Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hellenica Characters: Epaminondas

Last week we teased a few new characters we've been working on, and this week I thought I'd show off one of them in more detail.

Meet Epaminondas! If you think his name is daunting, wait until you meet him in person.

Epaminondas is our version of the great industrialists from a couple centuries ago, loosely based on the historical Epaminondas. He's a wealthy businessman heavily involved in the Theban railroad that has become vital to Greek development in Hellenica. As with most characters in Hellenica, there's more to him than meets the eye, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

Modeled loosely after Henry Clay Frick, we wanted Epaminondas to come off as stern and commanding. We thought a steampunk monocle would be a good touch, riffing off that 19th century industrialist vibe. The steampunk ledger also helped us communicate his constant involvement in business affairs.

YDY-CG nailed the look immediately, so there aren't too many decision details to dig into this time.

As always, let me know if there's anything I can add to these posts. I'll follow up next week with some info on our new character development process and another character!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Heard a Rumor

Problem 47,383 of creating a game with this sort of branching story is that it becomes difficult to do any foreshadowing. After two levels of branching, the player could conceivably be on any of 6 social hubs, meaning that only 1/6th of the time would the player experience a particular foreshadowed event.

One of the ways we work around this is by making foreshadowing details serve alternate purposes as well. Early game conversations about luddites and Spartan civil war certainly allude to events that could happen later. And if you happen to hit on one of those specific events, awesome. But if not, then the conversations still serve a purpose in helping introduce some of the main NPCs and framing the first story-branching choice.

To this end, we've recently been working on act 2 rumors aimed at setting up 6-different transitions into act 3 (more on the act structure here). On the surface, these rumors will just be world flavor dialogue being provided by gossiping NPCs, but they'll each be setting up a specific act 2 -> act 3 transition.

There's still a lot to be done system-wise, from making sure rumors don't repeat (easy) to making sure you always hear the appropriate foreshadowing rumor on your way to act 3 (hard), but I'm confident we'll figure those out. Maybe we'll even have a blog post somewhere down the line explaining how.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Two Roads to Thebes

(The following post contains moderate story spoilers)

So after some time making sure our artists had enough reference and direction to keep going for a while, it's back to writing for me.

Recently, I've turned my attention to the party’s visit to Thebes in level 5 of our story. Problem 47,382 of creating a branching storyline is that unless you want an exponential increase in the amount of writing at each level, different story paths need to tie back into each other. However, since one of our goals is that whatever path the player takes should proceed as naturally as "the path" in most RPGs, we devote a lot of energy to eliminating any noticeable seams or narrative jerks that can happen when paths recombine (in addition to our perpetual efforts to modify dialogue based on the specific path the player has taken).

Level 5 Thebes has proved a tricky case for this, because while the previous social hubs feature the same sort of [introduction -> adventure] plot point (expounded on here), they accomplish this tone shift in very different ways, necessitating some extra custom writing to help steer them towards Thebes.

In one path, the party finds itself overwhelmed as the Spartan rebels use mystical powers to grievously wound Diona. They are rescued by the arrival of the mysterious swordsman, Scylax, who takes them to the island home of the sorceress Circe to recover. There they learn about the mystical nature of the foe they face.

How we get to Thebes:
Scylax wasn't the only one interested in the movements of the party. A skulking figure has followed the party since they left Sparta. IF the player chooses to investigate who it is (again, the player has three choices where their story will go from here), they'll find it's Nyx, a member of a Theban spy organization known as the Shadows. The party's foray into Sparta has gotten the Shadows’ attention, so Nyx invites them to Thebes, promising her master will answer their questions...


In the other path, an assassination has plunged Athens into political chaos. A luddite demagogue has seized control of the city, rallying mobs against steam technology and preparing for wars against cities that embrace it.

