When designing SF setting there is a temptation to throw humans into it because ‘why not?’. If it’s space opera then add some altered humans that will imitate some alien races, maybe some robots and that’s it, right? Well, not this time. While there’s nothing wrong actually with humans in SF worlds, we wanted our universe and its inhabitants to be more symbolic and less literal. We wanted the game universe to be populated by creatures seemingly human, but featuring some traits that will amplify the theme of ‘power vs. impotence’ formulated in our creative vision statement. Completely clueless, I scratched my head and proposed some hallmarks giving the proper spin to world inhabitants design. Here they are:
1. Short-lived: that’s a key component of the ‘impotence’ aspect. Human lifespan is just an eyeblink compared to the history of universe, and the efforts of individuals look pretty meaningless from afar. We wanted our creatures to live even drastically shorter than humans, and let the player experience the passing of time. Given that player character will also feature limited lifespan, it will put a pressure and experience of rush. From a practical point of view, it will allow us to present social and economical changes in the game universe in reasonable play-time of 10-20 hours (single run).
2. Fragile: or, more precisely, an impression of fragility. While our creatures don’t have to be exceptionally easy to kill, they should appear as they were. It contributes both to ‘power’ and ‘impotence’ components because their helpless look would naturally associate with ‘impotence’, and on the other hand it will contrast with the power that technology gives them at further stages of the game, which is fun!
3. Vividly mortal: It should be clear at first glance when our creature is in full health, as well as, when it is a step from perishing. Some easily distinctable features should give a clues about creature’s condition.
4. Adorable: the creatures, through most of their lifetime, should be fun to look at and easy to sympathize with. This will give us a chance to spark a feeling of care in the player and also turn-up the contrast when it comes to drastic events. What’s important, the ‘cuteness’ fades away with the time passing by, making the creatures off-putting.
5. Peaceful/Pacifist: at least when the majority of the population is considered. This feature gives the brutal advantage to those individuals that choose the way of violence, contributing to ‘power’ component of vision statement theme.
6. Avoid animal features: while cats and other furries could be really cute and support the adorability requirement from point no.4, we actually want our creatures to resemble humans. We’re still on the far left of uncanny valley, but keeping it human-ish nevertheless.
Few beers later, I figured out, that design-wise, we should fit somewhere within the triad of classic PC games characters: Lemmings (mortality, simplicity), Worms (contrast cuteness vs. violence) and Kerbal (anthropomorphic features).
And that’s how the Luding was born.
Ludings are human-like race populating a small planetary system ‘somewhere else’. Their name comes from words ‘ludic’ and ‘ludek’ (polish word for tiny creature resembling human). They tend to live short, because as a species, they suffer from genetic flaw – ‘demastosa’, which makes their organic essence (that we called ‘omasta’) degrade over time. Their anatomy is pretty simple, but their physiology, though omasta-driven, is fairly similar to human. Luding morphology was inspired by anemones – those strange plant-like animals living underwater. These creatures have no skeleton, but their shape is kept by contractile body. They can walk and talk, they feature sex dimorphism, so after all the appear pretty human. When they die from omasta degeneration they don’t leave the corpse, but rather a shapeless goo called ‘poomasta’. Ages long poomasta evolves into omastite – the mineral that can be mined and processed to acquire construction materials or fuels. What’s important, it’s not only the ludings that are based on omasta, but all the organic life in the game universe. But the ludings are only sapient race that we put into the setting. I bet you can clearly see an obvious connection between omasta and it’s real-life analog and that’s perfectly fine. That is how it’s supposed to work, giving us a practical advantage of simplicity and safe margin for some fictional twists, as well as fueling overall symbolism.
And so we have seeded a setting with a concept of sapient life forms. We’ll see what will grow out of it.
Stay tuned, there’s more to come.