03 Oct

Create Powerful Emotions with Repetition and Motifs

Repetitions and Motifs

Repetitions and MotifsWhy do some scenes feel powerful and others do not? Why do some stories make us cry and others, just as skillfully told, leave us indifferent? Why do some books and games draw us in so strongly?

David Farland, in his Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing has the answer: because some events or experiences in the story are alike to what we ourselves have experienced and been moved by. Of course, different readers will react differently. If you ate a cheese-and-baloney sandwich when you found out that your beloved kitten had been run over by a bulldozer, you might cry at the thought of baloney, while I may not[note]I always cry at the though of baloney, especially in politics.[/note]. Different people have different experiences.

But what if there was a way to create these sorts of emotions within the story itself, regardless of who the reader is? Read More

11 Jul

Inventing Non-Gendered Pronouns for AI

Inventing Pronouns for AI

Inventing Pronouns for AII’ve been writing a lot of AI/Singularity based stories lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no good pronoun for non-human, intelligent, asexual entities.

Him/her suggest a divergence that likely won’t exist amongst AI (due to the aforementioned lack of sex). It suggests that AI is a thing – and once you get self-aware AI, they’re likely to object to that.

There are several solutions to the problem, question is, which is more likely? Read More

20 Nov

Why World War II is the Perfect Setting

Star Wars is World War II

Star Wars is World War IIWhen I was young I loved World War II. I read everything I could get my hands on about WWII, from military histories, to biographies to The Execution of Private Slovik , a non-fiction narrative of private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier to be executed for desertion.

When I became older I read Theodor Plievier‘s Stalingrad and realized two things:

  1. War is horrible.
  2. World War II is the perfect setting.

Why else do you think it’s used in Star Wars, Star Trek and The Terminator? Read More

16 Nov

4 Easy Steps to Plotting any Adventure Game

Plot any adventure game quote

Plot any adventure game quoteYes, But, No, And.

There. Now you’ve got all the tools you need to plot any adventure game in the world. Or write any book in the world, since that’s where these tools come from.

Ok, I’ll stop being a Cornholio and unpack it a bit for you. These words (Yes, But, No, And in case you’ve forgotten) are a progression of plot point outcomes. Basically it’s asking yourself: our player needs to achive X, does she? Yes, But, No, And.

All right, all right, I’ll explain it better. Enough with the arm twisting already. But let’s start with an example.

Our hero, an intrepid fighter known only as the Vault Dweller, has to exit the Vault in order to begin his real adventure. That’s what he wants to accomplish: exit the Vault. Does he succeed?

Read More

06 Nov

Boost your Thematic Game’s Impact Through The Roof with Melodrama

Melodrama quote - Baz Luhrmann

Melodrama quote - Baz LuhrmannMelodrama. The mere word makes serious writers cringe.

Melodrama is simple. It’s overblown characters in improbable actions. It’s an appeal to emotion, the life of every 1930’s pulp novel. The Handsome Hero in his White Stetson and Pearl Handled Revolver rescuing the Damsel in Distress from the Dastardly Villain.

Melodrama is horrible in stories. It’s flat, overblown, overused and often based on idiot plots.

It’s perfect for games. Read More

07 Aug

Coherent and Divergent Characters

A Character must have her own story quote

A Character must have her own story quoteImagine unboxing your latest Fantasy Extravaganza. It’s got it all: 17-sided dice, Authentic Glod Coated Doubloons(tm), Faux-leather game map. And your choice of character: barbarian warrior, scantily clad female elven mage, halfling thief.

Yay! Pass the d17 and let the immersion commence.

Archetypes provide your players with instant packets of information. If you’ve got a pointy-eared archer then your players won’t raise any eyebrows if she starts talking to trees.

Unfortunately archetypes have a major drawback: in order to become archetypes they need to be widely integrated into the genre’s cultural baggage. Archetypes are boring. They’re old, stale, yesterday’s news. They’re accepted tropes seen a thousand times before.

So why do we keep using them? Read More

20 Jul

The Three Axes Model of Action Analysis

Model Thomas Kelvin quote

Model Thomas Kelvin quoteYou’ve got an action. Let’s call it “build Blooper”. You’ve got a second action. Let’s call it “buy Blooper”. You put your actions before your playtesters and in very short time you notice that nobody is building Bloopers. Your whole Blooper economy, your cute BloopBuilders, everything is just pointless.

