Work-In-Progress Spotlights
December 17th, 2008 by Scud

Christmas Special '08

Now you may be wondering why the fortnightly cycle has been knocked off its axis, and I am aware this has caused many of you a lot of trouble when it comes to time-keeping (even more when the time those Roman emperors kept adding months to the year according to their whims, oh those Romans, weren't they a laugh). Don't worry, today is not Monday, today is Wednesday, but the reason for the delay is the extra preparations for the Work in Progress Christmas Special! And with great joy and festive cheer I mugged Saint Nicholas and blackmailed him into giving you a double helping of your usual dose of sneak-peaks into the world of scenario design, with one half of the double act going into detail about a project that has been largely kept under wraps (under wraps, Christmas, presents...wrapping, GEDDIT?!).

The first act of this Christmas spotlight special is Gwyndlegard by Lord Basse. It is a shameless self-confessed fantasy cliché, and though this may sound like a derogatory comment it is a tongue-in-cheek style that Basse pulls off. Not only self-mocking the genre, Basse also creates a unique a humorous tale with plenty of playability with the usual fantasy scenario techniques. Set against the backdrop of warring nations, with the typical vagabond bunch of heroes who set out to conquer evil by purging their homeland of the foreign invaders (jingoism's many tentacles even find themselves being a motif and a point of humour to an almost satirical level in this scenario due to Basse's superbly crafted writing). Basse once again uses his wide knowledge of popular culture as a source of inspiration for his scenario, as the main protagonists are your usual folk caught up in the tides of war, facing the horrors and tedium of war by combating with their own blend of surreal and gallows humour (reminiscent of the sort of characters we see in many war films, a la Apocalypse Now). The main cast, consisting of a rather assorted motley crew, from a wine-plied Priest and the usual cardboard-cut-out characters you see in fantasy scenarios, but all are developed with a sense of humour that pastiches the genre as they trek across the land to free one of their lost comrades. Along their journey the strange heroes meet even stranger characters on their travels, and the madness and surreal humour is only exaggerated as the story goes on. Though Basse had admitted the story itself is not that deep, the overall appeal of the scenario is the lampooning it does of the fantasy genre combined with the nonsensical and surreal humour of the main characters that is brought to life by Basse's writing, The aim of the plot doesn't seem to be telling a direct story, but more to express the view of the creator who is challenging the conventions of what we think the fantasy genre is all about.

Taking time out of his busy Christmas timetable, I managed to catch a few words with Basse:

As a prolific designer, how do you find the time to work on and complete so many projects?

Basse: I can imagine that some people think of me as a workaholic in AoK fashion, that I spend hours every day pumping energy into my many projects to quickly move on to the next idea that pops up in my head. I'll have to pinch a hole to this balloon of false hope, though, since that picture is very far from correct. To give a truthful picture is hard since so many aspects play a part, but I will give it a try. First off, if you are an easy learner like me, the Swedish school-system isn't all that challenging, so you don't necessarily have to spend a few hours every day studying for tomorrow. That alone leaves a big hole for me to fill up. Other aspects that leave room for me to design is that I'm quite keen on keeping my money on the bank; I rarely spend any bigger sums, which is why I never got myself any consoles or splendid new computers and games. I've never been much for FPS games or role-playing as in World of Warcraft or the like, RTS has always been my favourite, be it Command & Conquer or Empire Earth, most RTS games appeal to me. Since I don't spend lots of time playing WoW or other very time-consuming games, neither do I have any consoles to play on to make the money I spent on them worth losing. The last aspect would be that I actually design quite quickly once I get into the right mood, or "flow". The major part of the map in Gwyndlegard took me a few hours to make, although I've had to fix up some part later on since I change my mind about what they're there for. These three enable me to design when I feel like it, and to spend many hours in a row when I feel like it, or just twenty minutes fixing up part of a map.

Your scenarios often have their own brand of humour, how important do you rate story-telling in your work?

