Elves and Dwarves Don't Define Fantasy

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Elves and Dwarves Don't Define Fantasy

Yahtzee has some suggestions for fantasy games.

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I'm still up for the idea of "new" race ideas

Elder scrolls lets you pick lizard people and cat people while world of Warcraft lets you pick zombies, ox people, aliens with glowing eyaboard hooves, and wolf people. (I am not a furry but beast races always are far more interesting than others in fantasy games)

At this point in time, having elves and other like human races is fine but you HAVE to introduce something interesting to look at or the game is just stupid

Preach on, Brother Yahtzee! It's all the more ridiculous considering most literary fantasy finally stopped bowing and scraping in Tolkien's shadow about 20 years ago, and elves and dwarves are almost non-existent in any current epic fantasy novel not based on D&D or WoW.

Say what you will about JRPGs--their settings are a whole lot more imaginative and unique than the endless run of Tolkien clones we can't escape in Western fantasy RPGs.

I've been reading a trilogy by an author called China Mieville. It's set in his fictional world of Bas-Lag and sets out to basically be the anithesis of Tolkienesque fantasy. There's even a part where a generic D&D party turns up, but everyone thinks they're weirdos who are "only in it for gold and experience".

The prose is a little... robust, but I recommend them highly for fans of urban fantasy or steampunk.

scnj:
I've been reading a trilogy by an author called China Mieville. It's set in his fictional world of Bas-Lag and sets out to basically be the anithesis of Tolkienesque fantasy. There's even a part where a generic D&D party turns up, but everyone thinks they're weirdos who are "only in it for gold and experience".

The prose is a little... robust, but I recommend them highly for fans of urban fantasy or steampunk.

Yup, to all of that.

You know, we like to rag on the Final Fantasy games around here, but for all their convoluted clichés and art design, the primary entries have been pretty damn good at getting away from the LotR-ripoff settings.

I don't think steampunk in space could work simply because you really couldn't reach space with steam technology, but i like the whole idea of contemporary fantasy. One of things that always confused me about modern fantasy settings in other mediums, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show) to the Harry Potter books, is why they always feel the need to keep the magical world separate from "our" world. Sure it makes sense narration wise, having to explain everything to the audience by cluing in the main character. But do magic and mystical creatures only get to be a part of regular daily life in medieval settings? Why can't elves be newscasters and minotaurs be substitute teachers? Why can't alchemy be offered as course at trade school and inner city youths rent warehouses on Friday nights to have "spell"-offs?

Terminate421:

Elder scrolls lets you pick lizard people and cat people while world of Warcraft lets you pick zombies, ox people, aliens with glowing eyaboard hooves, and wolf people. (I am not a furry but beast races always are far more interesting than others in fantasy games)

WoW and Elder Scrolls aren't that original, really. As you've said, the Elder Scrolls had Cat-people and Lizard-people. Sure they're not really ripped of from Tolkien, but Bethesda just just a human body and added an animal head, and a tail.

WoW on the other hand, instead of taking from Tolkien they take from several mythological creatures. The undead are obviously undead, the Tauren are Minotaurs (crossed with Native Americans), the Worgens are Werewolfs and the Draenei look a lot like the protoss from Starcraft.

Sure it's good to have other things than elfes and Dwarfs, but you could really add more features than just a humanoid animal.

Setting is simply a framework for telling contemporary stories using anthropomorphed humanoids. A familiar setting helps putting focus on the meat of the actual story, instead of confusing the reader/player with fancy new Fantasy settings. Thats the reason for all the Tolkien reuse. Tolkien made a setting that was good enough for the purpose, so why reinvent the wheel.

I would love to play a game where I can attack another spaceship with a blunderbuss. But thats not really creative, thats just reusing Jules Verne instead of Tolkien. Still it's sometimes nice with a bit of change.

I know I am in a minority here, but that was the reason why I liked the Tidus character in Final Fantasy X (design aspects aside). He was a strange that got send to a weird world and need to have a lot explained to him.

Of course, its a convenient plot device to justify a lot of exposition, but I felt like I was learning about the world with the character, and I appreciated that they skipped the main "exposition trope" (the main character wakes up with amnesia).

Contemporary Fantasy? That would be Night Watch and its sequel, Day Watch. Alas, whatever might be said for the rather good novels and interesting-looking movies, the games both sucked, apparently.

Bostur:
Setting is simply a framework for telling contemporary stories using anthropomorphed humanoids. A familiar setting helps putting focus on the meat of the actual story, instead of confusing the reader/player with fancy new Fantasy settings. Thats the reason for all the Tolkien reuse. Tolkien made a setting that was good enough for the purpose, so why reinvent the wheel.

