Magic or magiC — Do Culturally Specific Sources Inform Differences in the Representations of Magic and Its Uses in Western and Chinese Fantasy RPGs?

INTRODUCTION

Since the dawn of video games, we have been teleported into one wonderful imaginary world after another. In worlds represented by role-playing games in fantasy contexts, i.e. fantasy RPGs[1], players can harness and wield powerful supernatural magic which are almost unachievable in real life. The magic generally involves magic powers (sorcery, wizardry, witchcraft, etc.) and various magical items. As Eddo Stern pointed out is his essay (Stern, 2002), these worlds in western fantasy RPGs are identically set in pseudo-historical magical medieval realms. In fact, their oriental counterparts, Chinese fantasy RPGs also have similar world settings of such fictional universes, but in culturally different contexts.

Compared to western fantasy RPGs, the Chinese ones have a much shorter history and smaller quantity. While western players were immersed in the three classics—Ultima (first title release in 1981), Wizardry and Might & Magic series, Chinese players were still awaiting the advent of probably the first Chinese RPG—Xuan-Yuan Sword (first title released in 1990). As the evolution of video games continues, many more finely crafted fantasy RPGs emerged. In the west, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) established a well-constructed and fully realised fictional universe (or multiverses) with a set of rich, strict and constantly evolving game rules and mechanics. Based on it, many of the fantasy RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate series, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale series and Neverwinter Nights series, helped bringing the world of sword and magic from pen and paper to the computer. Recent Dragon Age series succeed some of the best traits and elements from D&D and reinvented tactical role-playing games (TRPGs) and action role-playing games (ARPGs). Another series, The Elder Scrolls, defined the paradigm of open world RPGs in its vast world Tamriel, while alternatively, Diablo series innovated the gameplay form of “hack and slash” in ARPGs with its straightforward narrative and closed world settings. In China, by adopting the turn-based strategy combat form from Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy series, Xuan-Yuan Sword and The Legend of Sword and Fairy (Chinese Paladin) series continued to grow and became the most influential and well-received Chinese RPGs, mostly for their successful conveyance of traditional Chinese culture and impressive stories. Before the Chinese digital game market became dominated by online and freemium games, games such as Heroes of Jin Yong and Prince of Qin demonstrated that Chinese can make games of various genres and styles of cultural identity and high qualities. The hope of Chinese fantasy RPGs was relit by GuJian Qitan (Fantastic Tales of Ancient Swords), a brand-new fantasy RPG series that carries forward the Chinese cultural deposits.

Despite the differences in subgenres and gameplay forms and styles, these fantasy RPGs represent magic and its mechanics and uses in ways that are influenced and informed by culturally specific sources such as myth, religion, natural philosophy and fantasy literature. As is generally perceived, the western culture is inherently influenced by Greek and Norse methodologies, western legends and folklore, Christianity and Ancient Greek Philosophy, from which western high fantasy literature gains the foundation of birth and growth and keeps inspiring creation of fantasies of western identities in the form of video games. While on the other side, Chinese methodology, legends, folklore and hundred schools of thought of Ancient Chinese philosophy (including Confucianism and Taoism) give rise to the culturally unique historical fantasy literature genres—Shenmo (Gods and Evils methodology, 神魔) and Wuxia (martial hero, 武侠). And unsurprisingly, nearly all Chinese fantasy RPGs, whether partially or wholly, draw their sources from these forms of fantasy literature. Nevertheless, do these distinctions inform considerable differences in the representations of magic and its uses in western and Chinese fantasy RPGs even when this medium originated from the west and takes its shape totally from a western approach and perspective? The essay will select some notable culturally specific sources and look into this question from several aspects of the representations of magic in fantasy RPGs—its form, function, classification, uses and users. Continue reading

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Game Prototype: Snowwhite

In Snowwhite, I tried to explore how to convey a light mood through the discrete connection of music and game.
The gameplay is sparse, and if without the music it’s just pattern matching. However, I’d like the player to feel they are playing along the music while listening to this beautiful piece.
The music here is Guillaume Lekeu’s unfinished Piano Quartet, the second movement.


Game Prototype: Snowwhite from Ni Hu on Vimeo.

Download the prototype

A “Diegetic” Attempt to Improve the Puzzle

Puzzles can be ludic as they are meant to be. But to convey a consistent gameplay experience, being ludic is not enough. A good puzzle in a adventure should be in the adventure, that is to be “diegetic”.

In the design of the original puzzle 2 (shown below), the tracks may not be well explained from a player’s view — what’s the point of setting up tracks in Tesla’s laboratory  even in a half-fictional game context?  In addition, it doesn’t contain adequate ludic elements of electricity.

a2 tracks puzzle

An attempt of improvement was made to make it more “diegetic”.

