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Story/Game idea: “Mother Hood”

After the critically acclaimed flop of a game “Coconut Queen”, I wanted to continue to explore combining resource management, city-building, and a fun story about another Girl Who Kicks Ass. One of the ideas that iWin generously hired a development team to let me prototype was for putting a twist on the familiar legends of Robin Hood.

There are practically no female characters in the original legends. Maid Marian, while not a completely helpless character, didn’t really move any stories forward in the way befitting a protagonist. After poring over multiple versions of the legends (did you know that Robin Hood took place in two different forests, Sherwood and Barnsdale Forest?) I found room in the legend for a new story based on the following:

  • Robin Hood almost never won in a fair fight, in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Robin Hood was a master of disguise, impossible for anyone to find when he was in town.
  • Robin Hood and Maid Marian always met in private. Nobody saw the two of them together until their eventual wedding.
  • Only Robin Hood’s most trusted companions were with him at his deathbed, and the grave of such a famous individual was suspiciously absent.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? Robin Hood is a persona that Marian created on her own.

Marian came across the Merry Men living in the forest, and saw the miserable conditions of their existence. They were cold, hungry, filthy, squabbling among themselves and completely disorganized and unprepared to handle the Sheriff of Nottingham. What they needed, she realized, was a Mom. So Marian became both Leader and Mother to the Merry Men (and women) of Sherwood. She got them to bathe, train, build homes among the trees, and become a big family in the forest. To improve their living conditions, she enlisted the help of a gifted bachelor inventor, Friar Tuck, whose constant tinkering and knowledge of mechanical devices in his home within a hollowed tree led to it being dubbed “The Tuck Knowledge-y Tree”.

But for morale, one of her greatest creations was a Legend. She couldn’t always be there for the Merry Men, and any real leader ran the risk of being captured and executed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. The men needed a leader that could never be caught, never be beaten, and whom all of the Men could love. So she hatched a secret with them, fashioned a signature look that she or any other number of outlaws could don as needed, and gave birth to a legend.

This was the framework for a game about building a new civilization from scratch in the middle of a forest, with plenty of room for humor and inside jokes. Joan of Arc and Mulan provided some useful wayposts for fleshing out the story of a woman living secretly as a man, including the complications of the men falling in love with Marian, who in turn fell in love with someone else.

If I can get an artist to help with the character design, this story could still kick ass. I know what the cliff-hanger ending would be, even.


Story/Game Idea: The Wrong Kiss

This story has been in my slush pile for quite a while. Originally, in 2008 or thereabouts, I was designing a click-management game in the style of Diner Dash and Cake Mania. I had a very specific experiment in mind, to explore a modification to the traditional mechanics of that genre.  The question was: can a click-management game, which is about controlling a single character that must run around and keep a business flowing, work across multiple rooms/screens? I had started to explore it with the design for a game called Spy Pup, which I will most likely talk about later, and came back to the question while working on a project for zSpace, where we were experimenting with what the experience would be like to control a character walking around a virtual holographic environment. The setting we chose was a 3D castle, and I developed the framework of a story in order to guide the creation of assets and supplemental mechanics.

Since the prototype featured a protagonist wandering through a largely uninhabited environment, a room at a time, that was the biggest constraint. In order for the environment to have at least a little bit of life, we added a second character that followed the player-controlled character around and did a bit of wandering while always staying close by. This was the springboard for The Wrong Kiss.

The story opens with Princess Aurora, Sleeping Beauty, under the full effect of her curse. She is asleep in her bed. All of the inhabitants of the castle have been turned into trees and plants that somehow reflect their roles in their everyday lives. The cooks had become a vegetable garden, the King and Queen two majestic trees flowing around the throne room, offering protection from the environment to the courtiers, who had all become beautiful, but sometimes deadly, flowers around them.

But Aurora had a puppy, named Prince,  who had been outside of the castle, chasing a cat when the curse occurred. Upon his return, everyone is gone, except Aurora, who is asleep. The Puppy attempts to wake Aurora by licking her nose.

How does the magic interpret something that can be interpreted as a kiss, and which comes from Puppy Love?

Maybe I’ll tell you.

Story Idea: How To Train Your Human

My wife and son were reading Dragonology the other night, and that got me thinking, in turn, about “How To Train Your Dragon”, which while largely about a peaceful coexistence between humans and dragons, still cast the majority of dragons in a subservient role to humans: doing agriculture, carrying people and so on. With the exception of the main characters of Hiccup and Toothless, who each had a disability forcing them to rely upon one another, it’s an unequal relationship.

