Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

9 April, 2012

Did I Mention I’m Insane?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Continuing on the topic of world building, I’m going to give you a little insight into my demented mind. I think world building is just fun, something I occasionally do with no intention of using the world in any sort of story. That’s not the demented bit, I think that’s pretty common for humans in general, whether or not everyone’s conscious of it. No, the demented bit is where I, on occasion, spend hours and hours thinking of tiny and insignificant details that no-one will ever hear about, just because I’m a perfectionist idiot who doesn’t think my imaginary world is worthy of that label if I can’t draw you its star charts.

As an example, I’ll show you a bit of one of my conworlds (that’s constructed world for the uninitiated. This is the Internet, of course it’s a thing). I’m going to use the one I made to play Dungeons & Dragons in, and a world built for a game is of course different from one built for use in prose in some ways, but my madness shines through nonetheless. If you’ve read the D&D 4th edition books, you’ll recognise elements of the base setting here, as this world is based on that, with my own embellishments and changes wherever I felt like it. It is based on 4th edition, but rules elements aren’t really reflected in the world itself, so I think I’ll keep it if I ever move on to a different edition. I haven’t actually used it much in play, though. This is part of the dementia, I have spent more time by far planning this world than using it.

Here, look at this map I made. It’s not finished, and yet I’m showing it to you; a big step for me. The idea is that this is a map made by a character in the world, an academic who drew together various sources to make one big map of all the known world. Yeah. It’s not even an accurate map, I put in errors that this imaginary guy made!  And I’ll probably never even use it! Folly!

A map of the Middle World

Click to embiggen further.

As I said, it’s not finished. A couple of the months are missing symbols, I’m not really happy with the World Axis model, the map itself needs some work, and the constellation map is still pretty blank. Also, I think I might have messed up the order of the constellations of the ecliptic. That is not a joke, this is the sort of thing I spend time thinking about. I’ll give you a moment to pity me.

Actually, don’t, it’s not really warranted. I’m having fun, in my own weird way. I’ve spent quite some time thinking about how all the elements on this map fit together, which bits were owned by whom at what time, and how it all adds up now. Maybe if I finish this map, I’d feel driven enough to run a game in this world that focused on exploration, Age of Sail-style. The map isn’t the main product of this conworlding (yeah, it’s a verb too) of course – I have a by now rather sizeable wiki document detailing various parts of it, and a ludicrously complicated Calc spreadsheet which converts dates between the four calendar systems I’ve thought up. Yes, four calendar systems. Solar, lunar, mathematical and Mesoamerican-style. I did warn you this was an insight into my madness. I don’t dare show you the spreadsheet, it’s a mess of a thing which I’ve basically hacked away at until it did the thing I wanted it to, without ever fully understanding why, and I’m sure anyone who’s good with that sort of thing would point and laugh. I can tell you with some surety, however, that the 20th of Morad, 9651 in the Iounian calendar, is the equivalent of the 17th of Ronníad, 9893 in the Sehaninian calendar, 22/1/9893 in the Dark calendar and 5 rain, 17 hammer, 149 in the Imperial calendar. Geeks, bow before your king!

I think that’s sufficient exposure to my mind for now. It’s good to let some air in, now and then.

5 April, 2012

A Post without Any Myst at All, except in the Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

We have previously established that I am a huge pokémon nerd. We also established that I’m a generation or two behind everyone else when it comes to actually playing the games. During a recent trip to England, I came across a copy of Pokémon Black at a discounted price, and as the full price was already a good bit less than the Norwegian one, this was a bargain I jumped on. The reason it was discounted was probably the not too recent announcement that Black and White 2 are coming, so I am still behind the curve, but I might actually catch up with it before the next release.

I haven’t played too much yet; only now that Easter is approaching did I really have time to sit down with it. I don’t feel ready to do a full review, and don’t see that one would be needed in any case. If you’ve played any pokémon game, you know the gist of it. Travel around, kidnap random, possibly sentient, creatures, and force them to battle each other in gladiatorial blood sports for your amusement and social advancement. There’s a lot of them, and you should capture one of each, for reasons of scientific curiosity. Beyond that, it’s all bells and whistles – but important ones, to be sure.

In lieu of a review, then, have some random thoughts about the game instead.

1. Having to hold B down to run is a step backwards.

In SoulSilver there was a simple toggle switch, always available on the touch screen, which was a much better solution.

