Why Representation (Still) Matters

Why Representation (Still) Matters

A couple of weeks ago, a member of my DnD group made comments about video game characters. I’m paraphrasing to cut the cussing, but he basically said that he doesn’t care and it doesn’t matter what sexuality characters are or gender identity. He just wants solid, fun characters to play with and play against. I’m not going to explain any more of the situation, but I will leave the thoughts that his comment stirred up for me, because I feel like they are important thoughts for our future audience to know about our mindset for creating this game.

We all want solid, fun characters to play as and play off of in our game. No arguments there. The problem is, anyone who is part of the LGBTQA+ community, or even someone who isn’t but is a girl, has to fight for equal representation. Not just representation–because then you can argue that we are there. There’s female options in Overwatch, in World of Warcraft, in Pokemon. The problem is, they aren’t equal to the male characters. It’s why arguments that we don’t still need to push representation drives me nuts. Yes, it’s better–I can play as a girl when I make a Pokemon run. No, I’m still not satisfied because where is my Zelda equivalent of Link? Why are there still more than 75% of the fleshed out characters being male and most of the remaining females don’t have as much dialogue or action?

Most women don’t pass what I call the 50/66 rule. What’s the 50/66 rule? It means that 50% of the dialogue and actions in the game–not bios, not in guides, but in the actual game–belong to a female character. The 66 part of the rule is 66% of the character’s skin has to be covered, minimum, and they have to still be dressed practical for what they are. For example, I don’t expect bards to be dressed from head to toe in armor, but I don’t want them to be naked or effectively dressed in underwear and scarves (if that) either. I do expect my knight to wear real armor, not chain mail bikini’s by any other name or literal breast plates. True fact, there isn’t a single GOOD dollmaker out there that lets you create a female knight that doesn’t ruin the armor to do it. NOT ONE. (I’ve looked. If you have one, feel free to share!!!) And those are simple flash dollmakers, much less a more serious game.

Aside from a few exceptions, LGBTQA+ content is over fetishized or just not there. If it is there, it’s mentioned in a character bio and that’s about it. A lot of the reason why the Dragon Age games and the new Fire Emblem game are being cheered as hard as they are is because they reach to so many normally ignored demographics, and while other games are picking up on this trend, it’s an uphill battle. (I will say that this is getting better faster than the issue with female characters, but again, we still have a long way to go, so I don’t want either to stop or get more focus than the others.)

The only thing this person didn’t bring up is race, but even there, I wish there was more variety to the characters. I don’t want to see American interpretations of Eastern cultures, I want to see people authentic to those cultures create those characters, to actually show us what they see. I want the ratios to be closer to what they actually are in the world. I want exposure to the real culture, the real way things are done, not the way that is portrayed in cartoons or the occasional art film.

So how is Mystic Riders any different? We do try to include a wide variety of countries for background, with a heavier focus on Europe only because that is the country we start with. Why? Because that’s where Ginny and I have the background. Will we stay there? Ohhh no. We have plans. But we want the people to have joined us who have the real, in-depth knowledge we can never have before we carry out those plans. Do we make representation the center most core of the game? No, because then it does what I was rallying against earlier–it makes it done just for representation’s sake, meaning it’s superficial and frequently not as enriching and engaging as I want.

But what I really want people to take away from this post is representation still matters. We still need to fight for those good, solid characters who are female, who are gay, who are trans, who are from another culture than American, and every combination in between. Trying to deride a game for working on that as well as bolstering the strong story hooks isn’t being an activist, it’s you actually trying to erase the small steps have been taken, when we need to be working on taking bigger ones.

A Single Player MMORPG

A Single Player MMORPG

Game Dev Becca and I want Mystic Riders to be a Single Player MMORPG. Bear with me, this isn’t an oxymoron. It comes from both of our experience playing games and the type of games we enjoy, plus, some game marketing research I discovered about solo players.

The common thought around MMO player games is that they are designed to be social games that are played cooperatively where players form groups to complete tasks that are usually “defeat this mega boss.” Personally, I think this is a rather limiting way to view the MMO experience. And my desire for a MMO game that I can finish by myself drives this opinion. Especially since I play for story!

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MMO means massive multiplayer online, and that doesn’t mean that players should be forced to be social and form groups to cooperatively figure things out. It simply means that there are a lot of players online in the game at the same time. The idea of standard cooperative play comes from the popularity of one of the first MMOs, World of Warcraft. Everyone (sans a couple of games) has jumped onto that cooperative MMO play model because WoW did it and was so successful.

