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Comments (0) · Permalink · General mischief · Not rated (0 votes)
May 13 2009, 05:02 AM

Well, I don't know if anybody is reading the blogs, but here goes.

I am so sorry I suddenly vanished into the mists of cyberspace. In my own defense, you would not believe the year I have had! I don't even believe it and I lived it.

Last spring business in my company, Second Wind Co., Ltd., picked up astronomically. Unfortunately, it wasn't the profitable kind of business, just the busy kind. Our customers demanded some major revisions to the texts we use and I had to coordinate with the intellectual property right holder in California to get each and every revision approved. In the midst of all that, one of their European clients opened a customer service office here in Japan and wanted us to abide by the same financial and reporting contracts they had in Europe and America. It took some hard negotiations and explicit revealing of some internal numbers to convince them that we have a much different cost structure here in Japan and as a result, it simply was not possible to accommodate the limits and payment schedules they were used to. That also meant we had to negotiate a completely different system that would both meet their needs and cover our costs.

As if that were not enough, my father and stepmother joined my sister in Ohio and brought along my uncle, concentrating my surviving family members in a state I had never even visited. Then one of my sons decided he wanted to take a whirlwind tour of America and while he was at it, spend time with his grandfather in Ohio. At the last minute, my wife asked if I wanted to spend time in Ohio as well, so I agreed. Well, I got there and fell in love with the place.

Then the economy tanked.

Crisis brings with it opportunity, so after some delicate and time-consuming negotiation, I convinced my wife we should start planning on retiring in Ohio. We spend days and days combing the internet and assembled a list of nearly a hundred properties to look at, including several companies that build houses. We went back to Ohio together and viewed most of them. We finally settled on four acres in Wayne County and are now waiting for the paperwork to arrive so we can sign the papers and mail off the check. Once we receive the deed, then begins the long, laborious process of arranging to have a house built on the land.

Over the past year I have stopped in here from time to time to have a look-see, but did not have time to make a forum post or contribute additional material. I'm saddened to see the project finally had to be abandoned, but unfortunately, when team members must balance volunteerism with normal life, sometimes normal life becomes overwhelming; when that happens, volunteerism loses out.

For me, things are going to continue to be hectic for at least the remainder of this year, so I don't know if I will have much chance to stop in and chat. Whenever possible, though, I'll stop by and see how everyone is doing. Being able to contribute to this project was a great honor, and I have the highest regard for everyone here.

And in the end, no one knows what the future will bring. Maybe one of us will win the lottery or something.
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Comments (1) · Permalink · General mischief · Not rated (0 votes)
Jun 23 2008, 05:16 AM

Yes, I am still here, and yes, I am still alive. This year has gotten off to a very rough start and not a single plan has gone as expected, personal or professional. As a result, I am in the midst of rebuilding my plans for the second half of the year and struggling to find some way to work in time for Project Wish.

Although, if Miguel keeps messing around with templates even the time I can arrange might not result in anything creative getting done! sad.gif
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Comments (1) · Permalink · General mischief · Not rated (0 votes)
Mar 29 2008, 07:31 AM

Yesterday my son and I went to see the new Disney movie, "Enchanted". For me, it was as close to a perfect movie as the modern world has ever come. The balance of characters, events, places, scenes, transitions, music, story, so forth and so on was completely and totally flawless. It was hilarious, uplifting, satiric, sarcastic, serious, whimsical, and loaded with social commentary in the time-honored traditions established by Walt Disney himself. It was, hands down, the single most entertaining movie I have seen since the mid-eighties when Hollywood offered us "Back to the Future" and "Indiana Jones and the Search for the Lost Ark".

It opens in the kind animated world that Disney created the template for with Snow White and Cinderella. The first ten minutes are loaded with intimate and revealing allusions to so many Disney classics it is impossible to keep track of them all. The overall sentiment is intentionally over-the-board melodramatic and sickly saccharine. Then the evil-stepmother-disguised-as-an-old-hag pushes the princess down the bottomless well and the story really takes off!