First, the whole track system has been redefined as a AC/DC power dissipation simulation experiment left by Tesla.

In the room there are some high-resistance circular plates which can be rotated to form a circuit to conduct both AC & DC power form generators to motors. Both AC and DC motors are connected to an elevator through the power transmission.

Notice that a plate in the centre is missing, only the DC circuit can be established to partially power the elevator though the DC motor. Notes around the room indicate that DC power loses current easily over long distances (simulated by the high-resistance environment in this situation).
The elevator can only take the player down to a storeroom where the missing plate is located when powered by the weak DC current.

Now the player has to figure out a way out since they are now trapped in the storeroom, for the DC current is too weak to pull
the elevator back upstairs. Then other puzzles involving ladder assembly and trapdoor lock picking can kick in. After the player successfully get back to the upper room with the plate found, the AC circuit can be completed and then leads to the AC motor puzzle. Finally after it is solved, the elevator is powered by the AC motor, which runs on the strong AC power, it can take the player up to the next puzzle room.

a2 tracks puzzle _2

Game Prototype: Mine My Mine

This game prototype is my personal exploration on delivering repetitive pleasure with experiencing as little challenge as possible. When players mine with each click, the income increases so further investment can be made to upgrade the sensor (view range), prospector (mining range) and accelerate the growth of mines.The mines automatically grow after being mined, even if it is empty(grey).

Also, I tried to apply the typical freemium monetisation strategy here.


Mine My Mine from Ni Hu on Vimeo.

Download the prototype

Game Prototype: Melody

Melody is a simply notion of a music ludic feature that can be exploited further. By flowing the melody, the player completes the melody by entering simplified notes (without considering inputting intervals larger than an octave or key signatures).

Melody intends to bring simple pleasure and challenge to music lovers not by means of “twitch gameplay” (action) but by music cognitions, which attempts the more “melodic” mechanics of music games .

Here is a demo video:

Melody from Ni Hu on Vimeo.

What’s more?

I can think of a decent library of various genres of music available for a melody game like this. Variations of gameplay can be exploited.

Several examples:

Mixed music pieces in one game session;

Complete the melody in a backward order (of each melody question and answer);

A “campaign” of music history and evolution/movements;

Realistic mode including accidentals–12 tones (Ha, Schoenberg~)

Download the prototype

Why Can Journey Be Considered as an Art Game in Terms of Aesthetics?

INTRODUCTION

Being one of the most critically and commercially successful video games on PlayStation Network in 2012, Journey (Thatgamecompany, 2012) received mostly high critical acclaims (Metacritic, 2012) among the video games press and players for its exquisite visual and audio art style and unique the experimental gameplay experiences unified with implicit narrative which engages the player with another player through the shared emotional experiences. There are views and discussions regarding Journey as a work of interactive art (Stuart, 2012). And as the debate of whether video games can be art goes on, Journey can be a living case worthy of attention and discourses. This essay starts by justifying the feasibility of video games as a form of art and continues to argue why Journey, based on the justifications, can be considered as an art game in terms of aesthetics, in which examination and analysis on the game’s aspects of visuals, audio, gameplay and narrative are conducted and presented.

VEDIO GAMES AS ART

It has been a controversial topic that whether video games, or more precisely, digital games, can be considered as a new form of art. There’s no doubt that video games are a form of medium with creative artistic elements such as story, visual arts and music in a similar way as they are presented in films. Although some notable figures do admit this point, they question the artistic nature of video games as they are goal and choice–driven, rule-based, and meant to be played interactively. Among these arguers, one most noticeable is film critic Roger Ebert, who at first stated in an online discussion (Ebert, 2005) that video games are works of craftsmanship that lack authorial control, inferior to film and literature and “for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilised and empathetic”. He continued to argue in an essay on the rule and goal-based nature of video games (Ebert, 2010). Other similar views were expressed by game designers Brian Moriarty (2011) and Michael Samyn (2011). Continue reading

Puzzle Designs (for Chapter 1)

Chapter 1 takes place in Edward Dean Adams Power Plant at Niagara Falls. The puzzles in this chapter feature Tesla’s inventions of AC power systems. A room puzzle consists of several contraption puzzles of different types. In order to solve room puzzles and proceed, players sometimes have to solve certain contraption puzzles first. Environment investigation is needed as players can find required puzzle items e.g. cables and Tesla’s written notes as clues in rooms. Audio cues are played in some contraption puzzles to indicate whether the attempt is correct or how close the attempt is to the solution.

