Tumbling Down in Amethyst District

Tumbling Down in Amethyst District

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 Amethyst, where Consciousness magic is the end-all be-all.

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Set in the very center of Argentum, Amethyst is mostly mountainous and bordered by Sphalerite, Ruby, and Emerald, as well as both Zablana and Nospos. Ginny used the Swiss Alps as inspiration for Amethyst, looking for ways to situate towns and farms into the mountain side that goes vertical more than it does horizontal. With pocket valleys creating ideal places for villages and high steeps covered in snow for the rest, Amethyst is great for everyone who enjoys their snow year round.

In addition to the villages and high hills that lead into Ruby, Amethyst is home to winter sports of all varieties, particularly ice skating. In fact, a huge Olympic-sized facility has been built in Amethyst to try and attract ice skaters of all types. With all those twisting roads, though, travel can get tricky and there’s always someone who is in need of rescue. Perhaps as a nod to the home of winter weather, Russia, there is a definite imperial/military inspired style in Amethyst.

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With all those mountains and the specialty of dressage, you might need a new horse. While Amethyst doesn’t provide you any funds for new horses, there are some to take a look at if you don’t mind spending some of your own cash. The Vyatka and the Akale-Teke are horses built for extreme weather and elegant looks, both being considered rare breeds. If something a little more solid is your speed, there is also the Orlov Trotter for your consideration.

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Consciousness magic resonates with Ti on the solfege scale. Consciousness is magic of the mind and will, with many of its abilities similar to that of psychic abilities. Magicians of Consciousness will push their minds and their bodies as hard as they can to achieve their goals. While they are usually empathetic enough to pick up other’s emotions and maybe manipulate them, they aren’t as wise to their own feelings and can come across as a little cold. On the small scale, Consciousness magic is telekinesis and emotions or thought sensing, relying on the environment or others as well as their own will. On the large scale, it can grant its users knowledge of the past, the present, or the future, and even allow for astral projection. However, you have to be careful about going too far from your body or into time–they don’t play fair–and if you push yourself too far, you’ll get a nasty headache for your troubles.

If you following Ginny’s twitter blog, you’ll know that all of the districts, including Amethyst, 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 Amethyst mentors depend on which side you choose. If you go with the Light, you will look to Isidora Silvertreble (profile pending), and if you go with the Shadow, you have options: Vivian Streetbeat (profile pending) and Victoria Blackpiano (profile pending).

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Shine a Light in Morganite!

Shine a Light in Morganite!

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 Morganite, where Prism magic shines.

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A combination of lush beaches, sweeping fields with craggy water ways, and one very boggy marsh, Morganite is on the southwest side of the country on the coast on the border with Nospos, and it is also surrounded by Sphalerite, Ruby, and Diamond districts. With input from Becca, Ginny looked to southern France for imagery for Morganite. Fields of lavender are home to wild horses, the big bulls needed for Sapphire, and wineries. There are bits of French charm around every corner or stream

Unfortunately, all that water historically leads to problems in the spring and summer, as the influx of rain can cause flooding. The locals are used to it, but preparations still have to made. Unfortunately, the local nobility, in particular the baroness, and the local higher class merchants aren’t seeing eye to eye. (Beware of sandwich jokes, there’s hidden meaning around here…) The only help for all of this? An elderly knight, tucked away in his tower among the marshes. If only you could reach him, you might be able to get everything ready on time! Despite the weather, the atmosphere of the hamlets and the beaches have brought out the classically cute style in terms of fashion.

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Seeing as how there is a huge marsh to deal with, you’re going to need a second horse if you hope to navigate it. Morganite is home to the special quest that gains you in-game currency to purchase a draft horse. If you’ve only unlocked Morganite at that time, your option is the Percheon. In addition, the area’s specialty is show jumping, but there are a handful of ranches that raise cattle or horses, so a good all-around horse in the Selle Francais is available. And considering how adorable the rest of the district is, of course there’s a pony running around: the Welsh pony, specifically.

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Prism magic resonates with La on the solfege scale. Prism is magic of the light, literally, and is the definition of jack of all trades, master of none in terms of spell range. If a person aligns with Prism magic, they tend to be very transparent, but watch out because that doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden depths. They are the definition of optimism, and always see the best in others–even where others can’t. On the small scale, Prism magic summons light–from that of the stars, the sun, or the moon, or in different colors with each color being capable of a different thing. On the large scale, it is the power of illusions, making the mind believe something is there that isn’t or appearing different. It’s very handy for some quick costume changes! However, perhaps to balance it’s versatility and stable nature, very little Prism magic directly impacts reality.

If you following Ginny’s twitter blog, you’ll know that all of the districts, including Morganite, 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 Morganite mentors depend on which side you choose. If you go with the Light, you will look to Charlotte Mistwaltz (profile pending), and if you go with the Shadow, you have options: Vanessa Ribbonmelody (profile pending) and Victoria Blackpiano (profile pending).
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What Do You Want to Be?