Basse: I rate it very highly; frankly, storytelling and atmosphere are the aspects I try to perfect when I design. To me, in most cases, scenario designing IS storytelling, except you have the chance of doing it visually and give the "reader" much more control of the story while you as the designer still direct him or her into the traps and wonders of the story. My odd sense of humor is also very important since, frankly, I can't imagine a work of mine that includes no humor. I don't even think my slippery PTC entry lacked a weird joke or two (weird as in funny, not weird as in the overall setting of the scenario :P). It can be anything from a reference to another scenario, movie, book or anything, to the angry tone and humor of Jones Blond to background jokes that most people probably won't notice until they play the scenario for the fifth time. I even make a few in-jokes that either I alone or a few people around me would understand, some may laugh at the ridiculousness but only I or we know the true reason to laugh. I know that many say that comedy is a double-edged sword; either it works wonders or it goes straight into the junk pile, but personally, I've never seen it as a problem to include humor. It always works for some reason and, apparently, some people seem to appreciate my weird jokes., which of course is very fun for me since people show their liking of, if nothing else, at least my odd jokes!

Gwyndlegard is yet another original story, where do you find the inspiration?

Basse: Gwyndlegard in itself is a new commodity, a story I came up with about a month or so before I announced it in a thread here at AoKH. But the story behind the story is quite much older, and shred in a mystery I'd rather let stay that way (BJ could know a little about it if he read his emails back in 2006, but that's all I'm telling :P). The story in Gwyndlegard is derived from several of my abandoned projects, glued together with a lot of new things that have popped up while I spent time planning the scenario. Mainly, I find inspiration in other people's scenarios and campaigns, from music and books, and at times, especially for Gwyndlegard, I just go out into nature and find inspiration from just being there. That's why Turty can complain about the map being too green these days, since I got my inspiration from the light green spring in Sweden, one of the most beautiful moments of the year over here. But I can't really tell for sure how I gain my inspiration; it's always a series of ideas that have their roots back long ago, possibly nowhere near AoK at all. Other things I just make up when I'm bored, like Defend the Island. The Story of Kerokato has a unique back-story too, although not all that deep. I was inspired by Sabato Returns to make a scenario where you can choose to play either good or evil, so I just thought of two civilizations that wouldn't really work well together (i.e. the Japanese and Aztecs) and made a scenario of it. Kerokato is vary far from my best scenario, but I still have nice memories from it, although most of my older designs are laughable these days.

Have you ever felt the need to cut back on the amount you realise to sit down and work on one project to achieve absolute perfection?

Basse: Ever heard of ADOC? Seriously though, I'm not much of a perfectionist, even if I often want to. A Dream of Conquest is probably the clearest example of what I'm going for when I try to show my absolutely best; an epic, deep tale spread over 20 scenarios. Some of the original scenarios are, with my standards of today, simply awful, while others, slightly newer, ones, still have their charm. Had I gone for perfection with every scenario, I would never get done because my style is under constant development. I'm going to remake the most horrid scenarios but just boost up the other ones to the current level I'm aiming for. I've lowered the bar of perfection a lot, and the scenario number is down to 12 now. That actually has nothing to do with perfection; I just realized that three scenarios in the underworld and other such things probably wasn't much of joy for the player. But even with slightly more simple things like Gwyndlegard, I don't go for total perfection, since perfection just doesn't exist in my designs. I'm not at the same place, neither mentally or just skill-wise, as I was when I started designing the scenario, and I won't be when I'm done either. The scenario develops with me, and going back to try to fix up everything would mean I'd need to remake the scenario entirely several times before I reach "perfection", a perfection that would be gone two months after the release when I've changed my mind about perfection again.

But let's us not dwell on Basse's project too long, for I did say this was a seasonal special, which features two projects in one spotlight. So what is the next project I have lined up for you all? Why, it's none other than Doomsday Clock by our loveable Andanu (or a knight of the Indonesian realm as he expects us to believe).

A group of carefree cruise passengers, on their way to Lombok, an island in Indonesia, suddenly had their hopes of a relaxing holiday in the sun dashed when their ship was caught in a horrendous rainstorm. The hull was crushed; the deck was flooded and many passengers sank down bellow the murky waters to meet Davy Jones. However, through the fog and the gloom as dawn broke, some lucky survivors found themselves high and dry, stranded on a mysterious island. Their trip has just taken a detour. A pleasant vacation has turned into a trial of survival with their fate uncertain. Struggling to survive on some god-forsaken island in the middle of nowhere is no easy task (as the escapades of AokH forumers in various role playing threads have shown), the weary survivors were forced to work together. Despite the island looking like a tropical paradise the survivors soon realised they were not alone, with strange sounds coming from the centre of the island complete with sightings of strange and mysterious animals, the survivors soon realised that life on this tropical hideaway will not be a beach...