I would love to play a game where I can attack another spaceship with a blunderbuss. But thats not really creative, thats just reusing Jules Verne instead of Tolkien. Still it's sometimes nice with a bit of change.

The problem with that is that its increasingly hard to separate your world with every other Tolkien-based, mining dwarves and magic elves populated worlds out there. That is even worst in the case of Amalur, which was publicized for the huge world and mythology Salvatore created, yet it looks really familiar from the outside.

I think the analogy with WW2 and Modern shooters is appropriate... They can call whatever they like, but there is little to visually differentiate Modern Warfare 2 and Homeland, Call of Duty 1 and Medal of Honor; while Prey 2 and Bioshock get a lot of praise for being fresh just by changing the setting.

JRPGs tend to have completely different fantasy tropes, probably because they don't read LOTR as much over there. The recent Xenoblade probably counts as fantasy despite having fairly high technology overall and it doesn't really invoke the usual Tolkien races (you could say that the snooty high-tech bird people are like elves but at least they have wing ears instead of pointy ears) and is set on a world that consists of two standing titans instead of regular continents. And for all the weird bullshit that Final Fantasy comes up with at least it's not Tolkien (well, not usually). Of course Yahtzee doesn't want to play JRPGs so that won't help him much.

I'm playing a game called A Valley Without Wind, it's an indie game from the makers of AI War: Fleet Command and about a world where humans have always been capable of using magic (instead of lumberjacks they have lumbermancers, for example) and the timeline got scrambled somehow so now all periods in the history of the planet can be found on the same continent. It's not pretty but the developers are insanely fast workers (AVWW gets more changes in a week than Minecraft in a year) and the gameplay gets refined extremely quickly.

I once thought about whether it would be awesome to have a space combat game where you drive a train through space (with tracks just magically appearing in front of you), instead of weapons you stick more wagons on your train with different cowboys and whatnot in them and deliver broadsides to other trains.

I agree completely. I can't stand the fact every fantasy game tends to be the same. Worse than that, is people getting pissed off when its NOT the same. I recall lots of people raging about the design of some of the races in Elder Scrolls because they didn't fit Tolkien style. The elves weren't super attractive races, dwarves were just an underground version of elves, and Orcs were made of a gods poop.
Fantasy can be anything you can possibly imagine and yet it is always the same. Are we all just so uncreative?

Well, we can always hope for the better. Even now we have shooters like Serious Sam 3, Darkness 2.. You know. I do admit - situation with fantasy RPGs is way worse, and to be honest this has a lot to do with large companies being unwilling to take any risks and fantasy games being costly to develop.
P.S. I consider God of War series fantasy. RPGs are the worst case here...

Considering that Tolkien himself ripped off the ancient texts he spent his professional life studying, I'd hardly say that copying is new. I wouldn't even strictly call it a problem. Creativity thrives on finding new ways to use existing material. If something is done well, it's done well. If it's clumsy or lacks a fresh perspective, then it's clumsy and lacks a fresh perspective.

Yahtzee:
a modern world where magic and monsters have always existed and are just kind of there. I can't think of many video games that do that, except maybe Shadowrun on the Genesis.

Umm, aren't you basically describing Final Fantasy VII, and several others in the same series? Which, hey now, I know isn't everyone's cup of tea, but regardless of your feelings on the game, it's not fair to disregard them completely. If there's one thing I love about the Final Fantasies, it's their ability to create a brand new world, each with it's own unique history and cultural context, to explore in each new mainstream title.

I would love a game set in the Dresden Files universe but Tolkienesque fantasy is safe and at the current moment, safe seems to be what everybody is looking for.

DVS BSTrD:
I don't think steampunk in space could work simply because you really couldn't reach space with steam technology, but i like the whole idea of contemporary fantasy.

It's fantasy which means the rules are whatever you want them to be, so space ships can be steam powered, hell they could even be power by the bill from an Italian restaurant, but I agree with the rest of your post I always found it weird how the mystic chooses to cut itself off for the real world in modern fantasy setting, especially with wild animals, at what point in this world did someone decide any spider over two feet in size is to weird for regular folk but the animals that make up Australia's wild life are completely okay. I would love to see a modern world or close to that that just excepts magic as an everyday thing, what happens in the Tolkien verse 2,000 years after when computers and cars have been discovered.

Toombs continues to stroke Yahtzee's ego, and repeats that Yahtzee continues to create extremely interesting game ideas.

As someone who's been working on a fantasy-story based webcomic for the last year, I completely get this.

