Posts Tagged With: writing

Gossip with Clara.

Clara 2

Rough sketches of Clara.

It’s been quite a long time since I made a post here, and what better way to get back into it than by introducing a new character that you can meet while playing Cedaria: Blackout? We’ve already introduced Josephine, Silas, Edwin and Quentin, and this time around I’ll be having a chat with Clara McRedmond, your go-to source for information in Castellum.

Clara did not want to be a bar maid; she had hopes of becoming a respectable lady of society, but things did not go as planned. However, as a love child her future was doomed from the start.  She was dumped at an orphanage without a backward glance, her background tarnished and her education lacking. No gentleman would even consider putting a ring around her finger despite her beauty, and no employer would hire her even as a scullery maid or a waitress, and… whoops, maybe I should let her take the floor, she’s looking rather cross.

Clara: About time you noticed.

Me: Clara, you are looking lovely today!

Clara: Fat load of good that has done me. You’d think beauty would be a decent currency around these parts, but nope. Nobody wants to be associated with the love child. Thank goodness I was able to find something useful to do with my life.

Me: Gossip.

Clara: I resent that word. It reminds me of fat old ladies chattering about who married or divorced who over tea and crumpets. Please call it confidential information.

Me: Got it. Where do you get your confidential information from then?

Clara: I have my sources. Don’t expect me to share them with you though, you could drive me out of business.

Me: Oh believe me, I have no interest in taking over your job.

A full body sketch of Clara.

A full body sketch of Clara.

Clara: That’s what they all say. Why wouldn’t you want my job? I earn a lot of money for every piece of information I give, people are careful never to annoy me so I wouldn’t start spreading rumours about them, the Delanty brothers love me…

Me: Those mafia dudes?

Clara: They are gentlemen with habits that do not fit the norms around here. But really, who are we to decide what’s normal? People like me should be normal, they shouldn’t be shunned and discarded like a piece of garbage. It’s not my fault that my parents were stupid and careless! Why should I be made out to be a villain just because they couldn’t own up to what they did?

Me: I am sensing that you feel strongly about this.

Clara: *rolls her eyes* How do you figure? I’m worn out now. Do you have my money?

Me: But you didn’t tell me anything!

Clara: You thought this interview was for free? That’s cute. Now pay up.

And that was Clara; she can fill you up – either with information or liquor – and run you dry at the same time. I’m sure if her circumstances had been different she would’ve turned out a completely different person… but that could probably apply to anyone. We are all products of our own environments.

Clara wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular. I just liked the idea of having a sassy bar maid with a dark background and a definite purpose, and thus Clara was born!

What do you think of this new character? =]

P.S. We have launched our new crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo! We are also having a giveaway, so do enter for a chance to win a copy of the game!

Tomorrow we will be having an AMA for the Reddit folk, so if you have any questions for us, start getting them ready now. 😉 We’ll be announcing the start of our AMA via our Twitter!

Categories: Characters, Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The lessons we learned.

One of the most important things I learned through this agonizing month of Kickstarter is that chocolate is my best friend. When I used to look at the small amount that we raised and compare with other projects, I found that munching on chocolate can help alleviate the general sadness of it all.

I also learned that it helps you put on some unwanted weight, but I digress.

Maybe someone in the process of making their very first Kickstarter project will come across this and benefit from our experience, so I thought I’d share some of the important things we learned.

Socialize first, ask for money later.

Our biggest mistake happened on the social media front. We only activated our accounts on Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the SM gang on the first day of Kickstarter. Not the best idea. We struggled to gather followers at a time when we really needed backers, and a lot of time and effort went into building our social media base when we should’ve really been focusing on Kickstarter updates and trying to keep our backers happy.

Put your best foot forward.

I am damn proud of our content. I think we have a cool idea with wonderful characters and awesome art, and I’m not being biased either. However, the problem lies with the fact that we did not present it in the best  possible way. We did try to amend this along the way, but the damage was already done by then, which brings me to the next point.

Make sure you’re 100% ready.

Unless by some chance you happen to be the unluckiest soul to ever tread the surface of the earth, Kickstarter won’t be going away anytime tomorrow, and even if it does, there are other crowdfunding websites out there. So before you hit that Publish button, make sure you’ve got everything down pat. Do all the necessary research, shoot a great video, prepare a great  pitch and get everything in order. Review, review, review. When you’re confident that you’ve created the best campaign possible, then you can publish it.

Have something to show for your work.

You know you have a good game, we might know that too, but until you show us just how good your game is, chances are people might not readily believe you… especially if you’re new on the scene. We had little in-game footage, something which made people think twice before backing us. The game seemed cool, but they couldn’t be sure unless they saw some videos of the game, which we unfortunately could not provide at that time.

