I’m currently in Bangkok, and will be back on Sunday. Internet connection’s horrible here, and fucking expensive. On the bright side, we have a surprise in store for all of you this sunday.
I’m currently in Bangkok, and will be back on Sunday. Internet connection’s horrible here, and fucking expensive. On the bright side, we have a surprise in store for all of you this sunday.
In my previous post about the Deadlanders, questions were raised on several fronts. In this post I’ll talk more about these people, and work out the finer points of their culture. What I would NOT do however is reveal their origins, because like all other cultures in the game, history hunting is a huge portion of the side quests so talking about it here would probably be counter productive to the player’s game experience.
First thing that I need to clarify is that the deadlanders are NOT savages or tribals. I’ve tried to stay away from such stereotypes because honestly, I don’t see a reason for their existence in the general theme of the game. What I want is a struggle between mutant races on one side of the spectrum, and then complete unity between the mutant races on the other end of the spectrum. That was the general theme of the game, and I don’t see how adding the tribal vs civilized world angle is going to add anything to it.
Allow me to explain in detail. The wildlands is geographically located in South East Asia, but this does not mean that it should retain all values and culture from this continent. Remember that when the plague hit, survivors worldwide flocked into this continent, triggering the Outsider Wars which later led to the Dark Age. This meant that whatever culture that survived, it’ll mostly be a mix between various existing cultures, and thus there is no point of defining a savage culture when technically that applies to all communities in the game world.
The Deadlanders are neither tribals nor are they savages. Their ancestors have roots in the military, which should explain the strict martial culture that exists in the community. They identify themselves as warriors, and take pride in that. Like I said, there is a healthy amount of Spartan inspiration thrown in when designing the Deadlanders. Like the Spartans, they consider martial training to be essential, leading to a community where even old ladies are to be feared in single combat.
So to recap, they are NOT savages. Yes, non-deadlanders consider their culture to be savage and uncivilized (especially on the issue of infanticide and sacrifice), but who are they to talk about morals when slavery,racial cleansing and mass murders are practiced freely in their own backyards? This is a question of perspective, where the deadlanders consider themselves to be enlightened for HAVING a moral system (however skewed it is), compared to non-deadlanders who seem to thrive in chaos.
Another point that came up in discussions were that a matriachal society is generally impossible in a post-apocalyptic world, especially in a culture where martial skills are honored above everything else. I would, however, beg to differ.
It is true that most primitive cultures, especially the more martial ones, largely run on patriarchal systems. The reason is simple – in a world where the strong survive, men would always win out in most areas when it comes to physical tasks. Biologically men can grow more muscles, and with that perform more strenuous physical tasks.
So where does the matriarcal society comes in? The reason lies in specialization. Without spoiling the origins for the player, the matriarcal system came about naturally. The men start off as warriors and raiders, while the women remained behind to maintain the household. Over time, this created a clear division amongst the genders, where the men focus their entire lives in the study of martial knowledge while the women dedicate themselves to ensuring the men have all they need to raid caravans and bring back supplies.
Therefore, women are counted on for almost everything non-martial: cleaning the house, washing the clothes, maintaining the guns, producing ammunition, treating wounds, and most importantly, performing rituals. In most primitive societies, where everybody has a healthy amount of superstition, the last job (performing rituals for those who fail in reading) is perhaps the most important, where the men depend on the women to grant blessings and appease the gods of the land. This forces men to depend on the women for a lot of things, which works wonders in a superstitious community where knowledge is strictly controlled by a small segment of elites. This also mean that the men dare not oppose the women because they are taught since birth that submission to Aladha and the womenfolk is something that cannot be questioned nor challenged.
Again I would like to emphasize – the deadlanders have a culture that has an extremely clear separation of duties. The men are pure warriors, nothing much. They prefer to spend their lives on a blade’s edge rather than dabble in “pointless” politics and management, and over time the matriarcal system developed.