A good tool to bring attention to inequalities that often go unnoticed is to reverse the roles and see what jumps out at you. This in turn sparked thoughts about what the world would look like if dragons were the benevolent owners of human pets. In Robin Hobb’s excellent stories in the Six Duchies, dragons often treat humans as playthings or accessories, but this was a little different. Think about your relationship to your pets. Now think about a world–a present-day world–in which dragons treat you that way. Take, as an example, the world of Charlotte’s Web.

  • Your pets are members of your family, with thoughts, feelings, personalities. But humans always come first.
  • Your pet may have started out as food (a pig, a chicken, a dog), but someone noticed a glimmer of a personality, of a soul, and so instead took that beast as a companion. This doesn’t mean that other beasts lack these qualities, just that this one beast had a stay of execution because of dumb luck.
  • Your pets don’t necessarily distinguish you, as a human, as different from themselves.
  • In any contest of wills, the human masters always win and get to decide the fate of the pets.
  • Humans can transfer ownership of pets for any number of reasons, with little to no paperwork or legal involvement.
  • The humans decide what activities the pets engage in, and what their rewards are.
  • The humans can decide between life and death for a pet.
  • Pets have only the lightest of supervision for how they interact with other pets of the same species. It is only when a pet interacts aggressively with a human–especially a human that is not their master–that their behavior is scrutinized, judged, and the pet is punished.

Taken as a set of criteria, this makes a compelling case for dragons living among us. They’re not hidden; humans just try to use the wrong criteria–physical appearance–when trying to identify something that they patently believe does not exist.

What a nice idea for a story that I will most likely never write. I wouldn’t want the dragons to know that I’m on to them.

On making a Coconut Queen-like game

Hi, just some minor updates.

I came up with a more entertaining storyline.

I’ve been investigating costs and logistics for developing for tablets instead of desktops.

I’ve been looking at development platforms, and programmers. Sadly, I cannot hire anyone out of pocket.

I know someone who can help establish a Kickstarter campaign, but the numbers don’t look good. Celebrities and high-profile properties can break the $10,000 barrier, but Coconut Queen (and Andy Megowan, for that matter) are neither.

So I’m sorry, but it’s not currently looking good.

Free Advertising for RadioLab

Two weeks ago, Alice and I gave birth to our first son, Tumnus Fisher Megowan. We did something that, even a year ago, would have been unthinkable to us: we had a home birth. Tumnus was born in a special birthing tub that we rented from our midwife, and which I groggily inflated in the middle of the night when Alice’s labor contractions began.

Thirteen hours later, with a couple of close friends and a birthing team, our midwife instructed me to reach into the water below my wife, and my hand rested on the emerging head of our baby. Seconds later, Tumnus slid into my hands and I lifted him out of the pool where the experts could unwrap the umbilical cord and make sure that his throat and sinuses were clear, and then set him on my beautiful, exhausted wife’s chest.

I could go on (and I probably will later) about the powerful emotions and memories from that day, but I thought I would pass on an image to any fans of the syndicated show, RadioLab. It just happened that I was wearing a RadioLab t-shirt that day. I wanted to share the image with folks who work on RadioLab as a little “Thank You!” for the shows that have shed a little more light in our lives.

The Daddening

Three weeks ago, while on vacation at Disneyland, Alice and I learned that she was pregnant. It did a lot to explain why her tummy had suddenly become so finicky, and why the mere thought of pickles would make her drool.

The baby has been the subject of nearly every conversation since then, and planning for the future is always on my mind. Looking back over the past few weeks, I can’t even conceive of what would be occupying our attention right now if there had been no news of a pregnancy. But for a while, it remained somewhat abstract of a prospect. There were very few immediate or drastic changes to our lives, as we had been discussing the prospect of starting a family for years. So it just got a little more urgent, so what?

Two days ago, we had our first ultrasound appointment. The moment the image on the screen, being taken from Alice’s belly and projected on a screen, showed a tiny figure, that’s the moment I will remember, second only to the announcement of the pregnancy. It was the moment that we first saw our child. It was the moment that there were clearly now three of us.

Ironically, this means we are going to stop going to Disneyland for a while.

Eulogy for My Grandfather

On the night of April 21, 2011, my grandfather Joseph Splingaerd passed away in his home in Southern California.  He was 92 years old, just a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday, and had been in failing health for quite some time.  I decided speak at his funeral mass, and spent the past week agonizing over what to pick, out of 40 years of memories, as the right words to say.  I knew that no matter what, many things would remain unsaid, and that was hard to live with.