From that point on the humor and social commentary does not stop. Every single frame is loaded with philosophical conflicts, biting social criticisms, and familiar Disney themes presented in a thoroughly modern and realistic social context. Walt Disney theaters have not made a movie like this since Walt stepped down from the top chair. In whatever technicolor paradise he finally landed in, Walt is surely smiling.
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Comments (1) · Permalink · Story development · Not rated (0 votes)
Mar 16 2008, 05:18 AM
There are days when no matter how much I accomplish, it just is not enough. sad.gif Today was one of those.

Everything concerning every region is now being added directly to the internal Wiki. This knowledgebase then becomes the foundation that the art, music, and programming teams refer to when they are making and accepting assignments. All of that is a wonderful idea, but it also expotentially expands the number of decisions and descriptions I have to come up with on my own.

Today I came up with descriptions for the pallisade and buildings in Three Bridge Outpost, a commercial and military settlement in the midst of the Oak forest. I also added descriptions of musical themes for several key points in the Three Bridge Outpost area. Then I went to the Oak Forest page and added some new creatures to the magical beastiary for the forest. From the moment a person enters the forest until the time they finally leave, I want them to encounter beasts that are both oddly familiar and shocking in their uniqueness. I'd like to have a dozen, but even after adding today's entries, I am still far from that number.

Now some people are going to read this and imagine I'm being too picky. After all, it's just one tiny forest in the midst of a much larger world, right? Well, the Oak Forest is about one-third of the Kandonda Region. Even so, all by itself the forest is nearly twice the size of most game worlds! If it were dropped into Lineage II, for example, it would cover both Dark Elf and Elfin lands, most of the area around Cruma Tower, and the entire town of Gludio! Over one-third of Lineage II's opening map would be enclosed in the area assigned to the Oak Forest alone.

This is a huge chunk of real estate. Keeping it diverse, interesting, and able to fulfill the needs of everything from a player's first day to the high-level demands of a two-year veteran entering the region for the first time (and yes, that does mean every step in between as well!) is proving to be far more challenging than I first imagined.

Oh, well. As long as I keep pecking away at it I'll get the job done. After all, I have already accomplished a huge amount. One day at a time, right? On the plus side, I am still moving forward. Nothing has had to be deeply redone, re-invented or re-imagined.

But there sure is a long ways to go... biggrin.gif
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Comments (1) · Permalink · General mischief · Not rated (0 votes)
Mar 8 2008, 07:21 AM

Well, it's been nearly a month since my last blog entry. My apologies. In addition to several additional maps and descriptions of the Kandonda region, I came back from a 10-day vacation to find a stack of work on my real-world desk and an all-new standard for cataloging story information here at Project Wish. Now, in addition to preparing story material, I actually have to organize and catalog it in the Project Wish Wiki! blink.gif My, oh, my.

It was inevitable, I suppose. Now that I have dived into Wiki tags and whatnot, it's not near as difficult as I'd imagined it would be, but it also means that almost every internal document I've prepared now has to be rewritten and reformatted for easy access by everyone! laugh.gif I guess I should have seen that one coming. cool.gif

So, in short, nothing new to report here, but that certainly doesn't mean I'm not busy! biggrin.gif
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Comments (0) · Permalink · Story development · Not rated (0 votes)
Feb 16 2008, 04:02 AM
I have been sooooo busy since my last entry a few days ago. My first idea was to continute mapping quadrants related to the Oak Forest, but then I got involved in a long discussion of how quests might be implemented. I have to say, I think the final idea (largely mine!) is going to wind up being one of the most innovative and creative quest systems ever to be offered in a MMORPG. I'm hoping it will be the kind of thing commentators and reviewers hold up to future games as a point of comparison. Whether our system is good or bad I'll leave up to them to decide, but I'm betting they'll like it. (Assuming, of course, we keep it! A "minor" point that is nowhere near certain.)

