Friday, December 23, 2011
The Song of Roland, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Other Tales
Apparently, I am going to have to write my own script. I know all the scenes, and basically what is said in them. With my creativity being distributed across other areas of design, however, I do not feel that I write it the way it deserves to be written. I will take this space to explain what I have in mind.
My approach towards game direction is similar to Howard Hughes' film direction (you may want to look this up). I spent a lot of time studying a lot of materials. I would play an RPG until I came across something I liked for use in Valor Seed, and then quit playing it. I downloaded ripped graphics from dozens of video games, studying them intently to find the logic in their designs. The story of Valor Seed I handled no differently.
I said below that the original storyline was made up by myself and Robert, with each of us taking turns declaring what the next event would be. I had an outline, so next came designing the world.
Designing a setting for an RPG usually begins with fantastically re-imagining medieval Europe. I did not avoid doing this with Valor Seed. Since it is not, however, medieval Europe, I did what I wanted with it. The setting not being Earth removed any need for certain equivalencies to be made, so the population would be of people with different ethnogeneses, now part of a singular ethnicity. I figure that a world full of RPG monsters really puts the stupidity of discriminating against other humans over yours and their physical differences into perspective.
Yasumi Matsuno's Ivalice setting was undoubtedly the biggest inspiration, initially, for what my world was to be. Ultimately, however, its most significant impact was what I named the setting. I named the setting (a country) Pharamonde, because it sounded Ivalice-y.
I did not want to make the game that dark, though. I wanted a good balance of humor to go along with the drama. So what I wound up with was a game that sort of combined pop-culture characters with a dark fantasy setting. Buffy the Dragon Slayer?
Religion, in most RPGs, always seems to err on the side of Catholicism. I can guess the reasons for this, as Catholics have the coolest buildings (not saying the Buddhists' are not cool). I started to go in this direction, too. Maybe I changed my mind to be different, or maybe because making the maptiles for a cathedral would be torturous, but I did decide to go another way. I wanted to use a religion of passive-aggression that would undermine the games' heroes for being too heroic. This religion would also be secular, which makes no sense at all. A religion where a divine power mandates that all people should be secularists. Basically, apply The Veil of Ignorance to the methods of the Spanish Inquisition. Its pretty much Kurt Vonnegut's Chinese Hell. This religion, at the suggestion of my friend Jeremy, would come to be called The Calm. To put it simply, the religion tells you not to go out of your way to achieve anything beyond what is minimally necessary. Why, hello there, saeculum obscurum. Now, do not think for even a second that any part of my game will be devoted to preaching anything. I came up with this as fiction. Though The Calm is significant part of the story, in no way is Valor Seed a veiled propaganda tool. I want to make a game, here. I just feel that the more details the setting has, the easier it will be to indirectly describe them when depicted in-game.
I read an interview with Soraya Saga where she described how her back story for the Figaro brothers in Final Fantasy VI is why Figaro was a desert. I took a lot from that. So, here I go. Firstly, joining the perspective of the player with that of the characters is important. Each character should work also as an expository tool to introduce the player to a part of the setting. If the setting is an extension of the character, or inversely, if the character is a representation of the setting, does not matter. The point is, that Figaro is a desert kingdom because Edgar and Sabin lived in a desert kingdom.
I believe in heroes. I believe that every adventure should have a romantic lead character. My very first impression for such a character took the form of Ramza from Final Fantasy Tactics. Ramza was benighted by his be-knighted father's legend, and he became just a legend himself, but not for the sake of gaining one (he also got exploded). Though the game did not really detail what Barbaneth Beoulve had become famous for doing, specifically, it did not matter. I did not want to really imitate anything about Ramza beyond this, however. I will go into this more later, but my kinds of heroes never lose their panache.
The Song of Roland is one of the best stories/poems, ever (as well as the literary origin of the vastly misinterpreted Paladin). In it, Roland, a heroic knight, fights and dies, against a host of enemies twenty-times greater than his own. He dies (I allege from a stroke) blasting out a warning to his king, Charlemagne, and falls dead facing the lands of his enemies.
The Song of Roland is the RPG. Its all based on him, seriously. Knights with named swords? Roland. Final bosses? Roland. Rob Kuntz, the man who first included Paladin as a character class in Supplement I: Greyhawk for the original Dungeons & Dragons game, did so because of The Song of Roland. The first Final Fantasy game practically used the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons manuals as its outline. Joyeause, Almace, Durandal, Preciuse, Curtana, all of these swords originate in it. The Song of Roland, and by extension, the Matter of France, is at the heart of the video game RPG. I did not use much depicted in these works verbatim, but I used them as a model to craft similarly heroic tales. Interestingly, Orlandu (Orlandeau) is the Italian form of Roland. You know who I'm referring to.
The setting of Valor Seed places Pharamonde in a Dark Age following its repulsion of a foreign Crusade. The Crusade ended with the deaths of all of its heroic personalities. There was no victory for anyone involved, there was simply a return to the state of being before it all began with one significant difference: there was nobody to believe in, anymore. No King, no Roland the Hero. This is how The Calm snuck in. The Crusade was the product of men reaching too far for what they did not need. Therefore, if no men reach, no more Crusades will come. Blacksmiths quenched their forges, coopers left their barrels half-assembled, and everywhere the people cast away their gold and silver coins for their then pointlessness. Each town became an island in the wilderness, surviving all on their own. In the capital, the Heart of Pharamonde, the addle-minded Prince ignored the duties of the Royal Throne, Siege Pharamonde. With no strong Will guiding the Heart of Pharamonde, the land and its people stagnated.
The Calm, by way of the Surward Order of Knights, is the only martial power in the land. They wage a secret war against the old aristocracies, for fear they will conspire to again lead the people to ruin.
There are two conflicts present in Valor Seed. The first is the quest to save Pharamonde from the evil that threatens it. The second is to inspire the hearts and minds of the people who live in Pharamonde, by being their hero.
I had the initial concepts of who the characters would be pretty early on. As I came across various inspirations since that point, I was able to add more to them.
Fernand Lionel, son of Roland Lionel (the Hero), and his best friend Edgar Francisque (Edgar was taken from the random name given to the Prince of Cannock in my first playthrough of Dragon Warrior II) had their personalities inspired by Ferris Bueller and Cameron Frye. I really enjoyed the way Ferris browbeat Cameron into doing things, and how Cameron eventually stopped trying to rationalize going along with him. I am on the fence about whether or not to include Fourth Wall breaking narration. If anyone has any thoughts on that subject, let me know. John Hughes was just a magnificent writer. I do not like to write from the perspective of someone who has been through what they are writing about, I prefer to conceive how I think something might actually be like. I think Hughes probably did the same.
I'll go on more another time, I'm running out of fuel for now. Thank you for paying attention.