However, even in the original MMO gaming experience, there were 8 types of players. (Some even defined 16 players.) They were labeled free spirits and consumers. They were looking to get the most out of the game on their own with as little interaction as possible. And as MMOs and Games as Services have taken over the gaming community as each MMO tries to grab as much of the fanbase as possible. There has been a backlash over it. Remember this Meme?

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People want single player games. (But I doubt the industry is going to give up on MMO Games as Services any time soon.)

Girls prefer narrative play. In an MMO geared towards girls, it simply makes sense to have the narrative story option of the story be single player. They can still form groups and play and experience the story together, but that is optional. A game that has done this quite successfully is Star Stable Online. (Though there are some players that want cooperative play and the day they do that, is the day I stop playing SSO at all.)

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But there are other reasons why a having a story line that a player can finish by themselves without help from others is better than a cooperative story function. And this deals with those free spirit and consumer type gamers. Since, in an MMO, a person who wants to be a social gamer will be able to be a social gamer no matter if the story is “single player” or not.

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1. People have less time.

Kids. Adults. We’re all over scheduled. We don’t have time to sit down and coordinate with our “friends” all over the world when we’re going to get together and run a dungeon. Mystic Riders is geared towards teenagers. Teenagers have school work, after school activities, and hopefully friends they’re hanging out with face to face. Having a single player story mode lets them start and stop the story whenever they need to get off and have dinner without worrying that their leaving is going to inconvenience someone else. If you have to schedule your gaming time, it becomes work. And no one really likes their fun becoming work!

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2. Communities are Toxic.

MMO communities in games that force grouping also come with the huge downside of people simply being cruel and mean to one another. There is a lot of gate keeping. People who aren’t as good at the mechanics of the game get bullied. When you’re going into a game to relax and have fun and find the community hateful, it’s not fun. It’s not relaxing. Forced socialization turns people off. With a single player story mode, players can figure the mechanics out on the their own. They can take the story at their own pace. See everything they want to see. And they can shut out the community if they want to for their own peace of mind.

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3. People Have Anxiety/Don’t like Strangers.

Some folks aren’t extroverts. Somewhere along the line, society has determined that being an extrovert is “normal.” Well, no, it’s not. Being an introvert isn’t a bad thing. Being an introvert is normal too! Socializing is stressful for some gamers. When they play a game, they don’t want to socialize. They want to have fun! So, in a game designed for a younger audience, having the ability to monitor your child and see who they are playing with or even turning chat off so they don’t have to interact with strangers if they don’t want to interact with strangers. (Or you don’t want them interacting with strangers.) Is simply another tool to have peace of mind that you’re going to have a fun, safe experience in a game.

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4. It’s more immersive.

Playing by yourself allows you to take the story at your own pace, to explore the world and discover the lore at your own leisure. There is no pressure to get through someplace quickly or have more mastery of the game mechanics than you do. If you want to craft, you can craft. If you want to decorate your house, or change your avatars clothes, you can. It makes the world more alive.

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Players who are loners in the game often play because they want to really be in the game’s world and MMOs offer a variety of activities (questing, crafting, farming) and customization options that single players simply don’t, everything from avatars, to clothes, to housing. Forcing players into groups is restrictive and really limits the amount of players that will play your game long term.

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Social players will always find a way to group. Solo players will give your game a pass if forced to group up.

All pictured comments in this post are from a GDC Video about Loner Players in MMOs. The video was nonsense, the comments were enlightening, including that 70% of Black Desert Online’s player base (an MMO known for it’s grind and endgame PvP) were Solo players and didn’t care about grouping or end game PvP content. It’s time to stop catering to the 30% who get to the end and cater to the 70% that make up the core of the game’s players. Let’s make video games better!

MMOs a (Female) Gamer’s Perspective Pt. 2

MMOs a (Female) Gamer’s Perspective Pt. 2

(This post was originally post on Ginny O’s blog on March 22, 2018. All thoughts in this post are Ginny’s opinion.)

tumblr_pm2fzvRXrc1uokf2mo1_1280Last week, I discussed four of my priorities as a female gamer. And there ended up being eight of them and the post got out of hand. So, I handily was able to cut it in the middle. Last week I said that when it came to MMOrpg style games, my first four priorities were story, world building, customization (oh pretty!) and a simple user interface. The rest of these don’t have a weighted importance and are more considerations that I take into my gaming experience equally.

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MMOs a (Female) Player’s Perspective Pt. 1

MMOs a (Female) Player’s Perspective Pt. 1

(This post was originally posted on Ginny O.’s blog on March 15, 2018. All thoughts in this post are Ginny’s opinion.)

kurtzperson1One of my favorite game genres to play is the Massive Multiplayer Online preferably RPG or Role Playing Game. There is something about being able to run about in a huge (aka massive) world as a three dimensional character effecting the outcome of the story. (And flinging about magic, I won’t deny it.) It’s probably the same reason why my other favorite genre is the platformer. Games like Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter and I-Ninja put the main character as the focus of the game. Their hero journey is as important as the game’s overall story.