So there I was with a head filled with quest ideas and no inspiration for map sections. Okay, no problem, I have plenty of time and I can fill in the map while I'm on vacation next week. As a matter of fact, I will have neither computer nor internet access during my vacation, so spending downtime drawing maps sounds like a fine idea!

That and reading books. I have just started reading, "Character Development and Storytelling for Games", by Lee Sheldon. Superb book! The first two chapters felt like Mr. Sheldon had reached inside my head, pulled out my thoughts, arranged them in logical order, and then put them in a book. I agree 99% with everything he says in those first two chapters. Not a 100% though. There's a couple points where I think he is working too much on the story structure of television and not enough on the unique role that story plays in a game. In a game, after all, the audience is not sitting there passively taking in the story. They are interacting with it and even performing it in a very real way that is unlike anything television could ever hope to achieve. Players have more in common with single-minded actors determined to present their own interpretation of the story than with audience members viewing the final result of the actor's effort.

So anyway, back to the point. Between the quest discussion and Mr. Sheldon's book, my mind was filled with story ideas rather than map ideas. So I got out my writer's notebook and scribbled down a few outlines, sketched out some NPC dialogs, and spent several days reviewing my earlier notes on primeval oak forest ecologies (see Hutcheson Memorial Forest and Bialowieza Primeval Woodland for two quick examles).

As I pointed out in a previous entry, a primeval oak forest has a fascinating ecology, but there is one huge difference between real-world forests and the forest I am designing for Kandonda: Dryads. The Oak Forest in Kandonda is a magical forest filled with magical creatures. The most important of those are the Dryads who care for the old growth oak trees. A dryad, as you probably know, is a creature from Celtic and Druidic iconographies that entered mainstream imaginary worlds as a result of some early poets (such as Sir William Jones, John Keats, Siegfried Sassoon, and many others) and is even today a popular image in art and literature. But whatever else they might be, they are not available for scientific study!

Not to be deterred, I spent a few days working up a functional ecology for a magical oak forest dependent on Dryadic caretakers. Sadly, no, I am not going to post the whole thing here in this very public blog. There are two reasons for this, first, if and when the game goes live, I want every player to enjoy the magic of discovering the system for themself, and secondly, everything here at Project Wish is still in the very early planning stages so the entire system could easily wind up scrapped!

I will, however, post this one tiny tidbit to whet the appetites of anyone who might be reading: Dryad Encounter Flow Chart.

Remember, nothing is certain. The entire scheme might be junked at the tip of a hat, but in the meantime, there are some powerful hints at what we are working on behind the scenes. Too obscure to mean anything to anyone not on the inside. That much I am certain of! But still there, all the secrets of the universe hidden in the innocent white background of a simple flow chart.
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Comments (0) · Permalink · Story development · Not rated (0 votes)
Feb 8 2008, 04:56 AM

As I mentioned earlier, pre-visualization is a vital step that far too many writers overlook. I am still in the pre-visualization stage and have now produced seven maps of gradually increasing detail. For the moment, five of them are posted here. These maps are very early and over time, there will be many changes. I'm not much of an artist, but these clearly delineate the topography and ecological superstructure I am using as a framework to build Kandonda. Once the pre-visualization process is complete, I can start writing the individual stories of the many races, beasts, characters and places that the art and programming teams will transform into the Kandonda region.

One really nice thing about pre-visualization is it forces me to think about how things came about. Every step along the way from the first map to the most recent has revealed more and more of what kind of land the Kandondans live in and why their culture has formed the way it has. For example, I knew they would need farms, so right from the beginning I put in a stretch of farm land. That brought up two problems: what do they grow and how do they keep the monsters out of their fields?

After much thought and deliberation, I decided they would be winemakers. This allows for a lot of interesting story possibilities both locally and throughout the game world! If taverns and pubs across the land stock different varieties of Kandonda wine, then Kandonda becomes far more important to the reality of the game then just a region on a map. Players will encounter Kandonda wine in their starting towns, and as they travel through the world, it will become a standard feature of their gameplay. Then, when they suddenly find themselves passing through vineyards and quaint wineries in the Kandonda region itself, it will give them a grounding in the world that cannot be achieved through fancy equipment and high skill levels. It adds a touch of reality that will make the more intuitive of them stop and smile the first time they spot the virtual winery that makes their favorite virtual wine!

