Tag Archives: occult

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.

Arcana Manor: A Ceremonial Magick Simulator

Arcana Manor: A Ceremonial Magick Simulator

Arcana Manor is a game-in-progress that features a magic system in which players cast spells through a symbolic language of syllables, gems, and cards. Players control Arcana Manor through input processed by various alternative controllers, including the Kinect and the Emotiv EEG headset. My goal in Arcana Manor is to create an immersive magic system that lets players feel like they are casting spells through their mastery of arcane correspondences, expressed with ritual authenticity through gesture, word, color, and thought itself.

This footage showcases the following features

1) Two flash-based interfaces, consisting of

a) An interactive kabbalistic tree of life with ten sephiroth and twenty-two paths on which players can place tarot cards, gems, and letters from the Enochian angelic alphabet of John Dee. Placing elements according to a matrix of correspondences yields multimodal feedback as paths light up with appropriate colors and emanate musical tones derived from traditional occultist attributions.

b) An interface for recognizing magical gestures or sigils, based on Didier Brun’s Actionscript 3.0 gesture recognition library.

2) A 3d environment built in the Unity game engine, representing a magician’s temple viewed from immersive first-person perspective. The temple contains ritual implements—including an altar, a skull, swords, and pantacles— that can be used to help cast spells.

3) A Kinect interface that allows players (who have prepared themselves with rituals through the other interfaces) to summon and control the movements of a demon within his summoning triangle.

Arcana Manor is a work in progress that I have been developing interatively over the past three years through several prototypes in various engines and tools, including the Torque Game Engine Advanced, Flash, and UDK. The current build consists of a combination of Unity 3d, Flash, and the Kinect. More footage and details will follow soon.

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.