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Story Time

Arcadian Atlas Tactics RPG Indie
Chrono Trigger

When Becca and I were just children, we were ultra-serious about game development. We had this vinyl kiddie pool in the front yard of our rural Texas home, and during the summer months we’d swim methodically in a circle till we formed this vortex. The vortex helped us think. The vortex was a blender of juicy story bits pulpified.

“The princess has to run away, though, remember?” I’d say.
Becca would think a moment, putting herself in Princess Musashi’s shoes. “But they’re all on the third floor. How would she just sneak out the window without falling to her death?”
“She could tie sheets together to form a rope like in prison shows…”
“While everyone is looking at her?”
“Don’t use logic on ME, woman!”

Shot from Genesis, our dead old project

Then we’d start the vortex the other direction.

Some things have changed, some have not. We still disagree and challenge each other on storylines, but we’ve both grown enough to be flexible and understand that differences make a good, well-rounded story. And she’s married now to a smart guy with really good taste because he watches way cooler movies and listens to trendier music than me while I blare pop drivel, which lends a classy element to the story.

And while I can’t speak for either of them, I’d like to share my philosophy of story telling and how it affects the plot we’re working on. I do this through the extremely avant-garde (and therefore hip) method of connecting each philosophy with a game or book that inspires it. So without further ado:

Character Is King – Chrono Trigger 

I believe the key to a solid plot is solid characterization. If you have relatable, realistic people populating your game, you have all the drama, tension, and beauty you need to propel things forward. I learned this from Chrono Trigger, which, though it has a very basic plot structure, has some stellar characters that struggle with real issues – inferiority, shame, rebellion, and love. When you finally kill that oddly chicken-esque final boss, you don’t much care about Lavos’ world-destroying motives. You care about the world you saved because of the people that populate it.

Love is Dangerous – Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis)

Sometimes love can blind us. It can make us selfish and twist us into monsters, but it can also make us better if we let it.
This game is about love, both in the making, the breaking, and how – or if – it can come back together.
Lewis is a man who understood that love is powerful, and any power unchained can be dangerous. Without temperance, love corrupts and justifies many evils. Our game is about people confronted by love and the choices they make to keep it – some of them wise, some of them destructive.

Tales of Phantasia
Final Fantasy Tactics

People are Complicated – Final Fantasy Tactics

My favorite character from FFT is not Ramza. It’s Delita Heiral – the nobody, the peasant whose sister is murdered, the guy who tries desperately to make a mark on a world that doesn’t want him. And man does that dude’s life end poorly.
We are all ruled by passions and convictions that are messy, and the characters in this game are no different. We are setting out to tell a story about people who disagree, not just with others, but with themselves. People who are conflicted – torn between the things they love, the things they need to survive, and what is right.

Saga Frontier
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien, illustration by Ted Nasmith

Sorrow is Beautiful – J.R.R. Tolkien

Okay, it’s not one book. It’s a person, but the guy’s got too many books that are significant, so cut me some slack. The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion are some of my favorites, but Tolkien himself has taught me that life is tough. Horrible things happen to people all the time – things that are tragic and soul crushing and seemingly insurmountable. But we surmount them, because we must surmount them.
That sorrow we feel from loss is beautiful. It teaches us how much we’ve loved and how hard we would fight to hold onto those things we love. It makes us wise, and wisdom is what gives us strength to fight when all seems lost.
Unfortunate things will happen in this game – to the main characters, to supporting characters, to everyone. The question becomes, how will they respond to sorrow when it comes?

Magic has Consequences – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

Clarke taught me one thing: if magic is to be believable, people must respond to it in a believable way.
That’s why people will respond to magic as magic really is – namely, gritty and full of complications.
Persecution, misunderstanding, horrific consequences – those are the sort of things that will accompany those who dabble in arts only heard of in rumors and wild tales. Of course, some forms of magic will be acceptable – those that are relatively innocuous to the people in power. But for everything else, tread lightly.
And be prepared for a lot of everything else.

Perhaps in the coming weeks we’ll hear from Becca and Brandon about the philosophies underpinning their own take on the story. It’s a collaborative effort, but one that is already shaping into something we can’t wait to get in motion.

And I’ll leave you with just a snippet of dialogue that may, or may not, make it into the final game:

“You were born by an illegal union, and you will never lay so much as a finger upon my son’s throne so long as you hold breath!”

“I was born of a king. You would do well to remember that. He loves you only for that sniveling wretch you birthed, and if word comes to his ear of what you whisper in secret, the noose will sooner be yours than his throne.”

Taylor Bair is a full time marketing consultant, part time writer, dabbler in pixel art, drinker of tea, and a sucker for good stories. For more from him, check out his blog The Business of Indie or follow him on Twitter.

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