Capturing the player, drawing them into the world on a level they do not expect, this is the power of a well-told story. This is the magic that keeps a player coming back into a MMORPG long after their unwrapped copy of the newest FPS thrill ride has vanished beneath their dusty game console.

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Comments (3) · Permalink · Story development · Not rated (0 votes)
Feb 3 2008, 05:31 PM
You pick up a book by your favorite author, crack the cover and begin reading. The words flow smoothly from scene to scene, and in a couple days, you're done.

Maybe it's not a book, maybe it's a game. You log in, create a character, skim over text describing the various archetypes available to you, pick one, jump into the game world. You find yourself in a city somewhere. There are people who are controlled by the game, people who are controlled by other players, and if the game is very high quality, domesticated animals wandering through the streets and birds flying overhead. It takes just a few seconds to absorb the scene, a minute to read your first quest dialog, and then you're headed out to kill monsters and gain experience.

Getting to that point in the creative process, however, is never quite so simple.

Whether it's a bestselling novel, an ingame city, or a game quest dialog box, the process starts with pre-visualization of the final scene. No professional writer jumps in and starts writing, or not many of them anyway. They start with an outline, a descriptive draft, and sometimes, sketches and maps. It's only after all the pieces are in place that they start writing the block of text which after weeks of revision and rewriting, will become the opening page of a novel, a city scene in a game, or a quest description in a dialog box.

So that's what I've been doing the past few days. Thinking, imagining, and pre-visualizing the portion of the world that I will spend the next couple of months writing about. I've decided the wildlands will have three sections, each defined by altitude: oak forest on the valley floor, hardwood forest on the slopes, and an alpine forest in the higher elevations.

I started thinking about the oak forest first and trying to define it. I started here, because this will be the first wildlands players will encounter. A primeval oak forest is a very interesting ecology and there are very few examples remaining in the modern world. Not only is oak a highly desirable hardwood for furniture and house fittings, a primeval oak forest is a dark, frightening place. As oak leaves decay they fill the surrounding soil with an acid that prevents the growth of most grasses, flowers, and shrubs. As they age, an oak tree's trunk and canopy expand, which also expands the dead area beneath. In a fully mature, untouched oak forest, there are massive oaks with trunks two meters thick and huge canopies that each cover nearly a third of a football field. The canopy of each tree entangles with its neighbors until the total canopy becomes so dense that in summer almost no sunlight reaches the forest floor. Depending on where in the world the forest is, some version of either Spanish Moss or Mistletoe feeds off the bark, growing in clusters and creating an eerie, ghostly ambience in winter.

Oak forests are not completely devoid of life, however. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and other small mammals feed off the acorns. In spring, many varieties of birds make their nests in the lower branches. The rotting leaf floor that prevents the growth of grasses and shrubs, encourages worms, ants, and dozens of insect species that feed the birds. Fallen branches and dead trees provide food for many types of mushrooms and fungi, which in turn become food for many types of beetles. There are even a few beetles that feed on the oak trees, boring deep into the trunks and laying eggs which become grubs. Mistletoe flowers sustain moths, and a few butterflies as well. Occasionally a dead tree trunk will become home to a beehive that flies to meadows as far as five miles away to gather nectar.

Lacking tall grasses and heavy shrubs, all those small animals and birds have a hard time finding hiding places, which makes them easy pickings for foxes, small cat species such as bobcats, and sometimes even a far ranging wolf pack.

They do tend to be quite dark, however, and in a game like this one, rather than building tension after awhile darkness becomes kind of boring. So one of the things I'm trying to do is look for ways to inject some color into the oak forest. Not a lot, but patches here and there. One idea I came up for doing this is to create a colorful mushroom species that doesn't exist in the real world. If it makes it into the game, clusters of five or ten scattered through the forest will provide both much needed color and another resource for players to gather, encouraging them to leave the safety of the road and venture deeper into the forest where they'll encounter a variety of enemies, some quite deadly.