I ultimately decided to let others speak of his remarkable history, positive traits, and achievements, and instead allow myself to focus on my relationship to “Grandpa Joe”, some stories and memories that would make people smile and laugh, and to take the scary step of allowing people to see the parts of him that remained alive in his grandson.  It would be risky and audacious to make those comparisons, and a delicate matter to invite laughter at a funeral mass, and I approached the podium with a speech that was unrehearsed.

Today I read it aloud, unrehearsed, to the congregation of his loved ones.  It was received better than I could have hoped, and I was told afterwards–by many of the people who had been closest to him–that I had succeeded in evoking his memory, and my resemblance to him.

I would like to now share with everyone that eulogy.

“I wanted to write something that I thought Grandpa would like.  I hope you like it, too.”

“Thank you all for coming.  Let me start by saying that, twenty years ago, I was overseas and missed my grandmother’s funeral, so I will have a few words about her, too, by way of goodbye.”

“Last night, I arrived here in Los Angeles by plane, and walked from the gate to the baggage claim area down a hallway that hasn’t changed in decades, and this triggered a memory.  When my sister Cindy and I were children, the airport was a place that we went to, more than for any other reason, to pick up Granny and Grandpa for one of their visits.”

“Dad would park the car in the lot and we would all walk to the international arrival gate next to baggage claim.  I would scan every face walking down that long hallway towards us, until we spotted one another, and there we would all smile and wave to one another.  We would all chat happily as we piled into the car and headed home, where Cindy and I would eagerly bounce around the guest room while Granny and Grandpa unpacked, because we were eager to see what toys they had brought us this time.”

“Mom, Dad–  since Granny and Grandpa can no longer get into trouble, I can finally confess:  When you weren’t around,they would spoil us.  No, no, it’s true.  For example, when Granny and Grandpa had a house just a couple of miles from ours, and I would visit them, there was a bowl of candy on their coffee table.  In that bowl was a particular candy that became one of my all-time favorites.  So, when there is candy on a table somewhere, and you notice that the strawberry candies with the gooey centers are missing, I can now look you in the eye and say: (pause) Granny and Grandpa made me do it.”

“But let me talk about my Grandpa now.  Age 91.  Almost 92.  I think that’s a new high score.  It means that Grandpa and I were born a half century apart.  And we were born on opposite sides of the world, to completely different cultures. But we still had some special connections, a few things in common, a little symmetry in our lives here and there.”

“I can start with the obvious physical similarity.”

(I touched by bald head here)

“Yes, I inherited his hairline, which skipped a generation and landed squarely on my head, so thank you, Grandpa, for that.  I also inherited his waistline, and expanded on it a little.  But it looks like my Uncle Pete didn’t dodge that particular bullet.”

(“I’ve been waiting 40 years for a chance to tease Uncle Pete.”)

“Life in China was something else we had in common, if only for a little while, but that little bit counts, because we each fell in love with, a pretty girl at about the same age, in the same city of Tient’sin, China.”

“We both enjoyed creative expression through music.  I am sure that for everyone here, some of your most powerful memories of Grandpa are going to be of his amazing singing voice.  When I started reflecting what I would talk about today, the details of conversations, fishing trips, and family gatherings are blurry compared to the strong, sharp memories of his singing voice.”

“For my sister Cindy and me, some of our first memories of Grandpa are of sitting on the living room floor as children, listening to a cassette tape that he had made of himself singing us various children’s songs.  Later, the sharpest memories would be of his voice filling a church without the aid of any microphone.  To this day, when I think of—or hear—any of those children’s songs, like The Itsy Bitsy Spider, or religious songs, like Ave Maria—I hear his voice.”

“I have one more thing to share with you about his voice.  Grandpa had a wonderful, distinct greeting on the phone, and I found it easy and fun to imitate.  When I would phone home and my Mom would answer, I would frequently use that voice when saying “Hi!”  I don’t think she was ever fooled, but it still got a laugh out of Mom so I kept at it for the past ten years.  I won’t be doing that anymore, but I thought you all might appreciate my insight, because imitation, in addition to being the sincerest form of flattery, involves becoming, for just a moment, who you think that person was.”

“Here is how you do it:

You make your softer and gentler, but keep it clear.

Expand your chest to hold a bigger heart.

And into the word “Hi”, you inject all the joy of a doggy greeting his pet human.

Or, as I realized this morning, the joy of peering into a crowd at the airport and recognizing the face of someone you love.”

“Thank you, Grandpa.  And goodbye.”