What in the WORLD is Victorian Edge?

What in the WORLD is Victorian Edge?

So we keep describing Astranar as having hung on to the Victorian Era a little longer than the rest of the world. What does that even mean? Well, I’m going to describe the over all feeling of the world that will hopefully help, and then Ginny has folders upon folders of inspiration pics to provide visual reference.

While a lot of the districts have their own influences and styles (we’ll get into each one eventually), there are some things that have carried over across Astranar, developing either concurrently with the rest of the world or arriving with the latest shipwreck. For those who have no idea what that means, think about how pyramids appeared in both South American and northern Africa, and numerous other ideas that develop across the globe in different countries that have no contact with each other at the time.

As for the lasting footprint of Victorian influence, it’s a mix of the Gothic cathedral style, then it goes into things like French (or Second) Empire, Queen Anne, and Gothic Revival. Mostly, it is a hodge-podge of the over the top “gauche” type of decor they favored, though the fascination with death and spiritualism will be centralized to one area or one time of year, since our focus is more on healing and balance.

Some key things that you will see are gingerbread trim on houses and buildings, scalloped pattern roofs, and intricate iron work on both the houses and the streets. (We have some beautiful and easily specialized ideas for the street lamps and manhole covers, I’m excited.) The roads around the farms and forest paths are dirt, because roads are expensive, but the ones in town are cobblestone rather than pavement, which is better for horse hooves and much better to adjust to the town size as needed. They work around or over hills rather than digging through and leveling, the same for the railroad tracks.

Interior wise, we drew inspiration from the Morris wallpapers and vintage or even just vintage inspired furniture pieces, in both American 1950’s and more traditional Gothic. Not only do we want to provide a variety for players to really customize their experience, but we want things to work together without fighting each other in terms of style. You can have your goth or punk rock room, or you can be as frilly and princess like as you desire, or you can splash loud colors all over the walls, but the goal is to make the visuals all flow for the sake of the game.

Alright, now to the part I’m pretty sure everyone cares the most about. What are the characters going to look like? Well, fashion wise, we tried to cover all the genres—hip hop, preppy, vintage, punk, fancy, and even androgynous. But we pushed them to fit within our idea of Victorian inspiration and what Ginny calls the blocks that we have built into the game without getting…ridiculous. You’ll see a lot of the classic shapes of the 1950’s, as well as modern casual fashion. Okay, and yes, there’s some Lolita-and-or-school girl aesthetic going on, and that’s my fault. I have a lace and ruffle addiction.

Other countries and styles are hopefully going to make their way into the game, such as hijab and Hindu forehead markings, but those are additions rather than something we’ll be starting with. While we want to be inclusive, we made categories to make it easier to implement the needed fashions and blocking and sheer levels of programming that it will require. So stage one is basically the bare basics, and then adding some variations of that. Hopefully by the time we’re finished with the basics and their variations, we’ll have the support we need to make the rest happen.

As for why we went down this way… This really fits Ginny’s and my shared aesthetic. While sometimes we are on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as color and decorations go, the bones tend to fall in this direction. This also serves as a great point-of-difference for us, since most MMO’s are either directly in the modern setting only, or they are medieval fantasy…ish, though the historical accuracy of the fashion is usually questionable. By going in this direction, we circumvent the problem of potentially having fashion trends age the game, as well as provide a unique experience for the player. Sounds like it’s all coming up roses. Speaking of roses… See you next week!

So Why a Girl Protagonist Again…?

So Why a Girl Protagonist Again…?

Time for some delving into our decision making paradigm here as I address what is sure to be a question we get a lot, and while I’ve touched on it, I really want to talk about it in-depth. Why did we decide that the player character in Mystic Riders had to be female?

I’ll get the mechanical aspect out of the way: yes, it is easier when you are going as highly-customizable as we are to only do one physical sex. Especially because we are doing three different body types, and lots of different hair styles and options for personalization and style choices (even if we are limiting how many are available at release and adding to them as the year goes on). By eliminating having the option to play as a boy, we’ll be able to make the player characters that more variable with the same amount of time and resources that normally go into supporting both physical sexes.

Since you can easily twist the mechanics into an argument for why we should do a male option, let me go into the marketing side of it. Our age demographic is 10+ girls, ideally 12-16. Those girls are going to want to play as themselves, to be as much like they either are or want to be. Our job as game developers is to cater to that market. Particularly because it is wildly under-represented. There are very few, high quality games with a female only protagonist that can be customized beyond using your own name. About the only two games I can think of that fairly let you play as male or female for that age group are Pokémon and Wizards 101, and they have to limit how much customizing you can do because of the engine’s ability to handle it all.

I use the word fairly in two senses: one, there are (roughly) the same number of options for both the male and female players, and both are presented in the same way. Counting the number of hair styles is easy, it’s the second that trips developers up. The female character has to have to have the same variety of options as the men–this means that they can’t be designed to only appeal to the male gaze. (I have heard the arguments that the overly buff men are supposed to be for the female gaze, I am here to tell you it’s garbage. It’s a masculine fantasy all around, folks.)