Think about it. Dedicating your lives to a certain domain requires a certain level of submission. You have to admit that you need help in other areas in order to shift all your attention towards that specific domain. And this is where the women come in. Sometime along the way, somebody decided to leverage on this situation and plant the seeds for a matriarchal system. And to do that, they had to encourage the men to continue doing what they do best, and at the same time remind the men that they owe their success to those those who take time to sort out their logistics.
In effect, they created a chain of command where the men become the foot soldiers and the women became the generals. In a martial society, this wouldn’t be that hard to achieve. There are always soldiers who prefer to remain a soldier, preferring the adrenaline rush of fighting in the mud than the bland politics in the office and war rooms. All you gotta do is to turn these people into heroes, add some religion sprinkling on it, and soon everybody would want to be a “heroic” warrior than a “boring” general.
So here it is, how a matriarcal society works in the deadlands, and how it came about in the first place.
Beware of the scheming bitches.
There was a question on whether male characters can join and then lead the deadlanders. Yes, that’s possible. After all, it’s only 400 years of women-rule enforced with propaganda, genetic selection and deep religious brainwashing that the player has to overcome with a few lines of dialog, right? Not a big problem at all.
Not a fucking chance. This is the part where we wanted to give a far different angle in how genders play out in an RPG. Having flavor dialog and different paths to solving quests (why does it always have to be seduction for women?) is good, but barely enough. Our goal in creating Splintered Core was to present an RPG where decisions made in-game actually mattered. Not only will it determine the outcome of quests, it will also funnel the character to completely and mutually exclusive plot lines, delivering a very different playthrough experience for different character builds.
So no, there will not be a chance where the male character can ever dream to achieve anything in the deadlander society other than being a lowly (but HONORABLE! it’s PRESTIGIOUS!) warrior.
Time progression in RPGs have always been a dicey matter. In a game where you get the freedom to explore the world map at your own pace, the passage of time has to be handled in a proper way in order to preserve a sense of realism (and to a certain extent, immersion). It’s foolish to have the player wander around the world for half a century of game time when the game’s premise is about a big bad evil wrecking havoc and destruction upon the peaceful kingdoms (aka the premise of 99.9% CRPGs).
Take Oblivion for an example. Demon gates have opened around the world and you, as the protagonist, have to close them all before the world is overrun by demonic minions.
The problem is you, the heroic protagonist, can skip around and collect flowers for practically your entire game life without even touching one demon gate and the world would still be the same, patiently awaiting for your salvation. In my playthrough that salvation never came – I never did closed any of the gates, but THAT’S OKAY! Because the world will wait for you.
If only real life was like that!
No, Oblivion sucked at handling time. It was immersion breaking, and even screws with its own premise. At least Morrowind’s made more sense. Now let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum: Fallout. Fallout had a time limit to find the waterchip, but latter patches extended the time to a point where it became insignificant. The reason was that the world was so fun to explore that the developers didn’t wanted to impose a time limit that would certainly restrict exploration.
Come to think of it, no game ever imposes a time limit on the player just so that the player can play the game at his own pace. And in this blog post, I am going to explain why this would not be suitable for Splintered Core.
While we are building Splintered Core as a one-off game, if it ever sells well we would be able to continue with the second game and eventually (with our fingers crossed) a complete trilogy, which was the original plan. We started out designing the game from a trilogy’s standpoint, with a plot that spans three titles, but structured it in a way that there are NO cliffhanger endings in any titles. Each title has its own story to tell, it’s own theme to explore, and that’s how we’re approaching the plot design.
However, this does impose a design limitation for us. Firstly, we wanted the capability to transfer a completed save game from a previous title to the next title. The reason was because we wanted to attempt to transfer all the player’s decisions and consequences in the first game into the second, and then into the third, creating a highly customized playthrough of the trilogy. The problem here is that what if the player spent 30 years wandering aimlessly in the first game? Would he start off an old man in the second game? Can he then spend another 30 years wandering the fields?