And assuming the display link works, below is the mushroom I envisioned. It has a rainbow-colored trunk, a two-tone brown and tan cap, and medium brown fins under the cap. At about a foot tall, it won't be very big, but in clusters of five or ten, the brightly colored trunks will provide easy to see spots of color that will tempt a passerby to leave the path and harvest their bounty, or maybe die trying.

Barrell Mushroom
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Comments (1) · Permalink · General mischief · Not rated (0 votes)
Feb 1 2008, 03:29 AM

Since I plan to be here for awhile, starting a blog seemed like a good way to keep whoever is interested appraised of the storybuilding progress I'm making, even when I stumble and have to backtrack.

For starters, let me say upfront what a privilege it is to be welcomed into the Project Wish team. Mutable Realm's "Wish" remains the most unique game I have ever played and to be part of a team dedicated to reviving the qualities that made the game memorable is exciting beyond belief.

I encountered Wish halfway through Beta 1.0. To be honest, I am not at all certain how they found my e-mail address because I had never heard of the game until the day an invitation arrived in my inbox. Expecting the worst, I went ahead and applied. To my great surprise, I was almost immediately accepted into Beta!

When I logged in for the first time I made a female gnome, partly in jest. Almost immediately I discovered I had stumbled into a truly unique game. Over the next few days my little gnome became a powerful Wizard specializing in Elemental Fire magic. In addition to throwing fireballs at enemies, I grabbed up a double-bladed axe at first opportunity and set about hacking down every tree I could find with viable resource potential. The combination of Wizadry and Lumberjacking also made her a potent fighter who could take off the majority of an annoying monster's life with a series of firespells and then finish it off almost casually with a couple axe blows. Wish's unique, interlocking, open skill system meant that with every tree I chopped down, my little gnome became that much better of a warrior.

The open skill system also meant I never encountered game time where I had nothing to do. As long as she carried the right tools, she could mine simple minerals, harvest fruit and flowers, chop down trees, hunt for meat or animal products, and even make simple cloths or refine basic metals! Since I decided I did not want to spend time Taming a mount, I told everyone she encountered that she was afraid of horses because they were so much bigger than her and had such huge teeth. Even walking, she was able to travel far and wide and visited many different cities and lands. Every day became a new challenge of finding out what lay over the next hill or around the next bend in the road. And every step she took contributed ever so slightly to her strength, constitution, and so on, improving her combat skills another notch.

I remember in one human town far from her home a human player asked her if she had any palm wood, a rare commodity in his lands. She sold him some. The player then began shouting for Belladonna, so she interrupted him and offered to sell him some of that, as well. Ever so casually, he then mentioned that the only thing he still needed was some sulfur for a reagent, so she dug around in her pack and added some to the trade window. All of those resources were items she had gathered on her own during her travels. No other game I have ever encountered allows such diversity of harvesting skills. Granted, without masteries Foraging and Mining were never as successful as Lumberjacking, but they were still possible!

I still vividly remember the day Wish suddenly shut down shortly after the start of Beta 2.0. Crazy as it might seem, that remains as one of the most disappointing, shocking moments of my life. I had already started asking how retail would be handled and begun arranging my budget so I could continue playing when Beta finished. It is hard to believe the closure of a game could have made such a lasting impact. No game cancellation before or since has hit me as hard, not even the closure of Auto Assault which I deeply enjoyed playing both in Beta and in retail.

And now here I am three years later. I owe a million thanks to Jerky who has done more than anyone to keep the dream alive. I owe a million more to the writers, programmers, artists, musicians and so on who have followed his lead and left a lasting mark on the current project. Maybe it sounds soppy and melodramatic, but I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to add my own meager contribution to the ongoing vision of the Project Wish team.

I will do whatever I can to make the next three years even more successful than the first three!
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Blog created: Feb 1 2008, 02:18 AM

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