Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Path to Hellenica

As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post, a big concern for trying to make a 4-hour JRPG is the problem of exposition. It’s not enough to just have a wide world to explore; for a quest to feel appropriately epic, the locations along it need to have history and culture and characters associated with them. But building all that background from scratch tends to chew up a lot of game time, which we don’t have.

We needed a setting a player could get into without the 3-10 hour introductory course many RPGs find mandatory. Yet paradoxically, we also felt our setting needed a unique feel to keep it from getting lost in the JRPG crowd…

The question of what might have been if the Greeks had realized the potential of the Aeolipile has haunted me since I first learned about the early steam engine in 6th grade. But it wasn’t until much later, when an AC2 puzzle led me to google the Antikythera mechanism that I began to wonder if the Greeks couldn’t have somehow combined the two. However, these musings remained dormant until we began struggling to solve the aforementioned exposition problem.

Most people had at least a vague familiarity with ancient Greece—they had heard of Socrates, knew (at least partially) what the Spartans were all about, and wouldn’t be confused by Zeus or his related pantheon. It certainly wasn’t enough of a setting by itself, but it gave us a solid base to begin building a story on.

As an additional benefit, Greek history is an RPG goldmine, replete with interesting characters, feuding cities, a variety of cultures, mystic prophecies, friendships and betrayals, and even great monuments which remain iconic to this day.

And while two millennia of retellings (and history classes) have robbed the setting of some of its vitality and freshness, we bring new energy to the world of ancient Greece by reimagining it in the wake of a steampunk revolution.

Athens will tighten the grip on its empire with ironclad steamships, the Spartans bolster their undefeatable land forces with steam-powered mechs, and the mathematician Pythagoras’ cult is rumored to be building machines with souls. These and many other unique elements provide the dynamic background against which our party of heroes will set off on their epic quest.

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