2014-04-08

A brief history of Tenkai

I once had plans to program my own monster-related RPG/simulation called Tenkai ("Celestial Monsters") when I was 12.

...At this point in the story, the narrator would usually describe how they abandoned something and went a completely different direction.

But not me. As you already know, I'm literally still working on it. XD

Of course, it's not really the same thing at all by now. Here's a brief overview of how it's changed over time.


Tenkai started life as something called "Aeromon". In the very, very, very beginning, it was a very thinly-veiled Pokémon imitator, that I believe was essentially born out of me creating what were basically "fakémon" but wanting to assign attributes to them that I knew Pokémon never had canonically.

In particular there was a creature called the "Crysterius" (crystal + mysterious :p) which was essentially a Starmie clone, but with waaaaay more arms to the point of being more of a spiky ball than a starfish and made out of translucent crystal. It had the ability to absorb things into it that then just kind of... floated around in stasis inside I think? But somehow it actually gained power from that, even though it wasn't digesting them. It was like... the more matter was inside it the more powerful it was, and it was kind of a portal to its own little pocket of space where all the things it sucked up lived.

Crysterius as a "fakémon", in a glorious RBY-style dex entry too. (Also, click it for a handful more fakémon/weird fakémonish things I made at that time.)
An attempt to revamp Crysterius as a more "original" creature named Giosway. This was supposed to be from a Japanese word but I can't find the actual etymology again for the life of me.

Crysterius was probably my most interesting fakémon, and I kind of started to form its own plot around it, where Crysterii were floating all around the world absorbing things into their cores with tractor beams, up to and including trees. I'm not sure, but I think this in particular was the thing that inspired me to split my creature creation from Pokémon into Aeromon in the first place, just because this scenario would create a totally different kind of world from the Pokémon world. So, I had that plot thing. I figured out that if Crysterius cores were good for storing stuff, maybe they'd be a good alternative to a Poké Ball (I might say Monster Ball, but that was before I actually watched Japanese Pokémon, so, yeah), possibly even better because the full cores at least could store so much more. I even made up this neat little intro gif for if Aeromon were actually some sort of gameboy game or... something like that, which you can see below.

The intro to Aeromon, "Ice Version". I was able to find the frames again but had to recreate the last part with the fade out and the title appearing, which is why it looks so... actually decent. XD

So what happened after that?

I just kind of forgot about the Crysterii and their little plot as I was expanding my creature roster. Don't ask me what happened there! In retrospect I think I didn't realise back then how awesome and weird an idea they actually were.

But anyway, I tried to develop the story. Not unlike I've seen some of my own friends of ages close to what I was then do today, I quickly decided I'd never be awesome enough to build anything as complicated as a game, or even as skill-requiring as a visual-type story for this (or at least not gather either of those skills quickly enough to be able to do either of those things before I scrapped the project), so I broke out the good old word processor and tried to novelise it. I think that was something of a bad decision, honestly; everything about the story was really rather visual, and a purely text format kind of took away what was cool about it, leaving only excessive thesaurus use and cringeworthy weeaboo-isms behind. I think I'm just generally really, really bad with text stories as a medium, to tell the truth, as it's oddly tiring for me to read them even though I can get through chapters upon chapters of dry biology and physics textbooks with great enthusiasm, and I've practically never gotten anywhere writing them either. Visual stories may take effort to progress, but in some ways that's kind of a quality filter for me, as it doesn't allow me to just let endless streams of substance-less words flow out of my fingers without a reality check as to whether I'll end up deleting them all later when I realise they're crap and don't convey the story I wanted to tell at all, and be back at square one. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that text stories are not easier than visual stories, despite what you might be led to think, and thinking that will just make writing harder for you.

