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Story Design Challenge #4: The Results

Almost 20 people designed worlds. Let's see the best ones.

Guy Hasson, Blogger

June 5, 2012

21 Min Read

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the results of our fourth monthly Story Design Challenge.

The challenge was simple: Design a new world for a hypothetical game. Submissions could be about any world, if it is not a world owned by anyone. There were nineteen entries (a few mistakenly sent their entries only to the mail address and forgot to publish them publicly), and more than half of them were pretty good, making the task of picking winners a hard one.

The best entries contain the following qualities in different forms:

  • Originality: have we seen this before?

  • Richness of the World: Does it make you want to explore it endlessly?

  • Richness of gamability: Are there many gameplay options? Do they come in a variety? Is the variety rich?  

The following are the three winners and two honorable mentions. All five have won the prize and will be contacted by mail. Each of the entries are pasted underneath each name for the benefit of the readers.

Congratulations to the winners and thanks for everyone who participated!

First Place: Marius Holstad with ‘Madness’. Marius’ entry is entirely original, has a lot of options for gameplay as well as cool game mechanics.

The world. Madness. The forest surrounding the little town was mysteriously secretive with its sounds. The wind stroke the leaves gently, making them silently sing their rustling song. The town stood silent against the wind. Only the sound of the Inn's partly detached wiggling sign could be heard in the empty streets. The town was gathered in the Meeting hall.

The people of this town was just like in any other town. Rumors had it that someone or something had started seeding some new strange seeds. New thoughts. You see, people of this town, people of any town, are born with blank minds. Fresh soil. Through childhood and education seeds are planted. Seeds that will grow into plants. Plants that reflect how humans think, how their mind work. These plants are located at the top of our heads. Some minds grow beautiful roses, others poison ivies. Each person has a special flower, a special gift, a talent, abilities. Each person is special, but someone or something is now uprooting peoples minds, resetting their soil and planting new dangerous seeds.

We lived in harmony, but the town has changed. We now receive reports of people being assaulted by monsters with plants so vicious that people wither in fear just by the thought of them. The town is gathered to discuss this situation. Someone will have to change the town back to the way it was. Someone will have to venture into the forest and figure out what is going on and stop whatever is causing this. It could be anyone. It could be anything. It could even be the Major himself.

Life starts when we start growing a garden. Imagine what madness can do.

In the style of great animators like Tim Burton and Walt Disney, you'll have to use your power, your flower, to fight off people whose minds have become tainted. While uncovering the mysteries of the forest you'll gather new seeds, giving you new powers/flowers to explore. The town depends on you. Stop this revolution before it gets out of hand.

The world, the plot, the game-mechanics. They all fit together perfectly, telling a story through actions and not dialogue. The seeds metaphorically represent ideas. The ideas give you powers, some of which you will never explore, hence leaving dozens of "closed doors". The game is about finding the right ideas. The threat is of course bad ideas and brainwashing, alluding to totalitarian revolutions. This text is stripped of characters (paradoxical pun), but in a real game the characters' mental development, which can be seen physically in their flowers, would be the development driving the story forwards. The characters would of course have something at stake, forcing the player to take hard decisions. In addition to the individual characters, we can view the town as a whole. How mad the town becomes depends on how many people you manage to save from insanity.

Second Place: Alexander Freeman-Smith with ‘Madness’. Alexander created a great, big world that’s fun to explore. Whereas it is less original than I had hoped, it offers so much possibility for unique gameplay. Excellent!

Slowly over time, as globalization ran its course, nationalism decayed. Leaving in its place a period of unprecedented development. They called it the World Renaissance. Those who refused to open their borders to the new world sentiment quickly fell behind in to obscurity. At last all the world’s experts were able to work together, putting aside the differences in history or culture. New technologies spread like a blaze, catching the world in its wake, leaving behind a bright hope for the future. The human condition was redefined. Suffering waned, as large-scale war came to an end and high standards of living were brought to all. At last the Earth would see unhindered peace and development.

But eventually the greed sets in. In a refreshed world, the able are quick to flip the optimistic for their profits. While the common man was celebrating their new world, the wealthy and scheming worked their considerable might, seeking to control all of even the most basic of resources. Buying up or incorporating every aspect of life, the world came to be controlled under a group of those few CEOs who would become to be known as the UCC.

Once the haze faded, people had realized what had come to pass under their noses. The nationalist goals had been pruned, only to be replaced by corporate agendas. Only now instead of fighting over ancient grudges and historical land rights, the quest is much simpler in destination. Complete economic domination in the name of climbing profits.

