On Villains, Mobs, and Events: Writing Them, and The Future of Doing So

So, villains.  As anyone who’s familiar with my writing knows, I tend to like things more complex than just “this is a bad guy/this is a good guy”.  The same is therefore going into my games.  And, I’ve found that it’s actually helped my writing at the same time.  A huge example of this is the current game, which is based on Ancient Greece.  Not Greco-Roman, but GREECE.  Through research I learned just how sexist they could be over there.  They had women going out in veils, segregated from the rest of the house – yes some of that boiled over into Rome but Rome was more free by all accounts.  I looked at this and thought, ok that goes with “Nikria’s Menace”… and then once I’d been writing in there awhile, I realized just how uncomfortable that was to write as a 21st-century American woman.  The Player, as a Ghlaanan man, is fine with women as long as they stay in “their place.”  He looks askance at the Kuphids, who are like Amazons except they’re a part of Ghlaanan society and they’re kick-ass fighters all right – and they fly, with wings strapped to their backs.  They’re a lot more brash than other women of the Empire, and the “heroine” of the story, Nikria, is a Kuphid-in-training.  Player is supposed to be mistrustful of her, to dislike her.  This is hard to write!  It isn’t that the Player is a bad person for being this way, it’s how society has raised him to be and to act.  So… lol being the good sociologist I learned to be in college, I’m writing it.

Now, on the other hand, we have Spaud.  He’s the de-facto ruler over in Shiend, since the actual King there is sick.  Spaud’s a loathsome jerk of a guy.  You’re supposed to hate him.  He’s written to be a definite villain.  Bad guy.  He’ll accept refugees – but only if they work in his sweatshops.  All that.  Yeah, Spaud’s bad.  He’s also easier to write!  I suppose I could think of a ton of sociological reasons for his actions, but I don’t know how much I want to go there.  How deep a creation do I want him to be?

Villains in general populate all stories, from Cinderella to the Lord of the Rings.  You can usually pick them out.  In games, that’s normally true too.  Lol, I remember the screaming World of Warcraft players did about Garrosh Hellscream taking over the throne in Orgrimmar.  They weren’t always thrilled with Thrall, the shamanic ruler who tended to be more diplomatic, but most people hated – possibly still hate – Garrosh.  Villain?  I dunno.  But he’s written to be something people don’t like in general.  This as opposed to, say, the Burning Legion, who are much more clear-cut “bad guys”.  Or maybe Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or his creations like the Cargul of LOTRO.

Mobs, on the other hand, could be villains – of a sort – or could be good guys.  But in games, they can also be a book you pick up, a tree that decides to wake up and talk to you, a star that falls on you…

The player’s interaction with mobs is pretty cut-and-dry so far in gaming history.  “Kill ten rats” quests are an unfortunate staple of MMO’s – you get them from quest-givers, but then you get them on a larger scale for deeds.  Leads to a grind, that in general players dislike.  (I myself tend to like doing them when I’m not thinking too much and mindless grinding doesn’t matter).  Now, as Chris Crawford pointed out, games have to depersonalize people and creatures in order for this to work – then you don’t feel so bad about burning down a village or basically committing Dunlending genocide.  For RPGs, this is a little bit different, though I still remember having to down a metric ton of slimes in Dragon Warrior to get to level 5 and be able to have better armor.  Looting mobs on the other hand is different – some games like Albion allowed you to wander around and pick up ANYTHING not tied down – the Elder Scrolls games changed that to “you can pick stuff up, sure, but we’re gonna call it stealing”.  So you could get arrested, or killed, for this behavior.

I’ve pondered this, and my own writing.  “Nikria’s Menace” generally has the Player get things via three methods:  buying them, having them given to him, or picking them up.  As it’s a text game I don’t want to have too much meandering, but I want some – hence the ability to wander the Marketplace if you really want, and whatnot.  Picking stuff up I’m leaving generic at the moment.  There’s only a few places you can do that anyway in there!

But in the future – mine, at least – I’ve begun to ponder all sorts of ideas for villains and mobs.  “Rubikia”, for instance, will have a very moral-ethic system of doing things.  The Player will need to consider whether or not it’s a good idea to make friends with the desert folk or better to fight them.  The “Crystal-Soul Garden” game(s?), on the other hand, is where you’ll run into such things as “do I want to kill this giant outright or bring him somewhere he can be happy and not bother the humans”, and what are the outcomes of such decisions?

I’m also considering different integration ideas than what I’ve begun to practice so far.  I’m wondering for instance what a game would be like with no GUI that has hotbars on it.  I’ve heard of MMO gamers who change the settings on their game so they have that kind of environment to play in – I even was reading a very interesting conversation in the LOTRO forums today about different peoples’ takes on “total immersion”,  everything from “only found equipment” to “when night comes, my character sleeps and I get away from the computer and do other things for an hour.”  the other day, where one guy not only did that, he got rid of all floating names as well as his minimap.   Now, I’m not making an MMO, I just like playing them – and I can also get a lot of information from other players about what’s liked and what isn’t, as well as suggestions.  No hotbars, you say?   Possible.  Elder Scrolls got along for quite a while with very minimal amounts of stuff on the screen, and people loved their stuff.  I’m going to try going a little further, though, combining stuff I’ve seen in GW2,LOTRO, and Windforge, lately.  1)specific questline – no; 2)landscape quests (i.e. quests that get triggered by Player finding/killing/looting something); 3)quest text that pops up after Player’s done specific things… Now, “Crystal-Sage Gardens” is where I’m going to start futzing with these… I know I want one or two major questlines, but I also want Player to be able to experience the world.  Visually.  I want to integrate some puzzles – after all it’s a steampunk world (cyber/steampunk I believe is the term). But I don’t want to force the Player into a questline they have to finish to get to the end of the game.

…all of which means I need to figure on game goals.  How do you reach the end of the game without a specific storyline?  I know that for DECADES MMO’s have been plagued by this question, and the only way they know how to solve it, since they aren’t often written with a specific story in mind – LOTRO is a huge exception to this – there’s always the question of “endgame”, “how to make the endgame interesting”, and “what do we do next?”  GW2 has done a lovely job of attempting to answer it with “living world.”  As I’ve said before, it’s like having Cataclysm every couple of weeks; at least in the sense that the world changes.  Sometimes it changes in a small way, like this week when the Festival of the Four Winds happens, and sometimes like earlier this month it changes in a large way and there goes Lion’s Arch.  To me, that’s a fantastic way of dealing with the “endgame” problem.  I don’t think it’s perfect yet, but it’s a very good start.  It’s something I’ve continually watched – and played – with fascination, therefore.  Ok, sometimes it brings me to tears – because both good writing and good game design can do that to me.  At any rate, it goes along with Chris Crawford‘s comments about “just adding STUFF” – which still makes me sure he detests MMO’s and expansion packs therefore – as opposed to “adding content because it’s useful to the storyline”.  I’m aspiring to that ideal.  With all the ideas in my head, I go forth toward the future of game design, not the past.

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