In response to “The Source” from The Escapist forums:
You remind me of a point I always want to see addressed in a game–imagine the mana or energy or implement that supplies magic becomes inaccessible for a short time, through some kind of interference. But imagine that it happens on an irregular basis, that it could happen at random times, even in the middle of a battle. You’re casting a powerful spell, and the connective conduit between the caster and the source suddenly becomes less distinct, and the spell is reduced to either minor or negated effects. Maybe the presence of some kind of sonic disruption, or gravitational effect that messes with the flow of energy causes the magic to suddenly cease functioning for a given time. Picture someone used to wielding the flow of the energy, and now has to supplement his previous methods with something new, or a very dangerous way of accessing the energy that could leave them dead, or accidentally allowing more than what one wanted through, risking the chance of some sort of catastrophe. Could very well be in terms of some kind of cataclysmic event.
This reminds me of Sanderson’s First Law of Magics:
“An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.”
There is a whole essay about it on his page, but the basic idea is, if you want your characters to be able to solve problems with magic, the audience needs to undestand the magic, otherwise it’s just deus ex machina.
Look at LOTR: the reader doesn’t really understand the magic at all, but no problems are actually solved with it, either.
On the other hand in superhero stories, for example, it is usually made quite clear what the hero can do, so the author can use those powers to solve problems with no sense of arbitraryness.
Games understandably tend towards the latter form.
I wonder how one could use a mysterious magic well in a game…
besides only letting NPC:s use it, of course.
In response to “Adventuring in the World of Mundane Magic” from The Escapist forums:
I don’t think the game was played enough by this or other reviewers, as only at the start is it really mostly fed-ex quests. The game had procedural systems within it that provided randomized quests, but also provided scripted quests inbetween, to keep you guessing. Because of it’s mix of procedural and scripted code, it allowed for “joined-up” quests you don’t see in even today’s cRPG’s. I.e. If told a dragon was going to attack a village on a certain date, you would get there on that date and the dragon would be there to fight, but get there a week before the dragon and find a normal village, then go away for two weeks and come back to the village and it has been destroyed by that dragon you weren’t there to fight! Now granted, this was done with just text/still graphic windows, but still. It showed how the quests were far from all fed-ex one’s!
I have owned this game from it’s original release as I bought nearly every Microprose game they ever released! The game is somewhat intimidating, but nevertheless take about an hour to get a handle on. I know in this world of instant satisfaction an hour is an eternity, but for a deep cRPG with 100+ hours of gameplay, it’s pretty par for the course. Darklands was a game that gave back as much as you put into it, so once the ‘rules’ are learnt the game has almost infinite replay value!
You’ll be pleased to hear a team is being put together to make a Darklands style game called “The Darklands” by using the Oblivion construction set and doing a complete conversion. Most of the team are steeped in Darklands Lore, so I have strong hopes for it. Just go to TheDarklands.com to see the latest and leave a note of encouragement!
In response to “A Kind of Magic” from The Escapist forums:
Great article. The Mass Effect mention was surely warranted. It can safely call itself ‘hard’ sci-fi while there are people casting magic spells around, because those spells are called ‘biotics’ and work by ‘generating mass effect fields’. It’s even better because the basic physics behind the titular mass effect fields – that they are used to change the mass of an object so that it can travel faster than light by traveling so fast that the universe shrinks around them – is what scientists believe is the most likely way to travel faster than light. And when I write it like this it looks a lot less likely than just punching people from across the room.
It’s true that magic and technology are just two sides of the same coin as far as using them as plot devices (or gameplay elements) is concerned. I mean, if the answer to an unexplicable event is ‘MAGIC!’ or ‘SCIENCE!’ is there a difference, if the person shouting that has a long enough beard?
And of course there are the dudes that take this metaphor to the next level, like that character in that series that was almost Babylon 5 but not quite that actually wore robes and talked in riddles because he was totally a technowizard. (SFX: Daft Punk soundtrack) And on the opposite hand we have the Force, a mystical and ancient force of the universe that’s caused by microorganisms in one’s bloodstream (naturally).
I always liked better magic that is just poorly explained science, and only recently I’ve realized what I lose by taking that approach and turning magic into just another science. I still choose that approach, but it’s now an informed choice.
In response to “Pages of Power” from The Escapist forums:
I’ve always had a mixed mind on Sanity meters in games, though. I’m not sure if it’s the mechanic itself, or if it’s just that it’s never satisfactorily explained. On one hand, there’s the “this knowledge is so dark and forbidden that it actually stains the soul or warps the mind,” which does lend an air of mystery… but it can make the mechanic feel forced. After all, the author is never called upon to actually display knowledge that would have this effect on anyone, it’s just a mystical side effect of the knowing.
A better way to deal with this would be working on the emotional impact of the knowledge itself. Knowing that these things exist, and are far more common than you thought, is sure to leave you sleeping poorly, looking over your shoulder, and fearing the dark. Paranoia is far more familiar than “insanity.” In fact, most of the time stories reference “insanity,” they’re really talking about paranoia…
As you become more familiar with the contents of the grimoire, you realize these contents also fill your own waking world. You’re aware they exist, you’re aware of how powerless you are against them, and you’re scared out of your mind that they’re coming for you. Part of you wants to shut your eyes, lest you should learn something even more horrible… but another part of you has to keep going, thinking that surely it’s more terrifying not to know, and maybe there’s still a chance you’ll learn how to fight it…
That kind of conflict is more believable than “you’re going crazy,” and I don’t know that it would be any harder to implement…
The Great Old Ones like Cthulhu are visages of the unknown cosmos, the darkness behind the veil and the night sky. They were not demons or gods or creatures of magic.
Lovecraft makes this very much clear.
They may be interdimensional beings of pure malevolence, but they are not magic.
The Necronomicon is not a book of magic, at best it is a man trying to grasp the natural horrors of the universe in the only way he knows how, and this is why all those Occultists are doing it wrong.