Columna Cerului or The perfect RPG (as imagined by Voltech and Shapescapes)
Thank God for the internet. We live in an age where people from across the world can trade ideas, rapidly exchanging themes, images and stories with the mere click of a mouse in seconds.
A glorious side effect of this marvelous invention (apart from the ready accessibility of porn for virtually free) is the fact that you sometimes get to stumble on people who are willing to help you in forming an awesome idea you have in your head from a maelstrom of explosion and tits into a narrative.
The spirit animal which aided me in this little dream quest was Voltech. And what you are about to read is the end result of essay-long PMs laid down into a pitch for an RPG.
But first, an Introduction:
Columna Cerului is a game that is very much thought out by two people who both grew up on a diet of JRPGS (before they went bad and turned into a huge mess of spiky hair and Prada), meaning that it is a thematic game, focused on certain elements which drive the narrative. According to our research…
Research as in constantly reminding each other that we should refrain from high-fiving each other the whole time and instead focus on a story
The themes that are prevalent in most successful RPGs are both epic in scope, while at the same time allowing the player to relate to. These themes are:
· A love story
Yes, I know Final Fantasy 8 fucked that up and turned the ‘love story’ focus into a horrible contrived mess, but this time the love story will not be a focus, but instead a recurring theme that will affect the narrative.
What does that entail, you ask? Well, instead of having the plot revolve around saving someone who wouldn’t have the brains to open a cereal box, love can be an underlying motivation -- a thought that impels characters to action, but never demands it. Why drag the plot to a halt to save some girl drifting through space when you can ride eagles through the sky?
· A Cosmic Disaster waiting to happen
Does it have to have the razzamatazz of the usual JRPGs? No. It can be something more down to Earth and not immediately world-exploding, but if we can make you care about the protagonist, then it could be just as effective.
A threat to the character -- a conflict, either from another person or a force of nature -- breeds action by that character. Action breeds plot motion. Plot motion breeds enjoyment. You’d think this is something JRPGs would have down by now, but…well, here we are.
· A deep, meaningful world
We’re not just talking broad and breathtaking. We’re talking about a world that’s immersive and makes you give a damn. We’re talking about Shadow of the Colossus and Planescape, as opposed to oh…
Every world, regardless of medium, needs to have a certain character -- not just a mish-mash of concept art or NPCs that only exist to give you
time-eating busy work sidequests. There’s nothing wrong with a “save the world” plot -- but it certainly helps if that world matters. The people you meet; the folklore therein; the little moments that make you stop and stare at your surroundings. Give me that in an RPG, and I’ll gladly give you my whole wallet.
· A story that shows you what it’s all about as soon as possible, with a very clear focus on its themes.
We’re talking about a story that doesn’t drag its feet or jump around or shift final bosses at the last minute.
The villain and the heroes are presented at the very beginning and the final boss payout is there at the very end. It’s called narrative continuity and we’re bringing it back, since most game developers seem to have forgotten about it these days.
· A story that, even with meaningful themes and powerful moments, remembers that it’s a game -- and therefore, fun.
Games from both the East and West, regardless of genre, seem to have a certain problem lately: the developers have all formed a conga line where each team member has his head firmly lodged in the ass of the person ahead of him. On one hand, we have games sacrificing their character to look cinematic and gritty; on the other, we have JRPGs that end on THIS:
Look, there’s nothing wrong with going for a particular style, or working deep ideas into the story. But there are two important factors. 1) Those themes should be WEAVED into the narrative, not shot in your face with a cannon. 2) You need tonally-different moments to balance them out. Make us laugh. Make us go “ooh” and “ahh.” Make us cheer and shout.
JRPGs take a lot of flak for being loaded with melodrama. I say that a shot of fun is just what this dream game needs.
And now, let’s move on to brass tacks.
Image by StickerSticker
In the setting’s case, we need a world that feels huge, but is not a sprawling mess of designer landscapes without any function. We need cities that are divided by great geographical features, though spaced moderately far apart. We need a certain flavor to the world, preferably one that says fantasy, but in a good way.
What I’m saying is, we need consistency. And consistency means a world that is based on a single theme/power source/historic period with some deviation between regions, but not enough so it hurts the eye and you sensibility.
Personally, I’d go with a 16th century feel. Why is that?
Because this century is the century that marked a turning point in art, civilization and technology in mankind’s history. It was the age of Great Discovery, it was chock-full of conflict and because it was essentially the peak point of the Renaissance.
Also, the 16th century was the age of alchemists and occultists riding side by side with scientists. It was the age of batshit-insane theories walking side by side with the theory of gravity. It was the age when people had a pretty clear view of how the world worked, but hadn’t yet agreed on the details.
The world is divided into four great nations (the land nations) and the Sky Nation.
Each Nation is defined according to its characteristics and its main source of power. Their division is based on metals, in an attempt on our behalf to try and get all Moorcock up in this bitch.
Ferrum: The nation of Iron is the greatest military force on the planet and the homeland of the story’s main antagonist. It’s a land run mostly by its military, its economy and politics based on aggressive expansion.
Ferrum’s aesthetics are mostly based on Victorian England, though parodied so it can be represented as both a nation possessing a current technological advantage, but also bloodthirsty to boot. So far, its attempts to conquer neighboring nations have failed due to their combined strength.
Ferrum intends to change that pretty soon.
Cuprum: Cuprum is a nation of magicians, its power source mostly based on the exploitation of spirits and magical constructs. Granted, its power once rivaled (and even exceeded) Ferrum’s but they appear to have gradually degenerated.
Cuprum’s aesthetics are mostly based on Renaissance Italy. They are a center of knowledge but also dwell in the shadow of a once great empire. They are also reminiscent of Byzantium, in their way of foolishly adhering to their older, less advanced ways.
