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Game Design: Step by Step

Statistics and Junk

by Gareth-Michael Skarka

January 5, 2000



Just take a second, and look at that date.

2000.  The 21st Century.  I remember, long before the phrase "Y2K" became the most media-hyped event since Titanic, when the thought of actually living in the 21st century filled my little head with images of "The Future".  You know--flights to the moon, undersea cities, air-cars--the whole 9 yards.  Now that I'm actually here, I have to admit that there's a real sense of anti-climax.  This wasn't the future that we were supposed to get.  When you get the chance, take a look at Stanley Kubrick's film version of 2001: A Space Odyssey--I'm sure that round about next December 31st, it will be as hard to avoid seeing it as it was to avoid hearing "1999" on the radio this year.

Funny thing about 2001...it didn't seem that unreasonable.  Not the trippy, mind-altering, "my god, it's full of stars" ending--I'm talking about the beginning of the film.  Heywood Floyd on a Pan-Am flight to a waiting space station.  Stewardesses in velcro slippers.  Calling home on a video phone.  It all seemed perfectly reasonable, given the technology at the time, and extrapolating 30-odd years into the future.  So what the hell happened?

I'm still trying to figure that one out myself.

Statistically, a future as envisioned by Kubrick, et. al., was not outside the realm of possibility.  Somewhere along the line, though, we went another route.  Statistics are funny that way.

Which brings me to the results of last weeks poll regarding the future direction of this column.

I have to admit, I was pretty depressed about the results over the weekend.  Around a quarter of the respondents chose the "I've seen enough of UnderWorld, what else have you got" option--which was especially depressing, since I had originally only put that option there as a joke.  So, I spent the weekend in a funk, muttering under my breath, smoking, drinking--it wasn't pretty.  Then, Sunday afternoon, my girlfriend pointed out something that I hadn't considered.  When taken as a whole, 75% of you want me to continue this project, in one way or another.  Some of you want more setting information (a pretty sizable chunk of you, in fact), some want the long-promised Salvage Tech column.  Others were content to tell me to stay the course--that they liked where I was going (and I appreciate it, let me tell ya).  Viewed through that particular statistical lens, the situation wasn't so dark.

So--as I stated in the forums:  UnderWorld is the project that I'm currently working on...and I'm going to keep at it until it is finished.

Looking back at the poll results, I see that the biggest areas of interest appear to be Salvage Tech (which pulled in 16% of the vote) and more about the setting (which pulled in 20%).  So, those are the areas which will see concentration over the next couple of weeks.

For the rest of this week's column, I'd like to point you in the direction of some more of the inspirations behind UnderWorld--I've given you a look at the books, now it's time to check out the movies.

First of all, Dark City with Rufus Sewell and Keifer Sutherland is a creepy dark fantasy set in a city where it's always night.  Unfortunately the US release of this film has all of the mystery ruined by a voice over by Sutherland at the beginning, which gives away the whole secret behind the City--for best results, fast forward through that part, and start watching.

City of Lost Children is a bizarre French film which features Ron Perlman as a circus strongman who tries to stop an evil scientist who is unable to dream, and who goes about purloining children to steal their dreams.  Any movie that has clones, an octopus-woman, and a brain living in a fish-tank rates high enough on the wierd-shit-o-meter to be inspirational.  Plus, the design of the whole place is creepy.

Fritz Lang's classic silent film Metropolis contributed inspiration in it's presentation of Maria, the ultimate Junkman...er...Junkwoman.

The 1959 classic Journey to the Center of the Earth has James Mason and Pat Boone leading an expedition into the bowels of the earth.  Based on Verne's novel, this contains some of the classic tropes of underground life: Giant mushrooms, surviving dinosaurs, and scene-chewing villains.

