Jon and Dirk cover a variety of games they’ve played lately, including the new ‘Walking Dead’ expansion, ‘Ascension’ and ‘1775’. The discussion gets serious when ‘Hotline Miami’ comes up, and the crew debates the role of ethics in game design. They wrap up on a lighter note, describing the challenge of integrating mechanics and UI in a tabletop game, and how to instill life into fictional characters.
This was a long one and we covered a wide variety of material along the way. Dirk and I spoke at length about Hotline Miami and the ethical responsibility of designers, and I was originally going to add a follow-up blurb to this post. However, it kept growing and growing and I ultimately decided to split it off into its own article that I’ll be putting up later this week.
Near the end of the episode we also discussed my approach for breathing life into AtG’s leaders – something I will go over in a little more detail here.
Vita Ex Machina
The key ingredient for good characters in any medium is instilling them with realistic, believable motivations. It’s embarrassingly obvious when your creations are nothing but cardboard cutout memes like the evil guy or the seductive woman or the angry brute. Any time you use the adjectives “good” or “evil” with a straight face you’ve already jumped the shark. And maybe they are seductive or angry – but why? What is it they actually want? In real life people do things for a reason, and your fictional world should be no different.
Deep, interesting individuals are particularly important when you’re working inside a setting where players come in with no pre-conceived notions. Some folks will have heard of Attila the Hun and perhaps a couple of the others leaders, but no one knows them like we know Gandhi, or Caesar, or Churchill. This certainly presents a challenge, but also an opportunity.
Alpha Centauri remains the gold standard for character development in a strategy game. My goal with AtG is to build on what it did so well. Significant work has gone into each leader’s motivations, relationships and backstory. Some will be lovable losers, others dogmatic nutters. Their reactions and behaviors in a multitude of situations have been carefully crafted.
And the leaders each pose questions regarding what we’re all doing here. I want players to think as they play, and the opponent one faces are an excellent vehicle for achieving that. And one that is sadly, often ignored. Some people will wonder why there’s this serious stuff in their afternoon hobby. Which is fine, as not everyone is looking for the same thing. The way I see it though, it’s far easier to ignore some text than it is to imagine life in that which lacks it.