Category Archives: Game Ideas

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.

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

Adventures in AI scripting

I added two AI bots to my game prototype, and the process took a long time and a lot of work.  I ended up learning how to use echo statements to track the loading of the many files that I had changed and to determine where a particular file was erroring out.  This was useful debugging experience.

The way that I incorporated the AI bots initially resulted in my player character being chased by mirror versions of herself, which was eerie and reminiscent of similar Alucard versus Alucard doppleganger battles in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  But I soon switched the AIGuard model out so that I was fighting two demonic space orcs.

I also changed the projectile scripts on my first-person spells so that the projectiles would do damage, as well as creating various other effects such as invisibility and healing.

Then, while working on loading the animations for the ai bots, my mission stopped loading and started crashing in the middle of phase 2 loading.  I can’t figure out why, so I’m building a debug version of the app with the hope that I can find the specific line where the mission load is crashing.

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.

to do list

To do: put a mount node on each of the four tarot objects so that they can be wielded as weapons

Set up a different projectile effect for each object when it is swung/fired as a magical melee weapon

Perhaps also a different particle effect that is activated for each item

A room with four walls, each with one of the tarot suits and a Latin word (scire, audere, velle, tacere)

Maybe also murals representing a man/woman doing each

Bridges and hallways lead out from this room to four trials/levels of knowledge, courage, will, and silence

A Gothic platformer, but trying to strive for Psychonauts or Ico more than American McGee’s Alice

Object selection problems and selecting objects in FPS mode

Here is today’s update on Arcana Manor, in the form of a post I made to the ArcaneFX section of the Garagegames forum.  The only addendum I have is that after this post I managed to fix most of the object selection problems, thanks to the help of the user named Gibby.  They were in the playgui.gui file.  Next up is the more challenging problem of selecting objects in first-person shooter mode.

In the process of making many script and code changes to implement several different features, I seem to have interfered with the game’s ability to select objects with the mouse rollover raycast.  I can select the orc AI player, but only from certain angles (specifically from a slight angle while he is running toward the player, and sometimes from behind if the player is standing close to him).  I can’t select the orc corpse at all, even though “corpsehiddenfromraycast” is set to “0″ and “$TypeMasks::CorpseObjectType”  is enabled in “AFX::targetSelectionMask.”  If I run the AFXDemo from a fresh install of AFX 1.7.1, it is much easier to select the orc and the orc corpse from almost any angle and distance, which suggests to me that I’ve done something to mess up the rolloverraycast function or another piece of code or script related to object selection.

I’ve used WinDiff to check afxtsctrl.cp against the same file in the fresh install of AFXDemo, but restoring this file to its original state doesn’t solve the problem.  Could anybody suggest where else I might look for changes to try to fix this problem?  I also checked in GameConnection.cpp because I think some of the object selection code is in that file, but I’m wondering where else the problem might be coming from.

To provide a little context, I am working on a game in which the player can cast spells from first-person mode, like in Oblivion.  So, one of the ultimate goals here is to be able to select objects in first-person shooter mode by toggling the cursor or using the crosshairs.   Gibby’s AFXFps mod and tutorial has been extremely helpful with this, though his solution is to cast spells from a 3rd person “psionics” mode.  For some reason, I can select objects in Gibby’s 3rd-person mode but not in his first-person mode, even when I toggle the cursor on.  I’ve studied the commands.cs script that Gibby uses to switch modes (which involve showing the reticle and the shapenamehud in first-person mode), but I’m not sure which part of this script would be causing the conflict between first-person mode and object selection.

So, a second question once I fix the raycast problem would be: how can I select objects while staying in first-person mode?

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.

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.

modeling a character

After completing the modeling of the Joan of Arc tutorial, I’m now working on a model of an original character in Autodesk Softimage (formerly Softimage XSI).   Ron Smith drew some excellent orthogonals (concept sketches that are exactly proportional to each other and can be placed at 90 degree angles to be used as guides for making a 3d model).

Here is the verbal description of the character that I gave Ron.

“Imagine a demon summoned by Knossos, the architect, when he realized that he needed supernatural help to build his manor but did not understand just how dangerous and corrupting this help could be.  The demon is in some ways a standard balor-type monster: large, red-skinned, winged, horned, and clawed.  He could tear a feeble architect’s head off, or his sister’s, without a second thought.  But there is something sad and thoughtful in his face, a pensively furrowed brow, a far-off look.  He has seen so many foolish humans sell their souls for so little, and even though he should be the Mephisto character in this Faustian drama, he takes no glee in the role.  He’s almost more of a genii in a lamp who has grown weary of the same 3 wishes and the way that they always destroy the wishers.  He holds a book in his hand: a giant, leather-bound, brass clamped tome, which is the Necronomicon-like architect’s notebook that will be so central to the unfolding of the manor’s mystery.  Eliza will be forced to summon this creature in order to find out what happens to her brother, but in doing so she takes all the risks of a conjurer, because the answers that demons give are never straightforward and they may turn on their captor at any moment if there is some slip-up in the ritual, some edge of the magic circle that isn’t drawn in fully.  So this character should look supremely ambiguous: pissed and menacing, but potentially helpful, depending on how skillful our player turns out to be.”

