Category Archives: magic systems

Game Magic (Looking for Image Sources, Post # 2)

One of the topics at the heart of my forthcoming book, Game Magic, is the underlying logical flow of a magic system. Developing a magic system requires the designer to be able to express precisely the sequence of processes that a player must perform to cast a spell. Does the player need ingredients to cast a spell? Do they perform gestures or recite incantations? Will the spell draw energy from a mana pool? What happens if the player overspends mana? The answers to all of these questions can often be most effectively represented in a flow chart, which displays visually the branching logic, feedback loops, and input-output relationships of a complex system.

The two images below are excellent examples of flowcharts that clearly communicate the complex, sophisticated, and flexible logic of spellcasting in the tabletop role-playing game Mage: The Awakening (part of White Wolf’s World of Darkness universe).  I would love to reproduce these charts in my book.  The only problem is, I can’t find contact information for the charts’ creators.  True to the mysterious universe of World of Darkness, these authors have disappeared in a labyrinth of dead links and untraceable aliases.

Here are the clues that I have. A credit on the first chart reads, “This chart was created by Angelus Michaels of Morningstar Studios.  It is available on Liber Noctus. and copies found elsewhere are taken without permission.”  Liber Noctus appears to have been a fan site for World of Darkness, but its host domain (geniocracy) now directs to a Raelian website.  (The Raelians are a religion based on belief in UFO’s.  While they are right at home in this trail of clues, they have nothing to do with the Mage chart.  These are not the droids I’m looking for).

Searches for Angelus Michaels and Morningstar Studios are equally fruitless, despite the intriguing Luciferian reference in Morningstar.

The plot thickens with a second, remastered version of the chart.  The credit on this version reads “Original Flowchart by Angelica M. of Morningstar Studios.  Flowchart remastered and remade by Dianna. A.V.”  The chart is visually crisper and easier to read, but the trail of its origins is murkier.  Angelus Michaels has become Angelica M.  The mysterious figure Dianna has been introduced, evoking echoes of Agent Dale Cooper’s tape recorder, followed by the abbreviation “A.V.”  Are these the initials of a username or alias?  A Latin abbreviation?  An allusion to the WoD universe?  I’m not sure.

At any rate, I would love to use these flowcharts in my book.  They are great illustrations of rigorously representing the logic of a complex magic system.  But I don’t have contact information for either Angelus Michaels/Angelica M. or Dianna. There are a few forum threads that link to these charts, so I will continue to investigate through those channels, as well as doing more web research.  But, if you are one of the creators of these charts, or you have an idea as to how they could be contacted, please post a comment and let me know. Thanks!

Handout and slides from GDC Occult Game Design Presentation

A few people have asked me for the handout that accompanied my GDC Online 2012 Presentation, “Occult Game Design: An Initiation into Secrets and Mysteries,” so I thought I’d provide a link to it here.  The handout contains the names, dates, and brief synopses for the media referenced in the talk, including many games.

In addition, the slides for this talk are also available online for free at the GDC Online website, though a subscription is required to access the video recording of the talk.

Game Magic

A demo of Arcana: A Ceremonial Magick Simulator

There is a lot going on right now, so I though I’d update my blog.

A team of students and I are working on a game called Arcana: A Ceremonial Magick Simulator.  The game hits alpha release on December 6, 2012.  The beta release will occur on March 1st, 2012.  Here’s a picture of the team.

Arcana group portrait

In addition, I’m hard at work on a book called Game Magic: A Game Designer’s Guide to Constructing Magic Systems, which will be published by CRC/Taylor and Francis in 2013.

I spoke on a panel with Ken Rolston, lead designer of Oblivion and Morrowind, and game writer Rafael Chandler at George Mason University.

panel with Rolston and Chandler

panel with Rolston and Chandler

I also gave a presentation at GDC Online 2012 called “Occult Game Design: An Initiation into Secrets and Mysteries,” which was featured on the front page of the Game Narrative Summit site.

occult game design

Occult Game Design

I’ll be adding more information on each of these projects in the near future.

Garrett: Thief as Magician

Despite the title of the game Thief, Garrett is more a magician than a rogue, or rather his thievery is a form of magic when successfully enacted by the player. Garret’s training in the monastic order of the Keepers involves abilities to become invisible that border on the supernatural, as well as the acquisition of arcane knowledge, including glyphs of power. The classification of Thief and the associated image of a dimunitive, cowled figure hiding in the shadows derives in part from the thief character class that originates in Dungeons and Dragons as well as the fantasy characters that inspired it, including rogues like Fritz Leiber’s Grey Mouser. Yet, Garrett’s abilities and actions are not constrained to hiding in shadows or backstabbing; he is a quintessential opportunist who does whatever he needs to get the job done. An extra objective available at higher difficulty level in the prison level of Dark Project involves retrieving Garret’s favorite “Hand of Glory.” The Hand is an infamous black magical artifact described in the Petit Albert grimoire as the severed hand of a hanged corpse taken from the gallows and used by cat burglars to evade detection by otherworldy means. As the Petit Albert explains, “The hand of glory [ . . . ] is used by villains thieves to enter houses at night without hindrance.”

In addition to this talismanic magic, Garret plunders magical artifacts and even engages in complex acts of counter-magic as he disrupts the extra-dimensional ritual of the Trickster in the Maw of Chaos or activates the glyphs in Deadly Shadows. It’s not surprising that Garret’s cowl and long flowing robes are equal parts monastic garb and magician’s robe. He is a Master of hiding and the hidden: literally, the occult.

When skillfully guided by a player, Garrett’s magic consists in his ability to “keep silent,” one of the four powers of the sphinx extolled by French occultist Eliphas Levi in The Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. Levi argued that magicians must learn “to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent,” powers that he attributed to the four elements of classical antiquity (air, water, fire, and earth). To keep silent means literally to maintain the secrecy of the mysteries of initiation, but it can be extended as a metaphorical principle of efficiency and noiseless grace: in other words, stealth. As British occultist Aleister Crowley explains in his Confessions, “to dare must be backed by to will and to know, all three being ruled by to keep silence. Which last means many things, but most of all so to control oneself that every act is done noiselessly; all disturbance means clumsiness or blundering.” A stance of self-controlled noiselessness is the strategic condition of success in Thief and a style of gameplay that activates Garret’s full abilities as an avatar. “Disturbance,” “clumsiness,” and “blundering” are the fail conditions of the Thief series which assure detection and death.

