Uhh... Tonight's #Inktober was such a thorough botch all around that I decided to scrap it. Not only in proportions but details as well. I may re-work it later because I like the concept, but damn... It wasn't good.
I realize that I haven't made any updates since... April (shit). Uh... I've been editing? A lot. Such to the point that I've been shelved the novella I was going to write on the side for now. I'll probably pick it up again, but for right now, I just want to focus on this game.
Everything is going fine with Echoes of the Old War, and any doubts that I had about the narrative are (mostly) melting away. I still have lots of work to do on it, and can foresee at least two more editing and re-writing passes happening. There might be more as I get into actually programing the game and find that certain things do and don't work and maybe come up with new ideas on how to approach certain story elements.
I haven't had any developer diaries in the last couple of months since I don't really have anything interesting to say other than, I'm editing. Any changes that I talk about would be in a vacuum and would make little to no sense. I've considered dropping a meditative or two here as I work out certain problems, but those are usually unedited, dry, and lack certain contexts. Let's face it, things like that are only really interesting to crazy people like me who are interested in creative process.
So in short... I'm editing. Once I get in to the learning process of programming the game and doing all of the animations, I'll have a little bit more to talk about. But for now, back to the writing cave.
As of late, my weeknights have been devoted to working on character concepts not just for the major characters of Echoes of the Old War, but also the minor characters. When I first started this process, I was originally just trying to figure out what Auryon’s world might look like and how her kin and enemies might dress. But as I get deeper into the project, I find myself asking very specific questions in regards to who these people are. Not just as societies, but as individuals as well. Most of the characters that I’m working on don’t have names. They would just be in the background going about their lives.
Posing these questions seems obvious to a seasoned character designer, but doesn’t always seem like a necessity to someone of more amateurish quality (like myself). While you want a main character to appear unique from the crowd, why would you want a secondary or minor character to appear unique? That’s just extra work, and doesn’t really matter. Right?
Well, no, as it turns out. While I certainly will design generic characters to fill the background - especially ones just going about their day to day lives - designing some characters who don’t necessarily have names the player will ever hear, but have unique appearances go along way in fleshing out the environment that Auryon lives in. Not only that, but thinking about the quality of the clothes that these characters might be wearing can go miles to helping to establish the current state of living conditions that Auryon occupies. Each piece of clothing, how they decorate their surroundings, and how they move can tell the audience a small story about a single minor character, and lend to the world as a whole.
One prime example of this is the Cantina scene in A New Hope. In only a few minutes, we see that this is a galaxy full of a variety of living beings, each escaping the double suns of a desert planet to drink or talk with friends, listen to some grooving tunes, conduct or search for business, or look for their next mark. We see beings argue, we see the bar tender kick droids out of his bar, we see a small bat-like being desperately trying to get a drink, and we even see someone try to rough up some farmboy thinking he’ll be an easy mark. More than a few books have been written expanding on this brief scene, but enough is there to tell the audience exactly what they need to know about this bar: Luke Skywalker isn’t in Kansas anymore.
Another good example of this brief and implicit storytelling tool comes from Cowboy Bebop. Specifically, all the ways that the minor characters decorate their living space and what sort of clothes they wear. Often these characters have only a few lines and serve to just direct the crew of the Bebop to their next clue, but even with this short glimpse, we learn everything that we need to know about each. In the episode Heavy Metal Queen, V.T., a space trucker, asks around looking for another trucker who may be carrying a bomb. The camera cycles through different characters, each spreading the word and passing information. In this brief moment, we see a burly man who has decorated his truck cockpit with plushies and toys, we see one who has several red Chinese lanterns behind him, and yet another surrounds himself with guns, ammunition, and plants (I’m sure all totally legal). These characters only appear for a few seconds each, but in those few seconds, the audience instantly gets an idea of who they are.
This type of storytelling is absolutely necessary for any story to last in memory. While I know this is my first video game, I would certainly like to give it a chance to last beyond the first play through. As such, I’ve begun to ask these questions as I design concepts for characters. How would they fill their space? What would they wear that’s different from those around them? And more societal questions such as how would the Tenants (the leaders of the three castes of the Forn - Auryon’s tribe) identify themselves? How would the Forn, which came from a military background, identify honored members of their tribe? Would each caste of the Forn have different types of honors, and what would those look like? Also, where did the Forn come from? I know it was a military background, but where within the Coalition did those soldiers come from?