One of Luc Besson's early films, Subway (originally called Metro, before Eddie Murphy took the title for a lame action film here in the US) tells the tale of Christopher Lambert as a criminal hiding out in the Paris subways, where he interacts with the society of cast-offs who live there.  Really cool film--although it currently is only available on DVD--you might be able to locate a VHS version from it's original release in 85 on ebay.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a mid-seventies thriller about the highjacking of a New York City subway train.  Film extensively on location.  Much better than that lame Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson Money Train piece of tripe.

Q-The Winged Serpent is a hokey and thoroughly enjoyable trash film about (and no, I'm not kidding about this) Quetzlcoatl living in the top of the Chrysler Building.  This actually was inspiration, folks--seriously: The mix of fantasy story in a modern setting is pulled off well (this manages to be a standard NYPD cop story, while at the same time still clocking in as a giant-monster-attacks goof-fest).

There's more to The Fisher King than meets the eye.  Robin Williams has unfortunately parleyed the strength of this role into a seemingly never-ending string of preachy, feel-good, "emotional lesson" films (Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, etc), but this film mixes New York City with Arthurian Myth and a portrayal of the homeless as Knights Errant.  Cool stuff. The first film that, to me at least, made New York seem like a possibly magical place.

How could I not mention a movie that takes place in the tunnels beneath NYC, and features giant cockroaches as well?  Take a look at Mimic.  Lots of cool tunnel stuff, an abandoned subway station (based on the City Hall station architecture--"The Armory" station does not exist), Mole People and the biggest, baddest bugs this side of Starship Troopers.

Hell--I could go on and on.  There are more, believe it or not.  But that should suffice for now.  I may come back and give you some more to look at a bit further down the road...or give you some more books that have inspired this process...or even some of the music that fills my head as I write it.

But that's for another column.  See ya in 7.

Gareth-Michael Skarka

Underworld, and all related terms and concepts contained herein are copyright 1999 by Gareth-Michael Skarka. All rights reserved.

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What do you think?

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All "Step by Step" design columns

  1. Inspiration to Perspiration October 26, 1999
  2. Comin' wit da Nifties October 27, 1999
  3. Concepts Continued October 28, 1999
  4. Character is what you are in the Dark October 29, 1999
  5. Forces of Occupation October 30, 1999
  6. Forces of Occupation, Part II October 31, 1999
  7. Head Count November 2, 1999
  8. Subterranean Ass-Kicking, 101 November 9, 1999
  9. Next Stop, Rune Station November 17, 1999
  10. It's All 'Bout Da Merlins November 23, 1999
  11. Miscellany December 1, 1999
  12. Lords of the UnderWorld December 8, 1999
  13. Lucky 13 December 15, 1999
  14. Miracle Under 34th Street December 22 1999
  15. Gareth's December 27th 'edition' is a survey, on what you want for future Underworld columns.
  16. Statistics and Junk January 5, 2000
  17. Reality Slap January 12, 2000
  18. Once More Into the Breach... January 20, 2000
  19. The Mechanics of Mechanics January 26, 2000
  20. Junkmen and Soundtracks February 2, 2000
  21. The Iron Forestries of Hell February 16, 2000
  22. And Now, For Something Completely Different... February 24, 2000
  23. Confessions of a Language Geek March 1, 2000
  24. Flood of Ideas March 15, 2000
  25. A New Direction? March 24, 2000
  26. The Envelope, Please... March 29, 2000
  27. Generic Systems, My Ass! April 5, 2000
  28. Big News, and Magic April 12, 2000
  29. Big Guns, Razor-sharp Swords, and a Bit with a Dog... April 19, 2000
  30. What's the Story, Morning Glory? April 26, 2000
  31. And now for something completely different, Survey time! May 3, 2000
  32. The Fever for the Flavor May 10, 2000
  33. Random Acts May 17, 2000
  34. A Run Through Dark Places May 25, 2000
  35. Service Interruption June 1, 2000
  36. Endings and Beginnings June 29, 2000
  37. A Brief Return to the Underworld July 13, 2000

Discussion of UnderWorld

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Earlier Comments (Issues 1-7)

(Editor's note: I'll consolidate these when I get a chance)

Other columns at RPGnet

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