Cuprum wishes not so much to rise in power, as to eliminate the competition.
Argentum: Argentum is a nation in between, a nation of merchants, diplomats and engineers. Its power source is mostly its mediation, as the nation set between Ferrum and Cuprum, mostly responsible for handling their relations. Argentum is also the main character’s nation of origin.
Argentum is very much like 16th century Spain, a mediator in the affairs of other nation. Their power lies behind the scenes and would be helpless in a direct confrontation. Which is the reason they choose to sabotage the conflict since the beginning of the story.
Argentum wants things to remain as they are and will do anything in its power to make sure it is so.
Brunzus: The nation of Bronze is a recently born nation, fuelled by illusions of grandeur. It is comprised of people from Cuprum and Stanoum (a lesser nation), recently liberated from the collapsing Cuprum Empire.
Brunzus is a miniature replica of 16th century Europe, with its mismatch of styles, politics and technological differences. Granted, it is the greatest center of learning, but it lacks focus. It tries to center on spiritual magic, while at the same time attempts to replicate Ferrum’s technological superiority.
Brunzus wants to be the next great nation.
THE SKY NATION:
Though not technically a nation, it is inhabited by people who are indigenous to the game’s world (and also natives from other worlds, though the exact details are never quite explained).
The Sky nation is a great landmass that rotates through the material world, through the Spirit world and into other material worlds in an arbitrary fashion. No one is exactly certain how this rotation takes place, but the four nations have noticed that the Sky Nation materializes in their world every 4 years.
But what does it have to offer to them, besides a bitching tourist attraction you will ask? Well the Sky Nation is the one place in the world where the spirits are indigenous to it and can appear willingly, without any need for summoning processes or binding.
It is also the home plane of the Padisha Emir Daiphel, the great Iphrit.
Of their number, he is the only one with the power to grant wishes able to affect the history of an entire world. But to gain that advantage, one must compete in a great tournament for his amusement, with his spirit companion by his side.
Only the champion of a nation that manages to reach the feet of Daiphel’s throne will be allowed to speak their one true wish, a wish that can (and will) affect the world’s history, until the next one appears.
The previous champion was a spirit binder from the Argentum nation, who wished for the status quo to be upheld and wished great fortune to befall his country and himself.
But this time, the Ferrum decides to play for keeps. Argentum on the other hand, secure in its previous victory, does not pay the proper attention toward both choosing its champion and his spirit companion.
THE MAIN CHARACTERS
To start listing every character would be a waste of your time, so instead we are going to focus on the protagonists and their companions. First, our main character:
Ren, the unlikely hero:
Ren’s a fanboy. He’s the son of the previous champion, he’s been looking up to his father his whole life and he’s wanted nothing more than the chance to be him.
The problem with Ren is that this is his only purpose. The other problem is that he lacks the resolve. His head is in the clouds and he has lived the last four years a pampered existence, during which he has solely focused on this one purpose.
But with the death of his father, the frailty of both him and his family becomes apparent. Ren, who had been the sole focus of their lives loses the backing he needed and everything begins to fall apart in his little world. His older brother, freed from their father’s affectations toward his younger brother, becomes a bitter old rival to him and his mother, who has lived her entire life supported by the champion husband, finds herself lost.
Ren’s original purpose is to get to the Sky Nation, enter the tournament and wish that his family returns to the way it was, without once realizing that he is the glue that holds the family together and that this crisis could have been averted by his personal intervention.
Ren gets his wish (halfway) granted, when he is chosen to compete in the Sky Nation’s tournament by the spirit…
Quillo given form by BlackPassion
Quillo is a Rakshasha, a shapeshifting trickster spirit and Ren’s companion. He chooses the child because he reminds him of himself when he was a lesser spirit, a creature that had no priorities, was short-sighted and foolish.
Quillo doesn’t help Ren in the beginning of the story. Instead, he showers the child with abuse and enjoys his failings, showering him with the abuse he thinks is good for him, the very thing he went through when he stuggeld to survive in the spirit world.
That is not to say that Quillo is all powerful now. He is still a struggling spirit without purpose, lacking a moral compass. Together, Ren and Quillo complement each other, yet fail to truly learn anything in the first part of the game.
It is in this part that we meet their counterparts of the Ferrum nation and antagonists…
Nauna is Ren’s complete opposite: unlike Ren’s little fanboy motivation taken too far, she has been trained since birth by the Ferrum nation for this purpose: to compete for the wish of the great Daiphel and wish for her nation to grow strong enough to crush its neighbours.
Unlike Ren, Nauna was never raised for any other reason and her training was her sole focus in life and the only way she could hope to earn her parent’s affections. Also unlike Ren, she hates this tournament with all her heart and wishes to end this in the vain hope that turning her country into an expansionist giant will somehow earn her their love.
Her spirit companion is…
Ogun is a rakshasha-born, a spirit that was born of the union of two greater spirits and had her entire existence planned out for her. She was also one of Quillo’s bitterest enemies in the spirit world.
Ogun was bound by Nauna’s masters to train with her for the tournament for years and has grown tired of the material world. She will fight dirty so she can both get rid of her cruel master and get back home.
She will also go to lengths so she can pound that uppity little upstart Quillo into a fine thin paste.
Due to the article's absurd size, I'm breaking it down. Awesome ideas continued in part 2!
Voltech is the electronic projection of the man called Rhamy Payne, who was used in a secret government experiment concerning digital immortality in the 90's. Having evolved past his flesh-form, he has decided to keep a blog and use his digital superiority to take games and movies apart and post his opinions on the internet. You can find his greater self/dream projection blog at:
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