The Inner Secrets of Clockwork Empires

World Building is a finicky business. You need to build a universe for a game, and you need the universe to be believable and cogent. When we set out to start writing for Clockwork Empires, we knew that it had to be different than Dredmor; Dredmor was very self-indulgent, and full of sly nods, parody, tropes, and generally rampaging through every single fantasy property, bad B-movie, and obscure metal band known to man, woman, and Diggle.

CE is a bit different. We have some scope to be indulgent, but we need to get away from anything that is referential and anything that is going to break the illusion that this is a large, functioning Empire with its own intelligent citizenry and history. We can’t make references to, say, Buckaroo Banzai (sorry, Daniel!) and get away with it. We actually have to go into the trenches and start writing about the world, and about the things in the world. This process is known as worldbuilding.

We keep all the worldbuilding stuff on our internal wiki, in bits and pieces. Concept art, strange pictures, and odder writing show up there from time to time. New Sogwood, for instance, started out as a foundational writing piece and was later chopped up into a series of art and programming milestones. (We hear Dwarf Fortress does this.) There are other ideas, largely disconnected, including things like:

  • a list of all the made-up words in the classic English novel, Cold Comfort Farm, that were used by the author to represent fictional agricultural devices (the “pruning-snoot” and so forth),
  • various types of animal design (the Carrion Buzzard; various species of hen, including the Roof-Thatched Guinea-Fowl; the urban pine-moistened shrike, which has learned to push humans into machinery and then feast on the blasted chunks of meat contained therein),
  • a list of otherworldly entities (“Invisible Geometer”, “The Body”, “Cthonic T’orb”) and a brief description of the terrifying Mythos contained therein, most of which is best left to your imagination,
  • various lists of ideas of things to put in a technology tree, ranging from accurate social constructions (“The Gospel of Work”) to less accurate social constructions (“Brain Jar Mi-Go Internship Program”)
  • ┬ávarious lists of poor inventions of the late 19th century. Two notable inventions: artificial diamonds, which were involved in several major scandals in England, and information on traditional fraternity hazing pranks.

There is also a notable section of quotable wisdom from the Empire’s great thinkers:

“Thank heavens for the mercury tincture, for at long last we can stop the deplorable practice of treating our artists by setting them on fire.” – Lord Mandrake

“Is it safe? Of course it’s safe. Anything that glows this prettily must be perfectly harmless.” – Report of the Royal Society on the Matter of the Strange Glowing Rocks

and a selection of information on possible research projects for Magnificent Inventions that push forward the bounds of progress:

“The Clockwork Orange does absolutely nothing whatsoever. It simply sits in a corner of your empire, gently whirring or ticking. Occasionally it vibrates. The Clockwork Orange will randomly break down and emit a small pile of smoke. It can be repaired, but it then goes back to being useless again. The Clockwork Orange is equally as useless when it is broken down as when it is functional. The broken-down Clockwork Orange is, perhaps, a little depressing, and may make people slightly sadder when it’s broken.”

“Why would you ever invent this? Seriously.” – Lord Palmerstoke

and the terrifying secrets of popular Empire foodstuffs such as Crimble, Refined Boiling Methods (for the aristocracy, who like all upper-class peers must have their food boiled, and boiled again, to a high state of purity that also removes all those filthy lower-class nutrients), and Squarepig (the delicious Stahlmarkian Treat!)

There are elaborate descriptions of other nations that you may encounter:

Imperial Novyrus: Land of snow, fur hats, large beards, political oppression, and trains. Lead by a reform-minded Tzar who insists that everyone really ought to shave their enormous beards off to better fit these New And Changing Times, but this call is met with stiff resistance. Proprietors of whale oil, gulags, serfdom, and male choirs.

There is lovely art by David and crew to accompany various bits of all of this, although it is often used in recent days to illustrate game mechanics. For instance, consider the following elaborate diagrams:

A lot of this may not make it into the game. A lot of it will make it into the game, and a lot of it will get remixed endlessly in the blender that is our office culture before it is unleashed on an increasingly horrified population. Yes, soon you will know your impending doom and despair. Gaze into your computers and weep, for soon all you love will be lost. Soon we shall kill your productivity again. Soon, you will taste the joys of three in the morning! All hail the return of the Black Eyeless Ones, soon to walk amongst us again when our dark work is complete! All hail the return of the Snake Lords! All mankind will pray to be eaten first, so that they shall not know the suffering of their peers who are luckier than they are and hence eaten before them! All hai -

[This is Citizen Daniel here. Nicholas has been forced away from the computer for his own protection, as he was clawing his eyes out and screaming epithets about H. R. Giger-ian Space Babies. He is currently playing with his synthesizers in the corner of the office, and we hope to put him back in front of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 as soon as he has finished composing another one of his terrifying atonal dirges to the terrifying Celestial Entity he knows only as Njibb'-Nor.]

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19 Comments

19 Responses to “The Inner Secrets of Clockwork Empires”

  1. Headjack says:

    I’d been wondering what you did with a crimble.

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  2. Veinless says:

    Reading “scrum based” as “scrotum based” did not seem out of place.

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  3. Suho1004 says:

    I wonder if all of the foreign empires are going to be as easily identifiable as the Novyrus. I think it would be neat if these other cultures weren’t just fictional stand-ins for, say, the Russians. Having non-analogous cultures would offer the player more freedom in writing their own stories, at least.