2. The touch screen is filled with the damn C-gear.

I get that the C-gear is cool and all, but I play with a DS Lite, which is terrible at the whole connecting to the Internet thing, and I don’t know anybody else who plays, so I very rarely need it. I would much rather have the more often used menu items readily available here, like in SoulSilver.

3. The L key no longer acts like the A key.

Wah, wah, everything was better in SoulSilver, wah.

4. The graphics are great.

Generation IV looked good. This looks great.

5. Snivy is adorable.

Lookit that face! I know grass type isn’t the greatest, but this one looked too cool to pick anything else (see also: Bulbasaur). I named mine McSnooty.

6. The Team Plasma storyline is interesting

Storyline isn’t the strong suit of Pokémon, but in this game the villainous team’s objective seems to be to liberate all pokémon from captivity by trainers. After really dodging the whole blood sports thing for however many games, it’s interesting to see it actually engaged with. I suspect it’ll turn out the Plasmas have hefty ulterior motives, though.

7. Team Plasma has a kick-ass battle theme.

I get so pleased every time I get to battle a Plasma grunt. Just listen to this thing!

Pumped!

2 April, 2012

Ramblings on How to Play God

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So, one thing I think the Myst series does very well is world building.

No, don’t go away! I’m not really making this into a Myst blog. This post is about world building in general, I’m just using Myst as a starting point, since that’s where my train of thought started in the first place.

When it comes to fiction, regardless of medium, my preferences tend to run towards what is nicely called speculative fiction, or more commonly science fiction and fantasy, or maybe even more commonly nerd stuff. A pretty common feature for this type of fiction is that it is set in a world which differs from our own. Sometimes it is an entirely different one, like in Narnia or A Song of Ice and Fire, sometimes it’s in a hidden one within our own, like in Harry Potter or The Dresden Files, but in either case it is something new and unknown. Since it is something the audience is unfamiliar with, the manner in which it is explained is important. My own fiction writing has languished lately, but when I do brush the dust of it I will end up writing in the same genre, and so I occasionally spend some time thinking of the best way to build and convey a fantasy world.

In fiction set in our own world, the writer can proceed on the assumption that everyone knows at the very least the basics of it. People will know what China is, and where Canada lies relative to Mexico, and roughly how much a dollar is worth, and how the Cold War caused international tension that still exists. No explanation is necessary, and so the writer can simply mention whatever he choses and move on. I think one of the most interesting approaches in fantasy writing is to proceed in the same way, as if the world was indeed familiar to the reader.

Since I started with Myst as an example, let me continue with that for a moment. As I’ve mentioned before, Myst is all about dropping you into its world and then refusing to explain anything, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. It is the epitome of showing, not telling. Have a look at the intro to Myst itself, it’s only about forty seconds long.

That’s all the context the game gives you. A figure fall through a crack, with a book. The figure disappears, and the book keeps falling through a star field, while a voice narrates that he realised the book would survive, contrary to his expectation. The book lands. That’s it. Next, it opens, the player falls through it, and finds him- or herself on a wooden dock on a weird island, with no clear objective.

But even though nothing is explained, everything has an explanation. This is the key bit, in my opinion. You don’t need to, as a player, understand exactly what happens in this intro. Indeed, Myst gives no explanation of it even at the end; to fully understand what happened in that sequence you must also play through Riven and read The Book of Atrus.  Further light on the event is shed in Uru, but even now it remains one of the central mysteries of the series – and one which will probably never really be explained.

Of course, this is a game series. It is one thing to drop an unexplained ruin in an interactive game, another thing entirely to convey it in prose. In prose, the imagined assumption of shared knowledge can get a bit much at times. If handled poorly, you just get a bunch of names with no reference point and it’s just off-putting. Sometimes it’s worth it to soldier through those dense sections until you do orient yourself – Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth-series of books spring to mind as an example of this – but more often than not I’ll not have the patience.

I think the key is to have a large knowledge of the world you’ve built, and then dole it out very gradually. Not with explanation, but with gradual exposure. I think you could make up a world as you go along, but the coherence and plausibility of it increases when it is all consistent and thought-through. In the work itself, the larger world should be implicit, but behind the scenes it should be explicit. None of this is revolutionary, I think; it is merely my stance in this. Of course, taken too far, you end up with hopeless perfectionism, and an inability to proceed without excessive details. That’s where I tend to end up.

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