The UCC, or United Corporation Council, is the new face of global diplomacy. Instead of fighting for religious rights or human freedoms, the battles are now over patent law and copyrights. Large sums of money, factories or even entire populations are traded for the rights to new production technology and techniques. And the UCC protects their spartan way of business, making sure nothing gets in the way of their insatiable need for improved profits.

Given the scarcity of resources in the new world, to say nothing of world wide demilitarization, few CEOs are willing or able to commit to full scale invasions. Wars are now waged on the trading floor. Instead of bloodshed, now living conditions are sacrificed. The working class is forced into preputial poverty, living in shack towns of an older industrial era.

With the suits controlling the lawmakers, it’s not long before the protections of the citizens are lost. Most now live their lives in a constant downfall, hanging on to multiple jobs, working in deadly conditions. No attention is paid to the worker’s conditions, prices rise as wages fall, forcing the masses deeper and deeper into poverty.

Few are privy to the lives of extreme luxury afforded by the leading members of the UCC. The elite class lives in their own private paradise. Stopping at nothing to ensure their continued control of all the wealth.

The UCC took strong steps to ensure their safety as the new world power. During the time of the World Renaissance they persistently lobbied to make illegal weapon production and ownership. The world’s governments latched on this initiative with fervor, and used this idea to rid the world of terrorist threats and warlords alike. Knowing that the world powers couldn’t be completely without the ability to protect themselves, the UCC in junction with United Nations worked hard to ensure that the only power left capable of defending themselves was the UN. Of which they were frighteningly successful.

It’s not without saying that there have been revolt attempts. It doesn’t take much for the landslide of a revolution to begin. In all places small pockets of violent resistance formed, fed up with the corporate ownership of their lives. But as part of the UN’s global initiative to demilitarize Earth the legal road was paved for UN peacekeepers to cut down any militant resistance with extreme efficiency. The people fought back with guerrilla strength, but with the UCC having the controlling interest in the all the manufacturers it wasn’t long until the rebel supply dried up and then quickly tossed aside by the superior forces. Without the resource to build their own effective weapons, the demilitarization was a landmark success, leaving only the best in the hands of global peacekeepers.

Eventually the spirit of revolution was crushed. The masses caved in to the twisted wills of the CEOs who now ran their lives. Accepting devastating losses in the richness of their lives, now the people live out their lives in company owned cities, organized and built to keep up the production levels of whatever resource a city is ordained to produce.

The UCC found out early the best way to control their employees isn’t through brute force, but rather through their salaries. Nowhere will you see an authority as a show of physical strength. Now managers control the daily lives. Stepping out of line now results in the deduction of an already meager salary. The coats and ties of the manager class now are the symbols of control and order. The low level members of the population are slow to make direct shows of disobedience around their bosses, for fear of not being able to afford food for the next month.

But the hope for a brighter future isn’t completely lost. Though the rules may be stacked against outsiders earning their own capital, there exists an internal threat to the UCC. All it takes is some business savvy and a good-hearted CEO and the process of a complete reversal can begin.

See the fight to the end and make the world remember what it’s people have forgotten. Play within the rules of this new economic landscape, work hard to get complete ownership from the hands of those that would see the lives of the people squandered in to hard labor and change the world to restore the freedoms and protections of civil liberties.

Third place: Courtney Schwark. Courtney’s world is imaginative, original, and leaves a lot of room for gameplay, as well as possibilities for twists, turns, surprises, and adventures.

Has anyone ever wondered where the imaginary creatures and things go when they are not needed? Sure, the good imaginations live and frolic in the tall, green grass and hide in the lollipop trees, while bathing in the warm light of the sun. Yet, with every good, there is an evil. Their home however, is covered with a thick smog that the sun had never been able to penetrate. Where only the screams of the innocent souls who dared to travel within it, could be echoing within the dead forest.

However, this does raise a few questions: What happens when something or someone is no longer imagined? Do they just disappear off the face of the earth? No. For in Imagination Land there is a large, rusting, gray factory, that lies on the border of the Realm of Dreams and the Realm of Nightmares. No one truly knows what goes on within the building, and no one dares to venture near it because of the dangerous guardians protecting it.

Yet, once in a blue moon something very odd happens. The building’s tall stacks begin to smoke and fall into the Realm of Nightmares, allowing the already thick smog build up, making it almost impossible for the residents to navigate through it. Though, after about a week, the smoke stacks subside, being calm once more. Not another single puff of smoke escaping from it. That is not all however, as the stacks subsides the creatures are able to look around, only to find that some of the imaginary creatures and items are gone and are never to be seen again.

