What else can you do?

I’ve occasionally thought about what else I might do that requires 100s of hours of effort for uncertain payoff.

Actually the answer is quite simple: write games.

Specifically isometric turn-based RPGs, preferably ones with a lot of text dialog and 100s of hours of gameplay, in the fantasy or science-fiction genres.

Now you may think this is just a coincidence, given that most of what I spent last weekend doing was playing one such game (Avadon: The Black Fortress), but I’ve liked this particular format for a while, and have thought it would be interesting to take the time designing one of my own.

Think about the writing challenge. If you want a good RPG, you don’t want to funnel people into a linear narrative so you have to be able to give them bits of the story that can be rearranged in any order. And you have to allow for the possibility that whole sections of the game will go unplayed, but still have a story that makes sense and is satisfying to the player. And if you’re really ambitious, the story changes based the player’s actions, and grows and evolves into many possible stories.

Writing a game is like combining all the possible iterations of a novel into a single art form. That would be a fascinating challenge.

And I think I could write the game engine for an isometric game, and do it in a way that others could create content for it when I’m done. It would probably run on older machines, and be casual enough for the beginner player, but deep enough for the experienced as well.

The problem is a lack of any particular artistic ability for pixel drawing, but maybe I could hire somebody. Certainly a team would be helpful. And somebody to do the music or write additional dialog. And test the sucker.

Oh yeah and time, ridiculous amounts of it.

Ultimately the purpose of these ideas is to just get my brain running in a different direction for a while. Thinking about designing a game is what gave me the idea for one of my books, DM, and has some relation to how I think about others. And if nothing else, the thought experiment gives me a better appreciation of the work others do.

Still it might be an interesting side project…

I have too many ideas for one lifetime. Ah, well 🙂

What other things have you thought about doing that you decided against?


Filed under Faith + Life, Trube On Tech, Writing

8 responses to “What else can you do?

  1. Why not try writing a short choose-your-own-adventure story first? It’s a good way to see how you like branching narrative before you delve into something more time consuming. Hyperlinks are an easy way to just plop it on your blog if you like the result, and there’s a lot of free tools you can use if you want more functionality.

    • I’ve actually tried my hand at CYOA before. I don’t tend to find them as interesting to work on, because they never end up having that much depth. I read a ton of these as a kid though, but most of them involved binary choices, one of which tended to result in your gruesome death. Probably the best ones were the Time Machine variants because they did have longer and more mature stories with a lot fewer random endings. I think as a genre, the day for these has come and gone. I have seen a few game variants, though I have no idea how well they sell.

      Good games aren’t exactly a branching narrative, because even in a branching narrative the sequence of when you get information is pretty linear. The best games allow you to acquire information, quests, items, in the order you come across them wandering in their big world. Think Skyrim. Now from a programming standpoint, 3D animation and environments would be very time consuming, and would require more resources than I could probably muster. But essentially, isometric 3D is a tilted game board, built from tiles. Less of my time would have to be spent on mechanics, so that more could be spent on story.

      That said, part of the point of constructing a game would be to stretch other muscles in my mind, like the programming side of me which at times craves the creative rigor I devote to writing. I don’t tend to be a guy of half measures. I either jump whole hog into a serious project, or I avoid it after a few preliminary glimpses. It’s what works for me, and what I find fun.

      Thanks 🙂

      • Yes, they were more of a stepping stone, just thought I would suggest it just in case you hadn’t tried them. I read Life’s Lottery and played Slouching Towards Bedlam recently, but otherwise I haven’t really been blown away (though I have been trying some things from the interactive fiction competition, just to see what kind of new things people come up with).
        I’m lucky to be the writer in a small (four person) games company, although we’ve just started so I can’t say much about how that’s been going. Since we’re just four people, everyone’s jobs kind of spill over into other people’s ‘territory’, so while I’m technically just doing the writing, I also get to contribute to the game design, character art, etc. It still takes a lot of time to do this, so doing a whole project as one person is going to take a lot of effort… But judging from your calculator game, you might be up to the task =P

      • That’s awesome. Had no idea you were actually part of this territory. Admittedly I would never be just a one man operation (four actually sounds like a good number: 1-2 writer/programmers, 1 artist, 1 musician/sound guy). Ironically enough, the game idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a few days is actually a friend’s work from a guy who is equally a qualified programmer. I’d love to contribute to other aspects (seeing as how I wrote a book on programming fractals from both a technical and artistic perspective), but the writing of code and the writing of words is what comes naturally and competently. Where are you guys located (out of curiosity, I see from your IP that you are in the UK?). Let me know how the game’s going, I’d love to hear more.

        As for the lots of work aspect, that’s no particular surprise. If I ever get too crazy I can always watch “Indie Game: The Movie” again. I’d like to think I’m the bearded half of Team Meat, but I’m more like the Braid guy than I’d care to admit 🙂

      • Yeah, we’ve just started recently, and we’re in London (most of us, anyway). Our distribution is actually 1 writer, 1 designer, 1 programmer and 1 artist (we’ll have to do something about sound/music soon), and we’re heavy on the link between mechanics and narrative, which is where we want to be. Hopefully we’ll have our website up and running soon, then I can give people a better idea of what we’re actually doing, instead of hand-waving an explanation.
        I haven’t actually watched that yet, probably should at some point. I hope it’s an encouraging film…

      • It’s … a mixture. I know it’s on Netflix (at least here in the US) if you want to watch it. I think it’s like a lot of John Scalzi’s posts about writing, brutally honest about what it takes to succeed. Everyone’s creative process is different, but successful projects do have some things in common, the basic one being a lot of work, and all the things that are associated with fitting a creative endeavor into the rest of life. I think it’s an encouraging movie if you can already look in the face of those things and not go screaming into the hills 🙂

        That sounds like a good team. Good luck with the game!

  2. Chuck

    When I was younger (much younger), before the advent of the home based PC, my friend and I wanted to design a board game – a game we would enjoy playing, and perhaps, sell to a game publisher. Being young and prone to lack of follow through, we never tried to publish, but we did play the game a few times. I don’t remember much about the game, but I do remember the title. (There’s gold in them thar hills!”

    I still sounds like fun …

    • That does sound fun. For a project once in school I designed a board game based on Fahrenheit 451, which played with an expanding game board. In other words, there were six boards in all, but you could play with as little as one of them. Each board corresponded to part of the story, and had detailed quests and pitfalls. I’ve written a few games for my calculator TI-83, back in high school, including a Star Trek game that took me a year that had a navigation map, combat, secret missions, and about eight regular “episodes”. Unfortunately the game got so big that all the dialog had to be included in a separate booklet. Being me, I actually saw this as cool since some of the older games I was playing did the same thing, for much the same reasons (think Wasteland).

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