Garret’s apparent physical weakness, signified by hit points sufficient only for a few sword blows from a guard, is counterbalanced by preternatural abilities of stealth. Ordinary mortals risk detection when they hide in shadows, because only the deepest darkness can reliably block out peering eyes. But when a player guides Garrett into shadow and reduces his light gem to pure black, Garrett can vanish, even as a guard walks a few inches beside him. These abilities are built into the game systems of Thief, which rewards ritualistic behaviors of stealth: always tread in the shadows, walk rather than running when possible, extinguish light strategically, and close doors behind you. While we never learn the ultimate essence of Keeper training (which is itself shrouded within the game systems of Thief), our success in Thief depends on our identification with Garrett and his training, which forces us to ask “What Would Garrett Do.”

The merging of stealth and mysticism gives rise to the arcane discipline of the Hassassins in Assassin’s Creed, whose credo “nothing is true, everything is permitted” conceals a mystical insight under the veil of anarchic nihilism: a Neoplatonic belief in the irreality of the sensible world. Altair, like Garrett, “works in shadows to serve the light,” or rather to unwittingly maintain the balance of the Keepers against which he rebelled. Thief teaches the gamers and game designers inspired by it that direct confrontation is often counter-productive, and that the ability to judiciously “keep silent” and move quietly is a higher magic than a carelessly tossed fireball or a poorly chosen word.

What profiteth it a man if he gains the world and loses his soul(s)?: Reflections on Demon’s Souls

Demon’s Souls is a dark, mysterious opera whose theme, expressed through gameplay and the unfolding of a powerful narrative, is the lure and peril of Faustian bargains. By opera I refer not just to the game’s occasional bursts of swelling sound, or even to solely to its understated yet epic narrative. Rather, I use the term in the same way that Richard Wagner envisioned an ideal future form of opera as “gesamkundstwerk” or “total artwork,” in which every aspect of music, libretto, costuming, and set design fused together to create an interactive, participatory mythology.



Demon’s Souls strikes me as operatic both in its overarching structure and its minute details; I first noticed this aspect of the game when looking at the loading screens between the game’s areas. These screens are a joy to pore over, as they provide larger-than-life full portraits of the game’s various characters, each dressed in some variation of black and gold. The characters’ costumes, lovingly rendered with the lush visual textures made possible by the PS3’s high-end graphics capabilities, look more like opera costumes than the typical orcs-and-elves garb. And, as in the best opera, these details contribute to a larger aesthetic and thematic end that manifests partially in the game’s black and gold color scheme. From the first moment in the Nexus, the game’s central quest hub, the shining obsidian walls glow with overlapping layers of golden sigils right out of some arcane grimoire. As we discover through the game’s hard-won fragments of narrative reward, gold is the color of demonic magic or “soul arts” in the fallen kingdom of Boletaria. This visual symbolism lends a dark edge to one character’s reminder to the player: “you have a heart of gold . . . don’t let them take it from you.”

Many aspects of the game resonate to the tune of an overriding aesthetic principle, expressed in disparate parts working together. This principle takes the form of a question, which might be formulated with the Biblical question “what profiteth it a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?” In the case of this game, the “soul” of the verse might be better modified to “souls,” since the demon’s souls of the title are the currency of exchange in Boletaria and the only way of increasing stats, leveling up, buying items, and acquiring spells. Demon’s Souls is an arduously, unrelentingly difficult dungeon crawl in which success is possible only through the tireless trial-and-error of multiple deaths and the careful cultivation of community knowledge and cooperation. Other reviews, such as those of Michael Abbott (a.ka. the Brain Gamer) and Gamasutra, have offered excellent analyses of the game’s innovative online features and their close relationship to game’s educational element. I’ve also briefly written about some of these features in comparison and contrast to other online games in an interview with Randolph Carter at

In this entry, I’m less concerned with these features and more with a resulting experience of gameplay: the experience of temptation. While Demon’s Souls is unquestionably a game that challenges, it is also a game that tempts. Because each new corridor and secret passage bristles with difficult-to-reach exotic treasures and haunting encounters, the game constantly teases the player with the dilemma of continuing onward to fresh challenges, or retreating while one still can with one’s stock of souls. One misstep sends an unwary player back to the very beginning of a level and strips her of all unspent souls, creating a very powerful and excruciating form of negative reinforcement. One often knows, naggingly, in the back of one’s brain, that discretion is the better part of valor, that one should stop while one is ahead and cut one’s losses by returning to the Nexus after accumulating any sizable chunk of souls. Yet, the game quietly whispers in one’s ear: “come on, go just a little further, there are untold wonders around that corner.” More often than not, listening to that voice, to the suave devil on one’s shoulder, leads to the disaster of losing one’s souls.

And that is the classic Faustian bargain: recklessly seeking power and knowledge at the price of the most precious spiritual essence. The game quietly but insistently reminds players that such bargains are by their very nature losing games in which even apparent success can be as damning as failure. When one does efficiently spend souls, one can gain tangible power—power in some cases so great, as in the high-level spells earned through defeating a Greater Demon, that it intoxicates. Yet, the wisdom of this method of gaining power through the harvesting of souls (sometimes of demons and sometimes of their wretched, addled victims), seems dubious at best. Soul exchange is especially risky given the backstory element that Boletaria was corrupted, and the archdemonic Old One awakened, through the use of Soul Arts. There doesn’t seem to be much escape from Soul Arts for, while a pious priest condemns the use of magic as demonic, and his magician counterpart preaches the glories of humanistic progress over binding superstitions, both magical and priestly arts involve trading in souls. As Matthew Weise has pointed out, there are subtle but strong metaphysical implications in the game systems, through dialogue and other clues, that magic and orthodox religion are both highly similar in their methods and moral (or immoral) valuation. They are also both equally useful from a gameplay standpoint: priestly miracles serve the standard healing and protective functions, while magic provides a variety of offensive and defensive effects.

(On a sidenote, the priest’s self-righteous, monotheistic glorification of the “God of this world” at the expense of other spiritual traditions evokes a mistrust in me that no doubt comes from many places, including a background in some Gnostic traditions, in which the apparent god of the visible world turns out to be synonymous with the demonic Archon. I’m anticipating a Lovecraftian switcheroo in which the priest turns out to be worshipping the Old One. I also notice slight implications that religion and solipsism may be mildly intertwined with each other, since the most costly Banish “miracle” allows players to negate the PvP aspect of the game, driving off the Black Phantoms of other players.)

Sage Freke

Sage Freke

However, I’m also fairly sure that, despite my class decision to be primarily a magician who totes a miracle talisman in his left hand as a healing insurance policy, the more esoteric and humanistic ambitions of Sage Freke the Visionary are just as dangerous and reckless; the exchange of souls for magical power is, after all, the classic Faustian bargain. Even if a fighter-class player managed to avoid the lure of both talisman and wand, religion and magic, he would still have to level up. And every attempt to level is accompanied by a haunting question from the Maiden in Black, the game’s central quest-giver: “Dost thou seek Soul Power? Then touch the Demon inside me.” Based on observations of other characters, major and minor, who have had congress with demons, the results don’t seem pretty. The presence of a character named Mephistopheles in a loading screen (I haven’t encountered him yet) suggests that these Faustian parallels are quite intentional and self-aware on the part of the developers at From Software. How deep or sophisticated these intentions ultimately go is less important to me than the way that insinuations and implications emerge from the synergistic fusion of the game’s mechanics, aesthetics, and narrative, from the single-player and social interactions that develop from the game’s intricate and beautifully, if somewhat sadistically, balanced systems.