With an intriguing plot I felt I just had to pick Andanu's brain over some other things:

It seems you are setting your scenario (at least partially) during the modern era, what difficulties have you faced with the AoK engine?

Andanu: Not much difficulties, I reckon. Yes, it's set on the modern times, but the scenario itself will be situated entirely on a secluded, underdeveloped island. I'm not going to flip my cards and spoil the story at this point, but it's safe to say that there won't be many sophisticated sightings like airplanes, robots, or nuclear missiles, because they're irrelevant to everything I have planned inside my head. The only hardship I'd have to face would be keeping every hint of realism as real and believable as possible. Sure, the narrative in itself is completely fictional, but the setting is based on real-life. The year is 2009, the world is the planet Earth, and Obama has been elected president. Nobody would say things like "I shall burn thee with my fire magic!!" or "You must rescue the princess by slaying the guardian dragon!", unless he's on crack. One can't expect to see unicorns, two-headed snakes, or cupboards than can talk with humans. Well, that's a bit of exaggeration, but I'm sure you get my point.

You say you are bored with making the usual genres that crop up in scenarios, but what exactly has made you try something unique?

Andanu: Nothing fancy, really. I've just finished watching the two first seasons of the TV series, Lost, from which the story got its inspiration. I was captivated by what a prolonged and complex plot could be produced from a bunch of castaways trapped inside an island. My flight hour of playing custom campaigns from the blacksmith may not be that high, but from what I've seen, most designers, if not all, tend to focus on a single character as the main role of the story. Even when you have to control and micromanage a cavalcade of soldiers and heroes, most of the time the spotlight would always be given into one particular figure. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, but that's the part where I want my story to be distinctive, like the show itself, which managed to convey so many stories within a story, which kept me enthralled in front of my TV, watching the DVD for hours, always wondering what's going to happen next. Every character, every twist and turn, and every mythology depicted is always interesting to see. I want my scenario to turn out that way. Sure, there is one central protagonist among others, but I'm trying to make it so every tiny pixilated images (read: characters) has their unique characteristics and personal tales. That is where the emphasis is weighted upon. The scenario isn't all about nifty tricks or mods that leave players with awe, it's about good story and lifelike characterization

Looking at your work in the blacksmith they largely consist of prologues, can we expect any follow-on scenarios or is it very unlikely?

Andanu: I regret to say that it's highly unlikely. That is indeed a lesson that I have just learned. It has been a palpable fact that there are countless cut-scenes and demos shrouded by cobwebs in the blacksmith, waiting for a touch of completion that might never will be carried out by the author. This is one big mistake that needs to be steered clear of. The actual scenario should always come first. Portraying the introductory plot you've chalked out into a cut-scene ripe for the spectacle should be the last thing to be done.

Can you give any advice to other designers who are having problems finishing their own projects?

Andanu: Alas, I've been stuck inside that black hole for God knows how long it has been, but there are things that I usually do to alleviate the designer's curse. The root of this problem is usually the designer's interest towards his project. You should always choose to depict a story that you really like into a scenario. If eventually you start to dislike what you're creating, then you've picked the wrong one. Next, never ever plan the whole story ahead, from start to finish. Let your imagination spur new ideas as you progress. If you're stuck, never hesitate to play or replay custom scenarios, watch some movies or read novels. They're usually my main source of inspiration, and sometimes, playing other's works could stimulate your enthusiasm. You may start thinking, "I want to make something as good as that one, if not better!", raising your interest level a tad. And then, do not ever regard your project as a burden. Be certain that making scenarios is a matter of hobby and passion, something that you love to do. If you start whining about it, then I suggest you stop designing and get a life. Finally, remember that there are always the hospitable AoKH forumers that can lend you a hand, as long as you ask politely and not be an arrogant n00b. Some people can be sensitive. I guess that's all. When you've finished reading that long interview, remember to print, copy and send it to 10,000 people or you're gonna have nightmares. Thanks.

Andanu was also happy to share with us some exclusive screenshots:

Many thanks to the in-depth responses from Basse and Andanu, plus a Merry Christmas to you all!