Types of contraption puzzles:

1. Electric frequency/potential matching:

This type of puzzles requires players to manipulate (using mouse/keyboard combinations or touchscreen flicks) Tesla’s special cables in horizontal and vertical directions to adjust (position and shape) and produce current patterns of the correct electric frequency (horizontal) and potential (vertical) that match the current patterns shown to players. The match rule can vary in different puzzles. This type of puzzle can also be incorporated in larger Device repairing/operating puzzles.

2. Device repairing/operating:

This type of puzzles requires players to repair or operate devices/machines in some simple and simulated ways. The procedures vary in different puzzles.

3. Wiring:

This type of puzzles requires players to manipulate switches in the wiring system to achieve different purposes. By powering Lamps, parts of the room will be lit up so more environmental clues can be discovered easily.

4. Miscellaneous:

Other environmental and contraption puzzles.

Puzzle items that player can interact with in the scenes are listed below:

Item Description
General Control Panel Serve different functions
AC Generator Power AC Wiring and TransformerNeed mechanical power
DC Generator Power DC WiringNeed mechanical power
AC Motor Power Track Control and Power TransmissionNeed AC power
DC Motor Power Track Control and Power TransmissionNeed DC power
AC Socket Provide and receive AC powerNeed connection to AC Wiring
DC Socket Provide and receive DC powerNeed connection to DC Wiring
AC Wiring Transmit AC power
DC Wiring Transmit DC power
Track Controller Control the formation of TracksNeed power from AC/DC Motor
Tracks Made of 3×3 rotatable track blocks and allow AC/DC Motor to move around
Power Transmission (mechanics) Transmit mechanical power provided by AC/DC Motor and power Exit Gate
Regulator Regulate the power output of AC MotorNeed AC power
Transformer Transform AC powerNeed AC power
Tesla Coil Prototype Discharge at a sharp point

In the design sketches:

Colour Grey represents completed contraption parts and screen clues;

Colour Red represents uncompleted contraption parts and player controls;

Colour Blue represents DC system;

Colour Purple represents AC system;

Colour Yellow represents dull DC lamp light;

Colour White represents bright AC lamp light.

The default states in all Device operation and Wiring puzzles are as shown in the sketches.

Room Puzzle A1:

The room puzzle is the tutorial of the game and players are encouraged by Tesla’s notes found in the room to solve the puzzles.

The cables (with limited lengths) needed in solving the puzzles are hidden in cabinets and drawers across the room, and some extra ones may be taken to the next rooms.

The Sluice in the room can provide additional water to drive the AC Generator, which can generate more power which is needed in the Diorama puzzle.

One ideal solution:

1. Solve the DC Generator puzzle;

2. Connect the cable from the DC Generator to a nearby DC Socket;

3. Solve the DC Wring puzzle (light Lamp 1);

4. Solve the AC Generator puzzle;

5. Connect the two cables from the AC Generator to a nearby AC Socket.

6. Solve the AC Wring puzzle (form a route from AC Socket to the Sluice);

7. Solve the Diorama puzzle.

Clues: Tesla’s notes

Rewards:

1. The whole diorama is powered and starts to work, demonstrating the general workflow of hydroelectric power generation;

2. Key to the exit door is revealed.

Contraption Puzzle 1: DC Generator

Type: Electric potential/frequency matching

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description:

This puzzle serves as a tutorial of this type of puzzles and thus manipulation of cable in horizontal direction is disabled. Match the blue pattern using a cable connected to the red terminal on the DC Generator. The match rule is vertical inversion.

Audio cue: Yes

Solution:

The current pattern shown in the Player Screen in the sketch

Clues: Tesla’s note

Reward:

Contraption Puzzle 2: AC Generator

Type: Electric potential/frequency matching

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description:

This puzzle serves as a tutorial of this type of puzzles and this time manipulation of cable in horizontal direction is enabled. Match the purple pattern using cables connected to the red terminals on the AC Generator. The match rule is horizontal inversion.

Audio cue: Yes

Solution:

The current pattern shown in the Player Screen in the sketch

Clues: Tesla’s note

Reward:

Intelligence about Tesla’s inventions of AC generators

Contraption Puzzle 3: AC/DC Wiring

Type: Wiring

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description: N/A

Audio cue: Yes

Clues: Tesla’s note

Reward: None

Contraption Puzzle 4: Diorama

Type: Device repairing/operating

Prerequisite of solving: The Sluice is opened

Description:

This puzzle requires players to power the diorama by connecting cables from AC/DC Sockets to its three terminals. Players may refer to the patterns on the AC and DC Generators.

Audio cue: Yes

Solution:

Left: cable with power from grey terminal of the AC Generator

Middle: cable with power from the DC Generator

Right: cable with power from red terminal of the AC Generator

Clues:

Reward: Key to the exit door is revealed.