I haven’t finished Demon’s Souls (I’m 59 hours in, not counting 10 hours spent on an abortive character), but I’m going to go ahead and make a statement that I’ve been mulling over for a while now, reluctant to seem rash or fanboyish. Demon’s Souls may be the best game I have ever played. (There is still a bit of a running competition with my other favorite game, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, which remains an example of top-notch design that may even bear some aesthetic and gameplay resemblance to Demon’s Souls.) Each (comparatively rare) time I progress in Demon’s Souls, new mysteries open up, and these narrative discoveries are buoyed up by the inherent pleasures of persistent challenge, intermittent reward, and aesthetic gorgeousness.

Tower of Latria

Tower of Latria

(Possible spoiler alert): Last week, at the gloriously and disturbingly nightmarish second portion of the Tower of Latria, I suspected that Demon’s Souls may have finally reached the threshold of my expectations for inspired level design. Last night, during an unexpected sequence that resulted from a mysterious narrative backfiring of the now-routine attempt to summon a co-op player or Blue Phantom, I became pretty sure that this is a game like no other. I can’t describe the sequence without entering full spoilerdom, but I will say it involved a room full of chairs and a large orange turban.

It is a testament to the design of this game that it can both inspire enthusiastic accolades and a cautious reluctance—the feeling of falling into a trap, a metaphysical and moral conundrum that insidiously creeps up on unwitting players and then pounces, to a soundtrack of blaring brass and sweeping strings. Like the voice of a demon. Like the sound of an opera.

New gameplay footage (music, telekinesis, invisibility, planets)

I just posted two new videos of gameplay footage from the most recent build of Arcana Manor (7-27-09).

The video has two parts.

The first part demonstrates several new features, including:
musical tones that correspond to colors and planets in the magic system,
mountable weapons based on the tarot suits,
elemental projectiles flung from melee weapons,
weapon cycling,

guard bots with basic AI,
an invisibility spell,
a demon model with flame effects from a procedural shader

The second part showcases these features:

a spell interface based on tarot cards
Moving platforms
A telekinesis spell
Collectible orbs whose colors and associated musical tones correspond to the seven planets of the ancients
A color-based and tonal magical interface corresponding to the orbs

first-person magical items and projectiles

I’ve been working on several features of Arcana Manor which are starting to add to the magic system.  The first is that I re-sized all of my tarot objects (the suits like cups and swords) and placed mount nodes on them so that they can be equipped as weapons in first-person view.   I worked for a couple of days to get weapon cycling operational so that players can switch between these weapons with a button press.  Then, I modified the melee scripts so that swinging the weapons would cast spells that fire projectiles in first-person mode, targeting with the crosshairs rather than selecting with selectrons.  Next, I made a set of geometrical projectiles fired by the various tarot suits, starting with a sphere textured in a wave image that emits water droplets through particle emitters.  Equipping the cup allows the player to fling this watery sphere, and each of the other tarot suits can hurl similar projectiles that correlate with their traditional ancient elemental attributions as well as the appropriate Platonic solids defined that the Greek philosopher Empedocles associated with the four elements.  The wand throws a flaming pyramid, the sword shoots an airy octahedron, and the pentacle fires a purple sphere (technically, this should be an earthy cube, but I like the glowing purple plasma texture better).  In fact, I like the plasma filter in Gimp 2.0 so much that I made seven plasma textures for each of the seven colors of the visible spectrum and then applied these textures to seven geometrical primitives that can also be projectiles (including the delightfully obscure rhombicosahedron).  When I export these, I think they can be 3d jewels as well as projectiles, so they may end up playing into a 3d magic interface of the kind that I described in

I need to implement a power-up system that strengthens spells according to what objects and cards have been collected.

In terms of level design, I also want to make a really twisted, surreal, evil sorcerous tower for the player to explore, inspired in part by Castlevania 64 and an obscure Elder Scrolls game called Battlespire, in which the developers made the ballsy move of including platforming elements in a first-person game with magic.  (I can’t turn these italics off, but they don’t mean anything.)  And also more directly inspired by the Alchemist’s Tower in The Holy Mountain, as well as the Dark Tower (Browning and King).  Because I like upward movement and vertiginous heights and the symbolism of ascent.

Moving Platforms

It’s been a few days since I’ve updated progress on Arcana Manor because I’ve been intently involved in implementing an important feature: moving platforms.  These are moving planes or scaled cubes that players can stand on top of, moving along with the platforms as on an elevator.  These moving platforms are important, by definition, to a game in which platforming a key part of gameplay.

Torque Game Engine Advanced doesn’t have out-of-the box support for moving platforms, which means that they have to be added as C++ code, preferably by the addition of one of the downloadable resources on  To integrate such a resource with a codebase that I’ve already heavily modified, I had to use WinDiff, a program for comparing files and isolating their differences.  Once I isolated these conflicting code fragments, I had to choose how to merge them by incorporating relevant new lines of code from the resource and discarding irrelevant lines of code.  This process was complicated by the porting of the resource from TGE 1.5.2 to TGEA 1.7.1, especially since the resource itself was actually for TGEA 1.8.1 but had been compiled from multiple TGE versions.  In practical terms, these multiple versions and resources meant that I had to spend several days reading through C++ source code, puzzling out its logic and structure until I could figure out which lines of code were needed and which were not.  I re-compiled the engine dozens of time, de-bugging code changes to preserve the resource’s functionality while updating it and slotting it in with ArcaneFX, melee, and other code changes I’ve already implemented.

I now have moving platforms.  The key is making the player object a child of the platform, which is a pathshape moving along the nodes of a path.

Unfortunately, I have to use a rectangular dts shape that came packaged with an early version of the resource, because the player falls through any dts that I make myself in Softimage.  I think this has to do with the way that collision meshes are set up in the process of exporting the model from Softimage to dts format, but after spending a day on collision meshes I haven’t been able to isolate the problem.

