Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ClotH: State of the Project

Okay, so I've been working on the novel or, really, the short story I'm hoping to tell in order to gear up for the novel and to explore a few stylistic tics first. A dry run, if you will, to see if how I'm planning to handle the game/player boundary actually works or if I need to come up with a better way of telling a story about a bunch of people sitting around making small muscle movements in front of their computers for hours on end. Writing about gaming is a logistical nightmare, let me tell you, and I want to make sure I'm not going to run halfway down a false path when it comes to the in-game action.

The short story is, itself, nothing particularly inspiring or, even, meaningful, which means I'm going ot have a hard time ending it. But it's set post-release as opposed to the novel which is set, largely, within the confines of the closed test before hand. And I'm hoping to focus on a group of players going about their normal routine. Or as normal as a routine gets in a world where people summon spectral monsters from thin air and grip bolts of lightning in their bare hands. Which is to say that, really, when you think about it, the things you do when you're playing an MMO day in and day out make absolutely no sense to the objective observer. They're only understood by those who you play alongside, aren't they? And it's that kind of disconnect that I want to grapple with and play around with in the main novel. Right now, I just want to make sure the world and its mechanics make sense and I can describe it well enough while still making it interesting.

Which is a lengthy way of saying, by introduction, that I've fallen into the trap of thinking about the crunchy elements of the outline. The real nitty gritty of how my fictional game works. I'm increasingly afraid it's a bit of a trap because, the truth is, not everything has to be entirely thought out of 100% consistent. The game isn't exactly the world I want to write about but it's almost another character. And the more fleshed out, the better realized it is, the stronger the story will be as a whole. But I need to remember that my fabricated game is, ultimately, a flawed one. I'm not trying to make an example of the kind of game I'd actually want to make or play but, instead, a collection of good ideas surrounded by horrid mistakes (Which is, after all, a lot easier to make and a whole bunch more fun.). So, I don't have to worry about balance and fun factor and everything else that goes into making a successful MMO. Instead, I have to establish enough elements that it passes the sniff test among those who know what about the subject without letting it get in the way of the story. The game I'm dreaming up has to, in so many words, help reinforce the story, not restrict it.

But, well, I played this one flash game which I was foolish enough not to bookmark and, now, can't remember exactly where it was or what it's called so I can't pass along the link. It probably comes as no surprise that I'm a big fan of the old school gold box games and things like Ultima and the like where you're given a bunch of nearly faceless characters and a wide sandbox to play around in with lots of tactical encounters strung together by a loose plot. And that's what this little flash game was. Basically, a dungeon crawler. You assembled a little group from a few different classes and picked up loot and advanced in levels and you could learn new special skills. And it's one of those flash games where you're surprised just how much they managed to cram into that small little file because it was huge. And it got me thinking that, you know, if someone(s) could make a game like that then, well, I could turn ClotH into a similar flash game. With enough time and enough work, of course, I could have a workable platform. A way of telling these stories interactively, something like Dot Hack where the lines between the games layers are blurred and played with. Of course, I'd have to learn how to use flash first and a ton of other things. So, put it on the pile of really cool ideas that I'd love to do but don't have the time or knowledge to pull off.

Thinking about it, though, is useful, because in the transition from a modern MMO to a simple turn based flash RPG, you'd have to strip out a lot of things and focus on the core mechanics. And to do that, you'd need to understand those mechanics. So, I think, at the very least, the flash game works as a useful mental model for thinking about things like combat and skills and how they'd actually work. Which is exactly what I want to be doing. So, although I'm not getting much done in the way of prose or character bios it's not exactly wasted effort either.

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