The Games Within the Game

The Games Within the Game

Mini-Games. I have touched a lot on mini-games while talking about every other mechanic thus far in the game! Part of our vision for the next stage of MMOs is incorporated mini-games inside the game itself. The biggest examples I can think of is the different hacking style mini games in Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank. The biggest mini- games that most MMOs have are their fishing mini-games. (Almost every MMO I know about has a fishing mini-game in it one way or the other. The original Guild Wars being the weird exception to this.)

Our target demographic, being female, really enjoy smaller style app games like bubble shooter, connect three, and puzzle style mini games. Women love hidden object games as well. When a single player game is made for little girls like oh, Tangled, or Disney Princess Adventures, a huge part of the gameplay is integrated mini-games and puzzles. We want to take this out of the single player game and put it into the MMO style game.

MMO games don’t have to be 100% fetch and escort quests, and drag and drop items into glowing sparkling fields. Because, that gets tedious. We know it does. We’ve all been there playing a game for the story or hoping to get to the end game for the PvP battles and been stuck endless grinding in fetch quests in order to level our characters and get new gear. And even in a combat MMO where there are NPCs around that want to hurt you, this gets mind numbing. (And so does the combat depending on the mechanics.)

And horse games, well, the type of horse games there usually are include mini-games such as currying your horse, cleaning the hooves, mucking the stables, and sometimes you get washing your horse and styling your horse with different mane and tail styles and fancy gear.

Feeding and watering your horse usually isn’t involved enough to be turned into a mini-game. With many of those horse games, that’s actually all there is to the game at all! (Which is so disappointing.)

So, here are some mini-games we’re thinking about for Mystic Riders.

Trace the Pattern/Connect the Dots

On your screen would be a pattern, or a set of dots. The player uses their mouse to trace the pattern or to select the dots in the right order to complete the pattern. Examples where this can be used: casting magic, doing hair in the hair salon, sewing a garment. Magic is the biggest place where we expect to use the trace the pattern mini game.

Bubble Shooter

The player has to shoot groups of bubbles in the right order to clear the screen. Mostly for magically locked places, such as the Mirror World.

Puzzles

Find the pieces in the area and fit them together. Good for making bridges, restoring artwork, or putting furniture and musical instruments together.

Pattern Match Mini-Game

The player is given rows and columns of items. There is a pattern, set number of items they have to match in each row. They need to move the items around before they’re put together at the bottom of the screen. Good for cooking and brewing, possibly cloth making, and so on.

The Slide Bar Mini-Game

The player watches a bar on the screen with a slider that goes back and forth. When the slider is in a specific spot of the bar (often a different color) the player clicks the screen to stop it. Useful for anytime that timing and accuracy is important. Could be used for forging, archery, and fishing.

Light Pattern Mini-Game

Sometimes, things just need to be a certain color. Whether or not it’s a set of lamps keeping a gate closed, or a group of Christmas Spirits that got caught up in the fun of Halloween, they need to be changed. Make the lights the right color, doors may unlock, secret places may reveal themselves, and Christmas can be saved.

Falling Objects

The sky is falling! Oh my. Oh, it’s just fruit and nuts you say. Well, carry on then. In the falling object game, the player runs around the screen to catch items before they hit the ground or direct falling items to specific spots. (These games should be easy. Easy I say!) Usually there is some sort of catastrophe going on. Or maybe the farmer needs your help to catch their apples before they hit the ground.

Pet Puzzles

The player guides their pet to go through mazes, push levers, press buttons, and sit on different pressure points in order to unlock certain gates and doors. Pets don’t do that you say? Well, this is Astranar and there’s magic. Mostly for having a good time with your pet, or Mirror World people don’t think the same we do about locks.

Clean the Screen

The player has to clean the screen with their mouse to reveal what’s under the dirt and grime. Mostly for archaeology.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the mini game options that are available to us as game devs. These are the ones that we think would be the most entertaining and make the most sense. For mini games such as horse brushing and hoof picking, I’d want to consult with experts to make them more “realistic” and also make them completely optional.

Without a combat system, it is imperative that we give the players a variety of ways to advance the game, so they don’t become bored with what they are expected to do to continue the story. Thus, our answer is mini-games.

Can You Hear Me Now? (Main UI)

Can You Hear Me Now? (Main UI)

Astranar is a rather magical place, so much so that cellphones from out of the country don’t work! When the player arrives at camp, they’re given a cellphone that is connected to Argentum’s cellphone network and works in the magical area. This cellphone is the main user interface for Mystic Riders.

The cellphone looks like your typical smart phone. And it has different icon apps that open up different functions in the game. In short, the cellphone is the game’s main menu. So, what features are in our main menu? A lot.

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(Rough Idea of Menu design)

One of the biggest functions of the cellphone is that it contains the game map. The player is going to need this map to be able to orient themselves around Astranar. The map will be a 3D style map they can zoom in and out of, and hopefully, will have a road map overlay. There should be marked locations where there are important NPCs, train stations, and shops and restaurants, etc. As the player explores more of the map, fog will lift on the 3D map for them.