I’m now trying to trigger the moving platforms with a spell so that I can incorporate telekinesis into my magic system.  Since the magic system is the focus of the game and the surreal mansion is the secondary focus, it would be best if these two aspects of gameplay could be tied together.  I have a telekinesis spell that can move an interior instance with the settransform() function, but the interior leaps all at once rather than animating smoothly and carrying the player with it.  If I can trigger a pathshape with a spell, the player could raise and lower bridges with the alterative school of magic, corresponding to the wands.

next Arcana Manor goals

Next Arcana Manor goals for features:

Set up a control scheme using the 360 controller

This will keep the magic system from becoming too unruly (a collection of chaotic key-presses) and more focused around a set of core mechanics

Fix melee system so that the sword can swing more than one time

Implement “platforms that move” for TGEA 1.7.1 using Windiff

Correlate spell-casting with platform movements via settransform function or applyimpulse

Finish modeling demon

Begin to script more spells

Script power-up mechanic for tarot items

Work on first-person spell-casting (such as casting animations for hands, effects that don’t require selectrons to target but work as projectiles as in Oblivion, effects that don’t depend on a zodiac

or make the zodiac vertical

or displace it in front of the player

Put more enemies into the game, make them customizable

Put music in background (e.g. Danse Macabre)

new Arcana Manor feature: mounted particle emitter

Finally, after six months, succeeded in attaching a particle emitter to the cursor.

This is the beginning of a gestural magic system, since the player can now trace sigils in the air because the cursor leaves behind a trail of glowing particles (in this case, fire) which look like a will o’ the wisp.

Here’s a video of the feature out of context

And here’s a longer video of the complete build, with the particle emitter feature in context

Interested readers might want to watch these videos in conjunction with this previous video of a recent build, which lacks the sigil drawing feature but also showcases the game’s spellcasting interfaces as they’re evolving.

A few theoretical thoughts about magic systems, allegory, programming

I don’t think about theory much these days, focusing more on creative projects. For the last couple of days I’ve been doing some preparation for my classical myth and media class, which sparked a few theoretical thoughts.  Also, I’m continuing to think about magic systems, inspired in part by a podcast ( on which Roger Travis graciously invited me to be a guest) about this subject and its relation to Arcana Manor. Magic systems have become the focus of my creative design work and my research, and I tend to think about them through the lens of interactive or procedural allegory, a system of expressive rules.

This will make more sense to readers (hopefully) when the podcast is posted.

A magic system is a set of core mechanics (spell-casting is one of them, maybe the primary one) for  simulating supernatural powers and abilities rigorously and symbolically.

Quests, because of their relationship to narrative, tend to be scripted within an engine through quest flags and state changes.

Magic systems can be partially scripted within an engine (depending on the engine’s flexibility), but truly innovative mechanics have to be programmed.  New mechanics tend to require, at the very least, modifications to an engine’s source code and may require the development of new engines (or at least sub-systems within an engine).

What matters to me is allegory as system, as organized matrix of rules for generating symbolic meanings. This is distinct from a linear procession of symbols (i.e. narrative) or from free-floating pool of symbols merging into each other (collective unconscious, dream). In linear mediums, allegory manifests itself as narrative (although I wonder if poetry, in its capturing of de-contextualized images, may be allegorical without being solely or even primarily narrative). Rimbaud’s Vowels or Baudelaire’s Correspondences are dense symbols without narratives. Dante’s Divine Comedy does chronicle the adventures of one pilgrim (Dante) through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but the descriptive focus of the poem is the spatial organization of these realms and their inhabitants. The afterlife is a cosmological system for representing the punishment of sin and the rewarding of virtue.

A mythology (whether real as with the Ancient Greeks or invented as in the Cthulhu Mythos) is a system (a pantheon, a set of places, artifacts, recurrent events, themes). Many narratives can occur within a mythos, but many systems can also be generated by a mythology. When I was thinking about quests, I was trying to connect narrative and system, to explore their generative interplay. As I think about magic systems, I am more and more concerned with dynamic, procedural systems, which can be expressive in interactive, procedural, re-configurable ways.

Ritual is a key middle term.  Ritual is enacted myth, enacted symbolism.

Eric Zimmerman says that there is magic in games but argues that this magic is the thrill of creativity and problem-solving, which are distinct in his mind from a mage’s 8th-level fireball spell or the mystical experiences of organized religion.

I don’t see these three aspects of magic as inevitably distinct.  There are all sorts of connections to be woven between them.

That’s why I have a Clive Barker quotation above my desk, which in condensed form says “magic is the first and last of the world’s religions: a religion whose profoundest ritual is play.”  The quotation is longer but would require a detailed gloss to do it justice, because the idea is too important for me to treat lightly.  But the main point is that in Barker’s mind the three aspects of magic in games are intertwined expressions of one another.  (And he puts his money where his mouth is, since this quotation is from the introduction to his Imajica collectible card game, and he has also discussed the metaphysical implications of the magic system in Undying.  Incidentally, the magic system in Undying may be my second favorite magic system, just beneath Eternal Darkness.)

(A sidenote on Jung: Jung coopts the concept of the symbol for psychoanalytic purposes, but the term comes to prominence in Western thought in Romanticism (English, German, French), which precedes Jung chronologically. (e.g. Coleridge, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Nerval).  In the game Eternal Darkness, the narrator invokes Jung, Freud, and Skinner as possible correspondences to the three Ancients, but then dismisses these psychoanalysts as inadequate to the horror and majesty of the beings represented by the runes. This is a nice way of suggesting that, while Jung is a key figure in understanding symbols, their content and operation eludes his unitarian and trans-historical attempts to explain all symbols as products of a psychoanalytic entity (the collective unconscious) which he invented. A theoretical entity which originates in his own German Romanticist/early modernist context and his Freudian training.)

And allegory precedes Jung also (Plato, Spenser, Dante).

I need to read Angus Fletcher’s Allegory: Theory of a Symbolic Mode.

Question for further research: what are some of the most innovative magic systems, both in terms of mode of spell-casting, effects, and symbolism?

Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Awakening (tabletop)

Magic: The Gathering (cardgame)

Betrayal at Krondor (crpg)

Arx Fatalis (crpg)

Loom (Adventure Game)

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Video: New Arcana Manor build

As promised, here is a short video of the newest build of Arcana Manor.