What Do You Want to Be?

We all heard that question growing up. What are you going to do when you grow up and go to college? And it’s asked from ages 8 to 20. Since it is such a heavy part of the preteen and teenage experience, we decided to modify a common MMORPG element to suit. (Or is it old Final Fantasy? This was a Ginny thing, my knowledge of the source is vague.) That’s right, we’ve got professions.

The player has eight professions to pick from to start with, and the way I look at them is sort of like base Dungeons and Dragons sub-classes. While you can use stats and gear to identify as your main class, a.k.a. what kind of rider you are and where you put your skill focuses like a fighter picking strength and fighter feats and a rogue focusing on dexterity and ways to be sneaky, a profession lets you add an additional level of flavor (and lets you do something with all those reputation points you are hopefully earning), like being a specific type of rogue like a shadow walker or being a teamwork oriented fighter.

So what professions do we offer? Well, let’s do a short little breakdown…

Jockey

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Now, jockey is a bit of a catch-all term here. What this is really meant is someone who wants to compete with horses professionally. This could be dressage, show jumping, endurance, barrel racing, or pole bending. All that matters is a competitive spirit and a horse is involved. If you take this profession, you will always be on the look out for the best gear, the best horses, and the next race. The mentor you’ll want to seek out is Lottie in Morganite, since…she’s pretty much the only one with experience in both English and Western disciplines for more than a year except Var, and unless you share Var’s culture, that’s a no go (and Lottie has a surprising competitive streak if you can bring it out).

Entertainer

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Again, this one is a catch-all term, but the idea is this profession is for anyone who is interested in the entertainment/performance arts. From dancers and singers to actors and instrumentalists, it covers all the bases. There are opportunities to hone your dancing, singing, and other skills throughout Astranar, as long as you seek them out. As seems obvious, the Diamond Media Complex and all of its various agents and principals are the folks to seek reputation with, but there are smaller theaters and venues too, and your own mentors (whether Light or Shadow) have a camp idol group that you can help. For all of this, the person you’ll want to seek out is Viva in Citrine, who knows all about the hard work to break into the business and will be ready to offer that advice, plus she might have some cool tricks to work into dance routines from her rhythmic gymnastic days.

Farmer

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Whether its working with plants or animals (or both!), the farmers are interested in taking care of the land. Their customizable farm and stable is their dream come true to help collect different farm animals and types of crops. The local farmers are more than happy to offer tips and tricks to find rare plants or animals, and there are grannies, bakers, craftsmen (and women) and smiths with recipes or skills to help market your goods depending on your fancy. There are even rare plants and animals to be found in the Mirror World, giving you a wild new world to explore! Regardless of your focus, Len is the girl to seek out in Emerald if this floats your fancy. She’s always interested in a cause for the environment, and she even has a bonsai tree that she’ll show you if you promise to be careful.

Spa Owner

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With avatars this customizable, you know someone is going to want to be a makeover queen. Well, do we have the profession for you. Spa owners take the hair, nails, and other physical customizing to a whole new level. If you love playing with hair and make-up, you’re going to be on the hunt of Fashion Week for what is the new cutting edge. Besides playing around with every hair and character base in the game, the spa owner is going to want to get the favor of certain members of the Style Secret Service who deal with hair and make-up, such as Eden in the employ of Rose Neptuna or his brother Cain. Your mentor is (oddly) also going to be Len for this profession, she is really big on green and vegan products being used in spas, but she knows her stuff about what’s good for different skins and bodies.

Interior Designer

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If you prefer your decorating to the rooms, whelp, we have you covered there too. This profession is for the collectors of every type of wallpaper and rug we come up with, trying every combination to see what works, regardless of personal preference or style. (And there’s a lot to go around.) There are various shop owners, artists, craftspeople, and others to find, not to mention you could always learn how to make your custom furniture yourself and dye the rug the specific shade of blue to go with the tin ceiling. There are also public decorating events that could definitely use your careful eye! The mentor for this careful work is Izzy in Amethyst, whose level of matching and theme thrills the Style Secret Service and while she’s odd about her personal colors, she is always sure that her designs match people’s personalities.

Fashionista

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While spa owners may have dibs on hair and make-up, the fashionista is all about the clothes and the gear. From mixing and matching patterns and colors to perfectly working with people’s skin tones, they are all about the whole look. It doesn’t matter if they want to wear the clothes, make the clothes, or take pictures of people in the clothes, they are interested in some element of it. They also work closely with the Style Secret Service, with many designers keeping Astranar’s Fashion Week afloat–and you can imagine that Fashion Week is this profession’s Christmas! Some noted designers and stylists to meet up with are Arabella Threadsnip, Capucine, and even hip-hop artist Hi-Fidelity (supposedly). Head over to Ruby and ask for Ves if you want her advice on fashion, whether its her own punk or any of the others in Astranar–after being dorm mates with Lottie, she can handle anything.

