Perpetual Dawn is the name I use for the shared context in which all of my games and stories take place. It is a fantasy world that was born largely out of my love for ancient literature, and for what I call the "stories between the stories."

The World Is Made of Stories

The world of Perpetual Dawn is made out of stories in the way that our world is made out of atoms. A character and the stories about that character are inseparable, and the same is true of places, objects, everything. These stories are all tangled together, they refer to each other, and they nest one inside another. The most important of these are not the broad over-arching frame narratives, but the little tiny stories stuffed into the cracks between the other stories.

This comes from my love of ancient literature. The best example of the "stories between the stories" that I know of is a short passage near the beginning of the Mahabharata. As part of setting the stage for the story, the genealogy of the author is given as a sequence of miraculous conceptions and births, the first of which goes:
"And when king Vasu took his seat in that crystal car, with the gift of Indra, and coursed through the sky, he was approached by Gandharvas and Apsaras (the celestial singers and dancers). And as he coursed through the upper regions, he was called Uparichara. And by his capital flowed a river called Suktimati. And that river was once attacked by a life-endued mountain called Kolahala maddened by lust. And Vasu, beholding the foul attempt, struck the mountain with his foot. And by the indentation caused by Vasu’s stamp, the river came out (of the embraces of Kolahala). But the mountain begat on the river two children that were twins. And the river, grateful to Vasu for his having set her free from Kolahala’s embraces, gave them both to Vasu. And the son was made the generalissimo to his forces by Vasu, that best of royal sages and giver of wealth and punisher of enemies. And the daughter called Girika, was wedded by Vasu."
It's a weird little story, and it isn't really connected to anything around it, except as one step in a chain of begats. It raises more questions than it answers, both intrinsic to the story, (how did the mountain come to life?) and in regards to its role as a story (who came up with such a story, and did they base it on anything? How did such a story come to be included?) The only certainty is that it lends a certain amount of credence to the claim on the previous page that there is no kind of story that is not contained in the Mahabharata.

The Stories The World is Made of

The world is not about us humans, we're just there in it. There are many beings we could call gods or giants, or just beyond the world that is right in front of us. For the humans in this world, the most important of them are Old Wander, who commissioned the construction of the earth as a stage on which to act out his stories, and Mirabella, who makes up all of the stories about humans.

Old Wander is remote and disinterested; he abandons everything he makes before he has finished it. He later is replaced by Melmoth and Gloria, who are tasked with holding the world in balance and with striking the set once the last stories have been resolved. When the earth was ready to be a stage on which to act out his stories, he had not yet selected actors, and so he called upon Father Sea and Mother Sky to populate the earth.

Father Sea and Mother Sky had three children:
Garos, the waves,
Fodos, the currents,
and Mirabella, the still waters.

Garos and Fodos were jealous brothers, and they fought over imagined slights. They fought so much that they frightened their sister away, and so she hid in caves and deep pools, far from her brothers. While she was alone, she made up stories to keep her company, and soon began to fill the world with her own stories.

Father Sea and Mother Sky were also upset by their sons' fighting, and angry that they had frightened their sister. Father Sea withdrew himself, so that suddenly Garos and Fodos found themselves without form and unable to continue fighting. Finally then they stopped, and they agreed to a truce, and so Father Sea and Mother Sky gave form to them once again, that they might still act out their own stories.

This is just one little slice of the world of Perpetual Dawn, and it sets the stage for the first game I am working on, which is called Action Potential. Next time I will look more specifically at the premise 
I recently saw a greenlight campaign for a game in which the creators insisted that the player's character could be and do "absolutely anything they wanted." The premise seemed to be an open-world game with extensive and highly modular character creation, including the ability to create and combine superpowers, abilities, and weapons. Unfortunately, from the material they provided, it's impossible to tell how extensive and flexible the system was, because the only thing the creators could think of to do with this system was to kill people in different ways.

I have to give props to them, they came up with a huge range of different ways to kill people. It also makes good business sense to focus on that aspect of the game, since killing people is certainly one of the most common activities in popular and successful video games. I'm not getting all moralistic here, I enjoy indulging my shadow as much as the next guy, I just think it highlights an industry-wide lack of imagination around in-game activities.