This build features some experiments with a new spell interface, including a rotating 3d tarot deck and a hexagram gui with jewel buttons that summon magical sigils with spellcasting powers. The player can also shift between first person shooter mode for melee and third-person mode for cursor-based spell-casting in the interfaces. I’m using Jeff Faust’s ArcaneFX in conjunction with these interfaces to implement spell-casting effects, including a custom attack spell with my own zodiacs and rune rings and a modified levitation spell using physical zones. The build also features some custom items representing the minor arcana of the tarot deck, including an ankh wand, a glowing black sword, a cup, and a pentacle.

customizing spells

Have been working on customizing spells in ArcaneFX, a special effects program for Torque. The process of making spells is essentially advanced scripting, and I’ve managed to modify one existing spell (Light My Fire) to produce a larger and differently colored fire on the ground and the caster’s hands. I’ve also been working on modifying the Great Ball of Fire spell to be an Iceball, but I keep getting a connection error. Jeff Faust (the designer of ArcaneFX, whose Faustian name is delightfully appropriate) offers the following help in a forum: “It’s not unusual to have to do some debugging when writing advanced scripts like this.” No doubt. I’m keeping at it.

new features of Arcana Manor build

I’ve added these new Features to the most recent build of Arcana Manor:

Modified the mission selection gui to go directly to the Arcana Manor mission, along with an appropriate introduction in the loading screen

new gui: a hexagram with a colored gem at each point which lights up and makes a sound when the cursor is passed over it

the elven sorceress as the player avatar instead of the generic Torque Orc

This allows me to briefly switch to 3rd person view rather than 1st for spellcasting without embarrassment

22 3d tarot cards, modeled in Softimage and exported (each with one item script, one execution in game.cs, one custom material, one correctly named png texture and one folder)

Each card placed in the proper position on the sephiroth where the amorphous tarot cubes formerly were.

To do this, I finally got Matt Summers’ XSI Beta 2 Exporter working

Tarot cards corrected to not respawn, so that they are unique items, but still to play sounds when they are picked up and before they are deleted from the world.

A Stormbringer-style black runesword (modeled, UV mapped, textured, exported, custom shader applied, added to engine)

A custom sound plays when Stormbringer is picked up

An long wand with an ankh at its top (tribute to Ultima IV), to replace the generic short wand (which looked too much like a bedpost)

Can toggle between default first-person gameplay, with free look camera and cursor targeting, and spell targeting mode for the afx-driven spells (thanks to Gibby’s AfxFPS resource for this)

Magic System, Part II: Goals and Features

The problem: Too many MMO and single-player RPG’s have a repetitive and simplistic magic system in which players press buttons on a tray of icons, watch a series of animations to play throughout casting time, and then wait through the cool-down period before they press the mouse button again. Systems like this are repetitive and dull: automated to the point that players are almost uninvolved.

The goal: Magic, by its very definition, should feel out of the ordinary, a complex mixture of arcane art and science practiced by highly trained adepts who revel in the skill and the rules they have mastered, much as programmers or gamers do. Magic is a metaphor for the power of the human imagination to shape reality and perhaps, taking a cue from Clive Barker, for the creative activity of play itself. Hence, we need to look back at the history of the most innovative RPG’s, action-adventure, and survival horror games to re-enchant and re-activate the process of casting spells in games. It could also be helpful to consider human beliefs and practices surrounding magic in myth and ritual. Articles about magic systems in games often argue that because magic is a “fantasy construct” that no system is inherently better than another, since there is no way to judge the accuracy of a system that simulates a fiction. This attitude can result in the approach of “do whatever will be easiest for players” or, worse, “do whatever everyone else is currently doing,” resulting in the current problem of dull and repetitive systems.

But magic systems in games haven’t always been so homogenous, in human belief or in game practice. As Matt Barton has demonstrated in Dungeons and Desktops (and team member Kris Maxwell has confirmed in conversations)¸ CRPG’s like Dungeon Master and Betrayal at Krondor involved innovative and experimental magic systems. Tabletop RPG’s like Mage: The Ascension and survival horror games like Eternal Darkness have explored the philosophical dimensions of magic in innovative gameplay mechanics (not to mention card games like Magic: The Gathering). Adventure game Loom had a magic system

I would like to implement 5 features in order to make the magic system of this game exciting, fun, sophisticated, and engaging.

    1. A magic system based on a system of symbolic correspondences
    2. Magic that alters the physical environment to help overcome physical obstacles (e.g. raising platforms, building bridges)

(This is part of a more general aim to produce spells with gameplay effects that are more varied and psychedelic than the standard damage/buff/heal effects. For example, spells that cause solid stone to warp and liquefy or spells that grant visionary passage into other dimensions of pure sound and light (or demonic realms of the dead).
3. Spells are powered up by collecting minor arcana of the tarot (wands, cups, swords, & pentacles), which can be combined to produce spell effects.
4. Players cast spells by tracing sigils, such as flaming runes and pentagrams, possibly making use of the Nintendo Wiimote (since TGEA is cross-platform and I’m especially interested in aiming this game at consoles).
5. The magic system might take full advantage of 3d space by having players mold, weave, and sculpt spells, creating varying spells effects by modeling 3d shapes and directing the vectors of these shapes towards different 3d directions.

1. The magic system is based on a system of symbolic correspondences in which symbols stand for other symbols in an array or “grid,” i.e. colors stand for virtues which stand for objects which stand for gods which stand for schools of magic, or colors = notes of a scale = tarot cards = runes and so on.
1a. Players combine symbols pictorially or semantically to produce spell effects. To cast spells, players must master a language of symbols.
The system should be both meaningful and action-packed. The best example I’ve seen so far is the magic system in Eternal Darkness, where casting spells involves the combination of many different runes of three different colors, which stand for the three demonic deities of the world as well as human powers of body, mind and sanity. Spells become more powerful the more the player learns the language and symbol system of the game: which runes stand for enchantment, which stand for objects, which stand for self. In learning this language, the player also has to internalize the game’s mythology: which of the deities has power over which realm, and how these realms trump each other in rock-paper-scissors fashion.

2. Because Arcana Manor is a platformer, many of its challenges are environmental. One original feature of the magic could be its ability to help players overcome these environmental challenges by altering the environment physically. An example of effective use of magic that physically alters the environment is Soul Reaver 2 and the Legacy of Kain series generally, in which elemental magic can create gusts of wind that the player can glide on with his wings, disable the trap of a cyclopean eye with darkness, light up jewels that lower ice bridges, and summon earth platforms.

    1. The magic system will be, in part, based on the minor arcana of the tarot (which refers to the suits of wands, cups, swords, and disks/coins/pentacles). Players collect these items as power-ups that make spells more potent. There are an obvious set of elemental correspondences to these four suits (fire, water, air, earth) and also traditional schools of magic (alterative, restorative, damaging, and protective). It would be cool if these magical functions were more action-packed, cognitively challenging, and dexterity-oriented. Castlevania is addictive because the repetitive activity of whipping enemies is inherently enjoyable and requires timing to execute correctly. Throwing four swords that fly through the air or jumping on a pentacle/disk summoned from below would be comparable examples of quick an engaging magical gameplay.