Anyway. By the time "Aeromon" had gotten to its novel phase, I'd realised the name Aeromon was already a Digimon name, and even though I didn't know anything about copyright at all at that age, I already knew more than enough to not want to deal with IP collision bullshit, so I changed the name to Adventures of Kurei (which amusingly enough abbreviated to AoK, and I joked that, well, now its name was AoK :p). It's interesting to note that ironically, in trying to pick a more "original" name, I literally just picked the name of some random Japanese-tutorial guy I was reading a page by (Clay/'Kurei') as the name for my protagonist, while Aeromon had been something I actually came up with off the top of my head. (Wait... no, actually, the protagonist wasn't actually named that. I just picked that for the title because it sounded a little bit like his actual name, but 'in Japanese'; I'm not sure I ever had any plans for anybody to call him that, to be honest. It's sometimes hard to explain the choices I made in trying to put together stories 7-9 years after the fact.)

A title image for AoK, showing "Protagon", the head of the "good faction", or something like that. There was also an Antagon but I never drew him, and I'm not sure I even figured out how to work either of the two into the story itself either. My plotting was a mess.

In a short while, AoK began to evolve into a sort of monster notebook project. Now, I mean that very literally—there was literally a physical notebook that I think even had a table of contents, which I was literally creating entries for various creatures in. It was overall a little bit like what I'm doing with Stablehand/Tenkai, but a lot less intentionally planned that way; instead of the monsters really being specifically designed to fit into both stories or either of the stories being designed around the monsters I was honestly just kind of creating them and sending them off into limbo not really knowing or thinking about where they were supposed to go. :p

Now, compared with what I'm creating now, the creatures in this notebook were really a little plain. Many of them were just "take a creature out of mythology/regular animal and add a weird add-on, particularly an element or single new body part, that then becomes the theme". In this category were "Wulfangs", which was literally just a wolf pup with visible protruding fangs that then became one of two unicorn wolves and then some random oddly-Halloweenish designs (these guys were kind of the "let's see how many weird but yet obvious puns I can get away with" line to be honest: Wulfangs, Wulfantom, Wulfury, Wulfantasy... Wulfuego-hielo because I was obsessed with foreign dictionaries :p); a thing named for the Acropolis that was literally just one face of a Greek building with two pillars as legs because I had to have an example of a "Cement-type" creature (this came from me dreaming that my randomly-anthro Pidgeotto's status incorrectly claimed he was Cement-type); and Javuu, basically a hippogriff but with improved Ditto powers because I needed a name for it and Javuu from déjà vu was the first thing that came to mind. A small handful of others, maybe 2 or 3, were essentially Pokémon ripoffs that were supposed to be alternate evolutions but of course since the actual Pokémon were not going to be in it they had to be distinct to make sense; one was named Far-Flung and was able to wield "Psy powers", whatever that meant (one thing I do know is that "by the way, Psy is not the same as Psychic", as my somewhat underline-happy teenage self so helpfully pointed out for a friend :p). Others, like Blizzarisk and its other elemental forms, were halfway between these two categories, and yet others like Pythoria had almost no visible difference from real animals save possibly no real species of that particular type of animal having that specific colouration.

Blizzarisk is a pretty good place to pause for a moment, actually, because it shows one of the major things I was trying to develop for AoK. I think at that stage my favourite Pokémon ever was Eevee. I LOVED Eevee and the fact it had so many different evolutions, and just like everyone else, I made and tried to draw my own Eevees to fill in the gaps and everything. I was so obsessed with Eevee and its different type specialisations that I wanted to literally turn everything into Eevee. EVERYTHING.

My old evolution chart for the Basilisk, screwed-up RTF text layout and all. I believe Hebikurai and "REGALISK" were supposed to go with King Cobra.

There were exceptions, of course: some creatures like Wulfangs obviously were not subject to the Eevee treatment. Wulfangs I think either came from just being unsatisfied with Pokémon having only three stages, or wanting to emulate the evolution system in Telefang, where a small handful of Denjuu had like seven different stages split across different branches of a tree. There were a handful of things where I was trying really hard to give them different branches and "mod evos" the Telefang way even before I really knew how Telefang worked beyond what I'd read on Racieb's pages.

I was also trying really hard to make the rock-paper-scissors part of my elemental system be complicated and nuanced but I don't think I even had any idea what I was doing there because I didn't get very far on that.