And here are Ron’s orthogonals:

And here are the orthogonals placed onto grids as guide images in Softimage.  I’m currently modeling one of the demon’s legs.

Here is a shot of further progress, including the demon’s haunches, torso, and shoulders.

today’s short-term goals for Arcana Manor

Model the demon using Ron’s orthogonals

Write and/or implement new AI scripts to spawn more monsters

Download and apply new textures from cg textures (wood especially)

Script a telekinesis spell (raise one platform using a transform and/or apply impulse function)

Make the hexagram gui connect its points through pressing buttons that switch out bitmaps, preferably with an outer glow applied to each line segment

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)

“The runes on the sword / Are the wyrms that are wise.”

I’ve been learning to model items, unwrap the uv’s of these 3d objects, then texture these uvs and re-apply them to the mesh.  Here is the textured uv mesh of a sword, which readers of Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga as illustrated by Robert Gould will recognize as Stormbringer, the black sword.  Here is the uv mesh after I unwrapped it and textured it.

Stormbringer uv mesh, textured

Here is the textured sword.

textured model of Stormbringer

“A Wicked Pack of Cards”: Video of New Arcana Manor Build

This is a video of the newest build of Arcana Manor, a 3d action-adventure game about running and jumping through a surreal occult mansion while casting spells based on the tarot and ceremonial magic. This build showcases several new features, including two tarot-based interfaces for spell-casting, spells powered by ArcaneFX, new environments such as a platforming version of the paths of the kabbalistic tree of life with color and tarot correspondences, sounds for picking up objects, and a story journal with concept art by Ron Smith. Credit goes to Frank Bignone for graciously sharing (as a resource on the 3d gui wheel and folder that I’m adapting to construct the player-character’s magical tarot deck.

Magic System, Part III: Implementing specific features


Each tarot card is a spell.

The minor arcana (the suit cards with varying numbers of wands, cups, pentacles, and swords) are low-level alterative, restorative, protective/illusionary, and aggressive spells. Players cast these spells very frequently, and the process of casting them should be quick and addictive.

The major arcana (the 22 pictorial cards with Magician, High Priestess, Tower, etc.) are ultra-powerful spells used to resolve especially tough situations (e.g. apparently undefeatable bosses, seemingly impossible puzzles, totally blocked or inaccessible areas in the manor)


The minor arcana spells are relatively easy to execute.

The minor arcana are less powerful (but still effective) spells, requiring only the collection of items and the tracing of a simple sigil in the air.

To cast a minor arcana spell, the player must have at least one of the objects associated with it (e.g. at least one sword)

The player must trace the correct (simple) sigil in the air with the respective item (e.g. hexagram, pentagram, Saturn astrological symbol, Mercury astrological symbol).

Tracing a hexagram with a sword equipped has a different effect than tracing one with a cup equipped, i.e. the sword hexagram attacks and the cup hexagram heals.

Swords are charged with aggressive magic, representing the power of the analytical mind to destroy demons of illogic and delusion. Collecting a sword object allows the player to fling one flying sword as a projectile at an enemy. Collecting multiple sword objects powers up the spell, allowing the player to fling as many flying swords as he has collected sword objects.

Two options for how the powering up of spells works (I haven’t decided which)

Spells remain powered up (i.e. the player doesn’t lose spell levels when he throws swords). For this reason, power ups should be rare rewards, distributed and hidden sparingly throughout the level.

[OR: Spell levels deplete in power every time the spell is cast, so items must be collected constantly and are distributed plentifully.]

Wands are alterative, representing the power of the will. The player can use the wand to telekinetically raise platforms to form staircases and launching pads. Wands can also form bridges out of pure light and energy so that the player can pass over otherwise impassable chasms.

Pentacles are protective: they can produce a glowing transparent shield that is as powerful as the number of swords or cups that one has currently collected

Cups are restorative: they release a healing flood of soft-colored blue or purple light that raises mana or health.

In traditional occultist thought (Levi, Crowley, Jodorowsky), each of these arcana stands for one virtue of a magician: cups = knowing, swords = daring, wands = willing, and pentacles = keeping silent.

