Where is our Middle-Eastern Twist?

One of the selling points of Cedaria: Blackout is that we’ve blended together steampunk and Middle-Eastern elements of architecture and style. We thought it would add a unique flair to the genre, plus it would make our game look pretty! Levantine architecture is distinguished by its arches, big windows and tile roofs, and that worked pretty well in the game’s setting.

How did we go about it? Whenever we sat down to discuss a zone on the island and the possible buildings that would go in them, we’d try to find some references that would blend with the setting. There were times when we couldn’t find any Lebanese references and had to rely on other things, but often times we lucked out. It helped that our 3D artists are both Lebanese and well-acquainted with architecture styles here in the region.

So, to show off some of what we have, I stole these from the design station I blackmailed the artists to allow me to use them I nicely asked the artists if I could showcase some of their work on the blog. They wanted to let you know that the buildings aren’t entirely complete, however, as they still need to add steampunk elements to them. But for now… here we go!

First we have our city buildings, which were based on some office buildings you can find in downtown Beirut.

We have whole rows of them in this particular area. They're so pretty to look at.

We have whole rows of them in this particular area. They’re so pretty to look at.

The artists used the above image as a reference and managed to create this beauty below:

Notice the similarities between the two? :)

Notice the similarities between the two? =]

Continue reading

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Sneaking out with Quentin.

In most games, male characters tend to be depicted as strong and foolhardy and just overall cool… which is good and all; who doesn’t like a stoic hero? However – and maybe this is just me – I do like seeing a sort-of tortured/repressed personality when it comes to males, and feel it serves to humanize them a lot more and makes them relatable. For my third character, I thought I’d introduce Quentin Gordon. You’ll find that he’s a bit reserved compared with Josephine and Silas, but I still find him just as interesting.

Quentin portraitQuentin: That’s really kind of you to say.

Me: Ah, it’s nothing. I hope you won’t get in trouble with your father for sneaking out to meet me?

Quentin: My father believes I am studying in my room and would not disturb me. I think we have a few spare minutes before dinner.

Me: Great. I really think it’s ridiculous that he still tries to control you like this. You’re 20, for goodness sake. You’re allowed a few freedoms.

Quentin: Well, you know what he’s like. Not one funny bone in his entire body, if that’s not already evident enough by the fact that he’s forcing me to study law. It is the single most boring subject I can think of. But of course all he cares about is our social status.

Me: You could always say no.

Quentin: Ah, well… maybe, but I prefer to avoid that argument.

Me: And every other argument.

Quentin: -looks visibly embarrassed- It’s better this way. He gets what he wants and doesn’t get create trouble for me or mother. And I can still sneak out when he’s not looking. It must be nice, being able to go wherever you want, but… oh! The archaeologists are really making some headway in their discoveries, were you aware of that? I was able to help them yesterday. They discovered this slab with some weird writing, and it turns out I have a book on the subject!

Me: But do you really want to continue sneaking out like this? I thought you wanted to be an adventurer.

Quentin: Ah… well, there’s always time for that. I can do it later.

Me: Later as in when your father snuffs it?

Quentin: Don’t put it so bluntly! Besides, I… uhm, acquiescing to this willingly for the time being because of a… er, certain person.

Me: Quentin, are you blushing? Who is she?

Quentin: Well, she… oh, will you look at the time? My father will be checking on me soon. I must depart! Climbing up the wall to my room is not as easy as it sounds.

Me: You coward. 😛

So… Quentin. I feel sorry for him, but yet I sympathize with him completely. I speak from experience when I say that there are still many kids – girls and boys alike – whose parents try to map their lives out for them. Quentin has always wanted to be an adventurer, but his father had other plans, caring far more for status than his son’s happiness? You think Quentin’s “Nancy boy” appearance is a choice? Think again. Quentin needs to maintain a proper attire simply to buy his father’s approval.

That really was my inspiration for him. Since we are aiming to deal with all sorts of issues faced by people – whether young or old – in Cedaria, I thought it would be ideal to include a character who was under the control of their father, and to spice things a bit, I opted to make him a male.