Now, this kept sliding along chaotically until, guess what, I actually started learning to program and sprite! And then, for some reason, I had to start from scratch, because my AoK stuff just wasn't good enough or something. I think it may have been that I was planning to integrate a bunch of the AoK monsters back in later, but I just wanted to get my game working and establish its style and rules first.

In this stage of things, I had an almost completely different approach from what I'd been doing before. For one thing, it was now more based on Monster Farm than Pokémon and random fantasy stuff. For another, I had by that point entered one of the most gigantic weeaboo phases imaginable. A weeaboo phase so big, it was the size of Gojira, and not Godzilla. Everything had to be named in Japanese. Everything. And everything had to be inspired at least loosely by Japanese myth/tradition, if only actually related by name.

Accordingly, I called this new version of the project Tenkai. (This name was a combination of the kanji for heaven/sky (天) and monster (怪), that I then discovered sounded just like tenkai (天界), a word for heaven/paradise, so it was actually kind of a neat pun. I've stuck with that name because I still like it.)

Sprites for Tenkai, the Gojira-sized weaboo edition.

In general, in Tenkai, the monsters were somewhat more pet-like than in AoK in that hunger, health, lifespan, and damage as distinct from fatigue were all things, and you could train them to do things like perform better at different statistics and learn new techniques by combining techniques they already had. A major part of the game as I remember was going to be just trying to figure out all the different things you could do with each one and make it learn and make it become. (In a couple ways, my current version of Tenkai is probably going to very much derive from the way Gojiraboo Tenkai was going to be structured, given that really, that central idea of potential and different ways to unlock it is kind of like the premise of Stablehand, and an idea I really like in general.)

It's also interesting to note that this version of Tenkai, much like AoK before it, also had variants, but instead of elemental variants they were regional, much like in Monster Farm 3. Each one was like a breed the region was known for, and I was planning a system where you could breed monsters to get other variants that were sometimes combinations of existing breeds but other times "secret" creatures. I think I could have made that much cooler if it'd occurred to me to actually learn something about genetics and patterns of inheritance and separated this out into specific traits, rather than just mashing up appearances. :p

So, after that, about three years ago and one year after I let that version of Tenkai slide into the never-going-to-be-finished pile (six years, I think, since Aeromon began), I came back and rebooted Tenkai yet again, seeking to have more unusual and less overtly Japanesey stuff, and that's where Stähe (Stähe was actually revamped from the Aeromon stage), Kuryne (sort of a revamp of the dogs from the weaboo stage), Ajan, and similar guys came in. This time I was going to take yet another a new approach to variants, by focusing on habitat types and theming mons and their abilities around their habitat type, with the variants being themed around other habitat types. A major focus of this stage was making mons "realistic"—by this I didn't really mean "exactly like real animals" or even "immediately plausible in the real world" as much as just, you should be able to draw/model them in a completely photorealistic way, consistent with other animals, and no part of them should be so cartoon-stylised you can't figure out how it would "really" look. Accordingly, Stähe for instance lost its featherhands and got bulky pawhands instead.

Habitat type symbols, or as I called them, "attribute globes".
Stähe, before and after. (Sorry, before pic coming soon)

Now, nine years after Aeromon began, I'm rebooting Tenkai one more time, this time as a libre monsterpet game. As I've already described, it will likely be a spinoff of Stablehand, featuring things like hexarts, leijonœrns, and the elusive "Heavenscratch" (a cœlailurus basically, except real), along with some new creatures designed specifically to be unusual and slightly unearthly, such as the Sonata snake. The variant thing is still alive, but I'm thinking of doing it mainly as different Stablehand attributes rather than elements or habitats, and having the monsters actually able to freely shift between the different attribute-forms; habitat types miiiiight maybe come into play too though, I don't know.

Anyway, stay tuned for more updates on "Heavenscratch Beastquest Tenkai", literally nine years in the making.


2014-04-06

Stablehand: Random pies

Oh, I forgot to say this anywhere but I finally figured out how to handle randomised outcomes in Stablehand.

For a long time I'd been debating with myself over whether it was okay to have any of them in the story, and I'd wavered between "yes" and "no" and "only if it doesn't actually affect the story". On one hand, they can be kind of interesting but on the other, they tend to be an absolute pain in most RPGs, and I was not sure a bunch of "save scumming" really belonged in my story format.

