Fleshing out the world

One part I really enjoy about game design is figuring out the lore of the game. What's going on? Why's it happening? Stuff like that. One way I've found to do that is just to start writing about stuff. Once you've got a base idea to write about, just start writing - and a lot of weird stuff just falls out of that process.

At the start, our game's not going to be narratively heavy. It's likely to not have any narrative at all. But our goal is to add this over time, and to make the narrative a big part of the experience of playing the game. Even if there's no "story", though, the world matters, because it influences the visual design of the characters, and how the mechanics of the game work.

So, since we're not bound by any sort of requirement for secrecy, I figured I'd post a bit of what I've been noodling about. And just to be clear - it's all basically a "narrative sketchpad". None of this is polished or edited. Still - would love to hear what you think.

All the buildings had burned. Nothing could stop that. As the heat had risen, it was only a matter of time before something spontaneously ignited. In Manhattan, as the days passed, the sun would reflect off of buildings and focus on random things - a piece of paper in a building would catch fire, and from there, nothing would stop the whole floor from going up in flames.

There were still some buildings where some floors were intact. We went looking for those floors. For the things contained there. Remnants of a long-distant past - things that people in those days didn't think twice about. Staplers. Lightbulbs. Cubicle walls. So much technology had been lost - even though the bunkers had workshops, and artisans passed building skills down through the years, making something like a lightbulb took a level of knowledge that we simply couldn't muster these days. Every scrap of tech we had went into building the suits and staying alive. It was all we could do.

So we search the land. For stuff. Remnants of years past. Computers. Pens.


Eighty floors up I'd walked. Out of the sun, it was much cooler, and walking up the stairs wasn't difficult. I'd be safe from the Nukes at least. Their suits were so ungainly that getting up this high was nearly impossible. And this floor still had its windows, somehow, so I'd be safe from the Windwalkers. If they were coming in, they'd take the stairs like the rest of us.

I looked out over the edge, down to what used to be city streets. Now twenty-foot deep toxic rivers. The buildings formed a grid of skeletal vertical islands. Most of the buildings still stood tall, but some had leaned over to rest on their neighbors. Rickety, makeshift bridges connected the buildings above the waterline - the Nukes were the only ones who could tolerate walking underwater through the toxic sludge. Windwalkers would jump from building to building using their boosters, but we had to cross on bridges like regular people.

Working on the suits was difficult under normal conditions. Getting the armor plates just right when all you have to work with are recycled car doors and a crude smelting station is hard enough. But to work on the reactor is misery. You have to wear a containment suit. So you can't feel things anymore. Trying to disassemble and reassemble a miniature nuclear reactor through thick gloves, staring through a grungy glass plate is like trying to do brain surgery underwater.

Disassemble the heating coils, and the pumps that manage the cooling water. Replace all the seals on the pressurized tanks. Clear all the vents. Remember that every piece of this system is infused with astronomically high levels of radiation that would kill you in less than ten minutes.

That's why the suits are so bulky. The Dustwalkers have to slog a forty-pound nuclear reactor on their back, and hope that nothing fails in the system or they'll die. The suit is so heavy that everything they do has to be assisted through an electromechanical exoskeleton. Plates creak as they rub against each other. Walking is difficult - it's like walking around in one of those old scuba suits they used to have in black-and-white movies. The kind that were attached to the boat above them by a big hose, where you looked out through tiny portholes. The suits didn't even look that different to him, except the face mask was more like a World War 2 gas mask crossed with a diving bell. It had an ominous look to it. But this was an ominous piece of hardware.

Seven feet tall. Covered in radioactive rust. Getting into the suit - just putting it on - probably took a year or two off the Dustwalkers lifespan, and they'd venture out to the Wasted Lands two or three times a week. They're hailed as heroes and treated like kings - but I see their pain. The radiation burns on their back. The hollowness in their eyes. They're being cooked alive in those suits, not just from the heat - they're being cooked from the inside out.

Anyway! That's the bright, cheery world we're inhabiting. Whee!