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Author Topic: A Conlang for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons  (Read 955 times)

IndigoFenix

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A Conlang for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« on: October 12, 2018, 09:06:36 am »

You know how a lot of games have ruins, dungeons, and temples that do not in any way resemble ruins, dungeons, or temples but are instead a gauntlet of challenges for the player to overcome?

This is a weird idea to merge two of my biggest hobbies - ancient mysticism and game development - and design a culture, language, and spiritual framework for the dimension-hopping race who built the architectural enigmas found in so many games.

The system should make sense in context, while at the same time teaching principles of good game design.

It is tied in with the meta-plot of BoundWorlds (so there may be some spoilers here), but I thought it would be a good idea to give it its own topic since there are a number of aspiring developers on these forums.

This is pretty vague right now but I intend to expand on it as well as make it into a more cohesive system.

Core concepts:
The Architects believed that the world could only exist so long as a god's eyes were observing the world.  However, the gods are fickle creatures who are easily distracted by the affairs of the Outer World.  The purpose of a temple, therefore, is to sustain the world by entertaining the gods, causing them to continue looking at it.
Their worship centered around a Ritual where a priest would partake of a mind-blanking drug, causing them to enter a disassociative fugue state.  According to their beliefs, this state was caused by the possession of a god.  While in this fugue, they would run through the temple, facing challenges along the way.  If the fugue ended before the challenge was completed, it was taken as a bad omen, since it was believed the god had grown bored and exited the host, and was therefore no longer sustaining the world with its presence.

These are words used by the Architects that have no easy translation into English.  They will be defined here using the best available translation.
[Dungeon]: This word can be alternately translated as "Temple" or "Small World".  The best description would be "A place where a god's attention is entrapped".  This will be used as a catch-all phrase for all of the structures built by the Architects.
[Novelty]: The core concept or unique "gimmick" that a Dungeon revolves around.  More elaborate Dungeons may have several Novelties.
[Augmentability]: A property of a test that describes the distance in potential between passing and mastering the test.  Both a straight corridor and a final trial of mastery have very low augmentability.  A test that is easy to succeed, but hard to master, has high augmentability.

Principles:
Isolation: Do not introduce more than one Novelty at a time.
Repetition of Growth: Repetition of a segment increases boredom, except when Mastery is increased.  The more a segment will be repeated, the higher its Augmentability must be.
Appropriate Reward: Mastery of a segment should be rewarded above and beyond completion.  Being able to finish the segment faster is one possible reward.

Balance between Cohesion and Expansion: Excess cohesion creates boredom.  Excess expansion creates disassociation.
Balance between Control and Freedom: Excess control creates boredom.  Excess freedom creates disassociation.

Constructive Augmentation: To increase cohesion between segments, mastery of earlier segments may grant rewards that make later segments easier to complete.
Principle of Repetition: Cohesion is increased when the same patterns or areas are revisited.
Principle of Return: Backtracking creates boredom.  To maintain cohesion, it is ideal to open new paths to earlier segments.

Patterns: Unusual patterns are retained in memory.  Mark doors that will be opened later with easily-remembered patterns, so the wanderer may return to it when they have the ability to open it.

Nexuses and Courses: A Nexus is a point where many paths lead to and from, and will be returned to on a regular basis.  A Course is a path that should be traversed rarely - perhaps only once.  Doors should be placed in Nexuses, where they will be remembered.

Cathar

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Re: A Mystical Framework for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2018, 09:39:05 am »

Isolation: Do not introduce more than one Novelty at a time.

This a thousand times. Infodumping creates confusion and absolutely destroys the immersiveness. The ideal when presenting worldbuilding to an active audience (such as gaming) is to have the growth of their character tied to the player's familiarity with the world, so as the player and his avatar grow at the same time, at the same pace.

Most of the games I played so far, especially sandboxes, totally neglect this aspect, but it is the fundamental reason why there are experience and levels in computers RPG.

I remember playing FF8 a while ago (for instance), and having the feeling the game totally forgot that aspect for instance, as the enemy gains level as the party gains levels, so as any sense of character progression is nullified by the game's mechanics.

