Making Unconventional Fantasy Sound Less Redundant…

Making Unconventional Fantasy Sound Less Redundant…

Some of the pillars of Mystic Riders are obvious in what they mean. Some of them… Not so much. So while we won’t be delving into every single one and what they mean, we will flesh them out if there are any lingering questions. For example, Ginny was curious about my pillar, which was Unconventional Fantasy. (Which I find ironic because I think it was her who started it, but I digress.) So today, we’re going to talk about some of the fantasy elements of Astranar more in-depth, and why they would be considered unconventional versus other elements.

The first thing that pops into my mind is our magic itself. Now, having schools of magic isn’t original–it’s downright any tabletop RP. Having those schools break down by element also isn’t original, that’s Pokémon level shenanigans, even within another game system. Dungeons and Dragons does this, and it even reflects our shadow system of magic which is more concept rather than elemental based.  But where things start to go differently is how our colors correlate to the elements. When we decided to use music as a core influence for the game, we had to figure out how to sort the magic in the very early stages of development, and Ginny has the crazy idea to use solfege–Do, Re, Mi, Fa, and so on. She has charts and medieval texts that not only assigned solfege colors, but it also assigned them elements! It was perfect, it was destiny, it was…

…Not widely accepted when I mentioned it to a couple of my friends. You see, solfege isn’t based the same as our modern, color coding tropes. Water isn’t blue, for example, it’s orange. Fire is represented by yellow, not red which is actually represented by earth. (You know, I’m from Oklahoma, red and earth being related makes perfect sense to me, but I digress into bad puns.) One guy told us he didn’t understand why we were doing it that way, and shouldn’t we just do the standard arrangement? That worried me. I immediately put on the brakes and put on my Capricorn hat to fret about the details. Were we going too far? Would people get it, even if we explained? Should we go with the safer concept and just fudge solfege so that it would match convention?

Ginny and I were in opposite camps on this discussion to start with. I had on my writer-hat, don’t ostracize and confuse your readers. If that means playing to tropes that means playing to tropes, because if your book is too confusing and has negative reviews, it’s going to not have great sell numbers. Games are made or broken by their sell numbers. Ginny had her designer hat on. There, innovation is the name of the game, and doing something within lines while coloring outside of them at the same time is totally acceptable. But that’s why, even though we share a brain, we have to stay communicating with each other so we can reach mutual decisions. Usually one of us is less invested in the other, but talking about it at least makes us think of all the possible outcomes and scenarios, so we can possibly edit the idea or grow it into something even better.

In the end, Ginny and I decided that we were going to stick by our medieval nerd research. The only fudging we had to do was play around with indigo/violet and turn one of those into pink for the sake of one of our mentors, but even that was pretty minor. Why? Because why be like every other game? There’s a point towards the familiar, I’ll give you that, but if you are just like every other game, then what is the point of playing? I would be endlessly amused by players forgetting Water is Orange and accidentally casting Space magic. It’ll cause some hysterical moments. And if you do what everyone else does, those moments are lost. There isn’t anything new and players can just rely on their lizard brains to get through the game.

Sometimes we do go down the road of the expected. We have unicorns, and we have pegasi. But sometimes we go astonishingly literal (there’s a story about me going on a D&D rant and Ginny just running with part of it to create a creature for the game), and that in itself is unconventional because we take it farther than most people do. By pushing some of the boundaries and boxes that people have put around fantasy, we are reminding them about the fun that was had back before we had rules. While our market isn’t nearly as tapped as it could be, they are playing other demo’s sandboxes as it were, and so we want to engage them in new and interesting ways, as well as meeting what all that they want in a game.

I will put a rope around the outside of the box though to sort of corral things, keeping them within limits. There has to be a reason for what is and isn’t included in the game, otherwise it’s a waste of the programmers’ time and it’s a waste of the player’s to have to find it or go around it. So as cute as candy dragons might be, there isn’t really a reason to include them. (I say that, watch Ginny find a way to include them in a holiday somewhere.) It’ll also keep our magic from taking things (sometimes literally) off the rails, since spells and magical animals are tied so deeply to the story in Mystic Riders. Just this week, we finished hashing out how much of each school there is going to be. What were the decisions? That’s another blog post. See you next week!

Cores and Pillars: The Foundation of Mystic Riders MMO

Cores and Pillars: The Foundation of Mystic Riders MMO

As part of me taking a course on game design taught by Brenda Romero on Lynda.Com, we are working to make sure that even though we are approaching the game our own way, we have an understanding of what developers and the gaming industry at large looks for in a game proposal. Ginny posted a work-in-progress of our thought processes to piecing out the core and pillars from our (massive) design documents, and now that we’ve had a chance to talk about the differences (and the similarities), I am going to explain the “official” core and pillars…at least for now. While the core of our game isn’t going to change, the pillars may need adjustment as we continue development.

If you look at the work in progress documents, you’ll see that for the core, Ginny and I had different approaches to roughly the same idea. For me, I was focused on this being an MMORPG game. The point of any MMORPG is character development, gaining levels and gear to fit your style of play and advancing the story. It’s how you go about it and what your story is that separates them. Ginny, however, came from a more narrative, and therefore a more specific direction, and used growing up as her core. While still about character development, it is more about how as a player character, you are making decisions on how this specific character, a young teen girl, is going to grow up, both on micro and macro levels. It also gives the first nod in the direction of our narrative, which is important since we’re starting there rather than with systems.

