22 August, 2018
So what would the initial Storybricks game have looked like if we had created it? My job was to lead the creation of the setting. While others were worrying about how to model a character’s emotions and behaviors, I was thinking about how to showcase this in a world that people would play in.
So let’s take a look at what I was thinking as I was building a world from scratch.
Keep in mind that these concepts would have likely been changed before the final version. Other people’s input, the realities of limited development resources, and technical limitations would all have contributed to change things. But the initial design is simultaneously the most interesting and also one of the hardest parts given so few real constraints to start.
Floating islands in a dream
Like most games, we planned to have a typical medieval fantasy setting, but with plenty of unique bits to not make it feel totally generic. The day before we had a big discussion about the setting, I had an interesting dream: islands floating in the sky. Not a super rare concept as it’s been done several times in other games and anime, but it felt right. My mind latched onto it, and it made sense for a few reasons I’ll explain below.
Others took this idea and ran with it. The artist working with us at the time, Liz Danforth was creating some great concept art. She noted that people nearer to the sun would tend to have darker skin and did some great artwork along those lines.
The concept was that the islands would be cities ripped from the surface of the planet to escape something on the surface. Magic had been expended to keep people safe, but obviously this was likely to cause problems in the long run. In the short run, some of the problems would make for interesting fodder for the Storybricks system.
But what about the opponents of the world?
Unified against a big bad
Despite passionate crowd I had supporting Meridian 59, I think that PvP as a focus is not a good idea since this causes problems with the people it attracts and chases off. I wanted people to stick around the game to experience it, but I wasn’t opposed to PvP; instead, I wanted a big bad that unified the players together. The enemy would be mindless, at least to the perspective of the players, so that there wasn’t a faction that could “ally” with them necessarily to keep everyone unified. Not to say there wouldn’t be opposing ideas of how to do this.
He two ideas discussed were either the undead or an implacable elemental enemy of raw destructive force. I was leaning toward the elemental enemies because they were less overdone than the zombie trope, and the idea of invaders from another dimension was kind of cool. Having raw elemental power attacking fit the bill of a strong, seemingly mindless force of destruction. So the big bad attacked, the cities got raised, and the people huddled on floating islands, then what?
Many layers of the world
In a way, you can think of the world having three main layers. This may sound a bit like what EverQuest Next proposed, but it was something we discussed before we ever talked to SOE. The three layers are: the cities in the sky, the surface, and the underground.
While developing the world, we’d start with the top layer and build our way down. This would help us not have to build out the entire world at once: having the floating cities limited the scope of what we had to build, and being able to expand to the surface when we had more resources made sense. It also allowed us to focus on specific gameplay elements associated with each layer; we could focus on social interactions in the cities with less emphasis on combat (if any, frankly) to start. Once we had ironed out the gameplay we could expand the game, and potentially the audience.
I’ll go into more about the different layers tomorrow.