One last thing – do not expect too much. Building up your expectations is only setting you up for potential disappointment that you really can do without. All my empty chocolate wrappers are testament of that!

And hey, never be afraid to try again. That’s why we’re relaunching in less than a month. 😉

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Of Inter-religious Marriage and Star-Spangled Lovers.

In the previous post I covered the different clans we have on the island and some of the underlying tensions between them, and I did mention that the reason behind using the different clans is to address sensitive issues in a sensitive way. One such issue is inter-religious or inter-group marriage.

In Lebanon in particular and the Middle East in general, unions and marriages between members of different religions and different ethnic backgrounds are somewhat frowned upon. A Muslim who marries a Christian (especially a Muslim woman) may be shunned by their family; a union between a white man and a black woman (or vice versa) is considered odd; and even marrying a foreigner (regardless of whether they are from another Arab country or not) may be frowned upon. Traditional norms and values regarding the family and marriage are so ingrained in the society to the extent that it is almost considered “taboo” to breach it.

We wanted to tackle this issue in Cedaria without touching upon any specific religion and risking offending anyone, and the best way to go about it was by developing relationships between members of different clans, the prime example of this being Valaina, daughter of the Kythein leader, and Jeremy Cain, son of the mayor of the Vaytori population (mostly concentrated in the Castellum). The romance of these two lovebirds is something strictly forbidden, especially with the Kythien law that condemns Kythien-Vaytori unions, mostly due to clash of ideals and for more personal reasons that will be discussed later on when you get to meet Edraele, the leader of the Kythiens.

The relationship between Valaina and Jeremy didn’t happen out of spite; they were merely two people who looked past their differences and fell in love, and in normal circumstances that should not be up for speculation. However, due to the social norms imposed by the citizens of the island, they are not meant to be… as cheesy as it sounds. Hey, you gotta have some cheese. Cheese is good. In moderation. I promise you the cheese doesn’t get overwhelming.

One of the things the player will have to do in this game is to find a way to allow those two people to be together under safe circumstances. Of course, if you’re so inclined, you may wish to tell their parents about their relationship, but can you do that without making life miserable for them? 😉

For more information on the different clans, do make sure to visit our Kickstarter page, or else go back one post if you’re too lazy.
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The Others.

Have you watched that movie? Don’t you just love that incredible twist at the end? Yeah… no, we’re not going to talk about horror movies now; I have enough horror on my plate now that I’m reading Stephen King’s The Shining. But that’s an entirely different story and you probably have no interest in the nightmares this book has been giving me. No, you’re probably interested more in learning about the different clans we have in our game.

From left to right: two Thunes, two Ozars, two Kythiens and two Vaytori.

From left to right: two Thunes, two Ozars, two Kythiens and two Vaytori.

For Cedaria, we decided to step out of the box and create clans (or races) different from your typical fantasy races, and went with the Vaytori, Kythiens, Thunes and Ozars. We could’ve avoided the trouble and went with just humans or something, but having different groups allowed us to highlight more issues and present them more strongly than we would’ve been able to otherwise.  Plus, it enabled us to incorporate the concept of acceptance of the “others”. See what I did there? 😉

Uhm. Anyway. *clears throat*

You have your Vaytori, who came to the island first and thus believe they are more entitled to live on it than any of the other clans, and would’ve industrialized the entire island had it not been for the Kythiens, who care about the environment and prefer a more traditional way of living. Then you have the Thunes, who want to dominate the island’s resources, and the marginalized Ozar refugees who escaped their homeland hoping to find a better life, only to be met with rejection on the island. Continue reading

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Why Steampunk?

I think the term “Steampunk” still raises some question marks when brought up before people. What is it? Is it a band? Is it some kind of music? My, it sounds rather rough, hide your wife and kids! But poor innocent Steampunk is merely a sub-genre of science fiction where steam-powered machinery is usually in abundance.

The nifty thing about Steampunk, I think, is the fact that it provides a perfect balance between the modern day and the fantasy world. This is actually the reason why we went for the Steampunk genre; it allowed us to portray some real life elements quite realistically while at the same time allowing us to have a little fun and fantasize things a little. After all, our first and foremost goal was to indirectly teach the player some skills they can use in the real world, and it seemed improbable that they might ever come into a situation where they might have to decide how to best kill a ravaging sea goblin, with a sword or with a blaster ray gun.

