Rhakaa Story Document

Another project I worked on for a short time was called Astrae, a puzzle platformer set deep in an alien installation. The player is a young explorer who gets embroiled in a conflict between the last two avatars of the Rhakaa, a long-dead civilization of avian warriors. My first task was to write about what Rhakaa life was like during the reign of their empire.

Unfortunately, my graduate school studies cut into my ability to work on this delightful game and I had to step away from the project. Please give the development team some of your time and check out the progress they made on their unique property.

Biology

The Rhakaa (Ere’kh for ‘the Risen’) were a bipedal humanoid species. They were believed to have stood upwards of seven feet tall, with long claw-like appendages and fringes of feathers attached to their arms and legs. Rather lean and muscular, they had the ability to leap to high locations with ease and even glide for short distances.

History

The Rhakaa civilization, from the few records available, spanned nearly 10,000 years of history, originating from the planet Aramkesh (‘Land of Ancients’). Early information shows they lived in various disorganized clans, until many of the clans united under the leadership of the Rhakaa who would become the first Emperor, Corthayx I. Instituting a harsh, militaristic caste system, he conquered much of the territory on Aramkesh during the Unification and ruled over a warrior culture that culled any weaknesses or imperfections. He founded the empire’s capital, Teryx, which became a major trade hub over the course of centuries.

It is not known how or when the Rhakaa achieved spaceflight, but at some point in their empire, a technological renaissance occurred and soon after, their empire exponentially expanded, claiming planets with ease and even expanding outward to new star systems. It was also around this point that the Rhakaa began to experiment with cybernetics and genetic engineering, fine-tuning their biology to push their bodies beyond what was considered possible. Over the course of millennia, as their DNA became more and more modified, it became aware that their genetic code was rapidly unraveling and mutating, placing their society in imminent peril of destruction. A coalition of members of various castes, under the leadership of the last emperor, Xanthot III, set to the task of building Aerie sanctuary facilities to study the degradation and develop a cure. The afflicted were placed into stasis and the healthy were divided into two groups: those who would defend what remained of the empire, and those who actively researched a cure. As their numbers dwindled, the remaining Rhakaa created AI Overseers to run the facilities and assist in the research. Ultimately, the last of the Rhakaa entered stasis, now completely relying on the Overseers to save their people.

Aerie Keshkaa-0 is the only such facility whose location is currently known. The facility is maintained by Overseers Seq and Myz, named after the Primes Seq’rha the Elegist and Myzandir the Centurion. The two performed as programmed, with Seq developing a fondness for the Rhakaa and Myz becoming more assertive and experimental. When the final Rhakaa went into stasis, Seq began to pressure Myz into developing a cure for their creators, while Myz kept up security measures to keep the creators’ safe from the enemies that encroached upon their territory. As supplies dwindled and became virtually nonexistent, Myz attempted to wrest control of the Sanctuary out from under Seq. In retaliation, Seq restricted Myz’s access to the facility’s systems, further slowing down research. The conflict eventually came to a head when Seq attempted to regain full access to the Sanctuary, resulting in a degradation of the facility and the main generator to malfunction. Backup power was eventually restored, but the Rhakaa stasis pods had been too badly damaged in the outage. By the time repair drones were sent to fix the pods, the Rhakaa were long-since dead.

Culture

The Rhakaa are obsessed with perfection and, as a result, their desire to achieve perfection is reflected in every aspect of their life. The symbol of the Rhakaa is the Hexagon, where each side represents one of the Six Virtues of Rhakaa culture: Tenacity, Ferocity, Sagacity, Vitality, Adaptability, and Austerity. Rhakaa architecture expresses this obsession with the hexagon. Their structures are linear with harsh, imposing shapes and angular geometry contrasted with the organic world surrounding them.

The Rhakaa are quick to remove any sort of weakness from their ranks. As a result, many Rhakaa do not live past adolescence. Those that do are given the opportunity to prove themselves in the  Ritual of the Claw, a week-long coming-of-age ceremony and series of tests, which ultimately determines the caste each Rhakaa will be a member of; until the Ritual, Rhakaa children are borne into the caste of their parents. Trials of strength, intelligence, and durability push each Rhakaa to the test, with those that survive becoming the next paragons of Rhakaa culture.

