Last time I talked about where I start with a game. This time I am going to talk about definining my project. Definitions are important. They ensure everyone is on the same “page” when they play a game. As the designer of the game, it is kind of important that I have a really clear idea of what it is about – the central conciet. The first thing I need to do for this project is decide on what the heck “cyberpunk” means in my game.
Cyberpunk – a definition
A quick google search will reveal a LOT of information about cyberpunk, and a lot of interesting, informative and just plain strange sites on the topic. A particular favourite of mine is the Cyberpunk Review site as it is regularly updated and has comprehensive articles on a range of cyberpunk-related topics, from genre definitions to film reviews. The Cyberpunk Project has a variety of links too. Sites like these are useful for defining what “cyberpunk” is. But I kind of found a problem. It turns out that cyberpunk is different things to different people. Who would have thought it? The problem is that these days it covers a whole range of different kind of fiction, including everything from Ghost In the Shell to Code Noir to Akira to Blade Runner to Dream Park to RoboCop to Mona Lisa Overdrive (yes, I’ve read it since my last post). Using all of these different sources would create quite a hodge-podge of a game setting. In order to create a single coherent vision for my game I need to boil these down in my brain and come up with a definition of what “cyberpunk” means to me, in the context of this game.
So what do I think cyberpunk is all about? Initially I thought it was about the individual struggling against immovable forces – the underdog trying to find some way to (at the very least) maintain the status quo of their existence. The heroes (and I use the term loosely) of cyberpunk fiction are never the powerful movers and shakers of the setting. They are people caught up in events far bigger than themselves, moved along voluntarily or otherwise (usually otherwise!) by the machinations of unseen hands. I certainly want this idea of not being in complete control of their path to come through in my game, but I don’t think it is the central concept that cyberpunk fiction deals with. Looking at all of the sources mentioned in the previous paragraph, one thing stands out clear amongst all of them – a question of identity. In Blade Runner we wonder if Deckard is a replicant. In Code Noir Parish is unsure if she is in control of her own body anymore. In Robocop the main character struggles to claw back what he remembers from his past to prove he is more than just a corporate tool. These stories deal with the idea of a person’s “disconnection” from society. All three characters mentioned above are removed from the norm by their nature (or percieved nature).
Now I have some ideas that I can use to form my definition of what cyberpunk is all about. Lets give it a try;
Cyberpunk stories are about characters disconnected from the world at large who find themselves in situations beyond their own control. They are struggling to find their place in a hostile world.
That will do for a start. It may not match your definition of what cyberpunk is, but that is okay. Stealing from the punk aesthetic, individuality is good. What do we do with this definition though?
The Three Questions
Remember last time I mentioned the 3 guiding questions for game design? Well, it is time to take a look at the first one. The question is;
What is your game about?
This is asking “what is the theme” or central idea behind the game. It turns out this is easier than I thought. It is about “identity”. That is a bit vague though. I will need it to be more specific. My game, therefore, will be about characters “finding their place” in the world.
I imagine, at this still formative stage, that my game will be about overcoming internal and external obstacles in order to achieve something that the character values. This might mean players will have to identify goals for their characters, but may not. In the back of my head I imagine some mechanic that makes characters struggle between what they want and what others want – during play the character’s “place” will be decided by one of these forces…
But all of this needs more thought. I am now contemplating the second question, but do not yet have any answers. I will write again when I do!