Neither  of “cores” is necessarily wrong, but due to Ginny’s being more specific and in-line with the narrative of the game, I definitely thing it is the stronger of the two. So Mystic Rider MMO’s core is growing up.

Now, what about pillars? These are sort of supporting structures to the core—important statements or concepts in their own right that need to be just as prevalent as the core itself. This is where we had some very similar concepts and some differing opinions. Admittedly, I applied some limitations to us to try and you know…keep us from having twenty, but I honestly think that helped more than hindered us because it made us prioritize what we found important.

For example, both of us want the game to be driven by narrative. We’re writers, we come for the pretty, we stay for the story. Not only that, but from what we are finding, most female gamers feel the same way. There’s also a lack of games that let you focus on exploring, crafting, and racing without making it a money grab between players or involving combat…or making it where you have to babysit the game. Ginny has the collection of posts about people wanting something else, I’ll let her share those images on her own time. I worry that despite our ideas and focus being more likely to bring in female devs, we’ll end up with some guy who goes off the deep end and forgets our game is for girls, and I really want us to keep that a question in everything we do. Ginny has spent a lot of time investigating what sort of graphics and mini-games we can include, specifically ones that often get made into flash games that so many of us love to play, but are buggy or limited as all get out, so we can bring them into the fold.

So where does that leave us in terms of pillars? For Mystic Riders MMO, our pillars are to be (1) Narrative Driven in a world that at times challenges to be (2) Unconventional Fantasy, to have (3) Exploration, Crafting, and Racing that is easy but dependent on practice and skill, utilizing (4) Platformer and Mini-Game Mechanics to (5) Customize the Player Experience for (6) Female Gamers.

It’s a lot to live up to, especially for our first major project. I’ve done smaller games, though without any formal training. But I think together, we have the knowledge on what we want and how to implement it in a plan. Now we just need to start getting the resources together!

Game Core & Pillars (Under Construction)

Game Core & Pillars (Under Construction)

Neither Becca nor I (Ginny here) have gone to school for game design. So we’re learning about how game designers talk and the lingo they use as we go. Becca is going through a video course about game development and texted me the other day about putting together our game’s core value and the pillars. Her text was short with the explanations.

Core: What word(s) is the game about.
Pillars: Answer the questions how, what, why and include the 3 most important features of your game.

But think shorter than that.

I got onto Google and poked around a bit to see what I could find there about Core values and game pillars. And I challenged Becca to put together her thoughts and then we’d share them with each other.

Becca came up with the Left Image and I came up with the Right Image. (And yes, I made them pretty on purpose. EVERYTHING MUST BE PRETTY!)

This is the difference in how Becca thinks given what she learned and how I think given what I learned. You can see her core word is Character Development and my core word is Growing Up. Which… is pretty much the same thing in different languages. They’re synonyms. We both want narrative driven game play and talk about exploring, racing, crafting and learning.

We’re very close to the same page and as usual are sharing each other’s brains. Now comes the fun part of meshing our thinking together in a cohesive core and pillars document.

What do you think about our core values and pillars? Is this a type of game you could see playing now or in 2025? Share your thoughts in the comments. Have a mystical magical day!

What is Mystic Riders MMO?

What is Mystic Riders MMO?

Who do you want to be when you grow up? A jockey, a police officer, a fashion model? What can you do in your wildest dreams? Do you want to fly, read minds, create illusions, and draw power from the elements themselves? Or do you want to explore the vacuums of space, the nightmares of others, and use the darker powers of Nature?

In Mystic Riders, the choice is yours.

Set on the continent of Argentum, you, the player, is visiting the country of Astranar for the summer. Famous for their music and equestrianism, you’re one of several recruits offered a chance to train at the riding camps scattered throughout the countryside. The reward for all this hard work is extremely valuable—a full scholarship to the country’s academy. The Royal Riding Academy is one of the most elite boarding schools in the world.

Astranar is more than just a haven for horse lovers. Magic is tied to you and to these lands. You’ll have to learn how to use your magic, choose a side. While magic is supposed to be in harmony, the light and the shadow aspects have gotten jarringly out of tune. To bring them back together, you’ll have to shed light on ancient secrets.

There’s also fun to be had along the way! Meet new friends (on either side of the feud) and explore the varied lands of Astranar. Find hidden treasures, lost adventurers, and maybe even a pop star! Your avatar’s appearance is highly customizable, including a variety of skin tones, body shapes, and hair/eye color. There are a variety of horses to ride, different styles of riding, gear and clothes, and not to mention all the food. You can also build and customize your own farm and stable.

Plus there is a mysterious boy who seems tied to your fate…

An urban fantasy MMORPG, Mystic Riders is a non-combative, PvsE play game, with optional elements of cooperation and competition between players. Players have a high level of choice in the game, with two possible endings and eight ways to get there. Crafting and customization is encouraged, and cooperation is the name of the game – the only best that matters is your best.

The player is often face with ethical dilemmas and choice. These are challenges designed to immolate the fears, responsibilities, and excitement of growing up. From choosing sides, helping or not, and even making tentative steps towards a career, the player will transition from childhood to the world of a young adult. Not only that, but there are mechanics built into the game that can help encourage the player to find a healthy work-fun-life balance.