The Rhakaa do not believe in deities, instead opting to worship the ancient champion Primes of their people. All Emperors are included in this pantheon of Primes, as well as those who gave up much, including their lives, to protect Rhakaa civilization. Different Primes are called upon to assist in numerous situations; Zhaquir the Fastidious, for example, is channeled when Rhakaa are called to make a tough situation about their own lives or futures.

Government

The Rhakaa are ruled over by a singular Emperor, who assigns various Viscounts to govern over the regions of the Rhakaa Empire. The Empire was founded by Corthayx I the Sovereign, and his bloodline continued to rule over the Rhakaa until the last emperor, Xanthot III the Unguis.

Viscounts are determined by the current living emperor and can be replaced at any time, if the Emperor sees fit. One record indicates that a number of Viscounts planned to overthrow Emperor Takhirius I the Nefarious; in response to this potential coup, Takhirius had every Viscount replaced, with each new lord having to slay their predecessor. Rarely has such a culling of Viscounts occurred during the Rhakaa’s reign.

Military

After completing the Ritual of the Claw, each new Rhakaa adult would begin military training and service. The Rhakaa military was divided up into several ranks. Hunters made up the frontline troops and served under Greatwings, commanders that also acted as law enforcement for the Empire. Shadowsteps worked as scouts, envoys, ambassadors, and even spies.

Although the Emperor ultimately presides over the military, each Emperor also assigns a Suncrest general to advise in tactical situations and, in rare cases, act with impunity.


Special thanks to Leonora Moran and the Laguna College of Art and Design, for turning me onto this project.

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We’ll Save the Princess! Documents

Though this project ultimately never came to fruition beyond a short demo, We’ll Save the Princess! was a fun strategy role-playing game I designed, tasking players to traverse a fantasy world and complete random confrontations within a certain time frame. Part-Oregon Trail, part-Final Fantasy, this game would feature over one hundred unique encounters, ten playable classes, and multiple endings and milestones to reward players across playthroughs.

DesignDoc_v9
Encounters

These slides would have been used during the introduction cutscene. Click an image to scroll through and read the game’s backstory.

Character art for two playable classes, the Ranger and the Rogue, and a Bandit enemy.


Perhaps one day, Princess will see the light of day. Until then, however, these documents will remain as a testament to this amusing little project.

Special thanks to Mike Stimpson, Logan Jensen, and Kevin Hewitt, for their roles in the development of this property.

 

Aortic Defender

Do you have what it takes to safe the internal city of Christown from viral threats? In this short tower defense game, players take the role of Anne T. Bodie, a gunslinger who uses her immunoglobulins to protect her home from bacterial invaders.

This was another project on which I was designer and producer, creating different tower and enemy types. Part of my goal was to give the game a sense of “realism”, giving the units names and properties that attempted to match their real-world counterparts. Each tower is a different form of white blood cell and enemies are different viruses.

Download Aortic Defender

Special thanks to Joshua Smith, Kevin Hewitt, Sasha Conaway, and Ellen Beizer, for their roles in developing this short project.

Slow Down or You’ll Die!!

What sort of monster would create a video game about falling off of a building?

Me. I would. That’s what I did.

Another project for my game development studies at university, Slow Down or You’ll Die!! is my attempt to create a short, 30-second game. It’s easy to control, but one wrong movement, and you can end up like ketchup all over the concrete. It’s a relatively simple game, made purely to showcase my base capabilities as a game designer. I hope you make it to the bottom.

Download Slow Down or You’ll Die!!

Special thanks to Julien Fournell, for his help with the programming.

Super Han Solo

So I heard you like Star Wars

Well, what a coincidence, because I do, too! In fact, Star Wars is probably the biggest influential piece of media on my personality. A New Hope is one of the first movies I have the memory of watching, so obviously it was hugely fundamental in forming me into the beautiful ball of nerd that I am today. Between that and my excitement towards the then-newly released The Force Awakens, I felt obligated to create an homage to it.

Which leads to Super Han Solo. Beginning as a project for a Level Design class, I created a short platforming level and art assets to go along with it, where you can control Han Solo as he races across the Tatooine desert to reach the Mos Eisley cantina. Along the way, there are Millennium Falcon tokens to collect, falling pitfalls to avoid, and Chewbaccas to placate.

Download Super Han Solo

Special thanks to Derek Prate, for writing the base code.

Ludonarrative Dissonance in Modern Gaming

Woah, that’s a pretty wordy title. Let’s see if we can condense and contextualize it.

