By chance, Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale sat on my desk while I stared out the window, trying to come up with one of the bosses in Aether & Iron. Getting nowhere, I flipped through the opening pages and started to read the beginning again and came across a beautiful quote of New York. Helprin sees the city as a complex novel composed by the world over—a diverse and intricate city with filled layers of passion and mystique. The question then comes to us: How can we capture this intricacy of the famed city?
One of the key elements of any roguelike game is the procedural generation—the ability to replay the same plot over and over while encountering a new world each time. For Aether & Iron, we need to be able to create a city that is constantly shifting in meaningful ways so that each time you die, the Player's path to conquer the city feels unique. We do this by structuring our New York as a massive feudal metropolis where territory shifts ownership and location constantly due to conquest, vassalization, or backhanded trickery. But a city is not simply its streets, but the people who live there: distinct and real folk just trying to survive this bizarre dystopian skyscape.
How Many is Too Many
When I first started trying to get a grasp of the story of this world, I began by coming up with the different factions that populate it. From there I began drawing characters and plot points so that there were reasons for things that happened in the world. At the moment, we have nearly 70 factions that I have written for this world, each with a unique personality and competing vision for New York. From the warring clans of the Junkyard Thugs to the ruthless mercenary explorer in the Black Tails, each faction will strive to make their own way in the city from which you are trying to carve a corner for yourself. Some of these factions will interact regularly with the Player while others will offer more context for events that happen throughout a gameplay run.
But even with that many groups, how can we make them feel real? How do we make the massive vast city the Player inhabits seem like it is filled with living factions rather than just wall dressing? Creating a single character requires understanding desires and wants, creating growth and conflict, can that be accomplished with groups of people? Can we capture what makes New York an eternal muse, those layers upon layers of mystery, apathy, and romanticism? I guess we'll just have to do our best and see….
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