Friday, January 8, 2010

Setting Thoughts

I don't know how to start this entry... it's sort of a mash-up of thoughts running through my head, but by the time you get to the end, I think you'll see how it all comes together. The one thing I've been doing this past week is thinking about a game setting. A lot little elements occupy my mind, but I haven't tried to assemble them in any order. That's what I'm going to do now.

I've been playing a lot of Darksiders on Xbox. The game is a mash-up of God of War and Zelda, where you control War (one of the Four Horsemen) battling out demons on a shattered Earth. And it's this part that drew me to the game. While I enjoy the action and game play, I catch myself oogling the scenery. The twisted skyscrapers leaning precariously over smashed asphalt. The rusted cars littering the streets. The empty windows staring out like eye sockets on a skull. It's creepy and eerie, and I love it.

Why do I love the apocalypse? Indeed, why do any of us? It's a popular genre right now, if you look at the movies being made. 2012, Book of Eli, Zombieland, hell you can go all the way back to The Road Warrior and Logan's Run... We like thinking about the end of the world, likely because we like to see how we're going to survive it. I'd go so far as to say that post-apocalyptic movies are uplifting; they say "we're going to make it."

But this isn't an analysis of the genre, so let's get back to the point. One culture that's obsessed with the end of the world is the Japanese. In their popular culture, there's often some kind of war that's radically changed everything: Vampires rise up to found their own empire; people squat in a once-verdant desert, attempting to resurrect ancient technologies; survivors try to find clues to the cause of the world-shattering event... It's no surprise that the Japanese focus on the aftermath of war, considering they're the only ones to experience a nuclear bomb, which radically altered their traditional society. Since I'm going to emulate a Japanese anime with my setting, you can already tell the direction I'm taking.

The last comparable event to the "end of the world", to my mind, was the collapse of the Roman Empire and the start of the Dark Ages. Not really the "end of the world" in the sense that we currently think of it, but it was still pretty nasty. The collapse of central authority led to the rise of the Catholic Church, which, with it's supra-national organization, could not only keep things going, but also preserved a great deal of knowledge. A Canticle for Liebowitz marries the Church to the survival of the human race after a nuclear holocaust.

Which brings me to the Antikythera mechanism. This device was discovered in the waters off Greece in 1900. It consists of delicate gears and cogs for tracking the sky (including accounting for the moon's elliptical orbit, even though they didn't know it was elliptical, as well as when the Olympics should be held), and speaks of a level of technological sophistication heretofore unknown for the time. The Antikythera mechanism was likely made in Sicily, and was apparently mass produced, some 1500 years before we would be able to produce it again. We're not talking Chariots of the Gods type stuff here. The question remains not "how did they get it" but "why haven't we found more"? It speaks to the idea that we've lost more knowledge than we know.

(You can find out more about recent discoveries on the mechanism here:

That's an idea I'd like to see explored in a game. As it stand now, it'll be post-apocalyptic, with the Church rising again to shepherd and guide humanity. There'll be smashed cities crawling with monsters, and stuffed with loot the characters can only guess at. But most importantly, because this is supposed to be an Old-School game, there is no central story I'm trying to tell. Moreover, no where will I explain any of this. I want it to emulate those pulpy tales of weird science and sorcery existing side-by-side, without a lot of explanation. I want the players to come to it in media res.

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