Game Design in Everyday Writing: Cadence

Game design is all about making things more fun. Turns out you can make reading fun too, even on a “mechanical” level. Here’s one way.

Cadence

The easiest way to discuss cadence is to compare a highway and roller coaster.

While accelerating on a straight empty highway can feel thrilling, once you’ve been the same speed for enough time, you’ll eventually get used to it. It’ll get monotonous, on that empty highway.

Roller coasters aren’t fun because they are fast per se; their fun actually comes from the changes. First is the long, slow climb, building anticipation. Then your stomach lurches as you drop and twist and launch through turns and loops, and your speed fluctuates, too, slowing on some hills, before lurching down again. Etc.

In games you utilize the principle of cadence to make sure that levels are constantly shifting in terms of pace, difficulty or even type of skillset required.

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But you can do this in writing too! It’s somewhat common knowledge to alter the length of your sentences, but are you making sure your paragraphs shift between information and calls to action? Low-energy words and high-energy words? Nouns and verbs? There’s so many things you can play with! Repetition is a useful tool, of course, but do anything for too long - and in the same form for too long - and your reader will lose interest.

If you find that people check out of your conversation… check that you’re not repeating yourself, or continuing on the same thread too long after your audience understands you, or that you’re not calling on someone to give the same ‘style’ of response over and over - ie forcing someone to keep giving you responses like ‘that’s awful/that’s great’, etc.

There’s some other stuff, like challenge and discovery - but that’ll come later. Until then - may your words catch like wind on sails!



Captain's Log: Aliens and Women

Happy Women’s Day!

In Captain’s Gambit, our cast of characters involves aliens, but of course based on Shakespearian characters from centuries ago. While we’ve kept the names and pronouns of the original characters, it was a conscious decision to design the female captains as such that we didn’t give them all cis-mammal-human characteristics. But it’s actually a fairly complicated issue that boils down to - how do you make representation obvious without perpetuating stereotypes?

In Favour of “Female-Looking” Aliens

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There’s two sides to this question that we wrestled with when designing the captains: on one hand, having visually identifiable “human female” presenting captains means that onlookers and players can easily recognize that women exist. This won’t be a blog post discussing the argumentation in favour of representation, but essentially that’s the upside of having ”female”-looking aliens: visual indicators help players recognize the act of representation, and with that, all the good empowerment and single-brick-deconstruction of patriarchal norms. Conversely, if nobody ‘looks like a woman’, there’s the question of whether or not there’s female and femme representation at all in the game - would it look like Captain’s Gambit is trying to “hide” the presence of women?

In Favour of Aliens Looking Like Aliens

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There’s the other hand, though: particularly relating to biological essentialism is the fact that there is no way aliens would share the same gendered visual stereotypes that humans do. And, looking at how we’ve designed men with such a variety of body types, it seems not just stifling but also uncomfortably focused on gaze and appearance to try and design all the women in Captain’s Gambit within a box. The implicit throughlines one would draw from comparing genders seems gross if we were to make every woman in Captains’ Gambit “look feminine”: why constrain the appearance range of one gender?

Wait

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Yeah, the path is obvious in retrospect, huh? Just do both! Multiplicity is key, and is what I think other media often mess up: by having only one person of a group, or every person in that group represented the same, there’s an uncomfortable burden for that character to embody the complex and multifaceted nature of anything falling under “womanhood”.

So yes, some captains look cis-human-female (mostly via eyelashes) but others don’t look humanly-female but are still women. And now you know why! My hope is that it’s never even crossed your mind until now - I want to normalize this stuff, and I hope we’ve been successful.

If you want to know more about Captain’s Gambit, including being notified when the Kickstarter goes live, you can sign up for our newsletter. We’ve also got a Facebook and a Twitter if you’re into that.
Stay lofty!

PS: We recognize the patterns with the win conditions of most women in Captain’s Gambit… blame Shakespeare’s narrow scope of characterization. If you do have characters you’d love to see in future expansions or stretch goals, let us know!

Captain's Log: Hamlet

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
- Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5 (Hamlet)

Hamlet was one of our first captains. We designed him with the goal that players will go through the same trials that Hamlet does in the literature: coming into conflict with themselves over their fear of being too early or too late to strike.

For context: the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a young man who must overcome his mental paralyses to fulfill the wishes of his deceased father and enact vengeance upon his uncle. Of course, the struggle with Hamlet is that his sharp wit and astute analysis combine with his existential issues to lead him into a proverbial hall of mirrors. His wilderness is of his own design. He must take decisive action, but his melancholy and doubt paints him into a mental labyrinth with only a glimmer of hope at the end pulling him through.

We convey this backstory through the simple mechanic of secretly marking a player, and making it your goal to kill them. Your mark knows that someone’s out to get them, but they don’t know which player it is. They can’t publicly reveal that someone is after them, either, or else they’ll be in an even worse spot.

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...but, as Hamlet, you can’t just directly attack them, either. First you must sow some kind of chaos to prevent them from calling you out and making things impossible for you. You must wait until their health gets lower from other causes, or until you have built up your own strength.

When playing as Hamlet, we know you don’t have to wait for the perfect moment, nor are you guaranteed to feel fear or stress over proper timing and remaining innocuous until the last second. Ideally, though, the mechanics make the plot emerge on its own. And then you’re (hopefully!) pulled into the same emotional hurdles as Hamlet throughout those 12 rounds.

When drawing his concept art I wanted to make someone who looked very slow to act! So his first incarnation was of a sad slug. Once Bo took over the art, we decided that a sloth would look way cooler, and that he should also have Yorick’s skull. While the dagger isn’t accurate to Hamlet’s story in a direct sense (Hamlet is more of a sword user) the dagger has better imagery of a planned and sudden strike.

 
 

The sloth is an improvement for sure, but I’m also definitely gonna use the emo snail aesthetic for future games.

And that’s the story of Hamlet. If you’d like to know the backstory of any particular captain, comment below to put in your vote for who we should cover next!

If you want to know more about Captain’s Gambit, including being notified when the Kickstarter goes live, you can sign up for our newsletter. We’ve also got a Facebook and a Twitter if you’re into that.
Stay lofty!