Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Game Mythos

Working on the intro animation for my game has led me to do a bit of development of the game mythos.  What I mean by mythos is basically the rules and background that governs what goes on in the game world - other than normal world stuff which we already know.

When it comes to normal stuff like "how big is a loaf of bread" - that is certainly the rules and the background, but where it does not differ from our  normal world you can just take it as read.  Where your game world is different - magical, super, silly or just plain weird - that is where you need to start work to figure out just how different.

Think about any game that features vampires for example (no vampires in my game by the way - this is just an example).

  • Do the vampires get to go out in the sun?  
  • Does garlic or crosses work on them?  
  • What about their powers - are they super strong, or super fast or both?  

When you ask those questions for any game, about the characters, the world and so on you are defining the mythos.  I chose vampires as an example because it seems like almost every game, TV show, movie or book that deals with them has a different mythos.  Just saying "this game character is a vampire" doesn't answer all the questions - and its always good to answer them upfront.

Pragmatics also comes into it.  Sometimes in your game you want a particular mythos element but it is just not practical for the development of the game.  If your vampires (to extend the above example) cannot go out in the daylight does that mean absolutely all your game scenes/rooms/levels have to be at night?  That might be a bit limiting.

It's important for any game to nail down the mythos elements early on to avoid continuity problems.  This is especially the case if you are building the game with help from others.  Keeping and updating a mythos document can help do this.

In my game, EthEx 2080, the setting is a near future planet Earth.  At this time, medical technology has advanced so far that almost any ailment or weakness - real or imagined - can receive treatment, at a price.

Many of the problems this brings about exist today in 2013: trafficking in body parts, illegal sales of medicines and therapies, illegal or ill-advised cosmetic and surgical enhancements.  And of course performance enhancing drugs and therapies - such as blood doping, and steroids.  You don't have to look far to see this stuff in the news today.

The hero of my game is an Agent in the Ethics Executive - she is an Eth-Cop.  Their motto is Dignitatem tutando Hominis which translated from Latin is Defending the Dignity of Man.  The dignity of man is a key idea in the field of Bio-Ethics.  I came up with the ideas for the crest above, and the motto from my reading.  Then working them up like this using my tablet and a vector drawing program starts to make the idea of the Ethics Executive come alive.  By the way the above is just the basic design - I have not added any color or lighting to this - but you can see the idea.

I used Google's translate service to go through a few variations on the English version of the motto until I got one that came out sounding good in Latin.  I'm planning for one of the cut scenes that the camera will zoom right in and come to rest on the crest so the detail is not just an exercise.  And likely it will also probably feature on an Eth-Cop's badge which will be an inventory item in the game.

Working on some elements for this globe-spanning bio-ethics justice group has involved trying to nail down who they are, what their powers are (legal rather than super) and what kind of an appearance they have.  In the crest you can see some of these elements: the UN style globe & wreath - symbolising peace and international reach; the medical profession (although the staff of the Caduceus is replaced with a sword) - also the hand (symbol of human rights) and the scales (for justice and the legal system) appear here.  Interestingly there is some history around whether one snake or two should appear - one snake is actually correct for the original Greek mythology, but recent history has led us to use the two serpent version.

It's good when looking at mythos to examine other great mythos makers in the same genre.  For the dystopian sci-fi near-future you can't go past Phillip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" which was realised in movie form as "Blade Runner" by directory Ridley Scott.  I've been watching a great documentary on sci-fi writers which has a good discussion of Dick and his writing.  In particular the paranoia and ethical conflict that Dick was trying to portray.

The thing about the future world of Blade Runner is that there was no new special group of cops, or legal framework for dealing with the massive scientific advances it depicted.  Dick's hero Rick Deckard was an independent; a bounty hunter, although he took his work from the Police department.

I will need more structure in my game.  For EthEx 2080 I want collecting evidence to be an important game mechanic.  Also I love procedural cop dramas and wanted to capture some of that too.  So I needed to know more about the Ethics Executive and what they stand for.


So far I'm thinking of some thing a bit more like the real-world FBI, but with a bit of the British MI6 thrown in for good measure.


I took the above shot of the MI6 building from the Lambeth Bridge when I was in London in 2004 on holiday, and this building has captivated me for ever since.  Looks menacing, secretive and bunker-like doesn't it?  It's pretty impressive in real life.  Makes you wonder what goes on inside.  I'll probably never know for sure, but soon I plan to lift the lid on the Ethics Executive and give us all a view of the life of an Eth-Cop.  :-)

I am hoping to have the title animation done this week with any luck so stay tuned for updates.