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Soulmate Development 2: Setting & Mechanics

Posted by A Tobias 2 years ago
Continuing from the ∞ previous post ∞, I'll be describing the development process of my current project, Soulmate. While the other post covered the general gist of the story, this one will sketch out the world it's set in.

The Protagonist

The protagonist is Oneira, a young woman of indeterminate age (she could be in her teens, twenties, or even thirties; it doesn't matter). She's lonely and depressed and longs for her perfect soulmate who'll essentially save her from herself (the point of the game is to challenge this delusion).

I wish I had time to draw something better than this crude concept art! I'm unsure about the design though; I'll need to spend more time playing around with ideas. As the game is set in her dreams as she sleeps, she's wearing pyjamas. I feel her look is quite indistinct, though. Character design is an art in itself, and the best designs are recogniseable in different styles, when parodied, when chibified, etc. I feel that this design lacks anything to make it distinct or memorable... but that's why I said that I'll need to work more on it! It's still early days.

(I just searched for 'bad character designs' so I could link to an example of the thought that should go into character design, but just got annoyed by how scathing some people can be... I suppose I see little of acerbic attitudes in my life these days, to my relief. But anyway.)


In Taming Dreams, you engaged in agitation with miasmon, which were essentially thoughts and feelings given illusory form by the miasma. As Soulmate is set in Oneira's actual mind, I don't need to use that concept. Instead, you'd face actual thoughtforms, which I might simply call 'Thoughts'.

I wanted to combine NPCs and 'battles' in some form, and my original idea was to basically copy Pokemon by having trainer-like encounters; humans, perhaps, who sent out parties of miasmon. Maybe they'd each have a little story of their own, like the NPCs in Taming Dreams.

My current idea at the moment is to have Thoughts work something like this:

Like Pokemon trainers, they'd stand around in the environment, becoming alerted and approaching you if you walked within their line of sight.

What they'd say to you would be some kind of negative thought. For example "I'm really lonely, ignored by everyone...".

You'd then engage in agitation against the Thought (or a party of Thoughts). Some would be animal-like, while others would be humanoid; like most RPG monsters, really.

Once tamed, they'd say a positive spin on the thought they'd expressed previously. For example "I have plenty of time to do all the things that I'd like to do".

I think this could be both interesting and potentially useful to people, as it'd show that the same thing can be seen from multiple perspectives. And of course it'd represent in words the idea of the thought being tamed and turned nice (rather than simply destroyed).

You might not be able to tame and equip miasmon as in Taming Dreams, though; I'm not sure. Instead, taming every instance of a particular species of Thought in the current dungeon would reward you with a memento which you could equip to cast sentimancy associated with that Thought (the animation might include summoning it, though effects would be more like TD's sentimancy than its summoning).

I'll have to experiment a bit with the best direction to take that.


As I said in the other post, some NPCs can be befriended by doing quests for them. There'll be six of these.

The original plan was to have them be a varied assortment of misfits - some humanoid, some not - but as the game is essentially an exploration of Oneira's own mind, I've decided to take a different approach.

Each one would be essentially an alternate personality version of Oneira, with a slightly different name and a different outfit. They'd all be distinct, but they'd be recognisable as her.

I may call them Aspects, or maybe Alters (which seems to be the word that people who claim to have multiple personalities use to refer to theirs).

The World

The game takes place in Oneira's mind/dreams... which gives me a lot of creative freedom. I'm more interested in exploring the concept of overcoming thoughts than in portraying wacky or nightmarish dreamscapes, though. I suppose her mind's interior will be more like that of Inside Out than Yume Nikki.

In particular, I want to explore the 'False/True Ideals' I came up with for Taming Dreams: three paths we believe lead to happiness but don't, and their three alternatives. Longing/Presence, Identity/Silence, and Judgement/Acceptance.

As such, I've divided the world into three distinct regions, plus the hub; one for each of the False Ideals. I've come up with ugly names for them that I may keep or discard when I think of better alternatives!

There'd be two befriendable Aspects per world, exploring different, uh, aspects of that world's Ideal.

Besomeone, the World of Identity might be some kind of city with a face motif. Here, everyone is defined by their role or job, either modern (businessman, waitress) or fantasy (wizard, warrior), or a combination of the two.

One Aspect would wish to 'become someone'. They'd start off poor and alone, but they set their sights on becoming famous... only to discover that it's not as fulfilling as it might have seemed.

The other Aspect would be a counterculture nonconformist; a rebel who hates the 'mainstream' and sets herself apart from it because she refuses to be defined by it... only to realise that by defining herself according to what it's not, she's no less constrained by it (and certainly isn't happy).

