Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Update 2015.

Its been quite some time since the last update. 
Here some «excuses»:

During the fall and early winter of 2014 i had a few months hiatus from «the world building project» which was spent working on some smaller projects.

From January 2015 I again got the urge to continue «building the world», and after this brake I felt free to approach the project from a «new» perspective. Until now I have felt no need to blog about this work, but one recent social media «interaction» inspired to share some progress.

General warning: The first two parts of this blog entry will be little rants inspired by these «social media experiences», so if you only stopped by for a few epic WIP- pics and a few notes about «the world building project» feel free to scroll down to part 3: «World In Progress».

1. «The Implosion of Facebook». A rant about social media.

After the slow but steady invasion of personalized ads and logarithmic filtering of my social media feeds it came to the point that I no longer could «keep up» with my «friends activities». When one has to access each individual «friends» actual profile page (or «timeline») to be able to see their updates because of this rigorous filtering, my opinion is that the whole concept of a social media stream is lost. By definition, it is still a stream, but not what I signed up for. Oh well, I am not particularly nostalgic, and as it turns out: Facebook - you will not be missed.

So when trawling «the digital streams» for an inspirational or good read for my lunch brake I have lately spent a little more time on the «lesser evils» of Twitter and G+.

This led to an incident last week, when noticing I had a new, «non bot»- Twitter follower. I was happy when this new follower actually turned out to be some indie game company (name not important in this context), with an emphasis on world building, so I instantly «followed back». 

Being on my lunch brake, I took some time checking out their site and started listening to one of their published podcasts. At first it sounded interesting, the participants shared some «good old» beginner advice and some «interesting perspectives», but quite soon I felt the discussion stranded on the single point of «how to sell your project» and emphasis on «bottom up»- time conserving strategies. This gave me a strange feeling of «deja vu» witch actually inspired me to start planning out this blog entry in my mind. 
As a little end note: I was a little bewildered when I revisited my feed towards the end of my 30 minute brake, just to notice that my new «world building friend» already had unfollowed me. If this was a company effort to make the Follow/Follower ratio look «better» or if the following of my stream just was an honest mistake caused by stubby fingers on a smart phone I can only speculate, but I decided to return the «favor» and remove them from my feed.

2. «The Misconception of Product Building». A rant about the current leading paradigm of Consumerism.

I guess this must be one of my preoccupations since I constantly return to writing about aspects of it. Again, if you are here for the pics, scroll down to part 3.

Last year I was invited by my local game convention to be part of a panel discussion about «Board Game Design». Both me and the attending audience was gravely misled by the programmers, and the actual discussion focused entirely on the financial and market aspects of the Board Game Industry: «What kind of games are selling right now?», «What is a publisher looking for?» and «How to successfully pitch your game idea?». 
Don’t get me wrong, in itself interesting discussions, and if the panel discussion was named «How to sell your game?» or «From game mechanics to product» it wouldn’t be any problem. But the program post and description was very general, «A Panel Discussion about Board Game Design», but ended up with focusing only on one aspect of the design process. 

When listening to the above mentioned «world building podcast» I started feeling the same kind of despair that i got when enduring the 2 hour long «sales pitch tutorial» disguised as «a panel on board game design»: «This isn’t what i signed up for». If just the podcast and the panel discussion was titled the right way, I would have nothing to complain about! 

I know this can come across as semantic nitpicking, but the way I see it, it is more a manifestation of how the leading paradigm of consumerism is defining how we think and speak - or rather what aspects of an complex activity we put emphasis on - in these examples «Board Game Design» and «World Building». 

Here is an horrific example of advice that was repeated as a chorus throughout the «board game design panel», which really illustrate what I am trying to convey: 

Game Boards, Art and Components are really expensive. If you want your game even considered for publication by any company, you should first focus on production cost, even before you have an idea for a game. Try to find a set of cheap standard components and think «how could I create a new and interesting game from them»?. The more specialized components you need, the less chance you have for your game to be picked up by a publisher.

Ok, this might be excellent advice if your goal is to «get «just any» game published» - but is it really advice for making a good board game? A satirical comparison would be for someone to advice aspiring musicians on «how to write great music» (from any musical genre - from classical composers and performers in pop groups) by telling them to become DJs, because «it is much cheaper to hire a single DJ to a club, than a whole band of musicians or an larger orchestera - and that makes it more likely for you to get a paying gig». 