In the process of writing the story for Echoes of the Old War, several of these questions were naturally answered. The Forn receive their tribal name and the name for the area around them, Thrihun, from their original Brigade, the 300th Foreign Brigade. The name of their village is a corruption of the brigade’s nickname: Bandog from “Band of Dogs.” Not only does this indicate that the war had reached a point where foreign legions were being used in major engagements, but these foreign legions probably weren’t looked upon fondly. As such, they probably weren’t well equipped, requiring their logistics units to be more creative in supplying their brigade, and much of their equipment probably came from the foreign lands they were from, so there’s probably a degree of variation in weapons and armor. This also suggests that the Forn have a variety of skin tones and various racial features.
As this is two centuries down the road, much of this old equipment has probably been lost to time and replaced with equipment and gear that had to be made from resources found within the Thrihun - primarily wood from trees and some salvaged metals. Wood tools, weapons, and armor most likely have more variation based on the craftsman or the person who created such gear. Since the metal is salvaged, however, it would probably have to be more regular in appearance as to conserve material, as well as would look a bit more corroded. On that topic, inheritance is likely a crucial part of Forn society as tossing out old armor, weapons, or tools when they could be repaired would seem like insanity.
Now we start to get a picture of where a character’s tools and surroundings might come from. But what does that mean to them? As mentioned, some armor or tools might be hold overs from the Old War, so there may be some significance in that, but is there a certain value that a person gets in receiving their armor, bow, or hammer from their father, mother, or some other family member? I don’t see why not, but how would that look in the design?
If a Nader (word from grenadier; a caste within the Forn that serves as heavy infantry) had armor that still displayed the original Brigade logo, what might that look like? From whom did she get that armor and what does it mean to her? What sort of damage has that armor received? If she’s a Nader, and her family have been Naders since the Old War, then this armor has probably seen some action as Naders are usually found on the front lines of any conflict. It’s probably seen several heavy blows and would be dented, and may have even been breached once or twice, requiring patch jobs. The 300th’s logo is likely coming off and faded, so she probably takes great care when washing the armor. This would mean that her armor probably lacks rust as compared to others due to her minimal use of water.
As mentioned before, Naders are usually found on the front lines, but even the shock troopers of the Forn must have a home. Anyone who took such care of their armor, probably also cares quite a bit about their living space. Chances are, she might decorate her home (both inside and outside) with trophies. With her armor being inherited, many of these trophies would be passed down to her for display to show that she comes from a long line of fighting against the Claive (the Forn’s enemies from the Old War). Claive weapons, hung upside down to represent their defeat, torn flags, and other treasures taken from raids and attacks adorn her walls, each with their own story. Although, she has likely left room for her own battle trophies from victories to come.
But what about a Logger (word from logistics; the working caste of the Forn) who serves as a doctor for Bandog? He probably takes great care of his surgical tools. While he may not necessarily understand why, he knows that it’s imperative to keep these tools clean and covered when not in use. The satchel that he carries them in is probably kept clean as well, and might even be sewed in such a way to prevent dirt from easily getting into the bag. While he may wear his hair long and scruffy as a point of personal preference, he may tie it back to prevent it getting in his way as well as contaminating any wounds that he might be working on. He probably also keeps a canteen of water to help clean wounds or provide the injured a drink. His clothes, though, are likely stained from past patients; especially since he can’t simply toss them away like a modern doctor may be able to.
I imagine that this doctor might work quite a bit away from his home, as sometimes its just not practical or safe to move someone who is severely injured any distance, and it’s often better for the sick to remain in their own homes to prevent the spread of disease. As such, his home probably appears more of a home than a place of work. Being older, he might have several grandchildren for whom he keeps toys around. Out of habit, he’s probably fairly cleanly, so most of these toys are probably in good shape and put up until his grandchildren return (at which point, they almost certainly get torn back down for play). He seems like the sort that might be very happy to tell you about his grand kids and wants you to know about them, so these toys are probably kept on prominent display. He also probably has a space in his home devoted to drying herbs for medicinal use. This area, since he has grand kids, is probably built in such a way to prevent little ones from getting in to the wrong herbs. As such, he has to stand while working there, so a comfortable chair is probably kept nearby for him to rest in.
It’s details like this that I need to keep in mind as I’m illustrating these characters. It’s very likely that players may never notice the toys prominently displayed in the doctor’s home, or that there’s minimal rust on on particular Nader’s armor as compared to others. Even fewer will catch the clues that “Forn” is a corruption of the word “foreigner,” eluding to the lineage of Auryon’s tribe.
That doesn’t matter, though. Without these details, the world that I’m creating for the player just won’t feel alive. More observant players will pick up on these queues and be more appreciative of the game at large because of this. If I can get one person to say, “Huh. That’s neat,” or, “Oh. I didn’t notice that the last time I played,” I will consider all of the extra effort put in to these details worth the work.