And apparently so do a lot of other people, as games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and Wizards 101 have large player populations all over the world. There is something about completing quests, learning new skills and defeating bad guys that is extremely satisfying to many people. There is a science behind this and to an extent that science is why so many people get addicted to these types of games.

So, what keeps the players of these games playing (beyond the scientific feelings of validation as tasks are completed and numbers go up?) What makes up a good MMOrpg? The following reasons are my own opinion. Others opinions may vary, but these are the opinions that keep paying for and playing a game.

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Get to Know Your Devs: Top Fav Games

Get to Know Your Devs: Top Fav Games

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about what our favorite games are, and what you can see they mean for Mystic Riders as a whole. Why? Because our favorites are (inevitably) going to affect what sort of features we want to see in the game, and the kind of stories that we enjoy.

So to start with, Becca’s list is a little…all over the place. The most obviously vintage of the group is Barbie Riding Club from 1998, a PC game that in many ways started the girls’ gaming phenomena but is sadly no longer replayable. (Because yes, she would play it again, Becca will play any game she loves multiple times.) It was the best substitute for owning a horse a girl could have. There’s also Jak & Daxter, which is a console game of the fantasy, chosen one type variety, that she wasn’t able to finish due to the game mechanics being not in her favor. She grew up with the Legend of Zelda franchise, but the first one she played and her favorite still is Windwaker–it gave the characters such great expressions and had a story that was outside of the norm for the game while still being within the box that is Zelda. (And the new Princess Zelda from Breath of the Wild drove her bonkers.)

She has a hard time picking her favorite Pokémon game–Yellow was her first, Crystal was the first to let her actually play as a girl and has all of her favorite legendaries, Stadium 2 had the best mini-games ever, and Moon lets the Pokémon actually interact in the outside world more–but her favorite remains X. She just loves the world building too much, the region easily being her favorite with its French roots, and it was the first that allowed customization of the avatar to really let the player express themselves. Her last on her big list of favorites is Professor Layton and the Curious Village. While there are frustrating aspects to the game and some of the puzzles are harder than others, she enjoys the way the story winds through the characters and the “twist” ending that while mildly surprising, isn’t a complete shocker for the player either.

Ginny’s list is more easily nailed down to a theme (though Becca had to do some meshing to make this list, lol). With Caesar IV, she gets to make her own city and make it as pretty as possible (such as all the roads and the pattern tiles), as well as optimizing the layout to make everyone happy. Cooking games like Cake Mania gives her the satisfaction of getting the high score under the time constraints to unlock all the extras, and Cake Mania is particularly good about it because there aren’t a ton of micro transactions hiding in the levels. Roads of Rome gives her the satisfaction of doing things in the right order, especially since the later levels will punish you if you don’t, and the fact it’s repairing things rather than combat.

There was a lot that she loved about Ratchet & Clank. From the story, to the fact the original game’s worlds were just the right size to inspire wonder without getting overwhelming, but the first thing she mentioned was the fact the game was set up to be about exploring and collecting items, as well as a few well-timed explosions. Kingdom Hearts hits the nostalgia, the comfort of familiar stories and getting to interact with them as well as taking something old and making it new. (It was also her first platformer game.) With Okami, she loved the concept of using magic to heal the world and the mechanics that let the player see the impact their actions were having. She also found the puzzles seamless in their integration, and that you had to think on them.

What about games the two game devs share? There’s two sets of them. One is Final Fantasy X and its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2. For Becca, it’s all about the story. The characters are great (okay, Tidus is a bit grating, but he gets better), and some of the best parts of it are the fact you can influence the story in small ways to really make your mark on it. Becca really liked the callbacks to X in X-2, but that it was being it’s own story at the same time. For Ginny, her favorite part of X is pretty limited to Rikku punching Tidus in the stomach as a greeting. For her, X-2 was what really hit the mark because it focused on Yuna and Yuna’s grief and feelings about her journey and the aftermath. It also presented three very different types of girl, with girls having agency in their own story. And then the job system is her favorite, as imperfect as it might be, she liked it the best by far.

The other is the Sly Cooper series, though there are some strong feelings on them, especially the last one, lol. Becca likes that it isn’t about combat, it’s about sneaking and collecting items, and the importance of history to the present. (Once combat started happening, it started irking her.) There is character growth between games too, which is great. She just wishes they hadn’t done a cliffhanger ending with no follow through and that Carmelita had gotten a better treatment. For Ginny, the third game, Sly Cooper: Band of Thieves remains her favorite. Sucker Punch really hit their stride with the mechanics at that point, including different mini-games depending on the situation that made sense and fit the game play so the player wasn’t confused as to why it existed. It was also really about Sly’s ancestors and start delving into the lore of the world. She did miss the “tink tink” of the first two games though.