Say for example, the player DID spent 30 years of game time in the first game. This would mean that his greatest investment into the first game will botch his experience in the second game, if we ever implement an aging feature. If we *dont’t* implement an aging feature, you’d have characters at the age of 200 in the third game, which requires suspension of disbelief of epic proportions to maintain immersion.
Catch-22 situation eh?
So we decided to impose a game limit. First we calculate the total time to walk from north to south, the longest journey in the game. The distance is about 350 miles, and on average the player can only travel at a speed of 3 miles per hour for a maximum of 15 hours a day. This means that it will take approximately 7 to 8 days to travel that distance.
Therefore, over a span of 5 years, if the player kept the character on the move, he would have been able to traverse the north-south route 234 times. The speed of travel increases significantly if the player ever manages to buy a vehicle, or tag along on mechanized merchant caravans. So we can safely say that 5 years of in-game time would be a good indication of how much time a character would spend in a normal playthrough.
Now we increase that by 2 fold, to a maximum of 10 years, and set that as our time limit. But instead of making it a hard time limit (e.g. game ends when time is up), we instead choose to implement a countdown timer called the resolve meter, which is directly tied to the game’s plot.
Recall that the game’s premise is finding the legendary city of Gauntlet, in hopes of settling down there, away from all the chaos and lawlessness in Oasis. Spending 10 years on this task wouldn’t seem to be out of place. But like all far-fetched quests, taking into account that the protagonist is not even sure that Gauntlet exists at all, it won’t be hard to imagine one’s will of finding that place slipping over time.
So here’s how it would work: your resolve meter counts down slowly, initially giving you a maximum of 5 game years before it runs out and you’re forced to choose to settle down in one of the towns, with the ending explaining your fate in that town according to your reputation there (choices you make in the game will affect the ending in that town). However, if in your travels you piece together information about Gauntlet, like finding Lorekeep at the end of the first arch and securing a way to Severim in the second arch, will recharge your resolve meter, thus effectively giving you extra game time.
The afore mentioned events will completely recharge your resolve meter, while smaller events like finding an person who left the Combine army or finding Gauntlet’s satellite images would recharge the resolve meter at a smaller scale. Therefore, it is not impossible to stretch the first game’s time limit to a total of 15 years.
So this means we’re going to try something that not many CRPG designers have even dared entertain, for all sorts of reasons. The time limit would stay, and to spice it up we decided to allow the game world to change over time, tied to the player’s actions. The key here is to balance freedom of exploration with a time passage system, and this is something we intend to experiment in our first game.
In this post I am going to introduce one of the minor factions in the game: The Deadlanders.
The Deadlands is a stretch of muddy barrens with its epicenter originating from the Bone Fortress somewhere in between Wrench and Severim, and stretches out to approximately a hundred miles in radius, effectively cutting off all forms of conventional travel routes from Wrench (and most of Oasis) to Severim. It was created in the dark ages when a weaponized version of the world-ending plague was deployed around the area. While there were many versions of what led to the weapon’s deployment, the general consensus in most oral histories were that it was an act of vengeance against villagers around the area who refused to pay the local bandits tribute.
The plague was released at a time where the atmosphere was filled with mutagens, and as a result, instead of just killing off human life as it was originally intended, the plague instead devoured every living thing be it plant, animal or human alike. And instead of staying airborne and then burning itself out, the plague burrowed deep into the ground and destroyed every last bit of foliage in the region. The effect was so horrific and long lasting that even after three hundred years nothing could grow in it.
Surviving in the deadlands is not impossible. There is no food, no clean water (most bodies of water are infected by the plague), and no solid ground on which to build a home upon, but several key species of animals and insects do manage to find a home here. Amongst them are the sazara foxes, the tarrahit waterborne insect, mosquitos, strains of bacterias and microbes that are immune to the plague, as well as the cantih hares that burrows at the edges of the deadlands.
Rumors had it that there’s a colony of large, mutated salamanders who live their entire lives burrowing underneath the deadlands, absorbing bio-organic materials through their slick skins. These lizards, commonly called the bone drakes (for the exposed top-part of their heads), are often sighted by caravaneers foolish enough to brave the harsh terrain just to cut down their travel costs to Severim.
