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”)
- various 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.]