So what does all of this mean for Mystic Riders? Well, between the game devs, there is obviously an importance placed on story, which you already knew, but not just on story being the focus. It has to give the female protagonist agency, it has to be about their story as much as it is about the side characters, as fun as they can be. The mini-games have to be fun, and yet mesh well and make sense with the world, which can’t be so large it’s overwhelming or too small so you don’t have enough to explore. While the player has some influence on the greater story, it is within reasonable limits and gives in to their expectations rather than being surprising just to be surprising or not making sense. And rather than combat, it is focused on puzzles and improving the world, with some elements of time management but not enough to drive anyone batty.

Think this helped you understand what sort of game we are looking to build? Let us know in the comics or on twitter! If you want to see this game happen, stop by and leave us a ko-fi if you have the funds (though obviously don’t deny yourself either)!

Ruby District, Watch Your Step!

Ruby District, Watch Your Step!

We keep mentioning our wonderful districts, so now we’re going to start introducing them. Astranar has eight districts, each with their own individual flare, and they can be quite competitive with each other. In Astranar, the districts are named after gemstones. This week, we’ll be discussing Ruby, where Earth magic reigns supreme.

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Known for their rolling hills and gorges, Ruby is the heart of Astranar–not quite literally, but it is in the center of the country and shares a border with just about everyone else. Creating it, Ginny was inspired by her childhood home of Upstate New York. The further north you get, closer to the Whistleback Mountains, the more the district resembles the Catskills (though Ginny will make the argument that they are still hills, just really steep ones. I’m from Oklahoma, I don’t have a horse in this race). Whereas the further south you go, the hills are still there, just less dramatic and more reminiscent of the Finger Lakes region. Those gorges are home to picturesque waterfalls that feed the rivers and lakes, watering the tall trees that cover the hills…at least, those that haven’t been “civilized” yet.

It is a favorite place for farmers and ranchers because of the plentiful graze, even if sometimes the sheep wonder off and have to be chased down. Dairy cows also make an appearance, and some vineyards. With all the plentiful supplies, it’s no wonder that craftspeople enjoy the district as well. The local nobility leaves… some… okay, a lot… to be desired, but we can deal with that right…? Well, hopefully. It’s just one count, how bad can it be? The other local lords are more farmers and landlords than real nobility, so they have the farm sense they were born with….right?! Maybe the fact the fashion has a noted punk/rebel edge isn’t a coincidence after all…

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Alright, I’ll get to what you actually care about. Possibly because of all the ranches, maybe just because they are quirky, but either way, Ruby is the solace for Western riders in Astranar. Barrel racing, pole bending, shalom, and pony games, there is a wide variety to try, though some will be limited to you owning a pony in addition to your default magical horse. (Don’t at me, there’s a quest to earn you the necessary credits, or at least the majority of them if you are picky on color.)

Ruby is home to Chincoteague ponies in a all varieties of coats that they come in. Not to worry if you went to another district first so your default horse is geared more towards another style of riding either, because the Chincoteague isn’t alone in Ruby. American Quarter Horses (which you can turn into American Paints with a few extra credits to add markings) and Tennessee Walking horses are also available for purchase, although because they are considered “extra” horses, purchasing of the initial game license doesn’t earn you credits towards them.

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Earth magic resonates with Do on the solfege scale. It is the base, the anchor that holds you safely down. Those who resonate with Earth are down-to-earth personalities that value security and order, and they are very intense about getting it. They are very efficient, and a good person to have in your corner. On the small scale, Earth magic can speed up plant growth and making tilling the fields neatly easier. On the large scale, it can raise or lower the earth itself or effect magnetism. Of course, if you don’t stay in control of it, you could also cause a mudslide, which is not only dangerous, but is going to have a number of people mad at you for property damage.

If you following Ginny’s twitter blog, you’ll know that all of the districts, including Ruby, have their own little specialties and symbols. I won’t bore you with all of them, and I want you to get to enjoy finding them out on your own! (The name is one giant clue to one of them, fyi.) I will mention that the Ruby mentors depend on which side you choose. If you go with the Light, you will look to Vesper Leilament (profile pending), and if you go with the Shadow, you have options: Vanessa Ribbonmelody (profile pending) and Vivian Streetbeats (profile pending).

Want those profiles to come sooner? Consider buying us a ko-fi.