Players enact each of these arcana through a core mechanic, which is a spell power: keeping silent = stealth through invisibility, daring = leaping perilous chasms, knowing = destroying the enemies of delusion and solving puzzles, willing = bending the environment to one’s will by telekinetically moving platforms or causing


The major arcana are powerful spells that can only be unleashed through tracing the right sequence of sigils and pressing the right buttons, registered through color and sound.

They take time and deliberation to cast: the equivalent of a ritual.

They have less time pressure on them than the minor arcana spells, i.e. they are more like puzzle-solving, albeit complex puzzles with multiple solutions.

They are usually not cast while enemies are attacking, unless it is a very slow enemy or a horde of minor enemies banging at the gates.

The Death card can destroy whole levels of enemies (e.g. the enemies banging at the gates above), the Devil card can summon powerful demonic bosses to defeat or powerful demonic allies to aid you, the strength card can conjure into existence powerful magical protection (like a whole suit of armor)


Saturn Symbol + x + Aries Symbol + pentagram + y = the Devil, which summons a powerful demonic ally

A set of colored boxes at the bottom of the screen that light up as sigils and buttons are successfully or unsuccessfully executed

Maybe a musical tone plays also, à la Loom.

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)

New team member Shaun Walsh

Shaun Walsh, an experienced programmer in the process of learning Torque, has graciously agreed to be on the Arcana Manor.  Shaun is interested in conceptual code design, i.e. planning out how to implement various features, such how to program a magic system in which the player will trace runes and sigils on the screen to produce various magical effects.  This is a tremendous addition to the team given the difficulty of programming and how slow I am at learning it. :)

Shaun has experience in Php, C/C++/C#, VisualBasic, and a host of other languages.  As an example of his coding facility, here is what he was able to come up with very quickly regarding the implementation of the mechanic for tracing runes:

So, this wouldn’t be an overnight project by any means. Your drawing of the spells to the screen is interesting. 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 examples

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.”

Something like that would have taken me hours to figure out, which shows why recruiting team members if important.  Welcome aboard, Shaun.

Programming progress

Over the last several weeks, I have implemented several features in TGEA, but many of them are in separate project files, builds, and/or software versions.  For this reason, I need to keep a list of these so that they can eventually be combined into one file.

1) Implemented a functional inventory system with associated GUI (along with 2-3 separate inventory systems from GarageGames, many of which were stymied by outdated resources but all of which were educational).

2) Implemented two spells which allow the player to throw a fireball, as well as an associated system that enables invisiblity and healing spells if I bind them to a key.

3) Am well on my way to implementing a simple melee system by James Thompson.

Some of my fellow garagegames developers have suggested that I should invest in the ArcaneFX add-on, which has a lot of customizable special effects that lend themselves to a magic system.  That’s a good idea, although parting with the $85 dollars at this point in time is a painful prospect. :)

Arcana Manor under construction . . .

Here are the beginnings of a level in Arcana Manor that I’ve been building in Torque Constructor.

Arcana Manor Screenshot

Arcana Manor Screenshot

This level contains, at the center, a medieval cathedral that I built in Constructor several weeks ago following a tutorial on garagegames.

cathedral made in Constructor

2) I’ve also made 22 cubes with textures from the major arcana of the Marseilles tarot deck and exported them from xsi into Torque.  This took a lot of effort because the XSI exporter is still a bit clunky and requires a lot of manual scene set-up involving dummy nodes, collision meshes, and naming conventions that have to be set exactly right in order to export.

3) I also set up a working inventory system that tracks when a player picks up minor arcana items (wands, swords, pentacles, and cups), then registers these items in an inventory graphical user interface that can be toggled on and off.

Inventory GUI

Inventory GUI

4) I set up a simple spell system using resources provided on the GarageGames site, which allows the player to throw a fireball.

5) Wrote scripts for each of the cubes and items so that players can pick them up and store them in an inventory.  Made a small, rough test level using early versions of the battlements described in the “5 minutes of gameplay” entry to demonstrate that players can pick up cubes and items.  Here is one sample cube, followed by a video of the player picking up many of them, picking up several cups, and toggling the inventory.

6) The goal now is to first make the four minor arcana mountable as weapons so that they can be held by players, so that players can wield a sword or a cup in order to trace sigils in the air, like a hexagram.

Then, I need to set up a melee system that allows the player to swipe with the sword and do damage.

However, for the purposes of this game the motions of the items will have to be more precise, i.e. they will need to follow the movements of the gamepad as a sort of cursor.  Attached to the end of the sword, wand, or cup there will need to be a particle emitter or other special effect producer that leaves a glowing colored trail and recognizes when certain patterns have been traced.

