Studio Goals for Mystic Riders

Studio Goals for Mystic Riders

makeavgbetter9

DnD_SafeSpace from twitter:

Let’s start with #inclusion and #diversity – not just in characters, but also the people involved in the lifecycle of game development and marketing. #MakingAVideoGameBetter

For the game Mystic Riders, Becca and I are dedicated to wanting to have diverse and inclusive people working on our game including women, people of color, and those who are on the LGBTIA+ spectrum.

Black Lives Matter

Diversity Matters

Black Lives Matter: Our Stance

Black Lives Matter: Our Stance

I’m speaking as Becca here, so excuse me as occasionally I break the plural “we” I try to use to reference Ginny and I in prior posts. We have had discussions about not only where we stand, but also what we should do with this blog. And of course, how we can help.

Both of us believe in the Black Lives Matter movement and protests. Both of us want to support it.

Of course, we are two writers who are running a gaming blog to try and get sponsorship–there isn’t any money to speak of right now, and neither of us are comfortable going to the protests for health reasons. So we had to look at what we could do. The first thing, obviously, is this blog post showing that we stand with them and support the protests.

Next, we looked at what we could control, that being the characters in the game and representation. We knew we had covered our bases with the playable character creation, we have twenty different skin tones. You will be able to play with all options of skin tones available right at the get go. While right now how many features are set and how many can be customized are in flux because we don’t have an engine, we hope that we are going to continue to be able to provide a wide range there too. Whenever we create “sample” or filler player characters, we always go middle of the road–i.e. olive skin, brown hair, brown eyes–not white.

The next step beyond the player character is the characters you interact with the most. For our game, that’s the mentor-characters. There are seven Light Riders, five Shadow Riders, and because the Diamond District is “neutral” and not claimed by any set mentor, I count the younger prince and princess twins as the district representatives since they will be your source of info in terms of what’s going on and how to do things. So that puts us at fourteen characters to check our ratios on.

Keep in mind, this is our starting area. In an ideal world, there’s three other countries to unlock. For sake of sanity, each has their own, global influence. Astranar’s influence is Europe. But because it’s our starting area, I felt like we needed to push the ratio farther than what most racial statistics tell me the ratio is for Europe, not only to be fair for representation, but also to be realistic to the fact this is one continent, some crossover is going to happen more.

Upon review and some mapping of the characters by Ginny, we decided that yep, we needed to do some adjusting, which had a minor ripple on to another character who wasn’t adjusted. But thankfully we are now happy with it. Since I don’t remember who all has been mentioned where in what context, and editing past history can be viewed very badly in these turbulent times, I am instead going to list out our district representative characters and their current, possibly new backgrounds as well as the thinking behind it all.

Light Riders:
Vesper “Ves” Leilament–American and white, no change.
Shizuka “Kitty” Sweetsong–Japanese and Asian, no change.
Vivienne “Viva” Streetbeats–Tahitian and mixed (Polynesian and black-French), no change.
Elena “Len” Treeharmony–Brazilian and olive complexion, no change
Minna “Minnie” Opuswright–German and black, she is the one who changed the most and the least at the same time. Minnie’s original character for a different project was German and black, we switched her to Middle Eastern when we changed projects before the Shadow Riders existed…and now we’ve changed her back.
Charlotte “Lottie” Mistwaltz–French and white, no change.
Isidora “Izzy” Silvertreble–Russian and white, no change.

Shadow Riders:
Vanessa “Nessie” Ribbonmelody–changed from German to Swiss since Minnie is now (back) to being German, and white, no other change.
Victoria “Vickie” Blackpiano–English and changed from white to being of Indian descent. She grew up in London still, but her family would have immigrated. I wanted us to have more representation from Asia, and it fit the character really well to make this transition. I’m sure we’ll find further edits down the road that will need to happen. (Like my scripts for demo weeks. I literally just realized that. Next on my to do list!)
Veronica “Roni” Highflute–Greek and olive complexion, no change.
Vivian “Viv” Streetbeats (no, not a typo, I swear)–Tahitian and mixed (Polynesian and black-French), no change.
Varteni “Var” Heatforte: Armenian and olive complexion, no change.

Royals:
Princess Rowan–Astranaran and mixed (black and white, presents black), no change.
Prince Elowen–Astranaran and mixed (black and white, presents black), no change.

Hopefully this ratio makes sense, covers everything well for the start and then we can build it up as we go to other countries to keep things equal. I obviously will have to review our current characters and our new characters as we build them, and make sure each group fits this ratio. Most of the groups aren’t finished yet, which makes it harder to see where we are at, but obviously as the game continues to develop, we will keep a sharp eye on our ratio.

