On Being All Mystical and Choosing a Name
Started doing some things in relation to the new Mystic Western game today. In particular I bravely started my frenemy Unity and poked around to work out some basic things like rotating the camera around a diorama-thing and having a day-night cycle to make shadows move and lights light and so forth. Also did some early testing of the whole idea of having dialog boxes/interface elements in the scene – particularly the idea that they would emit light, like screens, so that even at night you’d be able to see by the glow of a dialog box. That kind of thing.
Along the way I started worry about where my actual mysticism was going to come from. I toyed with the I Ching (having recently read The Man in the High Castle), but I know more or less nothing about it so it seemed like a cheap shot. There’s always the idea of just claiming “this is mystical” aesthetically, too – i.e. “here’s an object you don’t really understand in this context (perhaps with the sound of panpipes or whatever), and I assure you it is a very mystical matter indeed.” In effect I’m still going to end up leaning pretty heavily on the underlying quality of ambiguity that all good mysticism comes along with – it’s a great safety net. Doesn’t make sense? No, it’s mystical.
But as I was pottering around I realised that a really great “mystic text” to attach to the game would be The Oregon Trail. If you think about it, it’s kind of the ultimate “Western” of videogames? The whole game is literally fixated on going West! Plus I have an abiding love for that game (as many people do), with its hilariously punishing bouts of dysentery, broken legs, exhaustion, and more. Plus it has plenty of landscape, crucial for the Western genre.
So that’s my current lead – working out how to treat The Oregon Trail as a kind of background narrative/text for this game of mystical dioramas. It’s pulling me away from the generic nature of just “A western” (like cowboy hats and six-shooters), which has its pros and cons. I like Western movies too, and there was an appeal to channeling that. But I think having something really particular for the underpinnings of the game will help – it gives me a reference point to ask questions when I’m stuck with a decision. For example if I’m wondering what objects should exist in my dioramas, I simply “consult” The Oregon Trail to see what objects are in it. In that way it’s like the I Ching for my design process. Along with that it’s nice because it’s such a classic piece of “ancient” videogame history, tying somewhat into the Ozymandias theme I’m wanting in this thing. Helpful.
Also helpful, it gave me a chance to work out titling the game other than just referring to it as Mystic Western which was not so great. I toyed with You have died of dysentery naturally, and also Broken Leg (which sounds a bit like a place as well as a misfortune), and The Wagon (dumb) and The Trail (too obvious), and It was up in the mountains… (a tribute to Laurie Anderson). But eventually I started centring on liking it being a place name, since the game is a place. The Oregon Trail starts in a town called Independence, which is good. But it’s also a word that means other things and isn’t clearly a place, so I added the state abbreviation to get a game called:
[Edit: On discovering that the state abbreviation for Missouri is MO and not MI, I thought I’d just change the game name to Independence, MO but… somehow I just don’t like it? “MO” just doesn’t work for me. So instead I’ll go with Independence, Missouri instead. There.]
Anyway, that’s where I am now. Somewhere on the Oregon Trail.