Question: How did the designers of Arx Fatalis (or Molyneux in Black and White) pull of a similar “tracing magic sigil with finger” mechanic?

7) While I’m providing screenshots, here is an arch with some custom alchemical planetary symbols applied to it as textures.

Arch with planetary textures

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.

Programming: first steps

I’ve been working in Torquescript, using The Game Programmer’s Guide to Torque by Edward Maurina (which is published by A.K. Peters, the same company that publishes Quests).

Specifically, I’ve been working on setting up a GUI or Graphical User Interface for an inventory system, using some resources and tutorials on the GarageGames site.  The process of scripting such a system is extremely complex, because a game in the Torque Game Engine Advanced is a maze of directories and sub-directories containing thousands of scripts.  Even when working with a pre-existing resource, a programmer has to figure out exactly where to put specific snippets of code in many different files on both the server and client side.  My license of TGEA actually allows me full access to the engine’s source code, which can be modified in C++ and then re-compiled to add functionality to the engine, but this is both a blessing and a curse because their are now hundreds of thousands of lines of C++ code than can be potentially altered and recompiled.

And, despite the complexity of all this (or maybe because of it) I absolutely love the process of programming, which is like solving a vast and intricate jigsaw puzzle.  When I have a working interface, I’ll post screenshots.

Interface Design

One of the issues not discussed in Quests is the design of a game interface, both for basic functions like saving games and for gameplay interactions like casting spells or equipping items. The reason for the deliberate omission of interface considerations is that the book primarily discusses modding toolsets, which typically do not allow for significant modification of an existing game’s interface and certainly not the creation of a new interface.

Interfaces are crucial, though, when designing one’s own quest-based game, because an interface shapes the way that players can interact with the system of rules that constitutes the game. Here are some thoughts on the interface for Arcana Manor, which I’ll be putting into practice in the Torque Game Engine Advanced.

Main GUI

Accesible at the game’s beginning

The game’s title written in an appropriately arcane font

A brightly lit color scheme that looks like a tarot card from the Marseilles deck, with sharply angular buttons and a background colored like a mosaic or stained glass window

card from Marseilles deck

card from Marseilles deck

Start game option

Resume game option

Save game option

Load game option

Quit game option

Arcana Manor Magic Interface

Gestural (with mouse, xbox 360 controller, or maybe even Wiimote, since the Torque Game Engine Advance is cross-platform)

Trace sigils/glyphs/runes in the air with the index finger of a hand as well as magical weapons/items based on the tarot suits (wand, sword, cup, and disk).  One model for this interface is the spell-casting system of Undying.

casting a spell in Undying

casting a spell in Undying

These sigils include geometrics sign (pentagrams and hexagrams)

The point of the sigil at which the player starts tracing it has an effect, because different points have varying elemental, planetary, and/or tarot correspondences.

hexagram attributions

hexagram attributions

Each sigil consists of particle effects and emitters, so they leave glowing trails of fire. The colors of these trails have varying magical effects.

Spells are powered-up via the number of wands, swords, cups, and disks collected by the player. These are displayed on the HUD interface as rows of each item, i.e. the standard mana-meter has four parts.

a tarot disk for the interface

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.

Modeling Quest Items for Arcana Manor

For the last few weeks, I’ve been using a 3d modeling program called XSI to model quest items for Arcana Manor. I started with a famous 3d modeling tutorial for building Joan of Arc (who for this game’s purposes I will adapt as the Queen of Swords), and more recently I’ve been making 3d models of the tarot suits. The suits of today’s playing cards are highly abstracted versions of the four tarot suits (swords, cups, wands, and pentacles), which in many tarot decks are concrete items worn or used by allegorical characters. These suits are associated with complex systems of symbolic correspondences, including the elements of air, water, fire, and earth, and in mystical lore they are literal and metaphorical weapons wielded by a magician. We can see these items:

in their symbolic and ritualistic function on the Magician card of the Rider-Waite tarot deck,

The Magician (Tarot Card)

arrayed on the table of Aleister Crowley as he poses with characteristic flamboyance,

Crowley with Weapons

Crowley with Weapons

and brought to life in the moving pictures of Alexander Jodrowksky’s glorious film The Holy Mountain.

Holy Mountain cover

Holy Mountain cover

Given my argument that one of the key principles of meaningful quest design is the use of re-configurable symbolic correspondences expressed through a fusion of gameplay and narrative, what better basis for a magic system than this?