How we get to Thebes:
Even though Plato doesn't think highly of Thebes, ("Thebes isn’t a city as much as an assembly line, they wouldn’t douse our fires unless it helped them build their railroad."), it's the closest city-state and the player can decide to seek help there. IF she does, the party will find the citizens mostly as unhelpful as Plato feared, but a mysterious woman named Nyx thinks her master will be very interested in their story…

What happens next? And who is Nyx's mysterious master? Guess you'll have to play Hellenica to find out!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Hellenica Environments: Corinth

I'm no expert on the Mediterranean, but working on this game has certainly brought me closer. (Victor's another story; there's no doubt in my mind that he could rewrite half of the Wikipedia articles concerning ancient Greece at this point.) In Hellenica, your party of adventurers will trek to well-known locations like Athens, Sparta, and even a few mythical stops like the Isle of Circe, if you so choose.

One of the first locations you'll be able to visit is Corinth, a grim melding of steampunk fiction and Greek tragedy. Here's a brief run-down of the city and its recent history:

"Once a luxurious city second only to Athens in prestige and naval power, Corinth was devastated by Poseidon for its hubris in building an "unsinkable" ship. In addition to being struck by a tsunami, the city is ravaged by never-ending storms that ensure the flooded city cannot be rebuilt. A few former citizens still call the city home, living mostly in the ruins of a temple to Aphrodite, doing what they can to maintain it."

Victor's great at putting together these little snippets to establish the vision for the world. With this description in mind, he set out to gather relevant reference images: dilapidated, ancient cities, buildings overgrown with flora, and settlements flooded beyond habitation. After a bit of pruning, we let our talented artist, Daniel Thomas, run with it.

Daniel tried out a few different color palettes to help us explore different feelings for the scene. We ultimately thought that the greener hues created an unintentional sense of toxicity, so we went for the blue version. This specific hue of blue also evokes a sense of the supernatural for me, which I appreciated having for this ghost town.

We also played around a bit with placing characters in the scene here to see how well the two styles meshed. I think the preliminary trial looks promising, but we're still unsure if this is the right direction for us to take.

Here's the final image after Daniel spent a bit more time cleaning it up and addressing a few minor quibbles from us.

As with all of the art in our game, we strive to recreate ancient Greek forms and then dress them up with steampunk details. In this case, circumstances preclude an abundance of steampunk goodness (thanks Poseidon!), but you can still make out some of the infrastructure left around from the integration of steam technology.

So readers, where in ancient Greece would you like to visit? Maybe we can take you there in the next environment update!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hellenica Characters: Scylax

So, we've revealed three characters thus far, and each of them have been female. As I write this, it occurs to me that our readers may think the world we've created for Hellenica is solely populated by female warriors. As intrigued as I am by the concept, that's actually not the case. Fleshing out steampunk ancient Greece is challenging enough without contriving an explanation for the loss of an entire gender!

As proof, I present to you Scylax, the wandering swordsman:

Scylax is an expert swordsman who has been travelling the world for over a decade on a quest to restore the sacred fire to his temple. His adventures have granted him experience, wisdom, and even a powerful weapon, but if you've ever played any role-playing games, you already knew that. Don't worry, he's got a few surprises up his sleeves yet.

This is the initial sketch put together for us by the people over at YDY-CG. We had a lot of elements to fit into a single portrait given his extensive travels. We envisioned influences from Greece, Persia, and even the mystical (eastern-styled) realm of Hyperborea. The talented artists over at YDY were able to make it work for us though, and after a few minor tweaks we moved on to some coloring.

Our first pass looked promising, but we felt the dark colors gave the impression that he is a villain when actually he is quite the opposite.  Additionally, we still had some qualms with his upraised, fireball-wielding hand. It's hard to keep someone comfortably engaged in a conversation when you're threatening them with immolation at point blank range! Since we're using these portraits for the dialogue portions of Hellenica, we thought we still needed to tone it down a bit.

Here's where we ended up! The color palette feels more strongly tied to his relationship with fire, and the matching beard and hair in addition to some facial expression tweaks gives him the age that he needs to seem older and wiser.

What do you think?

If you'd like to check out more character art from Hellenica, head on over here!