Is In The DetailJanuary 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
Tags: choosing a side, game design, rift
I am known, on occasion, to actively aid and abet in the perpetration of Live Role-Playing events.
Part of that aid has been involved in world-building, which is something I particularly enjoy. Creating worlds with an appropriate set of (consistent) metaphysics, coming up with races, cultures, countries and inventing histories to tie it all together; it appeals to a number of different aspects of my personality.
The sheer joy of creation appeals to the frustrated writer in me, the creation of worlds appeals to the control freak in me, whilst the ability to play ultimate power in the universe appeals to the rampant egomaniac in me.
One of the unexpected side-effects of all this writing has been picking up a passing knowledge of game theory and popular cultural theory. Most of the time it’s practical experience; seeing what happens when players get hold of, and run off with, your lovingly crafted world background is a learning experience.
At times it’s a chastening experience; watching players take something I’ve created and do something I didn’t intend, taking it and making it so much more whilst still remaining true to the spirit and the letter just makes me feel much smaller and a lot less smarter than I think I am.
At other times, it feels like no-one can be bothered to take the time or effort to read even the bullet-pointed highlights of the lovingly crafted, highly detailed, multi-page document I’ve created. Otherwise, they’d not be playing *like that*…
And I’m not even going to think about when something really unexpected occurs.
Of course, there are always certain design choices when it comes to creating a world. Do I want a very black and white world of good and evil, or do I want multiple shades of the same grey? Do I want high action, low diplomacy, or a bit of a mix?
One of the really fun things to do is to play with established tropes within the chosen genre.
Which is where Rift comes in.
Having watched the various teaser videos, read some of the website, and checked out some of the beginning quests, I’m hardly an expert on Rift’s world, but from what I’ve seen, I quite like.
It’s quite surprisingly difficult to escape elves and dwarfs when creating a fantasy world. Thanks to Tolkein, most people expect to see a world containing tall thin posh chaps with pointy ears, and short dumpy blokes that are more beard than anything else. The third member of the Tolkein Triumvirate is the Orc, but strangely enough most people don’t care so much for brutish, ugly and ultra-violent.
So there’s no surprise to find Elves and Dwarfs amongst the Guardian races. They’re not just a staple of the genre, though. They are a symbol, a signifier that the faction they support are the good guys. After all, these guys might not get on with each other, but they both hate orcs and fight Sauron!
Add in some occidental-looking humans, and we have the races for the Guardian faction. And they all look like occidental fantasy races, which automatically makes the Guardians look like the good guys. They’re the Free Peoples, the Alliance. They can’t be bad, can they?
There is a certain amount of opposition amongst the races of the Defiants, and not just as a result of their opposition to the Guardian culture and philosophy.
Whilst the Mathosian humans are occidental, the Defiant’s Eth humans have a distinctly Arabic-oriental feel to them. With darker skin and *very* sharp beards, never mind imagery on the official site that shows robes and scimitars, they have a Arabian Nights vibe that’s quite intriguingly different. Just seeing the imagery makes me look at the humble human in a refreshing way; maybe there is more to the eye than plain old vanilla human.
For all those elf-haters out there, the Defiant have their own elven race. Like I said earlier, it’s hard to escape elves when designing a game world; people complain, and some will automatically decide your game is wrrrrrrubbish *just* because there are no elves.
Having two sets of elves does not mean your game world is twice as good, however. But then again, just like the Eth and the Bahmi (more on them in a moment) the Defiant’s elves, or Kelari, are darker skinned; this time shades of purple rather than a more “realistic” skin hue. The Bahmi (I can’t help pronouncing that as “Barmy”, which is most probably not intended by Trion. Sorry) have more of a Genie-from-the-bottle (or “Djinni” if you’re one of the cool kids) vibe going on, which ties them nicely to the Eth in more ways than one.
Just by looking at them, I can’t help making value judgements on who the good guys are, and who is a nasty gang of cut-throat villains. After all, we’re brought up with entertainment media that positively needs good guys and bad guys to fight, and we both root for, and follow, the exploits of the good guys as we consume that media.
The official website is very kind in helping me decide who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, by setting out the races of each faction on a handy, colour-coded background. Look at the Guardians, with their greeny-blue shaded background. Yes, blue is cool, calm, it’s safe, and Trion have even blended it with green, which is safe, a “Go!” colour. Now look at the Defiants. Burgundy blending to mostly red. Danger! Blood! Stop!
I don’t even need to read the blurb, as that page is telling me all I need to know in mere moments, with six images and two backgrounds. But just in case I wasn’t sure, Trion have handily named their factions to help me out. The Guardians (“a person who protects or defends something” according to OxfordDictionaries.com) *must* be the good guys, whist the Defiants (“defiance”, according to OxfordDictionaries.com, means “open resistance; bold disobedience”) *must* be the bad guys. Easy, when you think about it.
And it’s not surprising I’d think that. For most of my life, I’ve been institutionalised into thinking that way. First in the family, where resistance and disobedience mean going to bed with no supper, to school where they mean detentions, to work where it means having increased leisure potential. And I’ve also been brought up to respect those who protect or defend; the emergency services, the Armed Forces.
Add in those bastions of goodnes and light, the elves and dwarfs, and the deal is done. If I want to play good guys, I *must* choose Guardian. If I want to play a bad guy, I *must* play a Defiant.
They are, after all, rebelling against authority. They don’t look like I do. And that Bahmi looks quite a lot like an orc, if I squint a bit and turn my head a bit. They’re at least big and brutish, so that’s close enough.
Yet, just as I’m feeling a little cheated, a little digging into the lore goes a long way. The Guardians might well be the “Chosen” of Telara’s gods, but their movie voice-overs are done by someone who sounds a little too close to The Kurgan, and that, my dear reader, was not a nice chap.
Likewise, their religious nature seems quite bigoted. Religious bigotry is never pretty, and never good. And whilst the desire to be “Powerful” is rarely pretty, the Defiant’s quest for scientific knowledge is progressive, forward-thinking; it is modern.
So whilst the imagery used by Trion points to the Guardians as good guys and the Defiants as bad , their background lore suggests that the opposite may be truer in the long run.
I quite like that. Having two shades of grey will hopefully mean a more equal spread of players between the two factions, which could only be good for the game. Of course, it could also be really bad, as there are some players out there who like black and white; who want to be in the whiter-than-white faction, or the blacker-than-black of Team Evil.
Ah well. Can’t please everyone.