One common complaint you’ll see, even in female-forward games like Overwatch, is that the faces all look the same for a female character, despite different nationalities and body types, but the men have at least a nod towards diversity. By focusing all of our efforts into female characters, we can avoid those types of slips and actually bring true variety and diversity to the options for characters and for NPCs. We can also feature interesting fashions without presenting teenage characters as a lot older than they are and creating unrealistic expectations.

Which leads to the moral and emotional reasons why we want to focus on a female character. I grew up with Zelda and Mario, both rescuing princesses. Pokémon: Crystal and Final Fantasy X, my first games with female protagonists (or close to it), didn’t come out until I was already ten or eleven, and I’m younger than Ginny! And while games have worked to include female options for characters, there still aren’t very many that focus entirely on a female protagonist, even as other games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2 focus on male protagonists entirely. (I’m still annoyed we haven’t had a playable Zelda yet when she is the name of the franchise.)

Girls have just as much right to be the focus of a prophecy or the hero of a story. But they don’t get that opportunity unless it is alongside a male option. We want to create a game where the focus is devoted to showing that a game like this is possible, rather than feeding into the loop that girls won’t play games even if you create a game for them. It’s the same study they tried to feed us about female super heroes, and Wonder Woman blew them out of the water, and Carol Danvers is showing signs that she might do the same if given a fair chance.

That’s all Ginny and I want to do, really. Offer a fair chance for girls to be the heroes of their own stories, offer the type of games that we all enjoy without fighting through pop-up ads and bad graphics. By proving them wrong once, we give a foothold for others to try, and for us to keep trying and pushing for more. Because if all of us succeed, the ones who really benefit are the girls out there who start to believe that they can do what they dream.

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!

Target Audience: For the Developer

Target Audience: For the Developer

The target audience of Mystic Riders is a female gamer ages 12 to 16 with the optimum target market going as low as 10 to as old as 25. The content and story of the game is geared towards teens. From issues they face to the genre tropes they adore, we’re writing with them in mind and what they enjoy. Mystic Riders is being approached from a unique standpoint in the gaming industry—it is built narrative first! It’s meant to be a ‘safe’ game and steer away from excess skin, common fears and phobias, politics, religion, and sex. (While all sexualities and skin tones should and will be represented in the game, the story doesn’t hinge upon the player being a lesbian for example.)

In basic mechanics, Mystic Riders is a standard MMO and racing game. We’re aiming for girl players, thus why the Player Character is a female-only option. There is a distinct lack of games that target girl gamers, even now, for a real gaming experience. Most games fall under boy-centric or gender neutral in terms of tone. What few girl games there are tend to fall into gendered “safe” types, so basically makeovers, fashion, and playing house like cooking and home decorating. There isn’t much investment in other types of games because girl gamers are seen as a group who don’t spend money, which creates a chicken-or-the-egg problem. Girls don’t spend money on games because there aren’t any good games for them, so no one makes a good game deliberately for girls.

If boys want a horse game, they have Red Dead Redemption (2). It’s past time that girls got something with that amount of investment and care put into it.

This means that Mystic Riders needs to take the next step forward in MMO gaming by focusing the mechanics on games that girls like to play that are catered to mostly by the mobile market. This means featuring mini-games seamlessly into game play (instead of making them different screens). Mini-games like trace the pattern, clean the screen, falling objects, follow the keyboard pattern, red light green light, bubble shooters and matching color patterns, etc. are a very large part of Mystic Riders along with actual jigsaw style puzzles and environment puzzles that involve magic or using pets.

Mystic Riders is an MMO Racing Game that is stepping towards platformer gaming style mechanics. Whether it is having the player change size, or jump from “platform” to “platform.” Mystic Riders is set up to be a multi-level map with places that are exclusive to certain “class” types. At the same time, it is also a horse competition game, and the mechanics of the races are geared towards the players using skill to hit the buttons at the right time and using the correct speed to make it over obstacles or do the right steps.

There is even a choose-your-own-adventure feel to the game as the story is set up for the player to be able to choose sides at several points in the game. As a result, there are 8 different ways the story can play out. We want the player to be able to play past story lines, and have extra character slots in order to be able to play the game all 8 ways if they choose.

Because Mystic Riders is aiming for an older audience, at least in terms of where normally girl-exclusive games stop, the graphics are chosen to appeal to that older player by being more realistic. We desire the graphics to be in the vein of Black Desert Online, Moonlight Blade, or Guild Wars 2. This will make the game stand out from competitors like any Barbie horse game or Star Stable Online. The level of graphics in Ostwind are about par for what we are looking for.

Being just a game in today’s 24/7 social media atmosphere isn’t possible. That’s why Mystic Riders is geared towards being highly merchandisable from dolls, make-up, clothing, to notebooks and calendars, to novels, comics, and webisodes. We understand that to survive in an over-saturated market, you have to be a brand.

Mystic Riders is a brand created by female story driven gamers for female story driven gamers. That is the market we desire to tap.