Now, we haven’t gotten around to doing the 3D art for Quentin yet, but you still get to see some of the earlier versions of him.

We were still deciding on how his face and hair would look like.

We were still deciding on how his face and hair would look like.

Quentin would probably hate me for the next picture. We had him in… uh, tights initially and he was none too happy with it, so we made them a little looser, haha.

It's subtle, but the loose pants look soooo much better.

It’s subtle, but the loose pants look soooo much better.

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Don’t skimp on the dialogue.

There is nothing that can ruin a book, movie or game more than stiff dialogue. Well, okay, so that’s not entirely true; there are also Mary Sues, love triangles, cliches, gaping plot holes… well, uh, you get the point. But dialogue is still a major pet peeve for me, especially when it’s contrived, unrealistic and so unbelievably awkward to the point where you want to believe that the worst is over and it can only get better from there.

Unfortunately that is not always the case. And if you’re a completionist like me, this is especially torturous because you have to see it to the end no matter how much it irritates you. My biggest grip is when a movie/book/game looks awesome in terms of design and art and cinematography and whatnot, but then suffers in the dialogue department. That’s just sad.

As a writer of fiction, I try to keep in mind a certain checklist when I’m writing dialogue. It also applies to games, but with a few additions. Taking Silas Burcombe as a test subject, for example, I would measure his lines against the following:

  • Is this something he would actually say? (“Hey, this is the money I owe you. Do pardon me for being so late.” – there would be red ink all over this one.)
  • Would I be bored to death if he said this to me? (“So you see, in order to maintain the altitude of your ship, you would have to move the thingamajig over here and click the whatchamacallit over there…”)
  • Is this line necessary? (“So then I pushed the doors open and walked in. I asked for a drink, the bar tender regarding me silently with contempt in his eyes, before slowly and deliberately pulling out a glass and pouring me some ale.” as opposed to, “I went to the pub and got a drink.”)
  • Is it funny (optional; not applicable to all situations)? (“I merely think of it as borrowing. But we can agree to disagree. I’m not fussy.”)

The game writing tips I’ve picked up:

  • Is it clear and to the point? (“Can you buy me a drink?” as opposed to “Would you kindly quench my thirst with sweet nectar?”)
  • Does it make decisions for the player? (There should be none of “Want to fly with me? Yes? Awesome. Let’s go.” If the player does not want to fly with Silas – and with good reason – they should be able to avoid that.)
  • Does it impose feelings on the player? (We can’t have this either: “Oh, I can see the adoration in your eyes. It’s just beautiful.”)

In a way, I guess fiction writing is different from game writing because you do not really have control over what’s going to happen to all the key players. In games, you have to be aware of the fact that the player will not do things the way you want, and act accordingly. Regardless of that, however, dialogue should always be given the same degree of importance. I mean, why have dialogue that readers/players would want to skip, right? 😉

A sample of how the dialogue will look like in Cedaria.

A sample of how the dialogue will look like in Cedaria.

Categories: Characters, Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Drink with Silas.

Silas Burcombe was an accident. A delightful accident, but still very much an accident. When I started writing Captain Silas Burcombe, I had an image of a proper, law-abiding aeronaut with a handlebar mustache  and a pipe wedged tightly between two thin lips. The end result, as you will see from my chat with him, could not be any far off from that image.

Silas (1)Silas: And I’m sure everyone is very grateful for that. You were consciously attempting to withhold the magnificence that is Captain Silas Burcombe from the masses. What were you thinking?

Me: I was thinking I’d save myself the headache.

Silas: I know what can cure your headache. A nice, big tankard of…

Me: You’ll get your drink, Silas. I care too much for my sanity to subject myself to your constant nagging.

Silas: -grins- Now that’s a good lass. If only everyone in Wisteria Pier had your brains, they would’ve saved themselves much discomfort. How troublesome can it be to buy a drink for ol’ Silas?

Me: The last time somebody appeased you, you got extremely drunk, smashed ten glasses and two chairs, broke the front door and the pub owner’s nose,  and drove the bar maid to tears.

Silas: She only wept because she had sealed her future with that fool and lost her chance with me. Tales of unrequited love are so tragic.