I'd add to that, progression in a game should ideally tie three things together : growth of the avatar, increasing familiarity between the player and the universe, and the stakes of the driving conflict. In anime, Guren Lagann does that to an absolute extreme, and while the pattern is noticeable, the sense of growth is indeed emphacized. Each conflict is later shown to be part of a bigger conflict, which is in turn part of a bigger conflict and so on, so as the protagonist resolve a conflict and grows in power, the spectator learn more about the universe in the process, the stakes are mechanically raised.

In roguelikes, Gearhead2 does that extremely well. Usually the game starts with a low stake rivalry between two characters, and as the rivals progress, they join rival factions, which in turn join bigger alliances, making the final clash between two massive empires, and the two characters who grew to form them, absolutely earth shattering. IMHO it's a good exemple to follow

TL;DR : I think gradually raising the growth of the character, the familiarity with the universe and the stakes of the conflict is the key to good progression, in medias in general, and even moreso in interactive medias such as vidya
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IndigoFenix

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Re: A Mystical Framework for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2018, 09:58:29 am »

Character growth is a biggie.  I'm not entirely sure how to tie it in with the rest of the system (this is mainly based on BoundWorlds, whose structure and essence makes long-term character growth...tricky) but it probably should be part of it.

I've had a long-standing feeling that small sections of a game (or story) can be, in a way, a microcosm of the entire story.  A dungeon may have you running around to collect keys to open a door; a whole game may force you to collect plot coupons (often by completing lesser challenges) to unlock a larger obstacle.  A dungeon may have an item you get in the middle of it that re-contextualizes the entire challenge; a game may have its single Sword of Plot Advancement that does the same for the whole game.  They may have either linear or more open designs, and both tend to begin with a framing device and end with a final challenge.

So in theory, principles that apply to long plots may also apply to shorter challenges.

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Re: A Mystical Framework for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2018, 10:19:02 am »

For long term character growth in a non-rpg games, zelda games are good exemples on how to do. Completing a dungeon will unlock a new ability, which not only grants access to the next dungeon, but also to hidden areas and make the character more potent, and also unlock some lore for the player.

If I followed your project correctly, you have a meta-plot that need to be discovered incrementally, so I assume that between player made dungeons, the player would come accross scripted areas where the story of the universe is revealed bit by bit ? If so, you can tie a reward to the player, and give the ability to the dungeon designers to "lock" certains areas of their dungeon until the player has said reward.

For instance, let's say the dungeon designers can place mystic gates in their dungeons. What is behind cannot be necessary to complete the plot, but could contain some additional reward, or unlock the "true ending" of the dungeon. But that gate cannot be passed until the player has completed a scripted, lore detailing dungeon. And when the player finally unlock the ability to bypass mystic gates, he'll remember when he encountered them and will want to redo those dungeons again with his new ability.

Tho I'm not a game designer, this is merely a suggestion
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IndigoFenix

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Re: A Mystical Framework for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2018, 03:48:42 pm »

Not quite like that; while I am making a world that will, over the course of its story, offer an explanation for the whole game, outside of the game mechanics themselves canon is intended to be very flexible; if someone else wants to offer their own interpretation they are welcome to do so.  It's supposed to be something of an "open source plot", kind of like what Lovecraft did with the Cthulhu Mythos (I can't really think of another example of a single individual that did something like this).

The problem with this design as far as character growth is concerned is that outside the bounds of a given world, there's no real way to restrict the player's travel, so if they were able to get stronger (either RPG-style or by obtaining new items) they could easily break someone else's plot by being way stronger or having more powerful items than they were "supposed to" according to that world's designer.  While it is possible for world builders to "import and permit" player-created items so that the same items can be used across multiple worlds, and there is a time-to-value system that prevents any world from just giving the player a million super-valuable items instantly, more elaborate story-focused worlds will probably need to forbid the use of all "outside items" to prevent their plots from being broken.

Since the player character never really changes, this basically forces them to be something of a "blank slate" beyond their role as someone who walks between worlds; a drifter, herald, instigator, and spectator in the stories of other, more fleshed-out characters created by the individual world designers.  But that's pretty traditional for adventure game characters anyway (like Link for instance).

I do intend to use ideas like extra rewards for completing different challenges and all those things, but they will be within a single world.  There will also be a door with several keys that other world builders can use as rewards in their worlds, but since I can't really control how difficult it is to get these keys (aside from the time system; I can make it that the challenge must take at least 5 minutes to complete, but if the world builder wanted they could just make a door that automatically opens after 5 minutes) there can't really be anything too important behind that door.