Another sad example of how far the idea of how everything is a «product in need of selling» is when the panel of the «world building podcast» start discussing «how to pitch your world to players in their game groups», because your players won’t have the attention span needed if you can’t convey your game world to your players in 25 characters or less! Then they go on elaborating on how a single written page should be a sufficient start when building a  world, then you pitch your idea - and if it catches on - you continue your work… Again, if these statements where labeled «setting sketches» or «world fragments» everything would sound ok to me!

This brings me to what I - tongue in cheek - have tried to neologize as «The Misconception of Product Building». The wikipedia entry on World Building states that «The goal of world building is to create the context for a story». By definition the story is the product, and the world building is a process one does in advance of (and/or in parallel with) the story, to create a foundation for, and make sure there is consistency in the «story product». 

A simple definition of «Product» is: «An article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale».
With this clarification it becomes obvious (at least to me) that the world itself isn’t really the product, but really a part of the «refinement process», an integrated part making the product - that could be a film, a novel or a game…

If the podcast panel had been talking about «pitching stories» I wouldn’t be so difficult and pedantic.  If your players don’t like your story, then pitch them another story idea! Keep in mind, the world is a sandbox one can use to tell a wast number of different stories. 

Here is an image: World Building is like a floating iceberg. The «product» is just the visible tip of the iceberg, while the remaining 90% of the ice mass hidden underneath the surface is what makes the whole thing float. Just because your players don’t want to read a 60 page sourcebook about your world before starting play (as in «let me tell you about your character»), doesn’t make your world building efforts less important. Tell your players about your world indirectly by using it as a framework to tell interesting stories - not by starting to describe the world itself!

As a parallel, what defines a «character» (or world, actual person) is not really «how it describes itself» but «its actions in general». Over time you start to recognize the patterns of behavior and «get to know the character more in depth», and it even might turn out that «how the character describes itself is far from what it really is like».

In conclution:
Words are powerful magical tools that can be used both to enlighten and to mislead. Don’t take every advice that the «Ministers of Mammon», «Prophets of Produce» and the «Cultist of the Church of Consumerism» gives you without thoroughly researching if the «Holy Grail» you are searching for actually is the same «Artifact» they are leading you towards!

3. «World in Progress». 

Anyways, here are some notes and the grandiose WIP pics as promised in the introduction of this blog entry:

In an earlier (richly illustrated) blog entry written in Norwegian (from November 2010) i have described how I started the building of this world using a «Top Down» design approach. After organizing the Basic Ideas, Concepts and Structures i started «Zooming In» on different «interesting locations» that where further developed in great detail. 

Now, several years later, I came to a kind of «full circle». In immersing myself in all the small details, there had been accumulated so much new «knowledge» and «information» adding (and refining) the Basic Ideas, Concepts and Structures of the world that I felt the need to make a new «Top Down» redesign where all this new content was taken into account. 

When «Zooming In» this second time I chose to magnify and sketch the same «region» as in the old blog entry, both for continuity and for the fun of it. It is still very similar, but at the same time so much more defined and «rich». The first time I zoomed into this region I had «one particular story in mind», but this second time i had «dozens of stories (more or less interconnected) in mind». 

It was an almost «mystical experience» seeing how all the accumulated details fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I have always had «a lot of fun» when building the world, but this second top down draft was (in addition to being «a lot of fun») also incredibly satisfying in a way I have never before experienced… and in lack of a better word, it was quite «magical».

PS: All images are "just sketches" as I am still working on plotting inn all the above mentioned accumulated details.  

Un- inked "The Big Picture World Map".
(Format: A1 or 4xA3 / Scale: 1cm = 50km). 
Un- inked (and still sketching out the eastern part) "Detailed World Map"
(Format ca 200cm x 150cm or 60xA4 / Scale: 1 hex = 25 km)

Close Up of un- inked "Detailed World Map Sheet 14"
(Format: 1xA4 / Scale: 1 hex = 25 km).
Un- inked "Close Up Regional Map" (corresponding to World Map Sheet 14)
(Format: 12xA4 / Scale: 1hex =5 km).