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THE BENEFITS OF A MODERN FANTASY WORLD

The world of No Truce! (we do have an official name for it, but all in due time) is not what you’d call “a generic genre world”. It is not pseudo-medieval stasis, as Forgotten Realms was, nor is it Fallout’s campy barbarism with guns. It is also not a Harry Potter/Batman/vampire fantasy world, which is basically “our world with a secret/special world within it”. Neither is it the tech-obsessed ‘punks’ of steam and cyber. It’s a modern fantasy world, a fantasy world in its modernity, which roughly corresponds to the middle part of our XXth century. Now that kind of thing opens up an array of new possibilities. It is a world with a promise of non-staticness, meaning, things appear undecided — they could go one way or the other. It is close enough to our own world for things to have meaning in it, it is a proper frame in which to explore themes relevant to our own society such as bigotry, power relations, politics, bureaucratic apparati, geopolitical relations, philosophy, ideology, religion et cetera. A pseudo-medieval world is not a proper frame for truly exploring themes of, for example, sexuality, for it lacks 1) a proper concept of sexuality, 2) an actual idea of societal progress and 3) a clear ideological dominant, which would be the place where values come from. All you can do in a static, societally unstructured world is give out-of-place shoutouts to present day communities for cheap popularity (“this is exactly my sexual orientation, how did they know?!”).

We find the ideological dominant missing because the western world is traditionally culturally critical of ideological dominants – critical of both state and religion. Anyhow, a classic fantasy world would feature two main ideologies – the “good” and the “evil”, of which the former is selfless and compassionate, but the other one is selfish and cruel. The attempts to overcome that have given us the Grittywelt – a world in which everyone is an asshole and pessimism rules the day. Unsurprisingly, Grittywelt is also static as hell and meaningful change is foreclosed from it. It is a “protection from false hopes”. As such, it is heavily unrealistic. Much more realistic would be people living in super gritty conditions, but not looking the part, that is, not really noticing the abnormal harshness of their conditions, because they don’t have much to compare them to, and being hopeful towards the next day, because surprise! This is how you do it. Survive, I mean. Being depressed is a luxury. In a way, I’d say we’re trying to create the obverse of the Grittywelt – a world in which everyone is empathizable, sort of a hero of their own story.

The modern era is also a fitting vessel for anachronisms – do we not have actual cyborg limbs and donkey-pulled carts operating in the same world at the modern era? Capitalism can also contain little feudalisms in a way, in which a single man or single family controls the entire economy of a town or a village and profits from it. And at the same time, it can also contain little socialist utopias, scientist villages, in which everything is provided by the State. Aside from being a basic feature of reality (anachronism is nothing more than time failing to fit the stereotype about it), it is also a lovable creative tool, allowing for a plethora of what-if-scenarios. Imagine a modern world, only without television; imagine a modern world in which there never was a global war, imagine a world in which fossil fuels are less available. Now, if you will, imagine one which has forgotten its antiquity, and one, in which there is not just water between the continents, but something worse as well — an anti-reality mass we call “pale” (also more on that later). Now imagine one, which has a legitimate and operative “religion of history” in place, which seeks for people it deems special enough to be the “vessel of progress”. (This is not an alternate history thing, by the way. An alternate history takes place in our world quite recognizably and has no more than one divergence point from history as it happened.)

One might ask, why would we not create an even more modern world, if we wanted to maximise our possibilities? Well one of the answers is that it would have destroyed the necessary element of escapism, another is that we cannot create a good alternate Information Era because we ourselves fail to understand the Information Era (More precicely, we have the information era in its infancy and it works via radio relays). We are too close to it and it is too new to understand it, it is “in progress”. The third reason would be that technology is not a fascinating subject for modern science fiction. It’s become a natural part of our reality. We don’t believe it’s going to save us anymore – it has failed to deliver for too long. I am of the belief that the themes of science fiction today are societal, political and psychological (one could maybe add aesthetical to it, for we also love the world for its beauty). All fantastic or sci-fi elements are means for best exploring those themes.

I have filled my page. That’s all for the time being. Thank you for reading.

lyixikä

Martin Luiga

Writer

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How hard can it be?

Writing has never been this hard. Of course this isn’t the sort of talk you’d like to hear. A creation should come into being with natural elegance, should it not? Strain means dull work and the smell of sweat, lack of ideas probably, etc.

Or not. Once I co-wrote a play with a friend (Jaak Tomberg http://smallblueabsence.blogspot.com.ee/). Everything was nearly finished, but three scenes remained to be written. With a clause that it’s me that wants to write them (we generally took turns at writing and switched between techniques, at times either of us wrote every other sentence). My friend was becoming impatient. The deadline was approaching. The clock was ticking.

It wasn’t an old school inspiration thing, it was rather like a chess puzzle you construct in your head with no clear shape, inexpressable as a graphic presentation. The field of text is laid out in your head and lone sentences are situated on it as protruding points of tension. But these are not worded sentences and they don’t express any fully formed thoughts. Everything falls into place at the moment you are finally ready to lay it all out, get it out of your head.