For a very brief few minutes I had to consider the possibility of tossing dwarves, elves, and other typical fantasy stuff into my story, but then I had to ask myself, why? The only possible angle to take with that is an allegory to racism, while dodging elements of real world racism. It was fine when JRR Tolkien did it, but my god has it been overplayed. I've long since eliminated any tropes of different races and talking animals out of my story because of it.

So yea, I am quite sick of the typical fantasy setting myself. There's no fantasy involved if you just copy the same story that's already been told.

Funnily enough, this was what I was thinking about for the past few weeks and even voiced out a few times on the forums.
(The contemporary fantasy, why do we keep going back to high and mighty elves... Well minus the whole pudding on legs non-sequitor)

I'm all in with Yahtzee's arguments. I love things that stray from traditional settings, be it Sci-Fi or fantasy. It's why I like the Dune saga from Frank Herbert, and everything I've read from Isaac Asimov. It's space and whatever, but there's not a gazillion different sentient species running around and all in contact with each other in the sunday market. It's just humans who expanded and specially in Dune, if something different comes along, there's usually an explanation of why they are there and their origin. It's the same in starcraft. Humans do not get visited on casually by two alien races that picked some random spot in the universe to make contact. That always appealed to me.

As for fantasy, I still find Rangar Tornquist's work in the Longest Journey and Dreamfall impressive. It feels familiar yet you can't find things that can be directly linked to Tolkienesque mythology. Its logically based more on Scandinavian legends than anything else, but he makes it all so fresh. He even goes to the point of doing sci-fi and fantasy at the same time and make it all coherent. That's talent, my friends. I look forward to what the Secret World will provide considered all of the work in creating massive lore for those two games.

No mention of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee?... Huh.

That's like the one game that immediately springs to mind when thinking about highly original fantasy settings.

But one of the primary reasons NOT to do exactly what Yahtzee suggests is something he even mentions in this column - a new game already dumps substantial amounts of information on you right from the word go. Using tropes lessens the load a great deal.

Consider Baldur's Gate I, or Two Worlds II, which I started yesterday. The one has an established fantasy setting, but there are still lengthy dialogue options explaining all about the different menus you have access to.

Two Worlds II's tutorials lasted an hour for me, and in addition I had to read several lengthy books to understand armour types, crafting etc. They also had to explain enough backstory for the world to vaguely make sense.

If the world isn't a NORMAL fantasy setting, that backstory explanation can take a lot longer, and it's considerably more difficult to know where to start the game for the benefit of the player. I can certainly understand any company taking the easier option and using generic fantasy.

kyogen:
Considering that Tolkien himself ripped off the ancient texts he spent his professional life studying, I'd hardly say that copying is new. I wouldn't even strictly call it a problem. Creativity thrives on finding new ways to use existing material. If something is done well, it's done well. If it's clumsy or lacks a fresh perspective, then it's clumsy and lacks a fresh perspective.

YMMV on that. Tolkien didn't merely 'rip off' Norse mythology. He took the ideas and norms of Scandinavian mythology, combined it with his knowledge of Catholic mythology and morality, then brought in ideas alluding to or inspired by myths, stories and epic legends such as the fall of Atlantis, Shakespeare's MacBeth and John Milton's Paradise lost, pasting them into an entire continet he'd created that combined elements of Saxon-era Britain, Roman-era Italy, and Victorian-era England.

In short, he took a whole bunch of inspirtaions and ideas, and fused them into something new and unseen. Which sadly cannot be said for the legions of copycats who decided to simply re-write Middle Earth, but with more sex and racism added.

Writers such as Clive Barker and Nail Gaiman show that it is possible to not write fantasy fiction that doesn't borrow from Tolkien. Fantasy is not defined by orcs and trolls. It is defined by how willing you are to allow your imagination to take flight and soar.

Andronicus:

Yahtzee:
a modern world where magic and monsters have always existed and are just kind of there. I can't think of many video games that do that, except maybe Shadowrun on the Genesis.

Umm, aren't you basically describing Final Fantasy VII, and several others in the same series? Which, hey now, I know isn't everyone's cup of tea, but regardless of your feelings on the game, it's not fair to disregard them completely. If there's one thing I love about the Final Fantasies, it's their ability to create a brand new world, each with it's own unique history and cultural context, to explore in each new mainstream title.

Except no, in the usual Final Fantasy game there's magic and monsters...As a side effect.
Sort of like...Photoshopping a guy onto a picture where he wasn't from the start. Sure, in some of the latter they've addressed that but jrpg's are pretty much clichés in themselves, just of a different genre.

Shadowrun is more interesting, as is Dresden Files etc because they try to be different rather than Medieval European Setting or Weird Japanese Setting.