4. The magic system involves tracing flaming runes and pentagrams in the air to create various magical effects. I think that the add-on ArcaneFX could help to build these features, but they might also require substantial engine modification in order allow the player to draw sigils using particle emitters and to correlate these drawn symbols with gameplay effects. Shaun Walsh already has some really excellent ideas for the conceptual design of this code. Shaun writes, “Castlevania for the DS had the same concept, but they had built in functionality for that. How it would work is you would have to have a file that stored 2d coordinates of the first mouse click on the screen (where he starts drawing) and then does a match function to determine the roundabout next point he would have to draw to, something like a direction map. Heres an example
User starts drawing at 25,25
So, the computer would figures the next point is 25 points lower, and 30 points to the right so the next cord would be 50,55. Then it would go onto the next point. The file would look like this
0: +25,+30 (this is actually the second point)
1: +25, -30
2: -25, -30
3: -25, +30

This would make a pyramid drawing. You would obviously have to make a buffing system that would make use of extreme math cause the user wouldn’t be able to click EXACT coordinates. I would think the closer he is to exact, the more critical the spell is. Obviously, some of the marks he would be drawing would be more complicated, but that’s just a basic concept.”

    1. Tracing glyphs and sigils in the way outlined in the previous point takes place in 2d, i.e. the hexagrams are a 2d overlay on a 3d environment.

We could make the system more interesting if we figured out how to take full advantage of 3d graphic capabilities in creating a magic system.
Kris Maxwell’s suggestion:
A system in which players could change the powers of a spell by directing parts of its sign toward specific 3 dimensional-vectors.
Imagine the casting space to be a north-east-south-west cube.
For example, tracing a fire rune with its tip toward the north quadrant might mean “ignite,” but directing the tip toward the south would be “extinguish.” Whereas rune-tracing would be based on two-dimensional coordinates and implemented through a drawing engine, a three-dimensional method would feel more like a very rudimentary 3d modeling application, and its coordinates would be stored in a 3d matrix rather than a 2d array.
The player would be using two virtual hands for weaving, shaping, molding patterns out of pure light and energy, like a sculptor shaping clay or a weaver making a cat’s cradle.


Maybe shaping a cube would be one spell, shaping a dodecahedron would be another (or twelve others, depending on how it were turned), and shaping a sphere would entail yet another spell.
This would almost be a very simplified 3d modeling engine within the game, combined with a semantic-based system projected onto three-dimensional space.

See cube of space from neo-masonic organization BOTA


6. Magic is a metaphor (power of human imagination to shape reality)
The four weapons of a magician (knowing, daring, willing, and keeping silent) traditionally correspond to the four tarot suits.
Our magic system will express these ideas through gameplay,.
I’m look for ways to express these abstract human powers, abilities, virtues, activities as spells with concrete effects.

7. Other features that could be incorporated into a magic system:

Summoning circles to protect the caster from the spirits she calls up, and triangles to contain the spirit.
Draw the circle or triangle incorrectly, or step outside of it during the conjuring, and the spirit attacks you.


Planetary alignments (via the Torque ability to create celestial bodies that move cyclically), including phases of the moon
Certain variations on a spell, such as which planetary point of the hexagram to start tracing first, are more effective during certain alignments (cf. the phases of the three moons and their relationship to black, white, and red magic in the Dragonlance Chronicles)
Combinations of alchemical ingredients (e.g. sulphur, salt, mercury) to produce spells
Burning certain forms of incense (with appropriate smoke/fire animations)

5 minutes of gameplay and player character

I’ve heard that describing five minutes of gameplay can often help to crystallize the tone and core mechanic of the game.

5 minutes of gameplay:

The player character, Eliza, runs along a crenellated castle battlement and executes a succession of graceful jumps and flips across a massive chasm in the stone, where a glowing red skeleton (death from the tarot deck) blocks her way. She summons up five pentacles that hover around her as protection, then traces a flaming scarlet pentagram in the air with her sword to banish the skeleton, who recoils in pain and disappears. A door in the form of Death from the tarot deck looms up in front of her, but it is locked. She gazes up into the sky and sees the planet Saturn glowing darkly. Consulting her journal [actual player brings up architect’s notebook, which functions as journal and magic interface] and sees that Saturn corresponds to the Death card. Using these clues, she traces a glowing violet hexagram staring at the top point, which is attributed to Saturn. The door booms and creaks open in response to this spell, and ominous darkness looms inside the next room of the manor.

Here’s one shot of what the magic interface could potentially look like, or at least a version of the game’s title screen.


The manor is incomplete because the architect didn’t finish it, which means that there are some outside areas, such as these battlements and broken bridges, allowing for varied environments and more 3d platforming action.

Ron Smith asked an important question about the time period of the game, and I’m going to go with 19th century to hit the neo-Gothic explosion in the Romantic period, which works for a surreal occult mansion. This means that “surreal occult mansion” might be more important tonally than “funhouse,” but funhouse remains the model in terms of trap doors, secret passages, revolving hallways, and other disorienting architectural features. It’s just that there are no demonic clowns or cotton-candy. Though Ron had a good point that the architect must have been building the mansion for a very long time, which means that other earlier architectural styles, including ancient or far eastern, can be present in the earliest levels of the maze.

I’m also thinking about a player character, since as an action-adventure game the player won’t be customizing her own avatar but rather playing the role of a particular person. I guess I wasn’t entirely joking when I thought that the Joan of Arc modeling tutorial could almost provide a player model.

Player character:

The architect’s sister, Eliza Knossos, a 19th-century student of neo-Gothic architecture who shared her brother’s passion for mysterious buildings but not his Faustian hubris. She wears a gray cloak with a hood, slim leather boots, and carries a satchel with surveyor’s equipment and blueprints, which will eventually hold her magical implements.

She is fiery and rebellious, has bright red hair, and is lithe, even acrobatic, in her movements. She has voyaged into the mountains to try to find and rescue her brother after receiving a strange package containing his architectural notebook full of mad sigils, wild blueprints, and with pages torn out. A bloodstained note included in the package, with the words “find me” has led her to believe that her brother is in grave danger.

Color Symbolism, Magic Systems, and other Arcana Manor thoughts

Some rough conceptual notes on Arcana Manor: I’ll illustrate them and provide screenshots, links, and notes later. For now, here are the ideas that have been percolating while I’ve been working in Torque and XSI (more screenshots soon).

The magic system of Arcana Manor will be deeply tied up with symbolic color. The system at its heart will be gestural, involving the tracing of geometric figures such as pentagrams and hexagrams using the wand, sword, pentacle, and cup, with precedents in Molyneux’s Black and White as well as Arcane Studio’s Arx Fatalis. But the sigils and figures that players trace will consist of burning, glowing light whose colors constitute a systematic language. I want these colors to be as wild and intense as possible given today’s hardware: violets so deep and burning that they seem to verge on ultraviolet, scarlets so fierce that they leave marks on your retinas. Not every aspect of the project can look good technically, but the magic system should. If I weren’t worried about excessive terminology, I’d call this system “chromomancy”: “chromo” for color and “mancy” for “speaking,” as in necromancy.

