work in service of the game’s aesthetic and goals.

The Moments Count

As one plays Wildermyth, small “plotlets” emerge – partially randomized, partially due to character traits and situations.  A character may find a hidden gem, befriend a forest creature, or have an idea how to ambush an enemy.  Choices may make combat easier, change a character, have them fall in love, etc.

All of these “plotlets” add up over a game session, evolving the characters and their stories.  Your characters are not just an epic quest; they’re composed of these moments, evolving them into someone else.  They may even seem to take on a life of their own as you play.

For writers, this is a reminder that character details matter – characters are composed of them.  It’s also a reminder that these details mean characters may surprise you unexpectedly.

Change Is All

Stories are about change of some kind, even if the only change is in the reader.  Wildermyth embraces change.

In Wildermyth, every battle, every “plotlet” changes the characters and the world.  Enemies get stronger, learning from defeat.  Characters grow in experience, fall in love, get married, become werewolves (really), and more.  In long games, party members retire and may even die, with their children carrying on their legacy.

This change gives the game both urgency and meaning.  There is an urgency to make every moment count, and meaning because every action has repercussions.  In short, it makes each game a story.

Wildermyth I is an example of how change both makes and drives a story – because you play through that change and experience it.

Living the Legend

Wildermyth is a game about creating stories.  Though there are familiar mechanics, the way they are implemented and combined makes the game, well, legendary.  With so much driving your adventure forward, it becomes gripping, personal – and a game writers can learn from.

Lessons for Writers

All works have a feel.  Aiming to achieve that is important to deliver your tale.

You can “re-wrap” familiar mechanics and elements in new ways to fit the feel of your story – and get away with standard but expected aspects in new ways.

Characters are composed of details and “plotlets.”  Being aware of that brings them to life in ways that can surprise you.

Change is what a story’s about.  A good story moves forward (appropriately), and change brings both meaning and grips the audience.

Steven Savage

The Writer’s Game: Dungeonmans

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

Dungeonmans from Adventurepro games is a parody of fantasy games in the roguelike style.  As a titular Dungeonmans (the title is used no matter the preferred gender) at Dungeonmans Academy you sally forth to crush monsters and find treasure.  Near-inevitably your character will die, but their legacy lives on to assist the next student.  Eventually, you accomplish the all-too-common goal of finding the Big Evil and beating it up, then faffing around and exploring if you so wish.

Dungeonmans doesn’t aspire to a unique plot – the game’s charm is that it embraces all the tropes of fantasy and the roguelike genre.  Among the kill-and-loot mechanics and laughs there are multiple lessons for writers – because comedy is challenging.  Fortunately, Dungeonmans is fun, funny, and educational for writers

Embrace The Tropes

The game embraces every trope of fantasy and dungeon-delving games without a single inhibition.  Dungeonmans has dungeons, treasure, towns in need, and everything you’d expect from the umpteenth fantasy adventure game or story.  It doesn’t feel boring or repetitive, because the unoriginality is needed as it’s a parody.

By embracing the tropes, the game meets expectations of gameplay, but also allows it to mock them.  A player gets exactly what they expect in play and story, while also getting to see them taken apart and parodied.  You can’t parody from a distance, you have to embrace it.

Come to think of it, you can’t do anything with a genre without diving in, can you?  Other wise it’s half-baked, whereas Dungeonmans is perfectly prepared.

Explain The Tropes

Good worldbuilding in any story is needed so players understand what’s going on, or think they do.  When you’re playing with tropes, say in a parody game like Dungeonmans you have to explain what’s going on.  The tropes need to be explained as that’s part of the parody – because parody is often taking things to ridiculous lengths or exploring them.

Dungeonmans goes out of the way to explain what’s going on.  Dungeonmans are a recognized profession in a world overrun with monsters and evil.  An Academy was put in place to train such adventurers because they have to come from somewhere.  Some villains you face are even failed heroes, suggesting a kind of “economy of evil.”

The game is thus funnier because of the worldbuilding.  All the things you take for granted in a fantasy game have reasons, reasons both funny and thought-provoking.  Imagining the social and economic implications of professional but expendable monster-killers takes you places like any good story.

Funny Needs Details

Dungeonmans explanations arent’ just broad strokes.  Every item you find or create has a name and text explanation.  What is this wand made of? Why does this ridiculous sword exist?  Is the name of this weapon really twelve words long?  There’s all sorts of little details in the game that make it more interesting and funnier.

Good parody – and any good writing – has those little details that draw you in.   When you’re “in” the world of a story or game, you appreciate it more and feel those chills, thrills – or laughs in the case of parody.  Dungeonmans is filled with these little details, and you might find yourself pausing to read the description of the latest treasure you find.

Into The Depths of Humor

For me, Dungeonmans was the rare experience of a game both funny and engaging.  I kickstarted it, played it at least twice in early access, then once after it was released, and once after many updates.  Every time it was fun, and every time I’d get a good laugh, even with material I’d seen before.  Over these years, I realized these were lessons worth sharing.