When I first sat down to write The Echoes of the Old War, before it had that name, I knew that I wanted language to be a theme in the story - whatever form that story would take. It seemed like a natural choice based on the other themes that I wanted to work with. It also certainly helped that I could immediately see ways to integrate it not only into the story, but also the game play.
Originally, the story was going to have two protagonists: a male named Archwood (Archie for short) who the player would directly control, and Auryon who the player would team with to solve puzzles. One of the main game play aspects was going to be the idea that Archie and Auryon spoke in very different languages. As a result, they would have trouble interacting initially. As their relationship developed and the game progressed the characters would figure out ways to communicate with each other; either in the form of a sort of sign language, or through Archie slowly learning Auryon’s language and vice versa. This would reflect in game play as the player would receive commands that allowed the pair to interact in someway to bypass certain puzzles or obstacles in the game.
I started to realize that this aspect of game play caused conflicst with some of the other themes, and sent some messages that I didn’t really want to send. In trying to figure out the source of the issue, I ultimately ended up cutting Archie from the game, changing Auryon a little to compensate and making her a more complete character. But I still liked the idea of language as a central theme. I felt that it was integral to the other themes in play in the story, so it was important to retain.
In the next iteration of the story, I envisioned Auryon as a sort of Matron-in-Waiting. This position required her to travel beyond her village for trade and diplomacy in place of the Matron, who at this point was too old to easily travel far distances. This meant that Auryon would have to speak the different languages around her village at least to some degree of competency. Early on, I came up with the idea of a sort of trade language that would allow her to communicate with certain groups beyond her borders.
There were a few problems with this solution.
Whenever Auryon would speak in this trade language, or the languages around her, I would always just have to translate it to English (or whatever regional language the game was in). Effectively, this means that the player would never really be able to tell what dialect the characters were speaking in. There are a couple of ways to do this visually such as showing the words in their original language and script, and then providing a translation, but it still didn’t alleviate the issue as the player would most likely just look at the translation rather than the original text.
The trade language would also end up defeating the main idea of the theme. Language is a very important tool in society, and even when two different classes within the same culture are using the same language, differences in dialect can often act as a border or barrier within the culture itself. Without the necessary work of either learning another language or dialect, or figuring out some other method of communicating, societal and cultural divides will form with no way to bridge the gap. The trade language bridges this issue in one simple step, thus missing the entire point of the theme.
Ultimately, this version of the story fell to re-writes. Not necessarily because of the issue with this particular theme, but it certainly contributed. While Auryon was able to impart and receive necessary information, the characters that she wasn’t able to communicate with had to fade into the background. When those particular characters are key to the story, this becomes a significant problem.
The current version (which I’m very happy to say that I’m on the fifth act of at this point, with only one left to go) is much more scaled back in comparison to the previous, making it a little bit more realistic for me to actually tackle. Again, Auryon’s position within her village, Bandog, has changed. No longer is she next in line to be the leader of her village. Now she is merely a simple hunter (fuseer in her language). She is one that has received honors in the past, but not one as high as any of the Tenants of the village (who act as aides for the village leader, known as the Capsman).
Where in the previous version, Auryon was going to interact with many small tribes, villages, and even large cities, in this version, she’ll really only be interacting with one or two tribes. One of these tribes comes from the same culture that Auryon’s own came from, so there is a degree of similarity between their respective languages (English or the regional language for the player), although dialects are very different with each culture having evolved their language from the original root. The other tribe, the Clave, speaks a very different language from Auryon’s, having come from a very different culture.
With the two tribes only really interacting through war and conflict, they struggle to understand each other when they need to. There are a few in each tribe (particularly the tribal leaders) that understand the other’s language, however, someone as low as Auryon or some of the other characters would only have a very marginal understanding at best. Auryon knows a few phrases, but only just. She still has issues catching the meaning trying to be conveyed to her.
As Auryon struggles to understand what’s going on around her, so will the player (within reason obviously; I still want the game to be both playable and fun). While players may not necessarily be able to understand the language that’s being spoken, I’m writing it in such a way that they’ll be able to understand the context. More observant players should be able to even start to interpret some of the words being used, or, at the very least, pick out the more important words and their meaning.
This will help push the idea of language back into the forefront of the game, as well as support the surrounding themes. On top of that, it will also return language to being a puzzle within the game. While it’s one that the game won’t necessarily register as being “solved,” it will serve a very important narrative purpose: to act as a border or barrier for the player to ultimately overcome.
In many ways, this game is taking shape, despite its still very early stage. With one of its important cornerstones locking into place, I’m quite happy with how this draft is coming along. While many - many - revisions are necessary, I feel that something is finally starting to coalesce around the initial idea into something that I’m actually enjoying. Weird.
