ToM Research, Part 1
I previously mentioned doing some research for Tribes of Mexica, but that was a relatively small endeavour. Once we settled on the setting, I did a whole lot more legwork to educate myself.
Of course ToM isn’t meant to be a historical simulator, so why all the effort?
Well, three main reasons:
1). Not to be callous.
The conquest of Mesoamerica might not be an extremely touchy subject in Western media, but it was a nasty affair. What’s more, whenever exploring a new culture, it’s important to understand the context of its traditions and way of life. Without it, it’s incredibly easy to make faux pas, or worse.
2). To take advantage of existing material.
What’s the point of turning to an existing mythology and culture if its riches are to be ignored? Granted we had an idea for ToM’s core gameplay before anything else, but even that was enhanced by the setting. The research also helped to tie it together with other game mechanics and provided a canvas for the world itself and an overarching story.
3). To distinguish the game.
Ruined pyramids amidst the overgrowth of the jungle is a common image associated with the Aztecs, but there’s so much more! Looking into what other videogames, board games, movies, comics, cartoons, etc., focused on allowed us to not only identify the recognizable icons, but also to take note of the numerous cultural aspects that have never been mentioned. These in turn should go a long way toward making our game stand out from the crowd.
Keeping these points in mind, I did what most people do when they first research a new subject: I went online.
Starting with Wikipedia, I read about the various aspects of Aztec culture, paying specifically close attention to their mythology. I then went through some of the bigger one-stop resource websites such as Aztec History, Mexicolore and The Aztec World. Finally, I checked out countless blogs and smaller sites that focused on specific details.
Aside from learning about thing like warfare, education, naming conventions, supernatural pantheons, etc., I took note of a lot of smaller but equally interesting tidbits. A large portion of them were a great fit for the existing base of the game, while others supplied me with some new and unique ideas.
- Although trading in goods was prevalent in the Aztec world, the cocoa bean was also a natural currency. This was a great substitute for gold/coins, and provided me with lots of references to various goods and their relative values.
- For the sake of variety, I wanted to append the game’s combat scenarios with small, random boons and handicaps. The Aztec calendars — whose days/weeks were dedicated to various objects, entities and events — solved this by giving me an excuse for the mechanic and a more structured approach for its implementation.
- The Aztecs believed in three different versions of the afterlife, each one designated for people who died under specific circumstances. This was a rather unique take on the concept, and something that became a key point in ToM’s story.
- Smoke emanating from the ground was considered a sign of precious gems. Gameplay wise, I immediately saw this as a great tool for hinting at hidden treasures and a possible alternative to treasure chests themselves.
- The Olmec civilization was revered by the Aztecs, and their giant head statues and face masks were visually gripping. This culture provided a sense of history and (pardon the rhyme) mystery, and its ruins became an obvious must have for in-game locations.
I made notes of many more points like these, and hopefully they’ll be able to add colour and enrich the final game.
Of course there’s also more to research than just websites, but I’ll talk about that more in future posts.