This is the sixth post in a ten-part series about my ongoing workshop “Creating Consistent SF-Worlds” for the Game Design department at the Mediadesign Hochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
As it took an unusual number of participants unusually long to drop in this time, those present when we started were too many to fit into a single group, but not enough to fit into two. Therefore, I ditched one time travel scenario I had prepared for this session (to influence the French Directoire in 1795/1796 so they wouldn’t commit additional troops to Bonaparte’s Italian campaign), and we’all focused on my Persian Wars scenario in a free-for-all brainstorming session instead.
We have a time machine and we are the bad guys & girls: an ultra-nationalist Iranian breakaway-faction that wants Persia to win the war in its second invasion of Greece (480–479 BCE), and establish an everlasting, all-encompassing Persian empire. Greece, Rome, the Dark Ages, and everything after would cease to exist. (Oh wait, maybe that’s not so bad, after all!)
We might be the bad guys & girls, but we are fiendishly clever. Our plan is to manipulate the Athenian assembly in 483 BCE to vote against Themistocles in his bid to use the massive cash flow from the new-found silver mine at Laurium to build a fleet—instead of distributing its riches among the citizens. No fleet, no Salamis; no Salamis, no Plataea; no Plataea, no Delian League (a.k.a. Athenian Empire). The world will be Persian, and Persia will be the world. Mission accomplished!
Now the Hard Part
That is, how to plan and execute such a time travel scenario, make it consistent and believable, and transform it into a rewarding experience for the player! Of course, I can’t and won’t go into detail here; that would go way beyond the scope of this blogpost. Instead, I will only introduce the list of topics we went through and sketched solutions for.
First, what do our time travelers need to prepare the coup: linguistic data, historical data, cultural data, insights into political infighting in Athens, and the like. The way we sketched it, all these data are to be collected and pieced together by preparatory missions, i. e., time travel teams whose only objective is to gather information (and not get caught). We developed some great ideas how to accomplish this with mission-based adventures that are interesting, believable, collaborative, and eminently playable. (If well done, it could even be a terrific exercise in how to write & design for game-based learning that actually works.) While there certainly wasn’t a problem to keep male time travelers busy, the deployment of female time travelers posed a problem indeed—if there ever was a male-dominated society, ancient Greece was it. But we came up with working solutions for female characters that would be fun to play for male and female players alike.
Next, we planned the coup itself and its overall dramatic structure, a well-balanced diet of diplomacy and conspiracy, subterfuge and covert action, and full-scale action and epic battle scenes—including setbacks like winding up in prison as foreign spies and getting caught between the lines when the Persian invasion forces cross the Hellespont in 480 BCE.
Finally, we went over most of the critical elements that make a game stand out from the crowd, and that would build the world of Classical Greece with the technical means at our disposal in a consistent and believable way through the eyes of time travelers. We discussed music and sound effects; the handling of language issues; textures and lighting to reinforce the period’s “archaicness”; how to simulate—subjectively as well as objectively—authentic close combat, weapon use, tactics, and battle choreography both on land and at sea; and game engine tweaks and specific UI elements that would work toward and support a unique, comprehensive, and immersive gameplay experience.