That being said, every world in itself can pretty much be a full game, so all general principles of game design still apply.  The Architects themselves will be brought up in the plot of the world I'm building (since BoundWorlds is ultimately a game about game making, they will be able to teach the player game design principles as part of the story itself), but I intend for them to be an "open source race" that other players can reference.  I think it would be cool to make something that could pop up in other people's stories and games.

IndigoFenix

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Re: A Conlang for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2018, 06:09:58 am »

I decided to try coming up with a language for the Architects.  In order to make the language both logical and alien, I am using a bottom-up system - where each phoneme relates to a particular concept, and words are constructed from those concepts.  These concepts are related to the way that a sound is formed in the mouth.

In general, voiced consonants are more "positive" or rewarding than their unvoiced counterparts.  Positive language has a "vocal" feel to it, while negative language tends to produce hissing or whispering sounds.
The position of the tongue and the path of the breath represents the actions of the player.
Different parts of the mouth represent different concepts:
   The lips represent the absolute boundary of the area
   The teeth represent challenge or obstacles
   The palate represents enhancement or growth
   The uvula represents the restrictions placed on the player
   The throat represents the builder themselves

Sibilants (tongue pressed against the teeth) typically relate to direct, constant effort.

S - Frustration/Work
Z - Excitement/Challenge

Dentals (tongue pressed against the upper teeth) represent tests; challenges leading to potential growth.

T - Pass-or-fail test, unrewarding
D - Pass-or-fail test, rewarding

Dzh - Test that can be passed or mastered, rewarding
Tsh - Test that can be passed or mastered, unrewarding

Zh - General opportunity but cannot be failed, free gifts
Sh - General opportunity but no real reward or failure, exploration

Sounds made by placing the tongue between the teeth relate to overcoming challenges.

Unvoiced Th (as in thread): Triumph without reward
Voiced Th (as in the): Triumph with reward

Palatals (tongue placed against the roof of the mouth) represent paradigm shifts or transformations to the player experience.  Plosives are more critical, while frictives are more incremental.

K - Milestone/Novelty
G - Upgrade/Tool
Kh - Progress/Motion
Gh - Experience/Food

Some sounds have unique implications

L (airflow directed around the sides of the tongue) - Choices
M (no airflow, just a vibration in the mouth) - Region
N (airflow directed through the nose) - Secrets

Retroflex consonants (sounds made by bending the tongue backwards to touch the palate) imply backtracking.

Retroflex LL: Backtracking by choice
Retroflex Sh: Backtracking due to obstacle but no plan
Retroflex Zh: Backtracking due to obstacle with a plan

Uvulars (sounds made in the back of the mouth but not in the throat) represent things behind the player

Uvular Kk: Point of no return
Uvular Gg: Return to beginning
Uvular Kkh: Impediment to return
Uvular Ggh: Familiar place

Labiodental consonants (teeth pressed against lips) represent a challenge at the boundary of an area

F: Final challenge, unrewarding
V: Final challenge, rewarding

Sounds made in the back of the throat represents the process of world construction.  I haven't come up with these yet.

Guttural K:
Guttural G:
Guttural Kh:
Guttural Gh:

Combining these concepts allows the creation of words used for both game design and regular life.  I have no vowel system yet so these are mere approximations.

am: Home
ankat: Gimmick or novel test
masana: Puzzle (area with frustrating secret)
ashhkk: Trap (retreat-no return)
sagh: Grown crops (work-food)
gath: Weapon (tool-triumph)
gasagh: Farm tool (tool-growing food)
zagath: Battle (exciting effort-weapon)
ans: Think (secret-struggle)
anth: Solve (secret-triumph)

Some ideaograms may be too similar to each other or narrow in scope to properly construct all the words a language would need, so some changes may need to be made.

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Re: A Conlang for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2018, 12:54:14 pm »

I really like this. It's weird and I want to see more of it.
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IndigoFenix

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Re: A Conlang for Game Design: The Architects of the Dungeons
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2018, 01:27:46 pm »

I'll continue this topic once I have a better idea of the world(s) I'm using it for.