But why on Earth did we choose to combine Steampunk with the Middle East? Well… why not? I think it’s a pretty cool combination, and no, I’m not biased at all. Victorian meets oriental, industry meets tradition… Middle Punk. No? Middle Steam? Oh, I know, East Punk! Okay, no, I don’t know what I’m saying and I feel like I’m rambling, but you all get the picture, don’t you?

The next question would be, why didn’t we go all the way and use Middle-Eastern names for our NPCs? After all, we did adopt Middle-Eastern architectural models. This was indeed a topic of discussion for a while, and at one point we did have Arabic names, but ultimately we decided against it due to the sensitive nature of the games and some connotations that might be associated with some of the names that we might pick. We didn’t want to offend anyone, especially since this is ultimately a peace-building game, and decided that our safest bet would be to stick to typical Victorian names that would be common to any form of steampunkish media. Plus, we were hoping to reach more than the Middle East with our game, and figured that Arabic names might sound odd to a foreign gamer.

With all that’s said and done, it’s really exciting to know that we’re attempting something that has never been done before!

Are you a fan of Steampunk? Maybe you like cosplay too? You should head over to our Facebook page or check out this link! We are having a Steampunk cosplay competition with a really cool prize. =D /shameless plug.

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The best characters…

… are the flawed ones. It’s kinda ironic, though, isn’t it? In real life, people strive to be perfect, and yet they hate seeing perfect characters in books, movies and games. They flag them as Mary Sues or Gary Stus, they wrinkle their noses at the sight of them, they wonder what the writers were thinking, they give the book/movie/game bad ratings… of course I may be just generalizing here; some people happen to like these characters and to those I say… well, you like what you like.

When I set about designing the characters for Cedaria: Blackout, I wanted to make them as realistic as possible, characters that the player can easily identify with. I didn’t want them to be cardboard cutouts or have cookie cutter personalities. And since the game is supposed to be inspired by the world we live in, I just took a look around me.

People watching is interesting; it’s amazing how much you can tell about a person just from observing them for a few minutes, and before you say anything; no, I am not a stalker!

Let’s take Quentin, for example. I cannot tell you how many Quentins I have met in my life; those who want to go down a certain route but are too intimidated by their parents to actually try to chase after their dreams, those who live to please their parents at the expense of their own happiness.

Or let’s look at Josephine. While I’ve never met an actual female mechanic, I don’t see why it should only be a masculine job. Being female doesn’t make one any less of an expert when it comes to machines or cars. One thing I’ve noted in Lebanon is that men tend to automatically assume that the “bad” driver ahead of them is a woman, and okay, okay, they’re mostly right, but that doesn’t mean you get to lump all women in the category of bad drivers. That just plain irritates me. And god forbid a man ever use public transportation conducted by a female.

And there are several others… the corrupt politician, the tomboy, the pompous git, the sneaky merchant… these are all examples you can find in your everyday life. Any given person might know a Quentin or a Josie, maybe even a Silas… though I do feel sorry for those people especially if they’ve been robbed by him. The best kinds of books, movies or games are those that have characters that can make you feel something, and it’s something I hope to achieve with this game.

How do you like your characters? Flawed, or perfect? How do you make sure that you’re not creating a Mary Sue?

Categories: Characters | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Whiff of Westlock.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to like the antagonist/villain in the story more than the protagonist/hero. There’s always something that sets them apart and makes them more interesting, never mind they’re less than redeeming qualities. I am especially fond of the villains I write, to the point where I actually want them to win rather than the hero. Thankfully my voice of reason (almost) always stops me from letting the villain “win” in the story.

EdwinCedaria has its share of villains, and the first one to be created was Edwin Westlock III. He is an industrialist who got the short end of the stick when the Phoenix broke down, and that made him more bitter and immoral than he already was. I could tell you more about him, but I’d rather just show you… hello, Ed!

Edwin: Do not call me Ed. My name is Edwin. You had better have a good reason for calling me here and wasting my time.

Me: I just want to introduce you to the masses, you should lighten up a bit. What, had another argument with your wife?

Edwin: My personal life is none of your concern. It is true that Elizabeth is dim-witted and an eyesore, and her money is the only thing that  compels me to share a roof with her, but I still refuse to divulge any information regarding our comings and goings.

Me: You actually told me more than I need to know.

Edwin: Are we done then? I have other matters to attend to. People rely on me to get them to different places, whereas you… what is it you do?

Me: I created you, so you will sit here and give me a few minutes of your time.

Edwin: I do not appreciate your tone. You may want to think carefully about what you say to me. Many a person has wished they could take back their words after I dealt with them.

