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Article - 'Background Research and Historical Reference.' by Guest

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003

Blurb

A short article aiming to open the reader's mind unto the wonderful world of researching mythology and ancient texts and pillaging them of ideas! Gives hints where to look and how and also about their application.

Body

Background Research and Historical Reference.

By Lord Gremlian

Ok you want to make a game. Take a hero, a villain, a nefarious plot and a party of zany but lovable characters and you’re good to go! However, where most people go wrong is originality. Now, most of you who read that last line most probably are thinking “Ah! This article is to encourage people to be MORE original with their ideas!”, and if so; Wrong. A completely original game would be an incredibly amazing feat to accomplish. And so we borrow from the greats.

Ok, for example I want to make a game about Bert. Bert is an average, run of the mill type hero with his spiky hair and longsword. Now I think “Oh no! Bert is too much like every other hero ever! People will mock me and my game!” and so I scrap the game because I have no clue how to make Bert any less Cliché.
After an hour I pick up the book “Faust”. I flick through the pages of that legendary epic and think, “Sigh. I wish I could design a hero as original as Faust.” (Yes. I actually think “Sigh.”). Then the idea clicks…how many of you out there have read Faust? Heard of it? Hehe I assumed so. So if I DID take some of the features from it…you really wouldn’t know would you? But what about the people who have…wont you mock me? On the contrary! Faust is a sheer work of art, one of the finest plays of all time and over a thousand years old. You’d be pleased to see that someone else had read the book, adapting parts of it and so on.

Take the book “Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe. Faust, having been written in the Dark Age and as such would be impossible to read without a translation, isn’t really accessible to the common man. Marlowe in the 16th century said something along the lines of “Bugger that. Ima translate me this ‘ere play and adapt it! Mwahah! None shall know and it will look like all my own work!!” And henceforth Doctor Faustus was born. This play almost rivals the original in its use of language, content and sheer dramatical effect. People who have read both state that “There will be only one truly great adaptation of Faust, and when the copy is lost people will shout ‘here lies Doctor Faustus.” After all, mimicry is the best form of flattery. And he who laughs last laughs BEST. Well ok that had nothing to do with the paragraph but it sounds funny. Yes. Yes indeed.

If you’ve read “FF7 through the eyes of the innocent”, another article on GW, you will already understand how background research can help a game a lot. Where do you think the name ‘sephiroth’ came from? They made it up? No. The Sephiroth is the 10 noble truths, or whatever the holy Torah calls it. The lifestream and mako were borrowed from a pre-Christ society that did in fact believe in planet energy and its reparation via “souls”. The “Death Corps” in Final Fantasy Tactics surely have some resemblance to the “Jacques” of the peasant groups of the French revolution, and what about the Zodiac stones from the same game? All “good” games allude to events in our planets history. This isn’t theft of ideas but an alteration of proceedings to fit in with a fantasy setting. Trolls from Norse legend were called “Skraelings”, and when Leif Eriksson landed in the Americas, it is reported, he called the natives by that name. Dragons from Celt and Chinese mythology, Great serpents like Jomagund, giants like the Cyclops; all taken from the writings of others.

Borrowing from popular literature, or pulp writings, aren’t really recommended as many people will probably recognise it and comment negatively. However, famous writers such as Shakespeare and his works are excellent to steal…erm borrow from. I mentioned “popular” literature earlier, but tell me: how popular ARE the works of Shakespeare? How many of you out there have clasped your eyes on “The Merchant of Venice” or “Much Ado About Nothing”? Sure, Romeo and Juliet may have been read by every schoolchild throughout the world, but a midsummer nights dream hasn’t. And even if it has, didn’t Shakespeare steal “Oberon” and “Puck” and “Titania” from someone else? Yes! From the unrecorded monastery-bound author of Faust.

No matter HOW well you believe your plot is devised, read it over and go and do some research based on that. Can’t afford to splash out on books? Not to worry. Libraries are a great public service and the Internet is a great reference tool. Go and research dragons now and be surprised what you find. Alternatively; you’ve sorted out all of your “good guys” in the game? Ones that will join the party? Well read “Enduring Love” and add a science loving rationalist whose main falldown is that he wont believe anything until proof is given, or a rather inept wizard who is pretty bad at magic but speaks every language imaginable aka rincewind from Discword. Like I say, imitation is the best form of flattery.

I, personally, am currently working on a Faust-esque fangame where all the dialogue will be in Rhyme, much like the original version. The idea is original in itself, but not in content. I will still be using the devil and soul selling theme, the theme of grim England in the dark ages and most of the events in the play, but hopefully it will bring the novel to the common man through GAMING FUN!

Remember guys; originality is all well and good, but if you can adapt, steal, borrow or if its already been done; why improve on it? Embiggen (Simpsons rocks hehe), your plotline with the array of classic mythology, great literary works or historical events available!

Try out some of these sites!

http://www.bulfinch.org/ - The best site on the Internet for mythology in my opinion, whether it be Greek, medieval or modern mythology.

www.amazon.com - Buy some books here! Whahay!

http://www.gamingw.net/article.php?id=13 <--- an article on FF7 that explains the background research in great detail. Over 35 pages long! Run!!