Me: You are such a braggart.

Silas: Because I have every bragging right there is to have, my dear. I am exceedingly handsome, I am a famous sky pirate…

Me: Ex. Ex sky pirate.

Silas: Do not interrupt the Great Silas as he speaks, please, where are your manners? As I was saying, I was a famous sky pirate, I defeated two ships with one cannon ball once! I am a local legend, really. I have an airship that puts all other Cedarian airships to shame. I can hold my liquor. And I am the honorary member of the Aeronaut Alliance.

Me: No, you aren’t. Captain Winters has yet to approve your application on the grounds of a questionable past and indecent behaviour.

Silas: Maxwell is just being coy. You and I both know he’s stalling because he doesn’t wish to show favouritism. It’s just a matter of time before he begs me to join, and why wouldn’t he? I am the best aeronaut there ever was.  I can easily outfly any of those twits who always try to infuriate me with their membership status. It doesn’t take a genius to…

Me: Then how did you get caught?

Silas: I… well, they… I couldn’t… I was… can I have my drink now?

I will probably regret sending him off to the pub later on but it buys me a few minutes of silence. I love him to bits, but he can get pretty loud sometimes, and the bragging is sometimes just a little bit over the top. But he’s a good guy at heart despite what might be said about him. He could easily just skip town – well not now when there’s no fuel for his ship – but he promised the Cedarians to uphold the law in exchange for his freedom, and law breaker that he may be, he would never break a promise.

Like Josephine, I only realised that Silas reminds me of a certain pirate when I was done writing him. For a moment I was worried, but members of the team told me it was fine and that they all liked him, so we kept him as he is, our steampunkish version of Jack Sparrow. Can you spot the resemblance? In a way this is a bit of a homage, since Jack is one of my favourite fictional characters, and what I believe to be Johnny Depp’s finest role.

Below you can see some of the evolution of Silas during the art process. We wanted him to appear handsome but at the same time rather ruggish, and this is how we went about it.

Faces! We weren't sure if we wanted a young Silas or an older version at first.

Faces! We weren’t sure if we wanted a young Silas or an older version at first.

And here's Silas in his full body glory. Notice how details make all the difference!

And here’s Silas in his full body glory. Notice how details make all the difference!

And finally, the 3D versions! =D

And finally, the 3D versions! =D

 

 

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When the lights go out…

…. creatures come out to play.

A running theme in Cedaria is the blackout;  with the island’s main source of power – the Phoenix –  gone, the citizens are forced to stumble in the dark, relying on primitive means to light their path and trying to avoid getting attacked in the shadows. This was inspired by the power shortage issues faced by the country of Lebanon, on which the game is based.

“Kahraba walla ishtirak?” – is a common (Arabic) question in Lebanon, basically meaning, “Is it state electricity or generator electricity?” Power outages are so frequent that citizens need to rely on generators for power 12 hours every day. The main electricity company in Lebanon is always unable to supply all areas with electricity due to the fuel shortage and debts in the country, and as such distributes power to the different areas (often times unfairly) according to a strict time schedule. Be careful not to use the elevator at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. or 12 a.m. or you might be stuck! Especially during summer when outages become more and more frequent.

"Ijit, ijit!" - an enthusiastic way of saying, "The electricity's back on!"

“Ijit, ijit!” – an enthusiastic way of saying, “The electricity’s back on!”

The Lebanese are fortunate enough to have generators; the subscriptions  are very costly, but it’s better than spending hours in the dark – or worse, sleeping without any fan or ACs during the hot summer nights!! – isn’t it? The citizens of Cedaria, however, do not have generators. Or rather, they have a very limited number of very primitive ones that can barely power anything. And since the island relies heavily on its industry, this only resulted in very dire consequences.

Why can’t they use other resources? That’s where politics come into play. The Thunes who live in the mountains have monopolized the island’s stores of coal, making the precious substance available only to the very rich. The very marginalized Ozar who have always been in charge of the timber industry took this as an opportunity to demand more rights. The Kythiens offered no help because the Phoenix bothered them  anyway. The Vaytori got the short end of the stick, trapped in the middle with no means of securing enough electricity to power up their cities. Thus, chaos ensues.

