Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Design, Research, and Mortality

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 25, 2014

A weird, personal note today.

Several years ago, I did a great deal of research for a game I still want to do someday. I backed off on it because I realized I didn’t have the chops yet to pull it off. So I put it on the shelf for a while.

I haven’t given up on it, and in fact… now that I’m doing some writing as well… I dusted off my research and looked through it with that dangerous question in mind… “How hard would it be…?” Could I convert some of this material to a written story? Could I prototype it one weekend as an informal game jam project?

Mostly, I was glad to find the notebook. I was afraid, over the years, that a lot of the stuff I’d done had been lost (and truthfully, some of it has…)  I turned through the pages and rediscovered all this information that I’d gleaned over dozens of hours of research – including books and… an interview.

On one of the pages, there was a phone number for my aunt. My mom gave me the number, and said, “My sister really knows the history of this area really well. You should give her a call.” I was not really sure what to ask her. I was researching folklore with a bit of “real world” history thrown in for flavor, and my aunt was not known for flights of fancy. You don’t get much more down-to-earth.

When I was a kid, she lived next door – for a while, my family lived in their old home. My cousin, her son, was practically an older brother to me. But then we moved away, and I saw her maybe once a year. After I grew up and had a family of my own, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in years. Perhaps she wouldn’t be much use for my game project, but I could at least say hi. I made the call.

We spoke for about an hour. She was delighted, and very animated, in spite of having been in poor health for a couple of years. And while she had absolutely no clue what I was doing research for, she was an amateur historian and gave me a wealth of information that – in my estimation – was ripe for fictionalization and turning into an adventure of horror and dark fantasy spanning a couple hundred years. She had a perspective I hadn’t found in books or the Internet – a very personal history based on oral tradition, old photos, and having lived through bits and pieces of it. She knew how things worked day-to-day for her (and my) ancestors. She’d interviewed people, herself. She knew things like old slang and patterns of speech that she shared with me that

I ended up with a couple of pages of notes and a few additional leads that didn’t really serve for my game, but were interesting to look up. One lead was a poem entitled “Cassandra Southwick” about an attempt to sell a couple of my ancestors into slavery.

I thanked her for the information, and the delightful conversation, and decided I would not wait so long to call her again, whether it was for more research, or just catching up.

I didn’t. I can’t now. She died a couple of years later.

I hadn’t looked at these notes for a long time, and it brought back a surprisingly happy memory.

As a game designer (or a writer), I don’t know of any magical way to bottle that emotion and distribute it with anything I might create based on those notes. Anyone else would just look at the notes themselves and see boring trivia. But whether I succeed or not, I still want to put it to good use.

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  • Jack Kucan said,

    I’m going to be honest, just reading through that gave me goosebumps. I have a similar sort of sentimental feeling a lot whenever I have to search through old BYOND and Game Maker projects, whenever I remember the years of work I poured into things far beyond my reach, and realize how much better equipped I am to actually make some of those ideas into successful games.