Ammy was a very young, plum purple, chinchilla girl who wore a white school uniform, a yellow tie hanging loosely around her neck, with a black skirt outlined in the same color as her tie. She was created by a young man named Shawn, who had lost all interest in his creation as he began to find and date real girls. For awhile, she was sad, hoping for him to return to her. Forcing herself to believe that he would return to her. Yet, her hopes were quickly shattered after falling asleep under that blue moon.

While sleeping, she was taken away from her home and taken to into that mysterious factory. Only the door slamming behind her able to wake her. Frightened as she was thrown into a locked cage, she called out for her creator for hours, but to no avail. She soon became quiet as she sat in the cold, rusting cage and began to think of her creator, looking into his mind to see what could have distracted him so much from her. Through his eyes she could see another girl, kissing him. Ammy’s heart dropped. Sadness and frustration filled her heart until it shattered. She should feel her chest begin to bleed from the pain as her heart was destroyed by the sight of the other woman. At that moment something snapped inside of her. Anger and revenge filled into the place where her heart once was, a black, crystal sphere taking the place of the heart as her pupils turned from their usual purple shade, to a deep, glowing crimson red. She cried out to her creator again, cursing her vendetta onto him, to force him into the factory when he had fallen asleep. So he to could face the pain that she was now had.

When Shawn finally fell asleep for the night, he could feel that something was not right. He could not see anything but the darkness of the factory. He called out for Ammy, but with no response. Softly, he began to laugh, thinking that it was some kind of joke until he heard a cry for help. Someone begging for another name, but Shawn ran to it, hoping to help who ever it was. Soon he reached a door that he was unable to open until he broke it down. His eyes opened wide as he stepped out from the darkness and into the dark yellow light, looking over to a beaten, bruised, pink, and purple dog, crying out for his creator in a rusty cage as the rumble of a machine came from below.

The dog begged and pleaded for help from anyone who could hear it. In an instant a click could be heard as the bottom of the cage fell from its place, the dog falling from the cage soon after. Shawn’s eyes followed the dog as it landed into a large, and fully functioning grinder. For only a short moment did the dog scream in agony as it hit the grinder, the sickening sounds of the dog’s body being crunched soon following. Below was where the grinder emptied, and into a tray fell glittering white dust. It was what was left of the dog, he was no more than a simple dream and his body alone created a small amount of pure dream dust, for all the world to enjoy.

Shawn froze for a moment, thoughts his beloved friend racing through his minds. He needed to find her, before she came to this room. Before she would be destroyed and turned to dust. As he snapped out of his thoughts, he turned away from the machine as another creature was dropped into it calling for its creator to save it, as he raced off, back into the darkness of the Dream Factory.

He needed to find Ammy before it was too late.

Honorable Mention: Altug Isigan with ‘Stitch’. It’s a great idea for a world. It is, however, limited by its audience, as it would appeal to one sector of it and not to all.

Stitch, (or, the fabric nightmares are made of).

The idea of the world of Stitch is inspired by the wonderful art of the illustrator and designer Paula Sanz Caballero (http://www.paulasanzcaballero.com) (http://vimeo.com/32413730).

Stitch presents to the player an illusionary 3D world in which visuals (textures, characters, figures and ground, UI elements etc) are made of 2D fabric and fibers (wool, cotton, linen etc). Its fabric nature gives it a distinct style and interesting features that we cannot observe in much of the video games out there.

In Stitch, our goal is to find out about the secret of a semi-organic semi artificial smart fabric that killed its creator (a biogenetics engineer with a knack for fashion) and started to build a parallel world made of fabrics and fibers (it felt humans have no taste and thought it must do something about it). We are introduced to this problem as a detective who is asked to solve the murder/suicide (?) case of this fashion designer/engineer (his dead body has been found half flesh half fabric in his lab). During our lab investigation we are "teleported" by the "brain fabric" into the fabric world of Stitch. Now we must manage to get out of there, before we can then burn the lab with the "brain fabric" in it and restore world peace.

The parallel world in Stitch consists of two layers: The Fabric World, and the Undercoat. In the Fabric World we fight against enemies made of cotton, wool, nylon and other fabrics and fibers. Our weapons are overlock pistols, scissors, irons etc. We can use zippers to escape into the Undercoat when we find ourselves in a really desperate situation, but we have to remove the zipper before enemies can follow us into it. Plus, it may be difficult to find a zipper in the Undercoat that allows us to go back to the Fabric World.

