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.

Get to Know Your Devs: Top Fav Games

Get to Know Your Devs: Top Fav Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruby District, Watch Your Step!

Ruby District, Watch Your Step!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diamond Media, Darlings

Diamond Media, Darlings

Those of you who follow us on Twitter or listen in on Ginny or I tweeting about the game have probably heard about Astranar’s pop icon and international star, Rose Neptuna. Did you know that Astranar has a recently flourishing music and media industry? No? Well buckle in folks, because today we’re doing a (pseudo) tour of the Diamond Media Complex.

Think of the media complex as a bit like the lots of Hollywood Studios and the music studios of LA thrust together. While Astranar has several outdoor theaters and stages for performances, the media complex is where movies are shot on sound stages, music albums are recorded, TV programs have their interviews, and much more. A sprawl of buildings, studios, and a limited number of outdoor sets and storage sheds, it still manages to blend in with the Capital’s architecture style (lest they wear out their welcome!). While the public is kept out by a guard and gate, you almost have to know where you are looking to know what you are looking at.

The complex is a bit of a catch-all for everyone who is anyone in the media business. There are some noted folks who you are going to have contact with:

  • Your mentors, of course! Both the mentors for the Light Riders and the Shadow Riders have formed girl groups: Doe Re Mi and HOOT, respectively. In addition to that, the Citrine Light mentor, Viva, has a special interest in dancing, and the Shadow mentor Var has an interest in acting and modeling.
  • The SSS, or the Style Secret Service, these are your dressers, hair stylists, wardrobe assistants, and fashion designers. With something as important as costumes and appearances on the line, you know they make their appearances! Most big names have at least one attached to them, though some seem to have difficulty keeping them. While Fashion Week is their Christmas, the media complex is home to most of them and their bread and butter for their daily lives. There’s a bit of an internal conflict though–Rose Neptuna brought French agents with her when she moved, and the local agents aren’t sure how they feel about that.
  • Agents and managers are the white blood cells of any media industry. They keep the schedules between different projects, different stars, and all the legal paperwork coordinated so jobs can function! Rather than having a separate firm, the agents and managers are actually worked into the structure of the complex. Less issues with paperwork and agency rivalries, but sometimes that makes it hard to get the agent you want! Some noted agents include Yvenne DuNoir, Anna Highflute, and Jillian Pearlchord. They manage some of the top industry professionals…or a few summer girl groups that the mentors are involved with.
  • The talent! Besides Rose Neptuna, there are other celebrities in Astranar to meet. Hip-hop artist and fashion designer, Hi-Felicity, the boy band the Heartbreakers, and even some talent comes in from outside of the country. In the acting world, you have Jameela and Harumi Softreed as the top actresses in the country, and you can’t forget the models, where Harumi has to compete with her twin sister, Miyuki, and there are always shenanigans where Sydney Azureballet goes. Besides just meeting these actors, actresses, dancers, and singers, we do offer a chance for the player to experience being a minor talent themselves and all the hardwork and practice that goes into it. (But more on our professions ideas in another blog post.)

So what all does the Diamond Media Complex put out? Astranar Fashion Week is one of their big productions, but summer in Astranar promises some huge blockbusters, from continuations of popular franchises to new premises, and that’s before you get to the TV shows. All these side stories are horse centric (and honestly are movies/TV shows that Ginny and I would go to see, not gonna lie). We took our inspiration for these Easter-Egg type media from some of our own favorite movies and books. It can be a little odd (like the one that is basically the premise of The Black Stallion…but in space), or it can be something more familiar that will bring to mind Horseland or the Saddle Club. In addition to all this, there is going to be an all-out summer smash concert before school starts again, bringing together talent from all over Argentum to participate.

We didn’t necessarily have to build a media complex into the game. But by doing so, it helps us centralize a lot of odds-and-ends that the player may need, both for professions and for story advancement within the capital. It also gave opportunities for the players to just have fun, including with their friends.

The Mysterious Continent of Argentum

The Mysterious Continent of Argentum

Hidden by storms. Shrouded in silver mists. Protected by rocky shores thick with wild fierce reefs. In the mid to southern Pacific Ocean, the continent of Argentum was nearly inaccessible until the invention of aircraft. Throughout history, stories thrived of lost ships and aircraft, and with them, people. It wasn’t until the people, survivors of these lost souls, reversed engineered technology were they able to bring the wider world’s attention to this secret land.

Home to mountains, deserts, swamps, hills, plains, forests of many varieties, and farmlands within a relatively small space, sailors and passengers of wrecked ships found homes on terrains that reminded them of their countries of origins. Four distinct countries have developed with the culture of the survivors, the most well-known being Astranar, the new Equestrian and Horse Capital of the World. People were drawn to where their ways were suited.

The Whistleback Mountains cut through the continent, creating a barrier and dictating the weather and geography. To the south and southeast lies Astranar, the proverbial bread basket of the continent. Pastoral and serene, the Whistleback Mountains turn into steep hills covered by dense forests parted by lakes and rivers that feed into marshes and grasslands along their coasts. Ruled by a King and Queen, Astranar is the more heavily European with the gothic style and the Victorian Era having left a harder stamp on the continent than elsewhere.

Rather than embracing a reliance on fuel-dependent cars, most of Astranar still travel by horse, with long distances being covered by train. Horses center around Astranar life, and not only is the island home to a wild breed banned from export, but several breed books for other horses around the world.

To the North of the Whistlebacks is the country of Zablana and its great Highwind Desert. Their greenery thrives on the coast lands. Divided into districts, each is ruled independently by a governor, and together they make the decisions for the country by claiming a seat at the ruling council of Zablana. Here sailors of Arabia, Africa, India, South East Asia, and the Pacific Islands gathered together, mixing their love of spicy foods and intricate carvings and mosaics with their own love of horses.

On the north side of Zablana’s coast, Cheoi Bastia has claim to an island chain, featuring seven main islands. Cheoi Bastia boasts to be the home of those descended from China, Korea, and Japan. One island is divided in two, with half belonging to the imperial palace and the emperor who resides there. They don’t rely on the horse as much as other countries and their lands remain something of a mystery even to the other countries as they are just beginning to open their borders.

In the southwest, Nospos controls a portion of the mainland and a large island, reminiscent of their Greek heritage. Ruled by a beautiful queen, with many daughters and one son, descendants of sailors of the Mediterranean and sailors from the Americas blended their cultures. Other countries considered them snobbish, but they consider themselves refined. Their love of racing is only rivaled by their love of showing off their horses in order to admire their fine lines and beauty.

There are many mysteries and secrets on the continent of Argentum. Mysteries that need to be solved and each year, tied to their love of horses, young girls are invited to come from all over the world to discover their connections to this beautiful but hidden land. Do you dare to find the solutions to these mysteries? Where will you hunt for answers? What will you be drawn to? Will you find your hearts home in Argentum?