When we play video games, we experience the gameplay (ludology) and the story (narratology) attempting to entertain and immerse us in the game’s universe (no, this won’t be a talk about hyperreality and immersion, but it is related). Developers want us to be immersed in the games they create; they want us to continue playing the game so we praise it and help the developer to sell more units. It really is as utilitarian as it seems. When we cannot immerse ourselves, we aren’t entertained by the game, and we either sell the game back to a retailer, tell our friends not to buy the game, or both. This is something developers attempt to work against. However, due to the sole fact that the game is, in fact, a “game” and not reality, the gameplay often comes into conflict with the story the game is attempting to tell. This, when gameplay and story contradict one another, is ludonarrative dissonance.

The term was first coined by game developer Clint Hocking, in a 2007 article about how the themes of selflessness presented in Bioshock‘s story are at odds with the rewards of selfishness in its gameplay. I’m going to outline how three modern video games, all released in 2013, are affected by this contention of gameplay and storytelling.


Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider acts as a prequel to the critically-acclaimed franchise. Before she became a world-famous archaeologist and adventurer, Lara Croft goes on her first exploration on a deserted Japanese island, shrouded in mystery and mythology, as she attempts to find her friends after their ship crashes offshore. Stumbling through the forest, she is even squeamish about killing deer for food; she is uncomfortable with weapons. Fast-forward a little bit and she’s attacked by a crazed man attempting to rape and murder her. In an act of self-defense, she shoots the man, killing him. Before this point, you are not given any weapons. As you play, however, you learn to pick up items, interact with the environment, and finally, you’re given the ability to fight against humanoid enemies with weaponry. Within the process of play, you’re taught how to affect the environment with your items, and so when you finally get your hands on a gun, you use your gamer instincts to kill. And kill. And kill. You slaughter hundreds of humans throughout the remainder of the game without a second thought. The game inherently encourages your acts of violence while telling you that Lara is discouraged by them. What should be a difficult and traumatic act for Lara has become trivialized in the context of action-adventure gameplay. Though the game attempts to make Lara more comfortable with killing after shooting her would-be-rapist in the head, it doesn’t make sense how she is now okay with mowing through other people as easily as a war veteran.


Bioshock Infinite

The protagonist of Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt, is given a task by enigmatic figures, who tell him to “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt,” a vague set of instructions that has the private detective travelling to the paradisaical city of Columbus, hidden above the clouds, to steal away Elizabeth, the daughter of the city’s leader and chief religious figure. Given the importance of this task, and the fact that you’re being chased by the city’s police force for being a False Prophet, you would expect to find and extract Elizabeth as quickly as possible. But between fighting through Father Comstock’s unending army, you search through trash cans and alleyways to find health-replenishing food. Booker becomes the epitome of a glutton, chasing away seagulls for a few bites at a half-eaten hot dog. Finding restorative items makes sense to us as gamers; the character is hurt and needs to replenish his/her health. You can accomplish this by using medical kits found throughout the city, but as these are few and far between, your primary source of healing comes from sifting through the Colombians’ refuse.

I want to quickly address, however, a concern that many analysts had with Bioshock Infinite‘s gameplay, chiefly the amount of violence in it. Most critics had an issue with the fact that the gameplay was violent, as this did not reflect the nature of Booker’s character, in a similar vein to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. However, the violence in Tomb Raider is dissonant because Lara goes from never having killed to massacring hundreds with barely any transition; she does not come from a violent background. Booker, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where over 150 Lakota Native Americans died. Booker is a war veteran who has experience with violence and weapons. The fact that he fights through Comstock’s forces in Columbia is not a ludonarrative issue.


The Last of Us

The Last of Us, despite being my favorite game of 2013, is not free from the grips of ludonarrative dissonance. Twenty years after a fungal epidemic plagues the planet, grizzled smuggler Joel attempts to escort Ellie, a young girl who is somehow the key to a vaccine, across the country. The visuals are breathtaking, the story is heart-wrenching, and the gameplay is…well, it has problems. It’s your standard third-person shooter, with the added difficulty of stealth and survival horror elements. Going into an encounter guns-blazing is not the best option, so you’re forced to scrounge for materials in a post-apocalyptic world and take out soldiers, gang members, and Infected as sneakily as possible. Each of these elements adds to the narrative the developers are trying to create, but in an effort to ease frustration on the part of the player, they have instead created a hilariously dissonant gameplay element: Ellie cannot be seen in stealth. Sure, enemies can attack and grab her once you’ve made your presence known, but while you’re skulking in dark corners, the AI cannot see Ellie, even when she’s literally right in front of them. Yes, it makes sense from a gameplay perspective to not punish the player for the work of the companion AI, but from a narrative perspective, it makes little to no sense why these bloodthirsty and vicious enemies don’t notice a fourteen-year old, foul-mouthed, badass girl.


