I’ve been spending the last few days rewriting large parts of the Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’ll be starting this coming Sunday. Go figure that I’d plan giant piles of stuff that would have to get thrown out the window the second the players made their characters because suddenly the things I’d planned don’t work very well. Mostly it comes down to alignment (the rough measure of a character’s morals), and how to engage them in a specific sort of questing. Most of the things I’ve done can stay – a challenge is a challenge and a cave is a cave – but it’s the gift-wrapping that needs to change, as it were. Basically I’d come up with different ways of getting them started on different things, and I have to re-tool that because ultimately the worst question for a person running a game to have thrown at them is, “Why would we want to do that?” It’s a question you have to be prepared for, and the best preparation is making sure the players never have to ask that question at all.
This is going to sound like I’m slacking, but I’ve been spending a lot of time lately playing Skyrim. Part of it is because it’s a fun game to play – challenging, epic in scope, detailed in the extreme… Mostly I’ve been playing it, trying to look beyond the game to the nuts and bolts underneath. I have a friend who does game design, and it’s one of the things I’d never thought about until recently when I was playing a computer or video game – the men and women behind the curtain. For Skyrim, there’s a silly amount of graphics and animation work that was done, voice casting and acting for the hundreds upon hundreds of characters, designs for simple dungeons and overarching questlines, and somewhere behind all the sound and imagery was someone who gave it a sense of direction and scripted the thing up. More insanely, not only did a group of people script the hundreds and hundreds of quests, but someone oversaw the whole thing so that one person’s quest didn’t break another’s. It boggles the mind, and if you’ve never actually played a massive game like Skyrim, it’s hard to imagine the scope of the task.
So here I am, playing Skyrim, trying to put a finger on what it is that makes the game work so well, trying to see what I can incorporate into my own game, or – and maybe this is just wishful thinking – my writing. I know I’d mused a bit on the parallels of writing for role-players in a game vs. writing for readers of fiction, but I’m always looking for ways to look at old things in new terms. Given that the people who make these games for big companies aren’t hobbyists but professionals, I’m sure there’s a whole language behind the effects (not visual or sound, but gaming experience effects) that are desirable for these kinds of projects. I’m trying to see how much of the language I can figure out for myself before I go hunting for a dictionary.