Bandits who were driven out from the Oasis often met their end in the deadlands, but some of them seem to have survived against all odds. They are commonly resourceful, extremely cunning and ruthless – traits crucial to surviving in the deadlands. Calling the inhospitable region their home, they are notoriously untouchable by the Bloodstorm Alliance and the Awakened Archonites. Their usual modus operandi usually involves submerging themselves into the countless muddy sinkholes littered across the landscape, and then bursting out with bone and obsidian daggers coated with powerful neurotoxins and dirty mud to ambush passing caravans. One wound from these daggers are usually enough to cause terrible infected wounds that will almost certainly turn gangrenous if not amputated immediately.
At one point the caravaneers who chose to travel across the deadlands began hiring large numbers of elite escorts from the Bloodstorm Alliance (ironically, even with that the cost of travel is still far cheaper than the sea route through Barnacle), and was met with limited success. Armed with automatic weapons, mounted machine guns, flamethrowers, shock-grenades (small grenades that are dropped into sinkholes which when denoted, will cause a massive hydro-shockwave localized in the hole itself, killing any would-be ambushers in it.
The deadlanders learnt fast however. Instead of lying in wait in sinkholes, they began to utilize more advanced weaponry and coordinated tactics, leading to speculations that their organization is far more united that rumors and common perceptions would have one believed so.
One of the most illustrative example happened to the Caladan Brothers, who lost an entire caravan even when escorted by an entire division of elite bloodstorm mercenaries. Only one mercenary survived to tell the tale, albeit with half a face covered in third degree burns and both legs missing. She literally crawled the entire way to Wrench, before eventually succumbing to deadly infections.
According to her, the caravan was travelling in the late evenings at a steady pace southwards, and entered a shallow valley that forced the caravan vehicles to move in a single file. The caravan master foolishly ignored the escort captain’s recommendations to pitch camp and wait for daylight, and pushed on, hoping to save fuel and supplies. As the caravan entered deep into the valleys, they suddenly came under fire from all directions, all of them firing from camouflaged positions. Within seconds half a dozen of the guards were dead, including the caravan master. Before the guards could bring their flamers to bear, they were hit by pre-sighted mortars firing phosphorus rounds, burning most of them to death and laying down a thick layer of deadly smoke, effectively nullifying the guards’ abilities to locate the enemy and fight back.
The deadlanders then move in, armed with automatic rifles and gas masks, and finished off the survivors with alarming efficiency unheard of for a bandit group.
After a hundred years of living in the deadlands, the deadlanders have developed a culture that is frighteningly spartan and brutal. In the deadlander’s organization, the men far outnumber the women. Their women never venture out from their homes. Thus, it is almost impossible to find an adult female deadlander roaming the lands on her own free will.
That said, no deadlander, women or children alike, are to be trifled with in combat. Every deadlander is taught muasilat when young, which is a martial system combining deadly hand-to-hand combat with intricate, snake-like footwork. In fact, the training is so strict that every deadlander, male or female alike, are to proof their worthiness at the young tender age of 12 in a single combat against a full-grown bone drake. They are given one week to prepare, usually prior to their 12th birthday, and on the day itself they would be thrown into a makeshift arena and have to make do with whatever weapon they can find or improvise. This tests not only their martial capabilities but also their resourcefulness, which is one of the most important attributes in the deadlander society.
When a deadlander male reaches puberty, he is taught basic firearm skills as well as usage of primitive weapons like the bone dagger and the obsidian tipped spear, and unless he shows a high level of competence within a year of training, he will be expelled from the group with both arms tied to the back with wet leather, and hunted by a pair of starved sazara foxes. He will need to survive in the deadlands without provisions of any kind for a week before he is allowed to retake the exams. A second failure will result in immediate execution.