What follows is a meditative that I wrote in an attempt to hammer ashort section in the fourth act of Echoes of the Old War. This certainly contains spoilers, so consider yourself warned. During this act, Auryon will need to help an antagonistic village in order to get in good (enough) with their Elders. I wanted to spend a little time figuring out these short little puzzles that would, ideally, help do a little bit of world building by illustrating how Auryon's enemies live (in contrast to her own tribe).
Keep in mind that this is all stream-of-consciousness stuff. Absolutely nothing of what follows is edited in any way aside from what I may have done on the fly. There will be spelling and grammar mistakes, some of these sentences are guaranteed to make absolutely no sense, and many of these paragraphs will jump around. This isn't to mention the fact that I've already completed writing this section within the story, and I'm fairly certain a few of these ideas have been changed already; add a few extra drafts into that and some of this stuff may change dramatically in the final product.
I've been working a lot with character design recently - particularly thinking about the sort of clothes that they wear and how to start differentiating the different tribes. Auryon, being the main protagonist of the game, has been the main focus of this. She needs to be fairly iconic to stand out, without being too garish, and her clothes and gear need to make sense for her world.
The first concept that I produced for her (above) was a good start, but I started to realize that there were several issues with it. The dress seems impractical for a hunter to wear, and its design seem unnecessarily complicated for something to be wearing on a daily basis. Also, the armor seems to be a bit under designed for a tribe that comes from a military history. I like the idea of the spaulders, and may explore them again in the future, but I need to find someway to make the leather strap make sense or to visualize how the slats may be held together. Right now, it looks like I just came up with the idea without thinking about how they work (which is, honestly, what happened).
Boo on the bow.
Auryon Concept #2
The second concept for Auryon, I feel is a much stronger representation (although could do with a little bit more work). You can see between the two images within, that I've darkened Auryon's skin somewhat, and it may go darker before I'm done. The armor is a much nicer design - taking inspiration from Japanese wood armors - but I think I'm going to smooth is somewhat as the different segments don't really read well at a distance. I think I prefer the version without the spaulders here (although it's probably difficult to tell that she's missing them due to her pose). I feel that overall, her clothes are much more practical for someone who will be climbing through a forest, falling in rivers, and fighting a mad despot.
In working concepts for some of the other character's in Auryon's tribe, I've realized that her armor feels very clean and new. While Auryon would certainly take very good care of it, that armor would still need to show it's age and that it has seen some action. Also, I much prefer Auryon's bow here, although, I'm still probably going to end up re-working it a few more times before I'm satisfied. Part of the problem is that this is one of the first bows that I've ever drawn, so the proportions seem a bit off, even for a short bow. Plus, it looks like it would snap upon drawing back the string, so it needs to be thickened a little to make it look like it could really stand the test of a fight.
Finally, while I like the hair style, I think I'm going to drop it. Her hair is so dark, it's difficult to tell even close up what's going on with it. The French braid wrap just doesn't read with the dark hair, and with the back wrapped up, the curliness gets somewhat lost.Having curly hair my self, I've kind of learned to just let it fall where it does. I see no reason why Auryon wouldn't do the same.
Possl Tall Concept #1
Possl Talls clothes are really bright and almost neon. I think I'm almost certainly darken the green significantly to much more of an Earth tone. I think that part of the problem is that my Cintiq is getting old and so the colors are a bit more dull on that screen. Otherwise, Tall hails from a much swampier areathan Auryon, so I do like his pallet being very different from hers. It also conveys a certain degree of sickliness that will become important in the story.
When I next revisit his concept, I'm going to need to put more weight to his clothes. Both because the would legitimately needto keep him warm, but also becausehe comes from an area permeated with water. In order for him and his fellow tribesmen to survive, they need their clothes to keep the water out. They also need to appear as though they've been worn a little bit. Everything in Possl Tall's tribe is a bit more worn down in comparison to what Auryon's tribe has, owing partly to the fact that Tall's tribe came from a group of people who weren't particularly good craftsmen.
As some can probably tell, I took his thin facial features and hair style from Sting in Dune. It gave him a really solid unhinged and calculating appearance. With this look, I can easily imagine him as a demagogueshouting rhetoric while casting devastating, uncontrolled spells. I feel that I do need to re-work it a bit more so that his silhoutte reads a bit better, also so that his face tells a bit more of a story. I really need him to have a history, but I don't want to be particularly explicit about it.
Everything that I'm working on at this point is still very much first draft. Currently, aside from still writing the script for the game, I've been working heavily on character concepts so that I can get a feel for what the world might look like. Right now, I'm working on some of Auryon's fellow tribesmen, and will probably move from there to other supporting characters. I will almost certainly circle back to these two and work them more as I get more of a feel for the world that they inhabit as well as the battles that they have both fought.