Ginny and I haven’t talked much about the police, but we have talked about having small mounted police, and they will be spread out. We are definitely not going to have any kind of military present in the game, aside from guards in the palace (which is like the Secret Service) and you may run into one cop in an area. Interaction will be limited with them.

Hopefully these steps will show that we are committed to equality and we want to help. If you have any thoughts for how we can further make adjustments, please let me know in the comments or to our e-mail, and we will see what we can do. Change is needed, and we will do our best to speed it along.

Why Representation (Still) Matters

Why Representation (Still) Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Target Audience: For the Parents

Target Audience: For the Parents

With so many games out there from so many studios on mobile, PC, and consoles, it can be really tough knowing what games are suitable for your children, especially if you haven’t played them for yourself. We, the devs, of Mystic Riders want to be transparent about who our game is for and that we’re doing everything we can to both provide a great game experience while protecting the children and young adults who play the game.

First, age. We are specifically writing for the twelve and up set in terms of content. From issues they face to the genre tropes they adore, we are writing with them in mind and what they will enjoy, though some of us also indulge our inner twelve-year-old a lot, so it balances out (Becca has a habit of binge watching PreCure. It’s bad). That all being said, we are also keeping common fears and phobias out of the game such as spiders, darkness, etc., and there will be censoring (and moderators watching for back door maneuvers) of any swearing or inappropriate subject matter, so younger children may be inclined to play.

Safety is our highest priority.

We definitely want you, the parents to be aware of this age-bracket, and we want to have a solid relationship with you. That’s why we have taken a lot of care with figuring out our parental controls. But we are hoping for some consideration in return. While we won’t be any worse than the old Sailor Moon dubs that many of us grew up with, we still aren’t responsible if the subject matter isn’t what you want your child to be learning, and in fact we will be quite vocal about our game aiming for 10+ children at minimum. Some of the mini-game mechanics and plot points might be of higher difficulty than a younger player can play through on their own, so if parents of younger children let them play, they need to be aware that their child might need help for them to advance the game.

So besides age, who else are we targeting? We are 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.

As for the other two types, well. Some of the male games are tolerable, but if you try and play them, you run into toxic communities that can drive a girl away from gaming for life. Gender neutral games are puzzles or some adventure games, with a few specific genres that are trying to branch away from their original male demographic, but even some of those that tout having female players are designed almost purely for the male gaze aesthetically. We want visuals that are appropriate for pre-teen and early teens without sexualizing their avatars (and therefore adding a certain unwelcome element of online gaming). We are hoping to create a safe environment that encourages them to enjoy video games and the type of community an MMORPG can create.

Finally, what type of gamer are we looking for and is that your child? We want explorers, creators, and any who would appreciate a good story. Mystic Riders was approached from a unique standpoint in the gaming industry—it was built narrative first! (Okay, loosely, and then we figured out what all we wanted in there and the branding. We still aren’t building levels before we know what is even happening in those levels.) There is an emphasis on customizing, exploring a large, open world, and allowing different levels of cooperation based on personal comfort. Some people aren’t happy unless their riding club has over a thousand members, some people don’t want anything to do with clubs, thank you. We try to appeal to both.

Where cooperation really isn’t optional is with the horses. Our type of player loves horses and wants to interact with them in several different ways and with their favorite breeds. We want to meet that need…as much as is reasonable. We understand that your wallet isn’t always open. We need money to sustain and expand the game. At the same time, if the game price is too high then it drives the exact players we want away from playing. That’s why we have set limits on number of horses and the prices of (very limited) micro-transactions. (We’d love to do away with them entirely but aren’t sure if we can or not.)

We have even made it a priority in our game that everything that the player needs to have an enjoyable experience can be earned in the game through quests. (Yes, there are quests the player can play once to earn the type of credits needed to purchase one draft horse and one pony, if maybe not the specific breed or color that they desire.) On top of that, we have limited the number of breeds of horses in our games.

Some breeds are so similar to others, or effectively are the same breed outside of some specific color patterns, that they aren’t going to have separate listings. (Becca has a story about a horse whose grandfather was a leopard Appaloosa, father was an American Paint/Thoroughbred, and then the poor stallion couldn’t get registered as anything but a Thoroughbred.) But if you want an American Paint horse, you can certainly get an American Quarter Horse and customize the coat!

Becca and Ginny are also putting their foot down as far as some elements of horsemanship are concerned. Not to be mean or to make their job easier, but because they require years of experience to do properly and, more importantly, safely. The player character is set up by the story to be only a few steps above novice in knowledge and skills with horses. We’re too honest.

If you or your child don’t exactly fit this target market, does that mean you won’t enjoy the game? Considering Becca and Ginny both have whined about wanting to play the game rather than just make it, it’s pretty safe to assume no. But like with book genres, by knowing who a game was intended for, you can go in with a clear understanding of expectations and not be disappointed.

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.