The Lebanese citizens are helpless in the face of the power outages in their country. However, in Cedaria: Blackout, we want to be able to give the player a chance to change things to the better. Of course, there are many issues in Lebanon that we’ve incorporated into the game, but the outages are considered quite a big deal.  It’s true that by fixing the power problem you aren’t going to automatically solve every problem there is, but… it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “There’s a light at the end of each tunnel”, doesn’t it?

 

Do you have many power outages where you live? If you were in Cedaria, what solutions would you come up with? What’s the one thing you would miss the most in case of a blackout? Personally, I’d miss my internet!

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A Date with Josephine.

Jo

Character creation is one of my absolute favourite things about game writing… writing up the background, coming up with goals, secrets and conflicts… and dressing them up, of course! So, today I thought I’d talk a little about what went into creating the first female character in Cedaria: Blackout. Actually, Josie happens to be here today, so I’m going to leave it to her to introduce herself!

Josie: For the record, it’s not a date.

Me: Affirmative. I’m engaged anyway.

Josie: Oh, congratulations! Don’t tell my mother, she wouldn’t let me hear the end of it with all her talk about grandchildren, but I do want to get married eventually. The shop comes first, though, as you well know. I’ve got a title to keep!

Me: Cedaria’s sole female mechanic, was it?

Josie: And the best, of course. -winks- I love what I do. I’ve always watched my father mess with all sorts of machines, and every time he brought one back to life I was filled with such delight. It’s like a puzzle. You get the broken machine, and the client is totally clueless about what happened to it. If you’re lucky, they won’t have hit it with a wrench in an attempt to make it work.

Me: But I thought that was a useful trick!

Josie: Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t. It only serves to make my job more difficult.

Me: Duly noted. Though I was curious, how does the general populace receive a female mechanic? I know that proper women are expected to be on their best behaviour and wear fancy dresses at all times.

Josie: I do get weird looks occasionally, but I’ve built a reputation for myself, and many, begrudgingly or not, attest to my skills. My femininity is not a flaw, and I’ll prove to everyone that I’m a damn good mechanic. I want to help fix the Phoenix, if that’s possible. That’ll shut them up.

Me: Pretty ambitious, aren’t you?

Josie: You have to be, especially in times like this. Oh, excuse me, a client just came in. I don’t get much of them these days.

And that was Josie. She’s one of my favourites, actually. I love her spunk, and the fact that she’s doing what she likes, regardless of what might be said about her. One of the things I took into consideration while writing her is the fact that there are many professions that are unfeminine by social norms. With all the talk of equality between men and women, there are still things that are off-limits to both genders, even now when we supposedly live in an advanced society.

At first I didn’t really know what inspired Josie, then when she was complete and I unconsciously started calling her “Jo”, I realised that she reminded me a bit of opinionated, stubborn Josephine March. Of course, Jo March wasn’t a mechanic, but she had the tomboyish steak that my Josie possesses, a trait I find quite endearing.

As a special treat, I’m going to share with you some early pictures of Josie. What happens in the concept art process is that I give Gwen, our artist, some reference images as to what I want the character looks like, and she whips up some sketches before finalizing the character.

First we get to decide what the face looks like!

First we get to decide what the face looks like!

And the full body sketches, both the first draft and the final version. Doesn't she look awesome?

And the full body sketches, both the first draft and the final version. Doesn’t she look awesome?

And here's the 3D model of Josephine. I think our artist did a fantastic job with her!

And here’s the 3D model of Josephine. I think our artist did a fantastic job with her!

 

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On Designing Cedaria: Blackout.

So today I poked Robert, our game designer, into talking a little about what goes into the process of designing Cedaria: Blackout. He and I have been working together on the many zones of the island and the missions involved in the game. However, he’s more established in the gaming industry and can provide a more apt explanation on the topic!

—-

Today, we thought we would talk a bit about the story and how it intertwines with the locations, clans and characters.

Crafting the Story

When we set out to create Cedaria: Blackout, we wanted the players to be able to control as much of their story as possible, while at the same time keeping a red thread throughout the game.

