Finally, I’m going to write about Engin.
Engin is the name I came up with completely and utterly randomly one night while failing to sleep, that quickly attached itself to a narrative-focussed game concept that I had been playing with in my head for an hour or so. What followed was around two weeks of intense design work, and a decision: that Engin would be a game that changes something, and that it’s definitely not something I have the capability, experience or time to produce at this point in my life.
That was 6 months ago; since then I’ve kept Engin on the back-burner in my head, occasionally giving it an hour of focus when the sparse thoughts become coherent enough to be important and writing key ideas down in an organised fashion. Last night, I spent three hours on the game and made a very big and important decision that’s been brewing for maybe half the time I’ve worked on it in total: that Engin will not be just a game that changes something.
I finished writing the below long-form elevator pitch on Facebook before remembering I had a blog, and it explains things pretty well, so I’ll print that below and leave you to read. Please note the last few sentences, as they’re definitely the most important here. This is not happening now. This is not happening in the near future. It may never even happen. But it most likely will and it’ll happen when it happens (if it ever comes within my capabilities, of course). :)
Did some rare design work last night on what I’m now calling my ultra-project, Engin.
[prepare for a (long) elevator pitch]
Engin is a game that will be the best interface to a rich, detailed sci-fi narrative universe that is robust enough to exist on its own as fiction.
My original goal with Engin was to create a game that could truly, truly impact a player on an emotional level and connect them to my characters and world such that they care when the status quo changes (and I’m even confident that I have good ideas on how to do this, though the research required for testing whether I do or not is not something I can go into lightly and thus not something that’ll be happening soon).
Around three months ago (around half the time I’ve worked on the concept), a crazy idea sprouted that, along with achieving this, I could also fix a problem I see with almost any narrative-focussed game. The idea brewed since then and finally, last night, I gave into myself and essentially clicked the OK button for my head to go crazy with ideas.
As such, my additional goal with Engin is to solve this common problem with narrative-focussed games: that, even for games with rich narrative universes, a game’s incidental plot always seems to feel like a brief, contained window into that universe that only exists because someone wanted to tell that specific story. I want to play a game that truly feels like it’s taking place in a living, breathing universe with its own history, rules and future, and so my plan is to build this universe through written fiction (and possibly other forms) until it reaches a point where Engin’s game mechanics can evolve from the rules within that universe and its plot can truly be just a single part of it rather than our only incidental look at it.
As JK Rowling wrote hundreds of short stories in her Harry Potter universe just to improve the presentation of it through the published books, my goal is to ensure that playing the game doesn’t require previous knowledge of the universe as the concept seems to suggest, but that the game presents a proper portal into it, giving players the feeling that it does exist, has existed and is detailed enough to suspend their disbelief just long enough to then tell the story I want to tell and truly affect its players on an emotional level. It’ll be the best interface to the universe, being interactive and visual and thus so many times more immersive, but it definitely won’t be the only interface.
Obviously this is something that I’m going to be working on sporadically for a number of years to come (and something that I hope to work on with others should I get the opportunity). I’ve already been background processing design concepts for the game and the universe for around 6 months and have a crap tonne written down regarding them both. The plan is to keep it as a background process and non-practical side-project and flesh as much of the universe and game design out as possible, until such a point that it is ready to be taken into larger-scale production and that I am ready to commit the time and energy necessary to presenting my designs.
It might seem like a shit load of possibly unnecessary work, but this decision to make more than just a game, and to try to solve a problem, came naturally over and after these past 6 months - I’ve definitely thought through the plan here, and believe the storytelling platform I’ll end up with (and, of course, Engin itself) will be totally worth it. And as cheesy as it sounds, this just feels right. Engin’s story and what I want Engin to be able to do are not suited for a project that exists as a single unit, and this was the next natural and willing conclusion.
And, until it becomes more than a background process, it takes up absolutely none of my otherwise-productive time - so there’s no real cost if it falls flat before the game comes to fruition. I fully expect, though, that this is something I’ll never let myself truly drop…and the beauty of it is that there is no cost until I can, feel ready to, or want to, commit fully.
I have a hell of a lot to learn in many fields, and have no idea what kind of time scale, cost or else I’m looking at here. I’ll see how things go while I keep it in the background, and constantly move forwards with it along with my other endeavours at as slow a pace as feels natural, so don’t expect “news” or anything physical as a result of all of this yet. Baby steps.