(On a side note, there are technical special effects packages, such as Arcane FX, that could be modified to work with a Torque-based game with a vivid magic system. The designers of Arcane FX are already halfway there in rejecting generic-looking spells and incorporating visual symbols of animated zodiacs, pentagrams, and smouldering summoned towers.)

(On a broader side note, Arcana Manor is now definitely a Torque-based game, not an Unreal mod. I bought the engine I’m using—Torque Game Engine Advanced– and am working in it.)

There are precedents for this type of color-based magic system in literature and gaming, and the more aware I and my art team are of it, the more effective it can be.

Color symbolism is apt in part because Arcana Manor is already tarot-based, and the tarot makes extensive use of color symbolism—so much so that the B.O.T.A., a contemporary esoteric group with roots in masonry and the Golden Dawn, publishes its tarot deck in black-and-white outlines, with instructions that initiates should color the images themselves in order to better acquaint themselves with the resonances of the images. The centrality of color to tarot work is part of why Alejandro Jodorowksy’s Holy Mountain has such a rich palette, especially in the scenes in the Alchemist’s tower, including the room with cards from the director’s own tarot deck lining the walls. If I could give two examples of the color palette I’m looking for, they would be de Chirico’s paintings and Jodorowksy’s film.

Here is a link to the Alchemist’s tower in The Holy Mountain as symbolic chamber, functioning on multiple levels

4 weapons scene in this film

Jodorowksy is actually an expert on the history of tarot, especially the Marseilles deck.

I associate surrealism with a color palette of bright, vivid shades—the kind of crimson, sapphires, and emerald hues not found in everyday life. In fact, one of the ideas that I keep returning to in terms of correspondences are colors and their symbolism. There is something about color, especially vivid color that evokes symbolism: the shades of the visible spectrum suggest the simultaneous variety and systematic division of life. In Ultima IV, each of the colors stands for a virtue, and in Eternal Darkness each Ancient and school of magic has its own color (red, green, and blue, with some added complexities hinted at through purple runes and “yellow magick” alluded to by Dyack in interviews as the suggestion of a possible sequel). These two games are the primary examples in my book, but symbolic color runs throughout other games, such as the five schools of magic and their corresponding colors in Magic: The Gathering, as well as the divisions of magic spells or “rotes” in Mage: The Ascension. The multiverse of the Planescape D & D campaigns seethes with a secret code of colors, often denoting portals between the planes, as in the color pools, portals, and curtains of the astral plane. The most exciting part of The Legacy of Kain: Defiance is imbuing the Reaver blade with elemental and other enhancements, which are tracked by a set of runes and colored dots and the bottom right portion of the interface. The more varied one’s selection of hues, the further one has progressed in the game. The whole system is beautifully set up with the colored pillars of Nosgoth in Blood Omen: The Legacy of Kain—symbolism is an emergent property, since even when Silicon Knights lost the rights to the franchise they had invented, Eidos had the basis for four sequels. Dyack says that his guild creates universes in which many stories can be told, and the capacity of his systems to keep generating

There is probably some historic basis for this idea in the poetry of the French symbolists, especially Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Baudelaire’s poem “correspondences” articulates the notion of systematic, synaesthetic linkages between sensations and ideas, perhaps in its most overt modern form. Rimbaud’s poem Vowels associates A, E, I, O, and U with colors, which some critics associate with the poet’s alchemical studies. The various stages of transmutation from iron to gold are designated with Latin color names: nigredo (black), rubedo (red) and albedo (white). Both Baudelaire’s and Rimabaud’s poems will be clues found as scrolls in the manor, and there may be an alchemical tome as well.

Other ideas:

A gigantic rubik’s cube with symbolic designs, whose solution opens doorways, provides powers, allowing players to reconfigure the game’s symbol system

This might not be a cube; it might be a weirder geometry, like the Lament Configuration of Hellraiser or the dodecahedron puzzle box that was tantalizingly alluded to but never modeled in the Infinity engine of Planescape: Torment, which relied (perhaps excessively) on text-based dialogues to solve puzzles

Parts of the manor might constitute a macro-level architectural cube or puzzle: cf. the colored, trapped rooms of Cube and the rubik’s cube 3d dungeon of the diabolically difficult wireframe CRPG, Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna

The manor’s architecture is Gothic (besides its surreal, paradoxical Escher influences). It would be worth checking out some books on Gothic architecture, blueprints of mansions, and survival horror games that have successfully used this trope so as to figure out how to push it further. Realms of the Haunting, Eternal Darkness, Undying, Resident Evil but stranger, weirder, more labyrinthine and full of secrets (if that’s possible). This is Arcana Manor, and arcana are secrets, so hidden passageways, trap doors, pop-up staircases, trompe-de-l’oeil walls should be all-pervasive. The unfolding of secret spaces is why I played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night all the way through, twice, to get 196.7% castle completion, and why I still want to play it to 200.6% even after I’ve earned the game’s best “ending.” Come to think of it, all the Castlevania games, including the critically panned 3d versions, are an inspiration. There will be blog entries on the magnificent video clips of the Castlevania arcade game, which looks wicked, and the teaser for the 360/PS3 Castlevania that might make up for what looks like the awful Wii fighting game Castlevania: Judgement.

The enemies in my game, essential to provide combat obstacles, are demons. I want to push this aesthetic as far as it can go, and for that one model is Todd McFarlane. Nobody does demons like McFarlane: Spawn is, even ten or so years after the heyday of the comic and its excellent animated HBO series, absolutely gorgeous. The various attempts at a Spawn game have received mostly mediocre reviews for derivative Devil May Cry-style combat without the variety and grace of that series, but on one thing reviewers agree: the game looked devilishly good. While I’m at it, the hidden inspiration behind a lot of this game is Clive Barker’s cancelled Majesco title Demonik, whose premature termination after the construction of a successful alpha build is both tragic and inspiring in a back-handed way. This is the game that I most wish existed. It will get its own blog entry soon also.

Below are some of the correspondences upon which this magic system will be based. The last two columns are all important: its furthest metaphorical extent (the magician’s virtues, not exactly morally based but definitely tied into a code of imagination and belief) and its most concrete game mechanics.

The motto of this game, its “point” or one of them, might be summed up in an epigraph from Goethe’s Faust, spoken by the angels, which goes loosely: “he who ceaselessly strives, him we can save.” The redemptive side of the Faust legend.

Magic schools (obvious D & D)

Elemental (obvious also, cf. Soul Reaver, Zelda, etc.)

