As we learned in the You Have To Name The Expansion Pack expansion pack to Dredmor which you had to name, names have power. Characters in Clockwork Empires, like Dredmor expansion packs, have names. So what names ought to be given to these people? And how? As fun as it’d be to make up hundreds of Victorian Steampunk names by hand, we have the technology to make robots do the work for us using the power of procedural content generation.
Mind you, procedural content is not a magical solution to all problems. It may indeed involve actual design work to fit interestingly, much less well, into a hypothetical game. So, naming: the care we put into the raw feedstock of the the Hypno-Pneumatic Name-o-Tron very much determines the quality of its denotative extrusions. And here at Gaslamp Games, we intend to provide only the finest extrusions, thick with nuance, speckled by nodules of intertextuality, and offset by an effervescence of whimsy.
This raw name-feedstock creates flavour, theme, & narrative for Clockwork Empires. What’s all this then, story in a procedurally generated sandbox game? – Well, sure! Even though, as usual, we’re just making it up as we go along, there are certain vaguely insinuated guidelines to respect. A bit of structure can be put in place to support a certain range of narratives, if you will, which can be quite enabling to players. We give you a delightful setting and a nudge on the back, you make the game your own from there on out.
To give an example of the process of figuring out some of the narrative background that names create for Clockwork Empires, we’re sworn to never talk again of how Daniel added Irish surname stylings. (Because then questions were raised about if there was a Clockwork Ireland-analog, and what this would all mean with respect to intersectionality of class and race in the real world vs. our riffing on the 19th century British Empire. We didn’t come up with a good answer that’d both respect and deconstruct the history of colonialism coherently in this game we happen to be making just now, so we said bollocks to this whole line of thought for now until someone comes up with something exceedingly clever to make it all work.) … I just talked about it again, didn’t I. Anyway, that’s not happening and there’s a lot to be said on the subject of how the Real World history of colonialism interacts with what we’re doing with this game. Although fascinating, it’d lead us somewhat outside the scope of this post.
What Forms A Name
Back to the subject at hand with a stock of relevant examples, we pretty much just make lists of names in a file and the game sticks ‘em to people, places, and things according to some simple scripting rules. For said list we’ve mined a few obvious sources for names, such as:
- highlights from a list of the most popular given names from the UK in the Victorian period which include gems like “Zylphia” and “Wilbert” (ignoring, of course, boring names like “John” or “Mary”; Sorry everyone out there named John or Mary, nothing personal. I mean, I certainly didn’t include “David” because of the same reasons. Plus it might get weird. Like when I snuck portraits of myself and Nicholas into Starsector and now people play as space mercenaries that look like us. Which is also kinda cool.)
- a few period-appropriate cultural/media references: “Ruddigore”, “Rooster”, “Dorian”, “Bellis”
- some inspired by actual people from the 19th century: “Ada“, “Hiram“, “Gilbert“, “Thaddeus“
- words that sounded neat or thematically appropriate: “Gyre, “Brick”, “Mudd” (the last two being especially appropriate for the lower classes)
- and some dumb inside-jokes and references like “Smugly” (I won’t spoil the rest)
For surnames we can smash some likely-sounding morphemes together, for example:
- machine parts, because we’re Steampunk with more or less begrudgingness depending on who you ask, therefore: “gimbal”, “widget”, “gear”, “cog”
- metals and materials, with class-associations by value: “argent”, “copper”, “irons”, “ash” (And we can reference upper-class associations with Latin, Greek, and French while lower class gets the Anglo-Saxon words. Thanks Williame.)
Thus, say: “Cogirons” or “Brassgear” are valid surnames.
Or we can pull straight from a list of names inspired by other sources or handcrafted to sound nice, such as:
- pretty much anything from Dickens: “Chuzzlewit”, “Wardle”, “Scadde”
- that day I pulled up Jabberwocky: “Beamish”, “Toves” (And I can’t stress how much English Nonsense is relevant to the work we do here.)
- a list of hand-massaged morpheme-mashings or just fun or thematic sounding words: “Coalscofl”, “Matchelocke”, “Bootstrappe”
- procedurally-generated place-names handcrafted or otherwise pulled from our storytelling as game design collection: “Carbonvale”, “Crankshire”, “Slagfolk”
The generation of thematically-appropriate names extends to places as well as people, for after all, we need names both for where all these colonials come from and for where they’re going to. For this, I pulled apart the names of towns and regions in England so they can be assembled back into something more appropriately & wretchedly Steampunk (though let a certain wariness of simply naming something “Cogtown” be registered here — there’s a flavour to be invoked, yes, but hopefully not mere cliche).
There’s a great deal of historical precedent for maps that Just Make Stuff Up as well as names of mythical lands that may as well also be Stuff Just Made Up: Antipodia, Hyperborea, Terra Australis, Lemuria, Cibola, El Dorado, California. Still working on how to fit these together into the game with a glossy varnish of Gaslamp Games Patent Extrusion, truth be told. Can probably break down the etymology & morphemes of the place-names and stick them back together as sepia-toned chimeras.
The HMS Cogwind
Naming ships (and airships) is pretty easy: Pull a register of 19th century vessels, both civilian and navy, and off you go. The British Navy in particular has lovely, bombastic ship names that speak to an empire that was very impressed with itself: “Triumph”, “Thunderer”, “Majestic”, “Conqueror”. Encoggle a little with our pile of thematic morphemes and you’re good to go.
People of All Lands
Foreigners too get appropriate names, though I must admit it’s a little more difficult to make them up by feel than the English-inspired stuff. We are, after all, immersed in English-language culture and media & the Gaslampers, although being half Canadian and half American, have a particularly creepy love for the UK and all its nonsense — maybe it’s a Colonial thing. (This observation about Gaslamp’s taste is perhaps obvious to the casual observer considering the number of times we’ve been accused of being somewhere between Terry Pratchett and Monty Python.)
We’ll do our best to overcome our Anglo-centrism as is necessary to flesh out the foreign relations of the Clockwork Empires. Of course this warped perspective on Imperial Britishness, as shown above in our approach to names and naming, has become an intrinsic part of what Clockwork Empires is. After all that, the game is called “Clockwork Empires” and not “Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark”.
(But Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark sure sounds like a cool game which I’d totally play. There’s always room for a Stahlmarkian expansion pack, right guys? … Guys?)