Due to the relatively small numbers of women and at times, inbreeding, defective babies are wrapped in white cloth and thrown into sinkholes as sacrifice to the Aladha, their version of God. However, if the discarded baby were to survive for a full week on its own, the baby will be retrieved and drained of blood upon an altar. The baby’s blood would then be shared amongst the greatest warriors in the organization, as it is believed to impart immunity and uncanny luck to those who consume it.
The deadlanders worship Aladha, which they believed to have brought the plague to the world, and created the deadlands for them. According to their lore Aladha was the creator of mankind and disgusted by mankind’s compassion for the weak, he unleashed a plague to wipe out the unworthy and purge the human gene pool of “defective creations”. He then created the deadlands as a constant reminder of his greatness, and a lesson to all mankind that compassion towards the weak will only lead to the extinction of the human species.
They also believe that the bone drakes are their guardians, bestowed upon them by Aladha to protect them from the infidels. Due to this, killing bone drakes for its meat is a capital sin, punished by impaling the offender upon a stake driven through the anus, up through the body and out the mouth. The carcass would then be offered to wild bone drakes as sacrifice, and a form of apology. The only time a bone drake can be slain by a deadlander is during their muasilat test at the age of 12. Domesticated bone drakes are often used as guard pets, and are often brought along in raids and unleashed upon caravans to terrorize and disrupt enemy formations.
Bone drakes play a significant role in a deadlander’s life. Its front teeth are used to fashion their iconic 8″ curved bone daggers, and its spiky skull often worn over the shoulder or the jaw as decoration during rituals (never in combat though). The drake’s poison glands containing powerful neurotoxin cocktail which doubles as home for millions of bacterias are used to coat their weapons, which could paralyze a full grown adult man within minutes of drawing blood. Its burrowing claws and rib cage are grounded into fine powder and when mixed with coagulated blood from the drake’s liver makes an excellent antiseptic medicine which could be applied directly to wound to clean and stop the bleeding, or consumed in small amounts mixed with alcohol to boost one’s fertility, endurance and strength.
The deadlanders believe in offering sacrifices to Aladha, although these rituals are only done prior to significant events like changing of leadership, discovering an abandoned infant who is still alive after a week, or before the Forchan Grand Tournament that happens once every five years. Their religious codes are tightly integrated into their lives. They begin every meal with prayers of thanks to Aladha, and hold month long fasts every year to demonstrate their worthiness to their god.
They believe that all non-deadlanders are infidels, and that the only true path to heaven is to survive in god’s purgatory first. Therefore they are in general extremely distrustful towards non-deadlanders, and in most cases look down upon them as inferiors.
Fashion & Social Order
Deadlanders usually dress themselves in long robes, with a hood tied over their heads to protect themselves from the ever present mosquitos. Their houses (called Lumpors) are built of mud, and cleverly camouflaged into the landscape that it is virtually impossible to detect until one comes to point-blank range. Most deadlanders stay near the Bone Fortress, which is a series of ruins half buried into mud that is impenetrable for one single reason – it is surrounded by a ring of bone drake infested sinkholes.
When it comes to fashion, deadlanders prefer garments made of dried drake skin, lined with the saraza fox’s yellow fur. These simple garments are usually worn as a robe with a belt made of dried bone drake intestines, or sewn into more comfortable tight-fitting shirts and trousers. The latter is usually worn by warriors, who cake themselves with mud before going into battle as both a ritual and camouflage.
Women on the other hand, who never ventures beyond the doors of their Lumpors after they reach puberty, dress in simple underwear made of bone drake skin (specifically, the softer tail portions). They spend their entire day preparing meals, cleaning weapons, refilling ammunition casings, building and refining their homes as well as educating the young in religious matters. In the deadlander society, there are no marriages or families to speak of. In the deadlander society, women choose their partners, and one woman is allowed to have up to five male partners at a time which they can discard if they sense any weakness in the male partner.
In the deadlander’s religious code, men is forbidden from touching women unless allowed to by the woman. When speaking to women, they employ a highly formal form of their native language, often referring themselves as Padkas, literally translating to “your humble servant”.