In the end, the time was right. Rather a question of decisiveness than finding a way: „I’m going to do it now.“ Later, when it was ready, I sat on the ground with my back against the wall, as if I had just ran 10 kilometers at my top speed or wrestled for an hour against a strong opponent. The fatigue was aggressive, sudden and physical.

This sort of thing is almost completely absent in game writing. The concentration part is there. The graphical chess scheme of structure and developments is there. The sentences still appear from the darkness. But rest, there is none. Rest always comes when the thing is ready, or, when running, if you can stop. There’s no such moment in game writing. It isn’t ready for months. All relief is temporary. For a moment it feels like something fell into place, that the eternally branching end of the dialogue has somehow logically found its way back into the main hub. But then you realize that the ends of all the other branchings haven’t made it there yet. And they will not go willingly.

So you have to force them. Every moment, all the time, there’s forcing of a logical structure. Like some kind of damn landing of Normandy. Taking it with force.

The main difference from all other writing (and I’ve written much of whatever else, starting with D&D campaigns and ending with opera libretti and scientific articles) is that you have a thousand endings. It doesn’t surprise neither you nor Deleuze, but it takes you to a place our lead designer Robert Kurvitz has described frankly: „While writing a book you always have lots of good ideas which you won’t write because they won’t fit. When writing a game you’re suddenly in a situation where you’re obligated to write down all your good ideas, and you’ll learn with unpleasant clarity if they were good ideas to begin with.“

While engaged in just that, we’ve encountered a little problem with Articy: Final Draft, the program that usually helps us tackle those thousands of branching endings. Sometimes it doesn’t. It seems possible that the size and complexity of our dialogues has reached the limit of Articy’s traction. It’s developers probably didn’t expect interactive literature to sprawl explosively like a borderless field of text (as it exists in the writer’s mind in its proto-being). And now we’re in a situation where we sometimes have to wait for the letters to appear on the screen with excruciating slowness. Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 is almost capable of rendering reality in real time, but Articy has some disagreements with it. We generally hope for Articy’s very flexible team to offer us their helping hand at some moment (and we are well aware it won’t be easy).

Another option is to rework our plans and start working on a dialogue editor instead of the game. You the public wouldn’t like this and you have every right to presume that we will not. However, it certainly couldn’t happen before the thousand ends of No Truce With the Furies have converged into a single concrete mother-node and made accessible to you.

articy textfield
A field of text.

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Village Concept Art

I always enjoy learning how other artists work and seeing how images come together. In that spirit I have taken to a habit of saving periodic work in progress shots of my own pieces as I spend time on them. Here’s a rundown on a piece of concept art relating to a more run down part of Martinaise.

(Absolutely masterful punwork there if I do say so myself.)

fishing-village-thumbnail

There’s a general back and forth over many quick and ugly thumbnails where we get a basic idea of what’s what with the writers. This is where most of the level design gets worked out. We talk through what the main plot points dictate for the area, we figure out pathways how the player should move through the location and make sure there’s elevation changes so the bare geometry of the area looks good and casts interesting shadows. The player is free to pan the camera around as they please but each location is designed with a certain composition in mind. There’s a an abstract shape to each area that subconsciously feeds into the atmosphere and how the player perceives a location. There’s an asymmetric balance to the region where the center of mass lies on the field amidst the huddle of houses with a protrusion leaping out. In artist-speak there’s “tension” in that.

fishing-village-v1

I block the level with basic 3d shapes and we test it in engine to see how good the distances and sense of scale feel. From here it’s pretty useful to just screencap the block-in from the viewport, run a find edges filter on it in Photoshop and use that as the underlay on which to start drawing. The light grey lines up there are just that.

fishing-village-v2

This is the “draw the rest of the fucking owl” step. Finishing up on the linework. When thinking about what exactly to draw and what reference material to gather I want to avoid generic finishing village photos lest it becomes another place you’ve already been. Instead I look for photos of old dachas. Point is that poor people live here, not ye old timey fisherman cosplayers.

fishing-village-v3

Once the drawing is sufficiently far along I start blocking in the shapes with flat fill colors. As I go along I go back and draw some more bits and pieces here and there since I’m impatient like that. But the idea is to start getting some sense of what the scene might actually look like. For convenience I keep every shape on its own layer so I can search around for colours by just dragging the hue slider around on each individual shape and layer.

fishing-village-v4

Another bonus to keeping stuff on seperate layers is I can lock the opacity for each of them which allows me to take a wild textured brush to the canvas without fear of ruining the edges. It’s a good technique in general for more illustrative pieces where the point is to convey practical information rather than to show off the brush stroke of a painting.

fishing-village-v6

The shadows here come from the 3d block in I made earlier. I multiply it over the image and clean up where needed and add bits and pieces to the shadow layer where I’ve drawn new stuff not present in the block in. There’s a bit more to do but it’s mostly just detailwork and cleanup, it’s pretty much done by now.

And here’s the final piece:

fishing-village