Here are some screenshots of my models so far. The learning curve of 3d modeling is steep, and I’m progressing slowly but surely. These beginning results are rough, but the hard work is compensated by the liberation of being able to design one’s own custom items beginning with only primitive geometric polygons whose edges, faces, and vertices can be shaped in complex ways.

Here are a few first screenshots.


Sword(Stormbringer Style)



Concept Sketch # 1

Here is a first concept sketch for Arcana Manor by my friend and collaborator Ron Smith. This sketch effectively conveys both the surreal, de Chirico-inspired spaces of the game as well as the creepiness of its starkly minimalistic inhabitants, who look like skeletal mannequins made of wax.  Thanks to Ron for this.

Concept Sketch # 1

Concept Sketch # 1

Small Arcana Manor prototype

Below is a video of a small, rough prototype of one area Arcana Manor. I prototyped this section in the Unreal2 Editor a week or two ago and have since been working in Torque X. This video represents an extremely early stage of the process, intended only as a reference to illustrate the visual and spatial aesthetic for which I’m aiming.

Arcana Manor Team and Puzzle Ideas from Kris

The Arcana Manor team is beginning to shape up, thanks to friends and colleagues who have generously agreed to contribute concept sketches, models, and possibly music.

Kris Maxwell: audio and some 3d models

Trent Troop: some 3d models and concept sketches

Ron Smith: concept sketches

Thomas Falk: some music

I am moving ahead with Torque X 3d (which includes C#, Microsoft Visual Studio, and XNA), and I’ve just started working through tutorials in the Softimage XSI Mod Tool, a 3d modeling program that is bundled with Torque X 3d. I will be recruiting from the Torque and XNA communities to find other programmers familiar with this engine.

Here is a first screenshot from a very rough, small prototype I made in Unreal2 a while back.

Prototype Screenshot # 1

Prototype Screenshot # 1

Kris Maxwell came up with the following puzzle ideas for Arcana Manor. These ideas are good examples of innovative puzzle design, as advocated in the “challenges” chapter of Quests.

“theres’s a room with an empty picture frame suspended in the middle of the room. It is door-sized. Also in the room are several painted panels with sections of a stairwell painted on them. The player has to arrange the panels in 3D space, so that when they are looked at through the picture frame they complete the stairwell, which becomes real and the player can walk through the frame and into the stairs up to the exit.

alternatively it would be cool if you could put different things behind the frame to make different doors open. like panels that show a small room with a sword in a stone.. put them all in the right place so they look right through the frame, and then you can walk through the frame, into another dimension which contains the actual room with the sword, but that is not “physically” in the room with the frame (like a hypercube).”

“i also had an idea for a section of the funhouse that is not finished yet. This could progress from being unfinished in the gameworld (i.e. panels missing, surfaces half-painted, etc), through conceptual level (the section begins to be made of sketch lines, notes by the creator, and the look of scratch paper), and then onto a more meta-narrative level, where bits of the “engine” start to show through, featuring snippets of C# code and such, just to mess with people’s minds about the multiple layers of reality that are going on, and the peeling back of the layers of fiction that must be accomplished in order to solve the creator’s problem.”

“I think it would be spooky to have a scene in the game where the lights go out, you hear a sound, and then when you get the lights back on, things in the room have changed and there’s some ominous message left for you in the environment. (I just remembered the scene in Via Domus in the hatch cell with the lighter and the dead woman)

On that note, that’s something that Realms of the Haunting did well- using the environment to send messages, not just inventory items like notes (which it also uses). Hand-painted scrawls on walls and such just make things creepier. Maybe some of these could be linked to the blacklight stuff too.

Playing off the cancer theme, I think it would be good to work in references to that fear in some of the level designs or enemies… the idea of self-replicating growths, tumors, and the body turning on itself would make for a nice resonance with the underlying themes. It might also be thematically interesting to make the protagonist into the mythical Theseus, sent to slay the Minotaur, but the minotaur in this case is the creator transformed, and death by the hand of the protagonist is his salvation- he is set free having had someone complete his puzzle and play his game, and he can rest free from the pain of his rotting flesh and the demons of his infernal bargain. Just an idea.”

“some imagery/elements that might be fun/spooky/interesting:

a rickety elevator that descends extremely deep into the bowels of the manor
disembodies footprints that lead the character through a puzzle
statues that turn their heads to follow the hero as he moves through the room
a hallway where the camera does a “vertigo” effect (by moving forward and zooming out)
a hall of mirrors
a carousel with creepy/decaying animals as the seats (maybe one crepy one among all the pretty porcelain horses)
a fortune-teller
creepy cartoony eyes in the darkness
you have to have a room with black and white zig-zag tile floors and red curtains. period.”

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