In essence, we wanted to present the player with meaningful goals, not a checklist of tasks they had to go through mechanically. We wanted them to think about how they could solve these problems rather than just ticking off yet another Wolf Claw to collect. For that reason, we decided that the story needed to be both flexible and dynamic in order to handle the many ways a player could complete a single objective.

Thus – the story will wrap itself around what you accomplish in the game as well as how you go about it. Solving a particular problem in a peaceful way will affect the story in a completely different way than solving it by applying force upon others. And the outcome of the solution might have deep consequences for the rest of the game. When the game ends, you will find out just how deeply rooted some of your choices have been.

Non-Player Characters (NPCs)

An important aspect to weaving the story around the character are the NPCs that you meet through your adventure. Depending on your actions both to them and their kin and clan, some might take a shine to you while others treat you with disdain.

Our dialogue system allows for unlocking dialogues that depend on your previous actions, profession and even gender should it be appropriate. Having a conversation with Silas Burcombe as a female avatar rather than a male avatar will result in a different experience. If you are an explorer, having a talk with the distinguished Professor Abigail Gregan may open up further dialogue choices that might give you an unexpected advantage or extra information.

Will the next person you meet be an ally? Or your nemesis?

Our resident sky pirate shows off to the island's sole female mechanic, while she silently judges him.

Our resident sky pirate shows off to the island’s sole female mechanic, while she silently judges him.

Zone Design for Story

We didn’t start designing the zones until we had a good idea of what the main background story of the game would be. As with NPCs, our zones have the story of the game ingrained in them at conception. When designing our zones, we took care to think not just about what points of interests there should be, but also about how the energy crisis has affected the area and how we can incorporate the zone into the story.

In addition to the energy crisis, zones have characteristics and themes unique to themselves. A thriving trade port will react to the crisis in a different way than a rural countryside or a mining colony and as a result provide a rich variety of problems to solve when visiting them.

Snapshot of Lacunda. I daresay this is Robert's favourite of all zones!

Snapshot of Lacunda. I daresay this is Robert’s favourite of all zones!

Also – please remember to come up with names for our office kitty! He really wants one!

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Kicking off with a… kitten?

Today I’m excited to announce that we have finally launched the Kickstarter for Cedaria: Blackout! We were so nervous about clicking the “Launch” button that we had a kitten do it for us. Yes, you heard me – a kitten. We currently have an office kitten right now, and while I love kittens to death I’m starting to think his presence will be an extremely huge distraction, but then I look at how extremely darn cute he is and all is right with the world again.

But I digress.

Our Kickstarter is finally up, and it should give you a look about the game and what it’s all about. But while we’re at it, I’ll give a brief introduction.

Cedaria: Blackout is a cooperative adventure RPG set on the island of Cedaria, where chaos has been unleashed as  a result of the breakdown of a machine that held it at its seams and drove forward its industrial movement, a machine known as the Phoenix. Ten of its essential parts disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and the machine could not be put together again (for more on the story, click here).

As a wayfarer returning home to reunite with your family after a long period of absence, you will soon find yourself stuck on the island, and will be given the choice between doing what’s best for you, or what’s best for the island.

The game has been designed under the banner of “gaming for peace”. It is somewhat based on the country of Lebanon, but discusses issues present in every other country in the world. Rather than simply killing monsters and rescuing people just because the game tells you to, we want the player to be aware of the choices they’re making and the effect they have on the island; so it’s not just an adventure through a universe influenced by steampunk and Middle-Eastern elements, but very much a choice and consequence kind of game.

To make this happen, we need your help! We have such awesome plans for the game but unfortunately lack a sufficient budget, and it would absolutely kill me if we didn’t get to execute them all. You wouldn’t want me dead, would you?

Wait, don’t answer that.

It would make our kitten sad, though. =[ And speaking of our kitten, how would you like to help us name it? We’re all still pretty much undecided, and I do believe that continuing to call a male cat “Kitty” will make it rather confused later on.

Our kitten! Isn't he just adorable?

Our kitten! Isn’t he just adorable?

And what's a kitten without its castle?

And what’s a kitten without its castle?