Well, I finally have a solution! I've decided that I WILL have them when appropriate, BUT, instead of actually randomising them, I'll do them as visible wedges on a pie showing the different probabilities (probably labelled by shade or something when there's a definite "success" and "failure"), which you can click on to select one. I think this is a pretty good compromise, because while the outcomes are still random for the characters, it eliminates the frustration of trying to re-roll for a good one. (Also, you'll at least know that it's your fault you got the wrong one and not the computer's. :p)

The other cool thing about this is that when you actually know that whoa, this event is really damn improbable! it may give you a different perspective on things. For instance, in a linear story it can be kind of hard to show that yep, character X was really genuinely doing something absolutely insane and really just got lucky, they didn't just succeed because they were that good of a Sue.

(Yeah, I can see Kris (or any Faith character really) ending up with a bunch of these... :p
Let's not think about what the failure scenarios will look like right now)

2014-04-04

Over the weekend, I'm going to be trying to weed all the unnecessary garbage out of my blog template (I started with a premade one, so there are all kinds of weird things in it) and giving the elements better, more logical names (or even changing the elements themselves sometimes—why are my post headers h3 instead of h1?).

So, if the site layout breaks a few times or looks really weird, that's why. It should be fixed by about Monday, and look basically about the same as it does now. It may even load marginally faster with a bunch of the meaningless filler excised from it.

2014-03-29

Stablehand: What is it, really?

Occasionally people ask me what Stablehand is, and I try to explain it to them. I can do a decent job of this. But today I just realised that one of the reasons I have trouble getting my definition just right is that Stablehand actually isn't just one thing. It's actually about 15 different things all rolled up into one.

So, here's the real answer to the question "what is Stablehand?":

  1. A gamebook. Fairly self-explanatory if you know what branching books, text adventures, etc. are. So... yeah.
  2. A worldbuilding project. I want my gamebook to be kind of engrossing, so I'm trying to come up with all kinds of interesting fauna and locales and traditions and stuff like that. The worldbuilding is also kind of its own project though, as I just generally like the idea of putting together a world and trying to figure out various "what-if" scenarios, even if I'm not the best at it.
  3. A project to create a sci-fi-fantasy phylogeny and ecosystem. Something I've been playing with is the idea of taking all these improbable animals you see in heraldry and myths and trying to figure out what their life history and evolutionary relationships would be if they were all just normal, real animals. I'm also creating some slightly more original animals as I construct this evolutionary tree and realise that oh, if I take legs off the hexart it would be kind of like a legless lizard. I'm also playing with the idea of swapping a handful of extinct animals for extant ones here and there or often even realising some of the mythical animals, like my "monoceros", as branches off extinct lineages.
  4. An open bestiary. Currently I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to do this but I have a vague goal of making all the various animals themselves completely open for anybody to use with no caveats, not even the all of... two? the CC-BY-SA I'm currently using for the story itself has. I figure, what's the use of creating a bunch of weird and colourful animals if other people can't reimagine, rework, and become them as fursonas or whatnot? It always disgusted me just a little that the term "mythical creature" had an expiration date on it, and while modern creators are making all these new and diverse species, our definition of "mythical creatures" remains small and boring since people in the modern era have had this idea implanted in them that they cannot create new mythical creatures, but only new intellectual property which they should not allow to be "stolen" by anyone since its only value is in being monopolised. I say, let's change the definition of "mythical creature". Let's create some new open mythical creatures and start letting the modern world into it for once.
  5. A system of weird mechanics kind of just for the sake of being that. It serves its purpose in the universe of course, but I also just like the idea of building a personality-characterising system that's also kind of like a traditional RPG element system (mostly without the rock-paper-scissors thing though) and this idea of "clans" or "factions" you identify with at the same time. I also like the idea of a fantastic mechanic that people in the real world can also connect to if not in exactly the same way.
  6. A system for roleplaying. Part of the reason I've been designing everything around these weird vaguely game-like mechanics is that I think at some point it's possible it might spawn something a little bit vaguely like D&D but simpler, where you have a framework you can start with that defines how various things work and then you can do whatever you like from there.
  7. An aesthetic style and maybe a new subgenre. I'm trying to build this new "style subgenre" called Retrolark, which is basically a counterpart to steampunk but more "modern". Now, by modern, I don't just mean current technology/ideas—that is a part of it, but another part of it is modern as in modern art. (Maybe I'm actually thinking of postmodernism? I'm not entirely sure.) Anyway, this idea that there's a certain set of motifs you can use to make things seem "avant garde", "futuristic", and/or "modern" no matter what era you're in, though what I'm trying to put together is designed to lean a little toward the way that kind of thing was done in about the 80s/90s—trying to be cool and "the future" but... not quite succeeding. So... that's the "retro" part of the name. And at the same time I'm adding fantasy (well, sci-fi-fantasy) and other randomness into the mix and going for a kind of abstract narrative style, which is where the "lark" comes in. The next two bullets will explain this better.
  8. A story that makes both complete sense and no sense at all. Ok, this is going to be hard to explain. But basically, this entire thing started out as a project to "interpret" nonsense churned out by Cleverbot, Bad Translator, plaster patterns on the wall, clouds, and other unlikely sources for writing prompts (collectively, aka the "cleverbad"). The thing was, Bad Translator in particular had a real talent for creating these bizarre quotes that were nothing like what you put into it and sounded like they were all part of some really big and epic but extremely confusing and surreal story (e.g.: "The grandson of wind? Therefore, the State?", "In the first year and the second card code can lead to the formal structure of science", "We have a different atmosphere. In the framework of the preparation of Disaster"), and I really wanted to just take that story and read it. The problem was, it didn't exist. It was all in my imagination.