Erm...Magic the Gathering?

To be specific, Mirrodin/Scars of Mirrodin, Ravnica: City of Guilds, Champions of Kamigawa and Phyrexia in general

I'm just going to post this here... http://www.guildwars2.com/en/

It's a terrible couple of games, but the Rocketmen series is a style that I'd like to see more of, and it's somewhat similar to the Steampunk Space he's talking about, though it's more the Pulp Era to early Golden age of SciFi with rocket ships, laser blasters, and deathrays...

I don't really like the Steampunk in Space idea. While I definitely want to get away from the cliched "Brick with guns" standard design of human spacecraft, I don't think using an even *more* cliched art style is the answer. Why not have glossy, organic designs like Mirrodin from Magic: The Gathering, or the spiky mayhem of Warhammer 40K Orks? Why not have something even stranger, like a game where you ride nuclear-powered surfboards from planet to planet? Why steampunk?

So, ok, the elves, dwarves, gnomes, goblins and trolls are all present in folklore dating back past the point where people learned to write things down. The reason they are so prevalent is that they are so deeply embedded in north european mythology as to be broadly recognisable.

Amalur, it's worth pointing out, does not have dwarves. It has humans and 'alfar' who, in fairness do appear to be elves. I never bothered learning what that was all about. The Fae, however, are essentially the fairies of irish and english myth, even down to using the Celtic names. Gnomes appear in many different countries, small, clever, tinkering and secretive people.

While originality in fiction is rarely a bad thing, rejecting traditional forms out of hand is blithe and nearsighted. While the races of World of Warcraft may not have deep things to say about the nature of humanity, they do come from a place which has been attempting to explain what people are for a very, very long time. That's worth holding on to.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
SNIP

I studied Old Norse at University. What was quite interesting is that there's a passage (I think in the Prose Edda, attributed to Snorri Sturluson, though it could be another text), where the names of pretty much EVERY dwarf that turns up at Bilbo's house at the beginning of the Hobbit, AND the name "Gandalf" are contained within a single 7 line paragraph. Food for thought, at least.

EDIT: I was right (hurrah!)
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hos4o7xpxLYC&pg=PA36&lpg=PA36&dq=prose+edda+gandalf&source=bl&ots=7OZwoxBkho&sig=eeVzBTKKgxU3kgNz2bFB_lJU_wA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DGdWT7CeAYa98gOzpe34CA&ved=0CG0Q6AEwBw#v=onepage&q&f=false

Now that "space steampunk" is mentioned, I'm reminded of Treasure Planet, a sadly underrated disney movie which I totally loved.

Also, as it's already been mentioned several times in this thread, JRPGs are the ones that will usually stray away from the stereorypical "Elves and Dwarves" setting. I'm curious as if Yahtzee didn't make the connection or he's intentionally avoiding it.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

kyogen:
Considering that Tolkien himself ripped off the ancient texts he spent his professional life studying, I'd hardly say that copying is new. I wouldn't even strictly call it a problem. Creativity thrives on finding new ways to use existing material. If something is done well, it's done well. If it's clumsy or lacks a fresh perspective, then it's clumsy and lacks a fresh perspective.

YMMV on that. Tolkien didn't merely 'rip off' Norse mythology. He took the ideas and norms of Scandinavian mythology, combined it with his knowledge of Catholic mythology and morality, then brought in ideas alluding to or inspired by myths, stories and epic legends such as the fall of Atlantis, Shakespeare's MacBeth and John Milton's Paradise lost, pasting them into an entire continet he'd created that combined elements of Saxon-era Britain, Roman-era Italy, and Victorian-era England.

In short, he took a whole bunch of inspirtaions and ideas, and fused them into something new and unseen. Which sadly cannot be said for the legions of copycats who decided to simply re-write Middle Earth, but with more sex and racism added.

Writers such as Clive Barker and Nail Gaiman show that it is possible to not write fantasy fiction that doesn't borrow from Tolkien. Fantasy is not defined by orcs and trolls. It is defined by how willing you are to allow your imagination to take flight and soar.

Generally speaking, that is a far more thorough and eloquent version of my point. I object to dismissing specific elements of fantasy simply because another has already made use of them. If someone makes poor use of them, that's a failure of craftsmanship, not an inherent weakness of the material. Tolkien was a great craftsman.

I think this is also essentially Yahtzee's view: that too many fantasy authors lack real creativity. However, his preference for a particular style of hyperbole lacks nuance (intentionally so for the most part because that's part of the humor). Unfortunately, it also seems to misdirect the emphasis of his argument.

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