And you’ve got no idea why.

So you make building Bloopers less expensive. Now everyone should build Bloopers all the time. Except they don’t. They’re still buying Bloopers.

So you make buying Bloopers really, really expensive. And now your game is stalling out and your playtesters are complaining. Nobody wants to build Bloopers and all the BloopBuilder concept art you commissioned is just so much dollars down the drain. What the hell is going on?

Welcome to the wonderful world of action analysis.

Fortunately there’s a quick and dirty tool you can use to graph your actions and compare them to each other. All you need are three simple axes* of analysis: Cost, Benefit and Risk. Read More

17 Jun

How To Take Advantage Of Point Of View In Games

Don't limit your POV quote

Don't limit your POV quoteA novel always has a point of view, someone, or something, that is the reader’s eyes in the story. Sometimes it’s in the form of limited first person: “I walked up the path, scanning the ground for more blood.” Sometimes it’s limited third person: “He walked up the path, his eyes roving the ground for more drops of blood.” Occasionally it’s in omniscient third person: “Jones walked up the path, his eyes searching for the bloody trail. Ahead, the murderer pressed his arm to the wound in his side, clutching a long bladed knife in his free hand.”

In board games we almost always design in first person limited. The player is the avatar, the POV character through which the entire game plays out. And that’s fine. It’s a classic way of presenting challenges: you against the elements, you against your opponents, you against the game. But if we only use first person limited then we limit ourselves.

See, first person limited is great for abstracts but the more theme you’ve got in your game, the worse it becomes. Since the consumer of the experience and the avatar are the same person you’re presenting everything through the consumer. This means that if you’ve got someone who’d never swing a sword or build a pyramid then they’ll see straight through your theme and game to the mechanics instead. Read More

14 Jun

8 Archetypes You Need To Break-Test Your Game

Break your game

Break your gameWhen I was little I played cards with my grandmother. I loved playing cards with my grandmother. She always lost.

She didn’t mean to. Grandma played to win and when we played for money, which as all the time, she played to win. Oh, she’d give me my starting cash. She’d fund me on the rare occasions when I ran out of 10 öre coins. It wasn’t like she tried to fleece me, but she did play to win. And she lost.

For years I thought that I was simply better at playing cards than grandma. I was convinced that I had a gift. But when I look back on what was going on I realize that this wasn’t so.

See, grandma’s favorite game was rummy. And we’d play for 10 öre per card. If you had six cards in your hand when your opponent played their last cards then you lost 60 öre. Grandma always complained that I didn’t play my cards but kept them in hand until I could play every card at once. She could never add any cards to my melds and I would win.

Because I had broken rummy. Read More

10 Jun

How To Create Temptation Systems Through Random Reinforcement

Lab Rat

Lab RatTake a rat and put it in a cage. Put a lever in the cage. The rat will wander around the cage for a while, sniffing the corners, looking around making sure there are not predators in the neighborhood. After a while it will wander by the lever. Sooner or later it will push it.

Hot chunks of cheese, Ratman! A pellet of food dropped down. Wow, look at that, I press it again and another pellet drops down. Jiminy Cricket, rat heaven, here I come!

Now hook up a counter to the lever. Don’t feed the rat every time it presses the lever but only at certain times. Or even better, copy the rat and put it in three separate cages (or if you’re less SciFi minded, start out with three different rats).

In one cage the rat will get a pellet every 100 times it presses the lever.

In another cage the rat will get a pellet at a random interval, at between 1 and 100 presses.

In a third the rat will never get a pellet no matter how much it presses the lever.

What do you think will happen? If you answered that rat C will quit while rat A will presses the lever the required 100 times and gets the pellet you are correct. Rat B, the one with the random intervals, will press the lever as well. But here’s the catch: it will press the lever faster than rat A. Not knowing when you’ll get the pellet is more exciting than knowing that you’ve got to perform your required 100 presses for a surefire Ratilicious Surprise.

Here’s the real kicker though: take away the pellets and rat B will go bananas, clicking like crazy until it keels over. Read More