Powers of a Magician

(Levi, Crowley Jodorowksy)

How the metaphor plays out in gameplay





Re-shaping an environment (freezing water, raising platforms)





Mastering a body of symbols, gestures, maps





Conjuring and facing demons

Overcoming obstacles (high chasms and abysses)




Keeping Silence

Not being overly chatty with deceptive or distracting NPC’s

Keeping Knossos’ secrets safe

Cf. Dante’s fourfold allegory

I’ll start working on a GUI for the magic system soon, since the Torque engine allows for as much custom interface design as the designer can program.

Design Document: Arcana Manor

Design Document

Arcana Manor

3D, first-person action-adventure/platforming game about leaping, swinging, and crawling through a surreal funhouse while battling demons

Genre and core mechanic:

  • Action-adventure game from a first-person perspective
  • Environmental obstacles and platforming elements: swaying bridges, tilting rooms, staying alive while negotiating perilous environments
  • Spell-casting in combat and to solve puzzles by altering the environment (e.g. raising platforms, lowering bridges)
  • Combat with demons who have overrun the funhouse (see narrative section below)
  • Magic system based on the symbols of the minor arcane and their elemental correspondences (wands = fire, pentacles = earth, cups = water, swords = air), which are acquired as pick-ups and deployable through combination

(The player finds the spellbook/architectural notebook that belonged to Knossos. This becomes the game’s journal/interface, from which spells are cast. A tarot-based pattern to the layout of the funhouse (22 rooms of the major arcana))

Level design and visual style:

  • A twisted funhouse
  • Surreal
  • Hearkens back to 1950’s funhouses, but twisted and drenched in arcane symbolism
  • Bright, primary colors
  • Surreal, bizarre graphics
  • Artistic Influences:
    1. Giorgio de Chirico
      The Tower by Giorgio de Chirico

    2. M.C. EscherRelativity by M.C. Escher 3. Christopher Manson’s Maze

  • Pervaded with symbolism, like Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, which could inspire tarot rooms (walking around inside tarot cards)

Small sample map (a section of a part of a level)

  • Strange marble sculptures
  • Sigils and runes and surreal paintings on the walls, maybe hinting at a way through the maze, or maybe red herrings (as in Manson’s Maze book)
  • Stairways running in every direction (on the walls and ceilings, like Escher)


  • Funhouse built by mad genius who was dying of cancer, evangelizing about the necessity of play for the human spirit
  • He was an architect and engineer, a connoisseur of optical illusions and paradoxes, who entered unwittingly into a Faustian pact in order to bargain for time enough to complete the funhouse and the magic to make it truly wondrous.
  • The funhouse architect’s name was (several possibilities)

Dedalus Knossos, the Hierophant

Maximillian Knossos

Dedalus Minos

Dedalus de Chirico

M.C. Knossos

  • Knossos is sort of like The Alchemist in The Holy Mountain (mysterious figure taking followers on a journey of initiation).
  • He summoned minions to help build the funhouse but did not understand that these servants were actually demons.
  • Now the architect has disappeared and there are demonic enemies in the funhouse, who are taking it over, corrupting it, destroying it. (In metaphorical terms, these demons are all the perils of creativity, the fine line that any eccentric artist must walk: obsession, isolation, madness, addiction).
  • The architect’s beautiful and eccentric granddaughter, Ms. Emily Knossos, has called for the assistance of the player to find out what happened to her father. Did he die of natural causes? Was he abducted by demons? Is he still trapped in the funhouse somewhere?
  • Only by finding out what happened to Knossos can the demons of the funhouse be destroyed.


Prototype in Unreal 2 or Unreal 3 engine

Maya PLE or Blender for 3d models

Photoshop (GIMP temporarily) for concept art

Later, transfer to Torque or Torque X with a $150 dollar indie license (versus 350,000 dollar license per programmer of Unreal 3)

A combination of Torque X and Microsoft XNA would yield a game that could be played on both PC and Xbox Live Arcade

torquex 3d builder + torquex + microsoft xna 2.0 + visual c# + Microsoft XNA = 3D Xbox 360 game, distributable on Xbox Live Arcade

Comparable Titles

Undying (a FPS with spell-casting in a haunted mansion), but Arcana Manor is not a shooter and has more environmental puzzles.

Psychonauts (for surrealism and bizarre level design), but Arcana Manor is contained within a mansion and can be accommodated in a more standard, less resource-heavy engine.

Early graphical adventure games for stark, minimalistic surrealism (The Demon’s Forge, The Labyrinth of Time), but this has more exciting action than a point-and-click adventure game.


Need concept artist(s)

3d modeler(s)

Programmer(s) (UnrealScript, C++, and/or C#)

Vocal talent


Almost none

Use freeware, middleware with indie or semi-commercial licenses


Web for PC

Xbox Live Arcade

Magic Systems and Meaningful Scripting

Runes in Eternal Darkness

Runes in the Magic System of Eternal Darkness

One of my next projects will be an article comparing the magic systems of various games, both conceptually and in terms of their underlying quantitative mechanics, as one example of how interactive symbolism can be programmed. As readers of Quests know, I regard programming as a form of procedural, interactive writing, which unfolds according to a set of rules that both constrain and facilitate player actions and interpretations. For example, the magic systems of role-playing games (tabletop, single-player, and MMO) comprise rigorous, quantitative rules for altering the physical and sometimes mental reality of a particular game world. Because these systems often involve glyphs, runes, and incantations, there are opportunities to encode meaning into a core game mechanic, as in the tabletop game Mage: The Awakening or the elaborate cosmology of Eternal Darkness.

Questions for research include:

  • How have different table-top RPG’s, CRPG’S, action-adventure games, and MMO’s implemented magic systems?
  • What are the origins of magic systems in fantasy novels? For example, the convention of having magic users memorize spells that are then erased from their memory after being cast derives from Fritz Leiber, but not from Tolkien (who eschewed direct references to the concept of magic in his work).
  • What is the relationship between game systems of magic and real occultist systems? (This treads on difficult ground, because of many gamers’ understandable discomfort with the association by fundamentalists of Dungeons and Dragons with black magic. However, Gary Gygax himself encouraged dungeon masters to consult encyclopedias of the occult as reference works, and Silicon Knights did thorough research into actual historical arcane systems in order to build the elaborate spell-casting system of Eternal Darkness. The table-top role-playing systems Nephilim and Mage: The Awakening both embrace mystical lore as metaphors explored through their game mechanics.)
  • Most importantly, as relates to programming practice:
  1. How did the World of Darkness mod (WoDMod) script the magic system of the Mage tabletop game into Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption?
  2. How do custom NWN scripters make their own spells?
  3. How could we as designers learn from past design of magic systems in order to make our own games’ magic systems both more fun and metaphorically resonant, so that we invest this aspect of fantasy with all its potential for symbolism rather than reducing it to the glitz and glamor of flashy visual effects without substance?