Archive for April 5th, 2007

When I was involved with Dungeons and Dragons back in my university days, I always preferred being Dungeon Master to playing. It wasn’t so much that I enjoyed masterminding psycho-drama – although I admit that I cackled at the look on a male player’s face when his female character seduced someone and he found out that I was rolling for pregnancy. But what really interested me was the creative possibilities. That’s probably why I’m so fascinated now with my recent side project of creating the backstory for Imperial Realms, an online strategy game currently in development.

The basic story is already sketched out. It’s standard space opera: thousands of years in the future, in the ruins of a galactic empire, humanity is divided into numerous clans, all of whom compete against each other as well as a cast of alien species. My job is to paint in the details and help the game rise above the standard cliches.

For instance, it would be easy to turn the war-like Spartan clan into a neocon’s delight. Instead, I tried to give them more complexity by dividing them into political factions, each with its own ideas of how war should be carried out. Then, just to shake up the stereotypes, I’ve included mention of a radical team of mercenaries led by a husband and wife who specialize in overthrowing repressive regimes.

Similarly, I made the autistic Inlookers both brilliant and unstable, with a culture dominated by their eugenics program, adding a little detail of how one killed an emperor because he was blocking her sunlight.

For the Clones, I created a half dozen bloodlines and made them victims of persecution until they started a Zionist-like movement to settle their own planet. They are now divided by different traditions of reproduction and by the question of whether they should practice exogamy (breeding outside their bloodlines) or endogamy (breeding inside their bloodlines).

For the Aristocracy, the remnants of the ruling class, I imagined a sub-culture shattered by the disaster that toppled the empire. From the Aristocracy’s formerly exalted position, its members have been reduced to a constant competition for all the titles and offices that no longer have a clear line of inheritance. This competition leads them to displays of extravagant waste, such as destroying their estates in planned meteor showers — excesses that sometimes cause their own deaths.

This week, I’ve been taking notes for alien species. I’ve already written about the Tsihor, pack hunters who cannot meet face to face with humans without instincts taking over and causing an inevitable bloodbath. However, the Tsihor need humans, so both sides have to work around this problem.

Originally, I envisioned the Tsihor as small velocioraptors, but Steve Bougerolle, who master-minds the project, thought they didn’t seem alien enough. They were like fighting cocks, he said. “What does he know?” I asked myself, then, answering, “Enough to sign the cheques,” I redesigned them to make them Lovecraftian horrors.

Other aliens are in the works, and I hope that they will be eeriely strange and, in the cases where they are based on science-fiction standbys, sufficiently original to be interesting in their own right.

In all these cases, part of the challenges is to put as many hooks for plot development as possible into the accounts. These hooks take the form of rumors, which may or may not be true. Freed from the need to be strictly rational, I’ve injected each account with all sorts of gossip and speculation that can be picked up on – or not – once the game is launched.

The game is probably a couple of years from release, and a lot of what I know about it I can’t say. However, my Imperial Encylopedia entries will be posted to the web page soon, so I feel relatively free to talk about them. I’m hugely enjoying the chance to putter around backstage, and I’m looking forward to doing more.

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