The Undercoat is home to the "Fashionistas", a place where weird fashion factions can be found that uprised against the "Tasteless Master"s aesthetics. Some of the factions may help you, others may see you as a threat(d?), so being in the Undercoat can be good and bad.

Before we can kill the ordinary enemy type in Stitch, we have to sew it on another object in the environment close to it, so that it cannot move. We can then cut its head off with a pair of scissors. But there are many types of fabric that enemies are made of, and the best weapon actually depends on the fabric type: For example synthetic fabrics are very vulnerable to the heat and steam of irons, whereas woolen enemies can be simply "diswoven" into a wool ball if we possess the appropriate weapon (a fish rod like device).

One of the bosses in the game is the Magician, a guy who pulls out pieces of fabric out of his hat. These would instantly become enemies, so it's very important that we kill a Magician as soon as we see him, or he will constantly produce new enemies and unleash them on us. Magicians are usually very quick and know a lot of pockets to hide in. We can sew a Magician into the pocket though, if we manage to locate his hiding place.

There is no health in the world of Stitch. Instead you use patches.

Honorable Mention: Tristan Angeles with ‘Hellespoint’. Tristan’s world is very good, but too hemmed in to create a world as rich as vast as I would prefer, and it borders on things we have seen before. It is still very good.

The World of Hellespoint

The first thing any person see as he steps into the spaceport of Hellespoint is the crimson glow emitted by the world's atmosphere(in fact this low permeates everything in the world so that almost everything an inhabitant sees will be tinted with a crimson hue). This reddish glow coupled with an almost perpetual drizzle creates what the natives of the world call the 'tears of blood'. People describe Hellespoint as ' a world trapped in time' and this title is given rightfully so, as a traveller journeying across Hellespoint will find structures dating back across all eras of human civilization. These structures, an uninformed traveller will observe will not be as weathered by time as he expects, and in fact they look quite new.The structures were made by the inhabitants of Hellespoint. Both the living and the dead.
Above Hellespoint is a massive, swirling storm. It is from this storm which comes The Bound. The bound are the souls of people who have passed away. Once in a while the storm will let loose a barrage of souls(in the hundreds), and these souls will be seen falling from the sky in flames. A traveller seeing this event for the first time will find it magnificent and scary as hundreds of fiery souls fall down to the earth screaming.
No one knows why the the storm above Hellespoint sends out this barrage of souls, and when the bound are asked what is in the other side of the storm they can't remember.

Hellespoint, the Storm, and the Bound War
A long time ago, Hellespoint was just like any other world colonized by humanity but somewhere along its history something went awry. The natives of the world said that it was an experiment gone wrong or something, but whatever happened it changed the fate of the small planet. The massive storm which appeared above Hellespoint sent hundreds of the bound to the surface of the planet. The bound found themselves hungry, and growing mad with hunger they found that they could feed on the will of the living. Thus started the Bound War. During the bound war, the living found that their weapons did not have any effect on the bound and they found themselves on the losing end of the war. Fortunately, one of the living scientists found a way of 'binding' a soul to a living being so that a soul does not need to feed constantly(and thus not grow mad with hunger). Using this process, both the living and the dead lived in symbiosis(the living gaining some special abilities during the process as well). The tide of war was turned as the souls found that binding with a host was better than killing them(they were still thinking like humans after all).

The Unbound
When a soul falls down to the surface they are immediately beset by a very strong hunger. If a soul cannot find a host in time, it grows mad and forgets that it was once human or dead and feeds on both. The inhabitants of the world call them the Unbound and they pose the greatest danger to all life and unlife in Hellespoint.

The City of Hellespoint
The city of Hellespoint is the center of the world, It is a massive circular city that extends underground and inhabited by both the living and the bound. At the center of the city(and almost directly below the eye of the storm) is the Panoptica, a rotating orb floating above the city(at the center). It is here from which the rest of the world is kept in order.

The architecture of most of the buildings in Hellespoint is similar to most buildings found in 1950s New York(or during the great depression), but with some cyberpunk technology thrown here and there. There are also gothic styled buildings like cathedrals with spires reaching up to the skies. Generally all types of architecture can be found in the city because of the bound

Other parts of the world
The Reich
To the south of the world is the Reich. A totalitarian state built by Adolph Hitler when he fell to Hellespoint. Adolph found a weak willed host and went to work again. There are rumors that the Reich is experimenting with technology to control the unbound.

Games set in this world
The games set in this world will have a film-noir feeling to them. A stereotypical story would start with: ‘It is a dark and stormy night..(the soul storm). The hero would be a private detective who finds an unlikely client in a girl who enters his office drenched in the ‘tears of blood’, and the game begins..

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