Ian Bogost, in his article on procedural rhetoric, discusses how the inherent rules of a video game can reflect and make arguments about the real world because of its interactive nature. Each of the aforementioned games attempt to follow this process by having a story that is reflected through its gameplay. However, when the gameplay and storytelling elements clash, it is ultimately the gameplay that wins out because of the very definition of a game: it is a digital, interactive, structured form of play. Storytelling and art can be part of how the game is experienced, but it is the rules and forms of play itself that inform how a game truly is a game. So because the story is so integral to these games, to the point where it can affect how the gameplay is experienced, ludonarrative dissonance occurs and we are forced to reconsider the processes by which we create and enforce the rules of a game.

We Play: How YouTube is Creating an Interactive Community

Gaming has, quite obviously, evolved in recent years. Whereas in its earliest, arcade years, video games were about obtain the highest scores, games are now about “the experience.” Games try to incorporate you into their worlds, have you empathize with their characters, and positively change you as a person. Above all, though, games try to be fun or interesting, if not both. Regardless of the game’s goals, if you enjoy playing it, you’ll want to share it. In the past, you’d have to invite a friend over and either swap the controller every few turns or play a multiplayer game. Nowadays, modern consoles, like the Playstation 4, have “Share” functions that allow you to post a screenshot or video to the Internet. Video games are best when the experience of play, whether single-player or multiplayer, is shared. And this is best shown through the interactive community of YouTube.

I started using YouTube back in middle school, when a friend of mine videos that people had made of tracks in a game called Line Rider. I was shocked by the sheer skill that these people had in creating seemingly-impossible tracks. So, using YouTube, I began finding more Line Rider videos. And then more gaming videos. And then random videos. The Related Videos sidebar became a hypertext highway that I could access with my fingertips and a little thought power. I wanted to be a part of this experience. YouTube, and other content creation websites, allowed anyone to make an account and share their content with the world. So I made a channel, posted a couple of videos to it, and, after a few months where the majority of the views came from me refreshing the page, I closed it down.

Watching more popular channels like Smosh or the PBS Idea Channel, I realized how they could succeed in the over-saturated market of YouTube, where literally millions post videos every day. It’s because these channels engage with their own specific audiences in their own specific rhetorical styles. They aren’t trying to make everyone happy; they understand the audience to whom their videos are catered. These people, through years of practice (and sometimes failure), figured out the craftsmanship behind their field, and thus learned the psychological and marketing techniques that allow them to succeed. Anyone can post a video; these people are creating content. Content which anyone can interact with.

Credit to WikiHow.

Pick a random video on YouTube. Go ahead, I’ll wait; it’s not like this page is going anywhere anytime soon. Now, take a look at the entire page the video is located on. You’ll see comments, related videos, video responses; anyone who has a YouTube account can reply to a video (or say something completely different). The discourse community for the Internet has widened even further.

So how does this relate to gaming? Think about it: people can post videos sharing their gaming experiences! Whether in a game review or, now more commonly, Let’s Plays, anyone can share their experience with a game to the world and add their own viewpoints. Popular channels like Angry Video Game Nerd or PewDiePie thrive because they are enjoyable to watch (to some) and can, at times, offer insightful commentary. I certainly got into channels like these, my favorite being Game Grumps.

Having met the Grumps before, I can say that they offered some of the most insightful and friendly comments I’ve heard from any celebrity. These people are not only genuinely entertaining on their own channel, but they’re super inclusive and always welcome discourse with the community. Whether discussing their favorite games, issues within the gaming industry, or something as random as their favorite cereals, the Grumps enjoy simply talking with their “lovelies,” regardless of the subject. Arin, Danny, Ross, Barry, and Suzy care about the community. And the inspiration they imparted onto me has led me to attempt another YouTube channel. The barrier for entry may be large, the market may be over-saturated with less-professional channels, and the chances of popularity may be slim, but that’s unimportant. What matters now is that my co-host and I are adding our own voice to the community. We’re using YouTube to its fullest extent: to reach out to a specific community and add our own voice to the discussion.

Me hanging out with Arin and Suzy of Game Grumps. What beautiful people.