Archaeologist

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This is definitely the hardest of the professions, and for those who are really invested in the lore and world building, so be warned! Archaeologists go everywhere and anywhere to help solve the mysteries of the world. While the player is always going to find the answers they seek to Astranar’s current problems, archaeologists are interested in the past ones and what they did to shape the current Astranar. (A.k.a. this is where Ginny and I get to hide all the Easter eggs, mwuahahah.) There are several explorers throughout Astranar who share this passion for history and exploration, including Trader Trouble who keeps getting himself stuck into odd problems, though at least when he gets really stuck, he pays well for help getting out of it! Sharing this love of history and exploring is Minnie in Sapphire. While you may have to deal with everything ending up on her vlog, she’s full of great places to start your adventures.

Chef

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Last but certainly not least is those who are drawn to the culinary arts. From cooks to fine dining to patisseries to bakers, the world needs more people who are willing to cook! Astranar has cuisines from all over the world and secret recipes in both the normal and Mirror World for some seriously good treats. Whatever you want to specialize in, there’s bound to be someone who can offer you advice. Some of Astranar’s top chefs include Edith Yeast, a slightly-mad food scientist, and Helen Highfoam, who helps everyone learn how to cook. The mentor of cooking is Kitty, because unlike some people *cough*Lottie*cough*Len*cough*Izzy*cough* she remembers to pack her lunch, and she knows all about nutrition and the industry from her grandparents who run a traditional inn back in Japan.

These professions just scratch the surface of the things someone can do (and we have plans for that, but remember, these are the core sub-classes, we can go into prestige classes later), but we hope can help girls realize some of their potential. Some of these professions in reality, like fashion and entertainers and chefs, are very male oriented and its hard to make it in those businesses. But by introducing some of the basic concepts of those professions, the groundwork that goes into following them, we hope we can prepare girls to succeed no matter what direction or obstacles might happen.

You are the Hero

You are the Hero

In Mystic Riders, your player character is the hero of the story. It’s your journey and you are the star. The story pillar for the game is “growing up.” And we want you to feel like you’re in charge of the story and what you do matters. We want you to be the star. So, we’ve come up with some game mechanics and story elements in order to customize your journey.

Character creation in Mystic Riders is more than about customizing your avatar and your magical color changing horse. It’s about choosing the best starting magic for your character. The quiz will help decide what district, your first racing skill type, what type of magic your character has, and other cool things like if you live in a dorm room, a tiny cabin, or in a tree house while at camp. (You can choose if this carries over to your farm and stable or not.)

There are seven different magic types in Astranar (and the elusive eighth type, Harmony) and each district specializes in a different magic. Each district is a different chapter in the story that can be played in any order depending on what type of magic you want to learn next. Because story wise, your character is the next wielder of Harmony magic, the first in centuries.

Helping you on your journey are the mentors of each district. Your mentors are only a year or so older than your character, and can only wield one type of magic. They came to Argentum the year before and earned their spots in the Royal Riding Academy. If you get into a great deal of trouble, they can help you out. Maybe. If you get into too deep of trouble, you’d need someone with a great deal of magic experience, like Headmistress Thyme to get you out of a jam.

There are choices to be made all through the game.

After customizing your character and choosing a district with it’s racing skill tracks, there are other skills to be learned such as crafting and arts. Learning different skills in the game like hiking or gardening will help in your journey to discover Astranar’s secrets. And being able to make clothes and equipment not only will allow you to outfit yourself in better gear, but earn some extra coins along the way. The more skilled you are, the better things you can make and the harder obstacles you can take on.

When you level up your character and your horse, we want you to have the ability to customize your stats to what you feel is important. There is going to be a certain amount of strategy in choosing where to put your stats to be the most effective depending on where you are in the game. Not every horse is going to be the fastest horse or the most agile or most disciplined. Different horses are good at different things.

Answering questions is going to affect how your story proceeds and how characters in the game perceive you as a person. You want to put your best foot forward. How much effort you put into completing your goals in the game is going to reflect on the skills and abilities that you have and how good you are at them.

There are factions to choose. Do you want to control the power of nature, create illusion, and read minds? Or do you want to explore the natures of rot and decay and the nightmares of others? It’s up to you. Each of these factions will alter your story. And give you access to different areas, equipment, and gear. Depending on if you choose to be in the Light or Shadow Faction, there are specific pets and horses you can get that are exclusive to those factions.

As you progress in the game, you’ll be given an opportunity to take the first steps in a profession. Do you want to be a jockey? Entertain the masses like Rose Neptuna? Or even explore the far reaches of Astranar searching out secrets? Professions will give you special quests, extra items, and access to special areas.

Most importantly to us is that the story is about your character as the heroine who is there to train and learn the secrets of Astranar and Argentum in order to make the Light and Shadow Magic of the world harmonize again.

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.

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!