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Philosophy of game design.


 I designed some new monsters today, with a new armature. I have about 5 different armatures so far, which can be used to create a variety of different monsters just by changing the mesh. However, I did want one more type, and I chose the bat. They can be scaled to different sizes in game and can use different skins or meshes. They can share the same animations or use different ones. For example, the smaller bats will fly, the larger ones  will crawl using their wings like arms.

Oooh! bats!

I'm trying to choose monsters which are interesting in appearance but not TOO fantastic. As always I'm guided by an aesthetic which I've been vaguely describing as old school. It's a philosophy which says no to cartoonish emphasis of an object's features, no to making every monster look like a boss, no to swords which are so large even Conan the Barbarian would have trouble lifting them, and no to chainmail bikinis. 

These days there's a tendency to boil everything down to its constituent parts, select the most obvious and then exaggerate those parts to the point where all that's left is a cartoon. At its worst, we get the new transformers effect. There are so many spikes and horns and greebles and STUFF sticking out all over the place we completely lose the form of the thing. Silhouette is important for a monster or a character, if it is over detailed it just fades in to the background. Form is important too, when we can see how a thing bends and moves, it seems more real.

We could start with how elves now have ears bigger than their heads that stick out near horizontally, but that's just the influence of Japanese animation on modern fantasy.Instead lets have a look at a case study; D&D Lizard men.

Lizard men.

Lizard men, in the game of dungeons and dragons, and elsewhere are generally low level enemies. They are a bit stronger than goblins, weaker than trolls, and generally while they are a tough encounter for low level characters, they represent only a speed bump for higher level parties. They're not that intelligent or advanced, and in most settings they have stone age technology. You could say that lizard men are pretty average monsters. So why are lizard men depicted with bulging, rippling muscles, 6 inch teeth, long rending claws, and stone swords taller than a man?

If you look at the picture above you can see the evolution of lizard men.
a: This is a modern lizard man.
b: This is one is an old D&D monster. Yes, he looks like a man in a suit.
c&d: Is it a boss? maybe, I can't tell. The small head would argue for a monster around 8-12 feet tall, so probably a boss.
e: A dark sun lizard man. Looks buff, but at least he's using appropriate technology.
f: Monster manual D&D, I like how the artist has used the reverse jointed legs to make him look less like a man in a suit, good use of variant morphology. I also like how although he looks strong, part of that is fat, like a strong animal would be, not like a human body builder.

I don't want monsters to look totally like a man in a suit. Non-human limb morphology can accomplish that with things like long swaying necks, back bending knees, elongated snouts etc... I want monsters to look like beasts though. They shouldn't have a six pack. No real animals (or even very few humans) have such perfectly defined muscles as you regularly see in fantasy art. I want to see pot bellies, skinny arms, bandy legged gaits. IMHO that makes the monsters seem more alive and real, it's the flaws which make a person more than a caricature, and the same goes for monsters.

Also, to be really successful, monsters need to have a strong form and outline.

This doesn't mean we have to eliminate all small scale details, but there needs to be a contrast between small and large scale details. The classic Alien is a good example of this.

You have the nice small scale details of the ridges, pipes and bumps, but there are also some smooth areas. There are also the large scale details which make it instantly recognizable. Can you tell which detail is missing from the Alien above? Yes, it's the pipes on its back, they should be there and they instantly make it look a bit strange with their absence. The other parts which make the alien are the shoulder pads, the skull, and teeth, the long bony tail. Although detailed, it's not messy.

It's not easy however to make monsters which are both iconic and also kind of generic. We're playing a game. You are going to fight a lizard man or a bat dozens of times. It the model looks too unique then it becomes too repetitive. If the models look kind of similar, but with small variations (like a different sword or shield) your imagination will fill in the details. That's what old school games are all about, especially roguelikes.

Warhammer vs clawhammer?

Do I even need to voice my objects to giant swords and guns? There will be two handed swords in game, but they will be no bigger than real weapons from history. When it comes to warhammers, smaller actually looks more deadly.

Which would you rather be hit by? When weapons get to a certain size, it becomes obvious that they couldn't be wielded with any skill. It also becomes obvious that they couldn't possible be made of metal. In which case counter-intuitively, big weapons actually seem lighter than small ones.

Thankfully I think we've hit the tipping point on this one. When I do a google search for warhammers these days, I'm more likely to find something modeled on a real medieval weapon, rather than something from a comic book. 

Women Warriors.

When it comes to having male and female characters in the game I'm all for female warriors, but my idea of a strong female warrior is more soviet tank crew than Red Sonya. We don't need to see anyone's breasts. Not every female character needs to be wraith thin and drop dead gorgeous with a huge rack that would make it impossible to run, let alone fight.

Again, I'm going for quite a generic look. You can imagine your character however you want in the privacy your own head. Female armor and clothes will look a bit different to mens, but not totally different. When I see how women are portrayed in most video games these days it makes me sad. Video games are becoming bigger than Hollywood, but they're still mostly designed by nerds whose only concept of women comes from comic books.

So, sorry no foot-long elf ears, polystyrene warhammers, giant boobs or chainmail bikinis in this game thanks. I hope you're not all too disappointed.


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