    So... I basically started creating Stablehand to try to capture the feel of this imaginary "story"—this idea of a story where really crazy and unusual things happen, and you get these weird combinations of ideas that seem to be eclectic and nonsensical on the surface but at the same time feel like they're just bursting with meaning and coherence if you could only find it, and then you later find out that sure enough, these things do go together in this universe and whoa, they go together and jive with the overall history/mechanics of the universe in a really neat way too; I never would have thought of that, but it works. And that's kind of the way the entire story is, with circumstances, events, characters, and other elements just seeming not to fit together at all sometimes but then you find out that huh, there is a place for that, and even though 2/3 of everything seems absolutely insane (from any perspective), none of it is really that weird or nonsensical at all in context. It's only weird because you think it's weird.

  9. An experiment on the word "normal" and varying the typical fantasy formula. Ok, following that kind of vague idea on normal vs. weird (I think I could have done a better job articulating that, but I guess it's good enough for now), I'm playing with this idea of how in a lot of fantasy stories (particularly if they involve dragons), even though "normal" should have a different definition, it doesn't, and everybody in the story still regards the fantastic stuff with great reverence as if it shouldn't be real. Ever noticed that? It's like there's this unspoken almost-religious veneration of things like magic and dragons, like they're a gift from God/Gaia and everybody's just so thankful that the ancient masters were blessed enough to receive this great Providence and perfect it through the sacred methods over the many generations so that we can all bask in their awe.

    I guess one of the reasons I like Pokémon is that nobody just gets the idea in their head the monsters are really special and supernatural and then thinks that's just the obvious way to go; even though Pokémon can shoot fire and water and moon-beams out of their mouths, for the most part nobody's ever forming the same kind of weird cult around them. And actually, for that matter, I think you could say similar things about Monster Farm too; I mean, Monster Farm literally said the monsters were a gift from God (or at least, that was the in-universe myth), but yet somehow it didn't fall victim to this either, which is pretty amazing honestly.

    Anyhow! In Stablehand, I'm trying to create a world where even though there are some pretty crazy things going on by our standards, people actually regard what's normal in their world as normal rather than trying to sanctify it just because we think it's weird.

