Friday, December 19, 2008

Modern Influences

When I started brainstorming the characters for “Four Kingdoms”, I actually made a point to start in a place very different from where the ‘writer’ part of me wanted to start. When you write a story of any kind, your characters are usually created from archetypes that then become more complex and definitive. To use a cooking example, normally when one creates a character, they pick a main ingredient, and then add other ingredients to accent its flavor. This is usually done over the course of the storyline, and by the end, you’ve got a tasty cake. Or a well-developed character.

In “Four Kingdoms”, I approached things differently. While a lot of our inspiration comes from stories like “Redwall” and “Mouse Guard”, where characters are defined by personality archetypes (the quiet tactician, the brash warrior, the doting Abbeymum, etc), I started as I would start with a video game design: purpose archetypes, not personality. I got the idea from the Xbox 360 title “Lost Odyssey” – for those in the know, it’s very much designed like a classic Japanese role-playing game like Final Fantasy, with lots of story sequences and complex turn-based battles that involve a combination of magical and physical attacks. The characters and their respective roles, however, seemed to have been assembled from a design perspective.

For example, an early party makeup consists of two warriors and a mage. Gameplay dictates that you protect the mage in battle because his spells can turn the tides, and to reinforce this notion, you learn in the storyline cutscenes that the mage character is actually quite a coward – his purpose in the game and his purpose in the storyline are one.

So I approached the main characters of “Four Kingdoms” as if I were designing a game. What would a “balanced” party be? Quinlan is ideal for long-range and very close-range attacks with his bow and tesque skills, making him the ideal ‘scout’ class, while Dakkan’s wooden staff and his strong build make him a good ‘warrior monk’ class, or even a ‘brawler’. Kenosh, being the strong-willed warrior that he is, is an ideal ‘knight’ or ‘paladin’. Later characters will fall into the ‘assassin’, ‘mage’, and ‘barbarian’ classes, and some characters may even switch classes as their personalities evolve.

So what does all this geeky chicanery mean for “Four Kingdoms”? Well, in the end, all it really means for you, the readers, is that the characters will have their own unique and easily identifiable roles to play when they’re in danger. I’m hoping that this more modern interpretation of the character archetype perhaps helps readers identify with the characters quicker – it’s all very much an experiment in narrative design. But then again, I design video games for a living, so if I didn’t approach it from this kind of perspective, I’d feel like I was doing something wrong!

Stay tuned to this blog for more updates about the comic as it progresses – and maybe even another update from Rachel!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Fated Players

During the initial brainstorming stage for Four Kingdoms, the first thing I wrote down was the following: “It’s a medieval-style world, it’s dirty and grimy. There was a war a long time ago that splintered the races around the landmass, which did not have a name at first, but is now known as the Four Kingdoms.” I spent the next many long days mapping out the world, the races, and the little quirks that would make them interesting to learn about.

Once the world and its races were established (a process that could and probably will take up an entire future blog post), the important thing was then to create a story that showed them all off!

In other stories where the world was created before the characters, the story is usually focused on shuttling the characters from place to place so as to fit in as many cool environs as possible. Lord of the Rings, for example, wasn’t a deep character study so much as it was a simple story taking place in a very complex world. Mouse Guard’s first collection feels a lot like this, though the “Winter” events seem to hint at a greater focus on the characters and less on the world at large. Four Kingdoms was written to skirt the line between introducing a new world and focusing on its characters and their plight, and to ensure that both received the appropriate amount of attention.

Quinlan is the protagonist of Four Kingdoms, and he is the reader’s vessel to the world of ‘good’ in the story. As evil creeps across the land, he is the one we follow. By the time the story begins, he has just been inducted as the Captain of the Tamian Royal Guard, has a war hero grandfather to live up to, has relationship problems with his girlfriend, Janik, and overall feels that the world’s coming down around his ears. If it weren’t for his best friend, Dakkan, he’d probably lose his mind.

Dakkan is a soldier in the Lutren Sea Guard – the carefree and rambunctious counterpart to Quinlan’s occasional over-dramatization. Despite being in the Sea Guard, Dakkan actually spends most of his time on land, ensuring that the catapults used to protect the Sunsgrovian coasts are in peak condition. He and Quinlan befriended one another at an early age, both of them understanding the difficulties of living under battle-hardened veterans. Dakkan’s father, Kenosh, is the Captain of the Lutren Sea Guard. It is Kenosh who learns of impending dangers to Sunsgrove, and it is Kenosh who suggests that Quinlan join him on a peacekeeping mission to Canid territory at the story’s onset.

Hardin is the reader’s vessel to the world of ‘evil’ in the story, though I use the term loosely, since ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are very much a matter of perspective in Four Kingdoms. Hardin leads a tribe of Ermehn barbarians called the Sratha-din across the frozen tundra of the Northlands in hopes of a better life, though many have long since given up hope. Driven by desperation, Hardin and his fellow warriors turn south to the Four Kingdoms, hoping that somehow they will be able to right the wrongs of the past and secure a future for their kind.

Hopefully in a week or few, I'll be able to talk a bit about the various inspirations for Four Kingdoms, from the aforementioned fantasy stories to the Xbox 360 title "Lost Odyssey"!