Me: You don’t scare me, Ed. You may talk big, but I know that right now you’re in a tight spot and in no position to make any threats. How’s your business coming along, by the way? I saw one of your ships in Angel Wharf this afternoon… looks like it’s starting to collect some dust. Won’t your father be proud when he sees it? Won’t he be proud when he knows what you’ve been doing in the shadows?

Edwin: Don’t bring my father into this, you insolent little girl.  Or talk about things you know nothing of, for that matter. That old man is dead and Westlock Industries is mine now, and I am free to run it the way I wish, and I will not have someone like you lecturing me about the error of my ways. If I wanted to thieve and kill my way to the top, then believe me I shall, and nothing anyone does can stop me. And since you refuse to remove yourself from my sight, I will now bid you farewell and good riddance.

A bundle of sunshine, isn’t he? He’s been more twitchy than usual, and stupid as she may be, I think Mrs. Westlock has slowly started to realise that her precious Edwin didn’t marry her for love and now he has been forced to pretend all over again. Plus, he gets absolutely furious when anybody talks about his father; he’s not fond of him you see, and – though he won’t admit it – feels inferior when compared with him. That said, Edwin is quite easily agitated, it’s just a matter of knowing which of his buttons you should press.

I didn’t draw inspiration from any specific source; Edwin is just the bad boy of corporations who will stop at nothing in order to maintain his financial security and social status, and these are of course abundant in our societies.

As with the previous three characters, I have here with me some of the earlier versions of Edwin Westlock. Sadly, we do not have any 3D art for him yet.

We were still deciding just how evil we want to make him appear.

We were still deciding just how evil we want to make him appear.

A sketch of Edwin and a final draft! We decided to make his leg piece - a result of a particularly violent brawl - a little more elegant. =D

A sketch of Edwin and a final draft! We decided to make his leg piece – a result of a particularly violent brawl – a little more elegant. =D

 

 

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Cedariaception

So I realise I’ve been going on and on about the game and never actually talked about how it was conceived. It started out on a bright, sunny day with politicians screaming at each other in the background and explosions going off and scuffles breaking out on streets and… well, not exactly. Cedaria: Blackout was born out of the need for a fun tool promoting the acceptance of the other and proper conflict resolution skills without boring people to tears. I’m pretty sure you all picked up an educational game at one point and thought, “oh my god this is so boring please make it stop”, and I agree wholeheartedly with you. You couldn’t get me to play an educational/serious game unless you paid me.

Search for Common Ground Lebanon (an NGO – SFCGL for short) came to the conclusion that a video game was a very good way of getting messages across without coming off as preachy, and nobody likes a preacher. Even if you don’t know much about Lebanon, you’re at least probably aware that it is not a stable country, and a large portion of its instability stems from the many different religions/sects living within its small confines. Young generations are all pretty much caught up in all the hoopla, and even the smallest of children might show signs of stigma or intolerance when prompted; SFCG wanted to relay peaceful messages to them through a medium they’re generally accepting of. They’re less likely to clamp their hands over their ears if you’ve got them playing a game!

You’d really be surprised at the amount of research that went into this field and proved the significant psychological impact games – especially the violent ones – have on the mindsets of kids and adults alike. One second you’re bludgeoning a monster to death and seeing red when a particularly difficult boss does not die, the next you’re taking out your frustration at a friend or family member, and if you’re playing games for 3 to 4 hours a day – a survey we conducted revealed that to be the average gaming time for a typical teen in Lebanon – then you’ve got a lot of unnecessary exposure to violence. So if violence can have such an effect, why not peace and logic?

Of course, SFCG is no gamer, and they knew that if they were to go about it themselves they’d end up with a boring, educational game anyway, so they discussed their idea with Matsuko, home to a number of veteran developers who’ve worked on projects like Assassin’s Creed, Age of Conan and Far Cry, and they were all game. Pun intended. The games Matsuko worked on were mostly violent, so Cedaria was a nice change of pace for them.

To make this game as authentic as possible, SFCG needed a Lebanese element on board the project to help give it that Middle Eastern flavour that they wanted. No, I’m not talking about tabbouleh and stuffed grape leaves and baba ganoush – even though they are yummy –  but rather about the Lebanese team comprising a composer, 3D artists and a writer – yours truly! The idea was that only the Lebanese can truly know what their country is like and portray it accordingly.

So right now we’re in the production stages. Sometimes we need to build bridges between the peacebuilding team of SFCG and the gaming team of Matsuko, and sometimes we end up using conflict resolution skills ourselves. It’s an interesting experience for all of us, but we’re trying hard to come up with a common ground for everything. Now, if only we can get that funding necessary to make the game as awesome as it can be… 😉

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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.

Categories: Characters, Design | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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