Failure of Fantasy

Here’s the question: what is fantasy?

1. imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
2. the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
-Dictionary.com

That definition sounds pretty good.

“Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting.”
-Wikipedia

That one doesn’t. Fantasy is not about “magic” or “the supernatural” in and of themselves, although they certainly must be central to the story. Fantasy is about taking participants in the story to a universe that contradicts the participants inherent expectations about the way things work. The story told hinges on this new and unpredictable world. Participants get to explore an unfamiliar world as they follow the characters on their journey.

Using this definition, a lot of self-proclaimed “fantasy” isn’t really fantasy at all. Whenever a “fantasy” story casts its story in a world of dwarves, elves, harpies, vampires, werewolves, goblins, orcs, wizards, etc. it is doing so because most fantasy readers will be familiar with such a setting and it allows the storyteller to cut straight to the storytelling. Yet, inherently, this is not fantasy.

These stories are still speculative fiction, but they are no longer true fantasy. I would call them speculative fiction with fantasy elements, but I certainly wouldn’t label them as real fantasy. Of course, the term fantasy can be used to refer to these works of speculative fiction, but it is an insult to the real works of fantasy that take the time to explore a completely new and unpredictable world (e.g. Discworld).

Some of these faux-fantasy universes include roleplaying games, both on the table and in games like Minecraft, and amateur “fantasy” stories. Obviously, world creation is hard and it is time consuming to think up convincing worlds that have interesting aspects.

Ultimately, this was the downfall of my Minecraft roleplaying server. The setting was not engaging, and players had difficulty getting immersed in the lore. But why is a “fantasy” setting necessary in the first place? People seem to associate roleplay with fantasy, probably because of the prevalence of roleplaying fantasy games. In addition, both RP and fantasy aim to satisfy the same itch: they are methods for an escape from reality.

But at the end of the day, you can have a fantasy Minecraft server without roleplaying, and you sure as hell don’t need a fantasy setting to have a roleplaying server. When I founded my Minecraft server, I wanted to see how much of a functional economy would emerge if I only set in place the loosest guidelines and money functionalities. Predictably, people found little need for money, since resources are, necessarily, abundant within (almost) any Minecraft world.

I am still interested in seeing how a Minecraftian universe can be reduced to a level where economic transactions become more feasible than collecting the resources yourself. On some level, this requires restraint from the players. However, people will not restrain themselves if it restricts their fun. So the parameters for my new server are slowly taking shape.

For one, people need an incentive to play, beyond just entertainment. There are a lot of competing venues of entertainment overall, and Minecraft is a particularly niche form of entertainment. But even within the realm of Minecraft, the pool of available servers is huge. And without a critical mass of players, a server cannot succeed. So, logically, the server needs to market itself in a way that pulls enough people in while still maintaining all the other parameters.

The server will be limited edition; it will only run for 50 days (7 weeks). This means that the story has a beginning and an end, and players are driven to accomplish a tangible goal within a time frame provided by an external force.

The setting of the server will be colonial. A group of colonists must set up a lucrative colony on a newly discovered land. The trading company that is sponsoring the colony will only fund it for ten years, during which it must start making money and pay back the initial investment. This means that players must collaborate both to survive and to generate revenue.

When the server first begins, players start on the ship that brought them to the uncharted land. It has a supply of food and tools. However, players will become hungry at a much faster rate than in the regular game. Any action, from crafting to using a tool to placing a block, will significantly reduce a player’s food bar. This will result in either a high death rate (because players will not be able to sustain their health and die from trivial falls, etc.) or a high food consumption rate.

Since the colony needs a much greater amount of food, a significant amount of energy needs to go into gathering supplies, which means that until farming and breeding infrastructure is established, not much effort will be put towards gathering valuables. Food scarcity will be boosted on the server, by making crops grow slower and increasing the cooldown time for animal breeding. Food is important because characters get only one life, raising the stakes considerably. Also, once a player dies he must wait until the next ship arrives from the motherland. These arrive once every six months ingame, which translates to roughly every 2.5 days real time. However, shipment arrivals are important for other reasons as well.

The colony can purchase things from its sponsor company. Of course, the prices are higher than reasonable. Some of the things the colony can trade away include gold, redstone, diamonds, magical items, sugar, and melon. In exchange for such raw materials, the colony is allotted some number of “trading points” with which it can buy guns (maybe), food, and other normal things like pistons, dispensers, lumber, stone, iron, saddles, etc. The exact trade ratios will be determined at a later time. They may also be adjusted as the game progresses.

Right now I think the difficulty will be set to peaceful, both because monsters would detract from the experience IMO, and because it means that the use of gunpowder, bonemeal, string, and slimeballs can be restricted.