Lessons for Writers:

  • If you parody something, embrace the tropes enthusiastically.  That meets expectations while letting you poke fun at the elements you’ve targeted.  You have to know a trope to take it on.
  • Disinhibition is necessary to embrace tropes, or you might do it halfway, and that is often miserable.
  • In parody – or anything involving tropes – you’ll need to explain them.  That makes the world believable, and is even more important in parody or extrapolation.
  • Details matter in any story as they draw the reader in.  They are important for impact – even when the impact is a good laugh.

Steven Savage

The Writer’s Game: Demon’s Winter

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

I continue to analyze what video games I’ve played provide lessons for writers! This time, a blast from the long past!

Demon’s Winter was released in 1988, a sequel to Shard of Spring which I never played.  Though it had mixed reviews, I found it to be excellent and replayed it at least three times.  Not only was it a fun game, it had excellent storytelling which provides valuable lessons for writers.

The core of Demon’s Winter is something we’ve seen all too often (more so since the 80’s).  Monsters destroy your village so you inevitably sally forth with a group of diverse characters to fight evil.  Demon’s Winter went beyond the stereotypes with excellent story and setting elements.

Spoilers follow.  Yes, for a game from 1988, but I feel I should say it.

One Step Beyond

The first thing I noticed playing Demon’s Winter was the class (profession) and skill system.  Many games of the time essentially stole from Dungeon’s and Dragons and called it a day.  Another party with a fighter, a mage, a thief, etc.  Demon’s Winter did its own thing while building a setting.

First, gone were many typical generic classes.  Combat characters had to choose between a wilderness-wandering Ranger, a holy Paladin, etc.  Wielders of magic drew their abilities from multiple styles.  There were even two pantheons of gods for religious characters to follow.  Each character could be customized further, adding to the richness.

The manual of the game explained the character choices in detail.  I learned why it was hard for Paladins to learn certain magics – they avoided anything that wasn’t healing (or you paid a lot of skill points).  The two pantheons of gods were described in detail.  The manual helped the setting feel alive and refreshingly different.

For writers, this is a good lesson that you can play with tropes audiences expected while still making them interesting.  Explore the tropes your own way and add your own details and worldbuilding to bring it together.

Say It And Show It

When playing Demon’s Winter, I was pleased to see that places and story elements mentioned came into play.  There was not a pile of generic fantasy names and flummery, but actual things you’d see and deal with.  Something said in passing might be very important later.

My favorite part of this was discovering a seemingly throwaway line about a Dwarven Forge was real.  My party trekked across a strange island and found this hidden place that made weapons.  Needless to say, we left well-armed to fight evil, and I enjoyed the game’s rich continuity that much more.

This is a classic element of writing – foreshadowing, say-it-see it, etc.  But it’s nice to see it well done and in a way that matters.

Shake The World

Fantasy Epics often see the world changed and threatened.  Demon’s Winter was more than happy to break the rules of the setting when the bad guys got busy.

How broken?  The first major plot twist in the game sees the demonic villain of Demon’s Winter murder the gods.

There I am, slightly past the halfway point of the game, when I am informed the gods have been dead.  Clerics and shamans in the party lose their powers and seek out elder deities to get them back.  The impact of that moment stays with me to this day.

Demon’s Winter didn’t stop with deicide.  As your party closes in on the villain, he plunges the world into eternal winter and destroys it.  Cities and towns you relied on are gone, the graphics change, and survival becomes harder.  The game’s final arc takes on a post-apocalyptic bent.

None of these moments felt cheap because they fit the story and the setting.  The world broke in ways both impactful and believable, and I felt those moments.

For writers, it’s a good reminder it’s fine to break things up and shake them up if it makes sense.  Doing that can make the most sense, and it engages your audience. 

End It Well

Finally, I remember Demon’s Winter for the endings.  Once you defeat the big bad, you had two impressive possible endings.

First, you can join with one of the older gods and achieve dietyhood.  This is a nice ending, but the game suggests that your new career may be in danger when evil rises again!  A solid ending with room for a sequel.

The second ending is one that stands out.  If your heroes choose to stay mortal, they each get a different ending based on character class.  Depending on your party composition, you get a different set of stories and a satisfying conclusion for each character.  The team Theif may become a legend while seeking great treasure while the psychic Visionary becomes an advisor to the new ruler.

This second ending added personalization to the ending, drawing the curtain on your adventure in ways that felt real.  You had closure not just on the story, but your characters in a way that gave your tale personal meaning.

Unfreezing Ideas With Demon’s Winter

Demon’s Winter went far for a game, let alone a game from the late 80’s in an genre often filled with derivatives.  It built a world where characters meant something, smashed their world when needed, then gave them personal and satisfying endings.  By embodying these important lessons, it provides an example of how impactful they can be.

Takeaway’s for writers:

  • You can use tropes, but give them your own twist and the details to make them living and believable.
  • If you call out or bring something up, it probably should be part of your story later.  That also helps with worldbuilding.
  • Be willing to shake up or break your world in ways that fit your tale.  Give such things meaning and impact because sometimes you have to shatter expectations to fulfill them.
  • Make your endings personal so make the characters’ journeys relevant and impactful.  This doesn’t need to be complex, but it should be meaningful.

Steven Savage