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(The Map While Riding Around; Not Full Screen)

The menu also has the Quest Log Book. Here the player can bring up the quests available to them, select which ones they want to do (markers will appear on the map) and the gold calculator will tell them how many coins they’ll earn from doing those quests. (Always helpful if you need to buy something.)

The player can also access their inventory. The player has two saddlebags on their horse. One saddlebag is for their pet, and the other saddlebag is for their inventory. They can keep everything from feed, to different crafting kits, to their brush, pick, and foldable shovel.

There will be the character menu and the horse menu. These open up interfaces that show the character or horse and what they are wearing. These menus also keep track of the player’s level, care status, currency, and statistics. The player can look at their skill menu, track their achievements in the achievement sticker book, and see how each group in the game feels about them with the reputation tab.

They also will have a friends menu to invite and manage their friends. There will be a club management section if they are part of or run a riding club. They can keep track of their competition results in another menu. They can take pictures with the in-game camera, open the chat function, or send private messages in the in-game email. Lastly, they can access their game settings or get their questions answered in the game help with a report function to message customer support.

If there is an in game radio, the player should be able to access and control what channel they want to listen to through the phone. Channels might include things like orchestral epic soundtrack music, Rose Neptuna’s channel, or channels dedicated to her rivals like Hi-Fidelity (or even an Astranar’s Top 40 that’s a mix of them all? Future thought to chew on).

The player would have the options of being able to customize the phone wallpaper background with game art pictures or pictures from they’ve taken on their in-game camera and to be able to customize the phone case with in-game patterns and colors.

We hope that this style of user interface will be easy to understand and flexible enough that things can be added to it with little trouble if needed. (Maybe we need a game news function for updates, or a section for the game credits.) There are a lot of things going on in an MMO and the in-game phone is the hub for a great deal of it without cluttering the player’s view of the game itself!

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 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!

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!

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.

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!

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!

Astranar’s Secret Gem: The Mirror World

Astranar’s Secret Gem: The Mirror World

Hidden beyond the next tree. Over secret paths only a few can see. Through the arches of branches and flowers. There is a world of magic and wonder. Teal skies. Vivid greenery. Unique flowers. Maroon earth. Only on the continent of Argentum, in Astranar, can people cross over and discover the enchantments and peoples of the Mirror World.

A simple name, perhaps, while others over the world may have slipped through cracks, they called it different things. Underhill. Wonderland. The Never Ending Wood. Ever After. In Astranar, the natives know that names have power and the true name of the World is best left to those that live in it. They simply call it the Mirror World for it mirrors our own.

When Astranar is in the heart of summer, the Mirror World is in the deepest folds of winter. And while in Astranar, it takes a powerful spell caster to work anything beyond basic spells, in the Mirror World, magic is as easy as breathing—for better or worse!

If one could see both the Mirror World and the mundane world at the same time, one would be able to see the towns co-existing in the same places! The people going on about their lives doing everyday things. For the people of the Mirror World have the same wants and needs as the people in the mundane world no matter how different their appearance.

And oh how different they are! Those that live close to humans can be breathe taking and magical. Fairies in their tiny snow globe sized bubbles. Elementals that take on the shape of humans or giant birds. Griffons that share a passing resemblance to eagles. Deer with colorful coats and exotic antlers like flowering branches and crystal. And many different types of sheep.

Then there are the magical beings that only choose to share the shape of humans. Though their skin is anything but human looking as if someone took liquid metals, and glowing paints to create abstract and fantastical designs. Some may have wings to mock the humans and their tales of fairies (or is it mockery?). Take care of those that live in the ponds.

Those that live deep in the Mirror World have names and faces we are familiar with; Santa Claus, Cupid, The Pumpkin King/Jack Frost, Mother Goose, and the Green Man. They come closer to the mundane world around the solstices and holidays when the veil between us is thinner. The ways to their towns and castles are only available for a short time each year as they are celebrated (or appeased.) Perhaps, if you help them enough they will open special places, special towns for the player to visit them all year round.

Then there are the horses! Horses in the Mirror World are the horses of every rider’s fantasy. The most prolific and easiest to find, because often they find you, are the magical color changing horses. Reminding outsiders of a Fjord horse, in the mundane world they come in all shades of dun and have bi-colored manes. In the Mirror World, their coats and manes become an array of bright, muted, or pastel colors. And in the Mirror World, they can talk to you. (This may or may not be welcome depending on their personality.)

One can make friend with unicorns, tame the wild pegasus, help the rainbow alicorns, and even discover beautiful nymph horses that take after plants and trees. They can take you to places no normal horse can reach (much to your main horse’s displeasure.)

A word of warning, as with the magic of Astranar, in the Mirror World there are places of Light and places of Shadow. Woe betide those who are of opposite sides stumbling into places they shouldn’t be. Those of the light, beware the arches of dead branches covered in moss. And those of the shadow, beware the arches of living branches covered in ivy. If caught inside, you’ll have to flee to avoid capture or bargain for your freedom. Some can be convinced to let you go if you make them something nice or if you entertain them. (Though this brings to mind playing with your food…)

Explore carefully.

But in order to explore, you’re going to need a winter coat. Don’t think you can pass a raincoat off as winter coat. Your horse is too smart for that to work…