To add back in some of the conflict lost from monsters, I hope to have two factions in the world. An existing faction, the natives, will already have infrastructure when the settlers arrive. The natives have farms, granaries, domesticated pets, mines, and supplies of string and bones. However, the natives don’t have guns (if they are put in) and can’t use any sort of redstone. To balance this, natives will be able to use magic freely, while settlers cannot. This means both sides have items from the regular game that the other side cannot access. Having such a dichotomy opens the door to different kinds of diplomatic relationships, depending on what the players decide to do ingame. I have no idea whether raids or trades will be more popular.

Unfortunately, I am also wary about creating two factions in the first place. Disparate groups on a server cause two problems. They isolate players from one another, essentially requiring double the players for two-faction play to feel the same as single-faction play. Groups also cause more frequent arguments, since communication is severely throttled.

I hope that with the right amount of advertising, I can attract around 6 people to start. They will all be colonists; only after the number rises to 12 can a native town be “discovered”. I am hesitant to go ahead with guns, because that would require a modded client to play, which significantly reduces the pool of available players. The server should be as accessible as possible. That being said, there is a lot of riffraff that, frankly, I didn’t keep out on the last server. Players NEED to be able to write full, coherent sentences both quickly and consistently. Even one person who cannot communicate well can ruin the experience for everyone.

If I ever get around to fixing connectivity issues and finishing the website, I am definitely going to go ahead with this server.

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Warhammer 40K

I used to play Warhammer 40k, which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s a tabletop wargame, in which players buy, assemble, and paint their own models. They then battle it out on custom-made terrain using a set of rules, occasionally augmented by custom rules. The main rulebook is a hefty tome, but most of it is fluff (stories, guides to modeling, strategy, and pictures) and fringe cases. There are numerous races, and each uses its own ‘codex’, which contains both the background of the race within the universe, as well as the choice of units and the rules and lore surrounding each type. Although the game is pretty well balanced, it also relies heavily on probability, meaning that even the best strategy is at the mercy of the luck gods (as some gamers say). By this, I mean that every single action (other than flat movement and choosing targets) is dependent on the dice. So I suppose that dice-rolling is a legitimate skill in the world of 40K.

I played Tau, a young race (only 2000 years from sentience) both noble and technologically advanced. While most of the universe is in a dark age in which the most complex technology are relics from the golden age and machines are worshipped rather than understood, the Tau have both sleek and powerful technology, a sparkling civilization, and drive to spread harmony throughout the stars. Also, their units are absolutely amazing. The Tau are on battlesuits, which look incredible (with a great combination of smooth curves and hard edges, separated by engraved patterns) and can tote a deadly arsenal. There is also the fear factor. Tau Broadsides are renowned throughout the 40K community. These battlesuits carry around two massive railguns that can punch through any armor and spell certain doom for its recipient unless they are a heroic character or gigantic vehicle. To top the firepower, it also has one of the longest ranges in the game. Merely seeing a squad of those deployed can make any opponent tremble. You can count on the fact that they will focus on taking those out first; a fatal error, since the other elements of the Tau arsenal are almost as deadly.

Fire WarriorsClose upModified Broadside

The second army I started was Imperial guard. These guys are regular humans in a military pretty close to our modern one. Their lore isn’t as fascinating, and I mostly started with them because they look great (who doesn’t like model armymen) and because I wanted a different playstyle than Tau. They certainly deliver on that point. The strategy behind the IG is cannon fodder. With the exception of Tyranids (ravenous aliens who work off the same principle), IG have the cheapest men (in terms of points cost) and the worst weapons. Great tanks, though.

Warhammer held a great number of interests for me. It had elements of strategy, which led me to devise great spreadsheets for quickly building army lists. It had elements of design, both in the models and also in the terrain. Not only did I get to design my own army color scheme, but I also got greatly interested in modding, which used ‘green stuff’ (a type of putty) and assorted parts to create new characters. I created mods ranging from Tau fire warriors with cutdown battlesuit weapons and a Kroot hit team (for a custom gametype) to an alien infesting a space marine; with his ribcage broken wide open and tentacles taking over his limbs, it was grotesque. Warhammer had interesting and varied lore, which meant I could think up a plot surrounding my army as well as write entire fictions. What finally made Warhammer great for me was that it was analog. As soon as I got bored with the actual game, I could research custom gametypes as well as make up my own; all I needed was the models.

I stopped playing 40k because I started highschool. I didn’t have the time anymore, we were moving (meaning nowhere to work on the models or play the games) to get closer to both the school and my dad’s work, and neither of the friends with whom I used to play got accepted into my school, so I didn’t have any reason to keep working on my armies. Although I got all my models back out, I realized that I no longer have the time or dedication to work on an army, nor do I have anybody to play with (despite my school being renowned for its ‘nerdiness’, I have yet to meet an actual 40k player, rather than people who have merely “seen” or “hear about” it).

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