This is something that the core gamer audience wants, and it's the most obvious thing to put in a game. It makes sense from a lot of different angles. That said, I think there is significant demand for more varied and interesting in-game activities. There are a few games, like Dear Esther, Journey, Proteus and Flower, that eschew violence altogether, and some of those have been pretty successful. There has also been a recent surge in popularity of survival-horror games, which are usually violent but also have a wide variety of other activities. In some survival games, it's better to avoid confrontation as much as possible.

What is Anything, anyway?

I am a big fan of sandbox games. Skyrim is one* of my top favorite games ever, and it has had a huge impact on my growth as a player and designer. It is, without question, an extremely violent game, but it is also one of the only games I've played where I really came close to feeling like I could do "anything." A quick, top-of-the-head listing of some of the ways I spent my ~200 or so hours in Skyrim:

  • Purchasing and decorating 5 different homes
  • Wandering around looking at the landscape
  • Learning the elaborate alchemy system
  • Searching for potion ingredients
  • Smithing and enchanting
  • Mining ore for smithing
  • Farming (literally)
  • Traveling the world in search of teachers
  • Helping people fall in love
  • Making my own character fall in love
  • Supporting a family
  • Dressing up in different outfits
  • Swimming
  • Base jumping

And that's before counting all of the different things added by mods, and the whole process of choosing mods, trying them out, swapping in different ones to see how they changed the world. There were also things I didn't find particularly interesting, like thievery and guilds.

Of course there was also a lot of creativity in the violent side of the game, incredible variety, but my point here is just to highlight how much else there is that we could be doing. I haven't yet played another game that captured the level of freedom and variety that Skyrim offered.

The Missing Link

The core of Skyrim is a world torn by civil war and beset by dragons. Most of the other things you can do are in some way subordinate to the core activities of fighting battles, slaying dragons, and crawling dungeons. The smithing game is centered around making weapons and armor, the alchemy game is centered around making battle potions, mining supports smithing, and so on. So where I'm really going with this is a suggestion of where I hope to go with this whole project:

  • Make more games where the violence is a subordinate activity.

Games like this already exist, but I think that this is a huge conceptual space that has only been explored a little bit. This isn't the only direction I want to go in, and it isn't where I expect to go with my first game, but there is huge potential here and it's one of the main avenues I intend on exploring.

*I'm terrible at making top-lists, so if you try to keep score you'll probably end up running out of paper. There are just too many variables. If I made one list of my favorite games to play over and over, another of the games that gave me the best experiences, and a third of the games that I consider most important, there would be little if any overlap. Skyrim is one game that I would put on all of those lists -- but not even close to the top of any of them!
I am fortunate enough to have some friends who are much better at this whole programming thing than I am, and last night at the pub they were quite free with their advice. I admit to having a rather inefficient approach to coding, because for me it has more often been a recreation than a profession. Whenever I see something inefficient, I see it as a puzzle, optimization is a game to me. This is fine for silly personal projects, but I've now learned that it is a very bad way to do legitimate coding.

So this is a good way to open things up, a fitting first post: I really have no idea what I'm doing, or what I'm getting into. I know next to nothing about running a business, only a tiny amount about writing software, and effectively nothing about sales and marketing. Every step of the way is going to be a learning experience from start to finish, and probably the same lesson over and over for a while.

I have some advantages here: one is that I'm not frightened by that prospect. I love learning new things, I love sticking my hands in and mucking about and then learning how to muck things up a little less every time. So I'm excited, I'm ready for this.

Second is that I do have a fairly analytical mind, and I think about code in ways that are very useful, even if they aren't particularly graceful. My past experience with esoteric programming languages has I think made me more able to read and maintain optimized code, since I am able to visualize low-level processes sometimes better than high-level processes. On the other hand, my experience with very-high-level languages like Scheme and SQL has given me a basic toolset for working with more abstract structures.

Third is that I have the passion I need to turn insurmountable obstacles into interesting puzzles. I spent a long time being grumpy at people who said "all you need to do is find your passion, and you'll find a way to make it work." If you are reading this, I'm sorry I was so grumpy at you! I hadn't found it yet.

And of course I have people supporting me, giving me advice, and encouraging me. There are a lot of challenges ahead, so it's good to be aware of every advantage that I do have. Sometimes it just takes someone else's viewpoint to make it past a hurdle.

Here's hoping,