July 16, 2016

What’s the story?

As we’re working hard to make our stonepunk arena action game Antegods a reality, we keep you up to date with weekly development updates from our design, art and code departments. And once in awhile, we throw in a wild card, like this week: our writer Niels (not to be confused with code lead Niels) digs into his involvement in the game’s creation. 



So what’s a writer doing in a team-based multiplayer game anyway? That’s a great question with a range of answers. Actually, when I was first brought on board, about one and a half years ago, my task was to help shape the creative vision for Antegods. 

I talked to everyone involved, trying to find out what they wanted to achieve. There turned out to be a lot of material already: the floating shooter mechanic, the team-based energy-gathering dynamic, the ‘space maya’ theme, the huge scale range from the tiny natives to the gigantic titans. We then tried to blend everything together, to make it of one piece. When working all of this into a story document, I started at the very center, with the collectible silk energy that’s everywhere in the universe. Then I just built on that. 

There was not a plot in sight, but we were definitely trying to come up with the game’s story. Not its narrative per se, the story you come across while playing, but the story Codeglue could tell people about the game. This helped a lot to get funding in the early days, but its essence is still everywhere in the project today. If you go to the Antegods website and read the first paragraph of text, that’s my work right there. 

Stonepunk universe

One of the ideas back then was that Antegods would be a story universe, and the game would be just one part of it. This had everything to do with the fact that this is a multiplayer game. By nature, these don’t contain a lot of story, at least not in the foreground. Story elements may be implied in each game object, each backdrop, each interaction… but you always have to read between the lines. 

Yet we were coming up with some really exciting ideas and we thought it would be a shame if all of these would remain mostly hidden. This is where the idea of the story universe came from, a conceptual place where stories in many forms could take place. And we decided we’d make a comic book parallel to the game and immediately start exploring these possibilities 

Comic book

For me as a writer, it made sense to take charge of the comic book. One of the first things I did is draft an outline, which helped sketch the game’s backstory, and vice versa. It explains how a particular group of players enters the game’s tournament. In the beginning, they’re hunted down by Spanish conquerors, on Earth, hundreds of years ago, and manage to escape with their stone spaceships. The players are then dropped into a very strange new world, while also still dealing with their personal problems. How exactly this will play out I’m not sure yet; the outline is painted in very broad strokes. 

Right now we’re making just one issue of the comic book, but it’s set up as the first installment of what we hope to be a trilogy. So if all goes well, we could expand on it later. And conversely, if we focus on other things instead, the first comic is designed to be able to stand on its own as well. 

Recently I did a lot of talking to people and looking through portfolios trying to find the right comic book artist for this project. And I’m happy to say Robin Keijzer will be our man. We’ve gone through the usual reality check of determining the actual number of pages and whittling down the outline to a more realistic shape; I’ll be writing the script this summer and Robin will start drawing in the fall. 

Space Maya heroes  

One ‘detail’ left to fill in is the team of heroes that will star in the comic. In the game, the heroes are the players. In other words, you. But in the comic this obviously wouldn’t fly. We need charismatic, archetypal characters that may be like you but can also stand alone. 

Recently Tom, our art lead, has been tinkering with alternative totems for the game, making them less abstract by taking inspiration from the animal kingdom. This immediately sparked ideas for animal allegiances for our comic’s heroes: they’d obviously each have a power animal that would also signal something about their personality.

Underlying themes

Another interesting thing is that the comic forces me to think more deeply about the project’s underlying themes. A multiplayer game, with its roles and rules, a systemic media form if you will, automatically points you to questions like ‘what does this object do?’, ‘what laws does it listen to?’ and perhaps ’where does it come from?’. But a comic, a narrative media form, brings up very different questions. What are the (moral) issues our heroes struggle with? What’s the story really about? (As the Antegods compete to rule the universe, it will likely have something to do with dealing with that kind of power.) 

The answers to these questions, once we find them, will really define the comic book, and if we’re lucky, we can then find ways to feed them back into the game as well. 

In-game writing

Later on in the development process, some of my writing may end up in the game itself. I’m excited to toy around with (partly) procedurally generated text, for the game’s play-to-play narration, and things like descriptions of the procedurally generated levels where the matches take place. 

Other than that, I’m simply along for the ride, and lend a hand where I can. After all, the story is woven through everything in Antegods’ design, art and code, and sometimes helps in making small and large decisions. And sometimes it’s the other way around and the other disciplines inspire a new take on the story. I love this type of cross-pollination and am eager to see how the Antegods universe will continue to grow.

Next time 

In the next post, we’ll have an update from our story department. To keep up to date, please follow us on Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook. Or subscribe to our newsletter. Whatever is your taste in social media! 

Antegods is supported by the Dutch Cultural Media Fund, Cultural Industries Fund NL and the MEDIA Programme of the European Union.


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Antegods, Development