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Of Kickstarter and Internet Woes.

According to Murphy’s Laws, when you really need something, its either not available, or can’t be found, and when you don’t need it, its either available, or lays around in plain sight. Here’s one thing I should mention about Lebanon before anything else: we have (probably) the world’s slowest and most unreliable internet. And terrible customer service; to get your connection fixed, you would have to wait many hours or days at a time. I’m not even exaggerating. The one good thing about the internet here is that it allows you to go with the excuse of, “Hey, sorry I couldn’t meet my deadline. My internet was dead last night.” 

Yesterday was a pretty hectic day for the entire team because we wanted to submit a Kickstarter campaign for Cedaria. There were reward tiers to be filled, descriptions to be written, proofreading to be done… and that’s without mentioning all the other things we’re preparing for the official announcement of the game. Then, suddenly, right in the middle of proofreading the campaign details and double-checking the reward tiers, my computer tells me I don’t have internet access. Just when I really, REALLY need it.

I was quite ready to flip my laptop. Hey I'm getting a new one in a couple of day; I'm not fussed about what could happen to it.

I was quite ready to throw my laptop. Hey I’m getting a new one in a couple of days; I’m not fussed about what could happen to it.

I restarted my router, my laptop, tried just about everything I could think of, but no dice. And it was a bit late, so of course I wouldn’t have been able to grab hold of anyone who could get the dratted connection to work. Thankfully, our producer lives abroad and I was able to contact him and let him know what happened. He was able to salvage the situation; he proofread the entire thing and submitted it before the night was over, earning 200 nerd points and winning the internet (not mine) in the process. Meanwhile, I had fallen asleep over my laptop after staring far too long at the little computer in the corner of my taskbar. I woke up much later to find an email from said producer letting me know that the application has been submitted. phew. Hopefully it should go live within a few days, and then we can get around to discussing all the game elements I’ve been so tight-lipped about!

Things are relatively calmer today – if you ignore the underlying tension that accompanies the wait for the campaign to be approved – and the internet is working! Today we all get to resume our regular tasks after all the work that went to preparing our KS campaign. There are some back stories to be written, gang names to be decided on, and other cool stuff. Personally I’m looking forward to more concept art for my characters! It’s going to be interesting to see what our artist comes up with for the different clans inhabiting the island. 😉

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The Perks of Being a Game Writer.

One of the first things I’ve realised after starting out as a writer for Cedaria: Blackout is that work can actually be fun. Sure, I still have to wake up early (sometimes after few hours of sleep), sure I have a bit of a long commute, sure it’s sometimes a bit hectic, but it’s fun with a capital F, to the extent that it sometimes does not feel like work at all.

Working on Cedaria has been special in the sense that it’s a team effort. Even though I’m the writer, almost everyone can contribute to the way the storyline is going, whether it’s a line of dialogue thrown in by our designer, or a special contraption included by the 2D artist in one of the various concept arts, or a simple suggestion by one of our 3D artists that spawned off an entire town. When you’re working on a book, it’s more or less a solo effort, but when you have everyone brainstorming together and tossing all these wonderful and crazy ideas out, you feel secure in the knowledge that you’re going to end up with a very cool game. It also helps vanquish Writer’s Block quite effectively!

One of the best things that come along with the territory is that you get the benefit of seeing your characters come to life. The first time I saw my characters as ink on paper (or pixels on my computer screen) I practically squealed in delight. You can already see a couple of them – my favourites, actually – in the background of this blog. Eventually I’ll introduce them to you; one of them is practically dying to talk about himself. Honestly, we’ve had to keep him on a leash because he was causing so much havoc.

The world of Cedaria is slowly taking shape now, and it is absolutely exciting to watch it unfurl before my eyes. The various zones are slowly getting populated with various NPCs and points of interest, and of course that means writing a whole bunch of back stories and quests and researching various professions and Victorian and steampunk elements (mighty generators and airships, monocles and goggles, thingamajigs and whatchamacallits!) … and that’s without mentioning everything going into planning the game’s reveal next week!

Things are getting incredibly busy, but that’s okay. As I said, it’s just incredible fun. =D

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