  10. A system of emblems and symbols. Along with the Retrolark style I'm also kind of half-intentionally and half-unconsciously creating another style basically based on having a ton of emblems for everything. I think it's possible Homestuck infected me with this emblem obsession, but I really don't know, since before I knew about it I was making a bunch of emblems for Tyrian and one of my recent-ish attempts to reboot Tenkai too. Anyway, the attributes have emblems, the attitudes have emblems, the characters have emblems, the countries have emblems... everything has emblems. And some things, while they don't have a beautifully minimal emblem, still have symbolisms attached to them that, like I just described about two bullets ago, connect together to create a unique world culture. These emblems, of course, are under the CC-BY-SA like everything else, so they also have the potential to become vector clipart of a sort.
  11. A character study. This is one of the more obvious facets of Stablehand I think. The gamebook format is kind of exciting for me because if I want to and have the motivation, I can take every single character in a hell of a lot of different directions and expose a lot more facets of them than I could with a plain old linear story. I dunno how many different branches and endings this thing is actually going to have in practice, but I hope there will be enough to make it interesting.
  12. An anime musical. This is one of the weirder facets of it. I'm writing a bunch of songs for Stablehand to kind of convey the characters' central themes/personalities in a different way, as well as their story, a little bit. Some of these are just kind of ambient background music that I could easily just put in unobtrusive links to or something, but others actually have lyrics, and I'd like to make some kind of animations for those. I'm... not sure how that will fit with the main story; on one hand I think it'd be kind of weird to have almost Disney-esque song moments in the middle of a thing that mostly doesn't have audio or drastic animation, but on the other, it's also the kind of thing that's crazy enough it might actually fit the theme perfectly. So... I'm kind of still figuring this part out.
  13. A libre monstergame and a connection to my other project. I haven't fully decided on this, but it's somewhat likely I'll use the creatures from Stablehand in it if and when I make real progress on Tenkai, and it's also possible, though much less definite, that Stablehand will have some kind of connection with Tyrian. It's already kind of an opposite to Tyrian in a lot of ways without me even trying to do that, but I may actually connect them story-wise too. I'm already planning to add something a little like the Chayavana in Tyrian to Stablehand as an MB, so it's not impossible.
  14. Possibly, a libre fandom. I've tried to explain and stress this before on places like the about page, so this time I'll just make it relatively brief. A guy named Richard Stallman who did a bunch of stuff for the free software movement said it this way:
    Every nonfree program has a lord, a master — and if you use the program, he is your master.
    Apply that to fandoms. There are a lot of great works and fandoms out there, but in an era where copyright and the monopoly rights that creators feel they're entitled to threaten to inch greater and greater, you're really shackling yourself by being a member of a non-libre fandom. Have you ever thought about how many original things you now explicitly can't create because of what you've read, watched, played, etc., just because you would feel like you were "stealing" or "unoriginal", or because you want to "respect copyright"? Now there's something to think about. If you want the masters of your fandoms to be masters of your mind and creativity, that's completely your call, but my goal is to give everyone a different option. That is, a fandom where there's no huge brick wall between "your stuff" and "my stuff", and where you never have to worry about what will happen if you make Thing X or use Thing Y. My stuff is for YOU. And, well, if you use it under the CC-BY-SA, your stuff is theoretically for me too. It's going to be a challenging world when I can no longer just say "that's not canon" and have to say "that's not my canon", but I think I can live with it.
  15. Whatever you want it to be. Don't forget this one! As I've already said a million times Stablehand is libre, so just about whatever crazy thing you want to make it, you can. I honestly dunno what people would do with it, but that's part of the reason you make stuff libre in the first place—so you can find out. "All rights reserved" is the option for people who know what other people will do with their work, the answer to which is "nothing".

2014-03-21

Stablehand: Another new mechanic?

Yep, I'm seriously considering adding yet another new mechanic.

I just recently added attitudes, but this is making me think... I'd always associated attributes somewhat with Stolen Heart. So maybe attitudes are associated with Arkturuse or Aiyalam, and yet another new thing is associated with the other of the two?

For Aiyalam I already have reasons to think attitudes might be the one, because he kind of has a certain relation to the "Scrambled" attitude specifically. I'm not particularly sure what the new one, which will probably be associated with Arkturuse, will be though.

(I'm very tempted to make it also start with "att" though I don't know if that's possible.)