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    • Headjack says:

      I rather like the idea. Alternate history fic gives the viewer context without having to learn an entire new stereotype. It’s like imagination shorthand. Plus, the entertainment derived from putting a new spin on an established norm is unmatchable otherwise! Also, since most of the world is fleshed out and the action will all revolve around the Empire, it shouldn’t make as big of a difference whether the neighbors are semi-Russian or Atlantean; they’d be normal in that continuity and as such unremarkable to the other characters.

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  4. peteKon says:

    says: but we need to get away from anything that is referential

    References clockwork orange.

    :/

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Hah, yes. Well.

      (Honestly, this is Nicholas having a bit of fun writing up setting ambiance. I don’t see how such a thing can really have a part in the game proper, and again, we actually are going to run much lighter on references.)

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      • Godwin says:

        No clockwork orange?? Here I was: hoping that an orange clockwork – no, clockwork orange!, would become a plushie… clockwork oranges as the Diggle of CE.
        How completely satisfying and Zen to have to repair a thing that does nothing but whirr and vibrate occasionally… man, so inspiring.
        Maybe change the name to clockwork pomegranate to avoid Annoying References :)

        (not ENTIRELY serious: just 80%)

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  5. Wootah says:

    Amazing stuff and I love the backstory! It amazes me of how in depth and branching it gets, and then when there are crunch times lots of it never gets finished or included in the game! Are you all equally creative when it comes to back story or is there some that are more involved than others?

    I went and read boat murdered and having absolutely zero experience with DF, i was amazed at all the little details that are in the game, that can be involved in the story like the status of character (even down to individual body parts) or the types of things that the dwarves craft or individual nuances of them. I hope that this is what makes the game rich and replayable, both because I have very different characters each and everytime, but also because I become so attached to them each time I play.

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  6. peteKon says:

    Haha, I know. I just had to tease you guys. :D

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  7. Headjack says:

    What’s I’m finding interesting is the revelation of a tech tree. It seems at first odd that a persistent avatar would oversee several settlements which ultimately end up making the same discoveries, but then again in a way it makes sense; The governor himself wouldn’t know the details of technology, so if he were to go elsewhere he would be unable to duplicate it. And if he had seen things discovered elsewhere he would simply know the gist of the technology, just as the player is likely to if they have a prior understanding of the mechanics. Of course, if the administrator doesn’t make it out alive, it’s believable that fractious settlements would independently come up with similar techniques, or hide their secret processes from the wider world.

    This is especially true if the more esoteric elements are represented in the intentional research, since your average mi-go cultist or whatnot doesn’t really put out an instructional pamphlet or anything.
    ‘Cept for that mad arab, I guess.

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    • peteKon says:

      Well, even if they know HOW to build certain things, you still must have coal before you can smelt. You still must have iron before you can make iron things. Know what I mean? Things have to be built in certain orders at every new settlement, because that’s how the real life would have worked as well.

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  8. Wouter says:

    In order to survive the wait until release I actually started playing a bit of Dwarf Fortress (and read the hilarious boatmurdered LP)

    I am sort of assuming that you are trying to build a game that has the immersive gameplay, depth, and storytelling possibilities, while overcoming the problems of interface design (grahics, low discoverability without manuals) and tedium.

    One thing that strikes me about DF is that some of its drawbacks also seem to be its strengths. Case in point, I was trying to set up farming, and then discovered that my cook processed all the yielded plants, so no seeds for next year. This is extremely annoying, but it will be quite a challenge to allow for the player control and delight in learning the mechanics (aha! so that is how a farming industry should be set up) while still somehow preventing stupid things like this.

    Another case, the still stopped making booze after it had (temporarily) run out of stuff to process. After that, he never restarted, and my dwarves started drinking water (which is a really bad idea!). I never noticed until I accidentally took a look at the riverside and saw half my population hanging out there (sunlight AND water, are we turning into elfs??). These kind of things are really annoying and tedious. However, it seems to me that if you have some sort of governor / warning system / automation in place, the game play would also lose quite a bit of depth and satisfaction in setting up something that actually works, not to say a lot of opportunities for Fun (TM).

    Good luck with finding the right balance! Armok bless you!

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  9. Noreg says:

    You guys have some amazing ideas, no doubt that. I really hope you manage to complete this incredible project. But that set aside, how will the customiztion of buildings and the society work? Will you for example be able to build Norwegian-style buildings with sod roof and everything, if you like? And will you be able to construct roads or other forms of basic infrastructure?

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    • Headjack says:

      Take a look back at the Industrial Simulation For Everyone post, and the PC Gamer interview. Theres a lot of info about building and decorating according to your own taste.

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  10. Jari says:

    Quick question: Assuming that traders go round the frontier on a trade route base, will it be possible to create a zeppelin outpost where traders meet and trade with each other, allowing access to both routes in the end?

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  11. Jari says:

    Quick question: Assuming traders come to colonies based on a trade route system, can you build a trade center, where multiple routes come together, exchange wares and stories, and allow colonies to access other trade routes, even though those routes don’t fly/sail to that specific colony, but do attend the trade center?

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  12. Cog-nisant says:

    I had a question about the kind of routes we can take. Despite being in the mindset of colonising ‘virgin’ land (ahem – don’t tell the natives!), do we have the freedom to choose radically different paths – ie environmentally friendly? Or will it be just about trying to cut down forests, mine for ore and take apart the resources around you in a race to industrialise? I’d consider the former an added layer of challenge in addition to the inbuilt hijinx.

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