Michelle Travis

Michelle Travis

Feb 04 2014

Keeping It Balanced

I belong to several different game development circles, and through them, I try to keep track on things going on in the industry and in game design. One of the forefront issues, not surprisingly, is women in gaming (and women in games). Here at Ætheric, we're almost an exact 50/50 split (although women currently hold the upper hand in that our president is a woman, HA!). And since the guys that work here are smart enough to recognize that women are just as much in the gamer demographic as men are, a lot of our gaming ideas and discussions are very "equal opportunity."

Another contentious topic is sexism (both male and female). For example, when talking about costume options, in-game cultures, body design, and so on, we try our best to keep things as fair as possible. Like the day that we were discussing male/female costumes in the various other MMOs that we play, and what we did (and didn't) like. (Our general consensus: LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE — good. BLADE AND SOUL — bad.) Or the day we talked about animations such as walking and running. It's not to say that the female developers completely frown upon having 'sexier' outfits. In fact, we very much want to provide options for players to choose how they wanted to present their characters. But we let the guys know in no uncertain terms that if we were going to include 'fanservice'-type outfits, it was gonna work both ways, or it wasn't gonna be in there at all. They not only didn't argue, they actively agreed. The guys in this company are both really smart AND really supportive.

And we also have discussed character roles, especially in terms of NEXUS. When designing the game, I was not only going to be representing both male and female characters, but also the four cultures found in the larger world of Tyanaphos. My main concern was keeping things as close to balanced as possible.

So Melissa and I spent a great deal of time talking about the cultures, figuring out their social structures, their views of male/female roles, and so on.

Then I went through the list one card at a time, re-reading each card's art description, and first assigning either a male or female figure to each card featuring a humanoid. After that, I went through again and assigned cultures to the cards. Certain elements lent themselves better to certain cultures, such as Lanterns for the Forestborn, Mirrors for the Wavecalled, and Shields for the Stoneforged, but I also wanted to make sure they were included in the Greater Arcana as well. For example, the All-Seeing Watcher is one of the Wavecalled, the Keeper of Freedom is Stoneforged, and the Honorable Assassin is Forestborn.

In the end, the NEXUS deck has a nearly 50/50 male/female split for the cards that predominantly feature humanoid figures (plus at least half a dozen androgynous ones). All four cultures are represented — while there are more Starmade (humans) in the deck overall as compared to each individual "native" culture of Tyanaphos (the Forestborn, the Wavecalled, and the Stoneforged), the native cultures collectively outnumber the Starmade by a 3-to-2 ratio.

One of the things I did NOT want to do while designing the deck was to automatically shunt men and women into possibly pre-conceived roles (all the Soldiers as male, for example). Since only the Masters and Mistresses of each Element were definitively male and female, respectively, everything else was fair game. And a quick side note — so far as the design of NEXUS goes, no, the Mistresses are not decorative, honorary, or placeholders. They are just as much the rulers of their Courts as the Masters.

As a result, among the 13 Archetypes, four are female, four are male, and four are androgynous. (The 13th Archetype — The Past, is represented by a shadow that cannot be defined as male or female, only humanoid.)

And while it was difficult, from a creative standpoint I found it a wonderful challenge to keep everything balanced. To constantly ask myself "why" when assigning roles to the cards. To stay true to the cards' meanings while determining the best representation of those meanings. It wasn't easy, but the worthwhile things never are.

Have something to say related to this blog entry? We'd love to see it, and so would others. Go here and share your thoughts.