Room Puzzle A2:

The room puzzle requires players to power the Power Transmission at the Elevator to exit the room.

Trick: Through careful investigation players will find out that there is no DC Socket near the Power Transmission so this puzzle can be solved only when the AC Motor puzzle is solved and the AC Motor is used at the Power Transmission.

One ideal solution:

1. Connect the DC Motor to Track Controller and turn the motor on;

2. Solve the Tracks puzzle (operate Track Controller to form a route from the AC Motor to Power Transmission);

3. Solve the AC Wiring puzzle (form a route from AC Power Source to the AC Socket near Power Transmission);

4. Move the AC Motor to the track next to Power Transmission;

5. Connect the AC Motor to Power Transmission;

6. Solve the AC Motor puzzle (connect it with three AC power sources);

7. Turn on Power Transmission and the Exit Gate opens.

Clues:

“This room looks not so symmetric.” (When walking through the room)

“What’s on the ground?” (When walking on the Tracks)

“The gate feels heavy!” (When investigating the Exit Gate)

“This seems to drive the gate.” (When investigating Power Transmission)

Rewards:

1. The Elevator is powered to transport players to the next room.

Contraption Puzzle 1: AC Motor

Type: Electric potential/frequency matching

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description:

This puzzle features Tesla’s early and most applied invention, AC motor (three-phase). This time the puzzle solving slightly differentiates from the ones of generators, which requires players to memorise the patterns on the motor and match the patterns using cables at an AC Socket without looking at the original patterns. Finally players need to connect the cables to the corresponding terminals on the AC Motor. The match rule is vertical inversion.

Audio cue: No

Solution:

The current patterns shown in the Player Screen in the sketch, from left to right each matches 1-3

Clues:

The match of pattern no.1 is already given.

Reward:

Intelligence about Tesla’s inventions of AC motors

Contraption Puzzle 2: Tracks

Type: Device repairing/operating

Prerequisite of solving: Track controller is connected to working AC or DC Motor

Description:

The puzzle requires the player to rearrange the tracks by rotating each track by operating the Track Controller.

Audio cue: Yes

One ideal solution:

Form a route from the AC Motor to Power Transmission. One possible route is shown in the sketch.

Clues: None

Reward: None

Contraption Puzzle 3: Wiring

Type: Wiring

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description:

Audio cue: Yes

One ideal solution:

Form a route From AC Power Source to the AC Socket near Power Transmission.

Clues: None

Reward: None

Room Puzzle A3:

In this room, players have to gain two accesses to proceed. One is the Tesla Coil Prototype discharging electricity at the Exit Gate, which is already powered by a relative low voltage AC power (this power cannot be cut and is running through a Transformer) that needs to be transformed to a much higher voltage in order to be passed safely. The other is the Exit Gate itself which is already connected with the AC Motor (it needs AC power from the AC Generator), which is not enough because the power output of the AC Motor is too high that the Exit Gate will open and close repeatedly at a very fast speed for players to pass. Thus players have to consider the usage of the Regulator.

There are no Lamps in this room so players can only explore the room environment using their flashlights.

One ideal solution:

Solve the two contraption puzzles in any order.

Clues: Tesla’s notes

Rewards:

1. The Exit Gate is clear and open and close at a slow speed so players can pass.

Contraption Puzzle 1: AC Power

Type: Device repairing/operating

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description:

The puzzle incorporates Electric potential/frequency matching puzzle element and at this time, player can choose to use their own original pattern at the AC Generator and match rule. But still they have to consider how to connect the cables in order to both power and regulate the AC Motor. After the puzzle is solved, the power output level of the AC Motor can be adjusted using the Regulator’s handle.

Audio cue: Yes

Solution: One possible solution is shown in the sketch.

Clues: Tesla’s Note

Reward:

Intelligence about Tesla’s invention of regulator for AC motors

Contraption Puzzle 2: Transformer

Type: Device repairing/operating

Prerequisite of solving: None

Description:

The puzzle requires players to adjust the number of turns of the primary and secondary coils. Tesla’s note explains the basic principles of transformers and implies how high the voltage is needed in order to pass the Tesla Coil Prototype safely.

Audio cue: No

Solution: One possible solution is shown in the sketch.

Clues: Tesla’s Note

Reward:

Intelligence about Tesla’s invention of electrical transformer

Source:

http://www.teslauniverse.com/nikola-tesla-patents-381,968-electro-magnetic-motor

http://www.teslauniverse.com/nikola-tesla-patents-382,280-transmission-of-power

http://www.teslauniverse.com/nikola-tesla-patents-390,820-alternate-current-regulator

http://www.teslauniverse.com/nikola-tesla-patents-433,702-electrical-transformer