Thoughts in this world might be mostly or entirely humanoid, representing various jobs, voicing dissatisfaction with the thought of doing that kind of work for a living ("I don't want to be a cog in a machine!") and - when tamed - its benefits ("at least it's secure and reliable and not too difficult").

The point of Identity is the belief that by becoming someone special, important and likeable, you'll be happy... And the point of Silence is that by shedding the 'ego', fostering an empty mind, you can transcend that and find less conditional bliss.

Couldbe, the World of Longing, would be a world that's split into separate Past and Future sections. They could be different settlements at either end of a 'river of time', alternate versions of the same settlement that you'd travel between via portals, or one could be underwater and another above the clouds to represent how time consumes the past and how the future is out of reach... It's still vague at the moment.

One Aspect would live in the future section, but she longs for the past (either her childhood or society's past), when things were simpler. She might be an older version of Oneira, or a 'futuristic' sci-fi one.

The other Aspect would live in the past section, and she longs for the future when things will get better. She might be a child version of Oneira, or a 'vintage' version of her.

Thoughts could range from regrets, hopes, death, lost loves, technology, childhood toys... There's a whole lot of potential that I'll need to refine.

The point of Longing is the thought that you were happy in the past, or that you'll be happy in the future... while the point of Presence is living in the moment.

Shouldbe, the World of Judgement would be divided into two clear factions. A central, luxurious city would be inhabited by angelic hedonists, who indulge in the fine things in life and reject anything not deemed pleasurable. Badlands outside the city would be inhabited by stern, disciplined, demonic monks who embrace pain and suffering as they feel it hardens them.

One Aspect might be a lusty, luxury-loving version of Oneira who finds herself in the badlands, and panics because she feels she can't possibly survive without her indulgences.

Another might be a stern, self-denying version of Oneira who learns that she's limiting her world by rejecting what it has to offer for arbitrary reasons.

Thoughts might represent concepts seen as desirable/undesirable, or even good/evil: sex, food, obnoxious things, pollution, comfort (beds, pillows)... Things that are rejected or which seem 'necessary' for happiness.

The point of Judgement is the feeling that you'll be happy if you embrace 'good' or desirable things while rejecting 'bad' or undesirable ones... while the point of Acceptance is that ceasing to label things 'good' or 'bad' allows you to transcend such pickiness and be unconditionally happy with whatever situation you find yourself in.

So yes!

That's the basic idea that I have at the moment. Things may change over time, though, and I have a lot of refining to do! I'm probably going to focus on concept art first, so I'll likely post some of that once it's done.
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25 Germany ISTJ 5w6 SxSp PhlegmaticCholeric
Fenix Shakura
The concept is quite deep and meaningful (and quite identical to Buddhist teachings). I like it. It'd probably help a lot of people, if they could apply such a mindset that you're aiming for.

One thing, though. I can understand that you're sick of meaningless violence, but the agitation system bugs me. Why do you want to resolve conflicts in a (more-or-less?) peaceful way with old-school RPG battle-mechanics? It comes across as quite parodistic, and runs into the danger of not being taken seriously.
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
I thought I'd already explained that in the other post. By taking something familiar and viewing it in a different light, there's a chance that people might become aware of issues with the familiar that they'd become desensitised to before.

It's like swapping the genders of the male and female characters in a Hollywood blockbuster, while keeping their personalities exactly the same, in order to draw attention to the sexism that might have been hidden by years of conditioned expectations for how each sex behaves.

We take it for granted that violence is an acceptable way of conflict resolution in games. As I said in the other post, attacking that idea directly would be pointless (and sort of hypocritical), whereas presenting an alternative could be eye-opening. I've had people say "but there'd be no gameplay without violence" before, and I suppose this is my attempt to challenge that narrow-minded assumption.

Deviating from the safe, familiar path always has risks, but it's also the only way to transcend mediocrity.
23 United States MelancholicPhlegmatic
Well, here's my thoughts! I'm sure you're happy to hear those after the last post, though sarcasm is hard for me or most anyone else to articulate without a voice behind it. I tried a bit harder this time around with articulating things so as to not sound like an idiot this time, though I'm certainly not a professional!

First of all, for what you drew! I like the design for certain parts while others could use some changes here or there, and being a bit of an artist myself, I feel I could provide a... slightly more detailed perception or critique of the drawing. For positives, I find her expression and pose seem to articulate her personality quite well, as they display this without her needing to smile or pose in a specific way, you can just 'tell', the idea of presence being a large strength many people put no focus on that you articulate well. Along with that, I also enjoy the flower design on her pants and general shape and placement of her eyes to her figure... there was clear focus in how her eyes reflect her feelings and disposition. Her hair also looks nice for the most part (though the cowlick could use some shifting around or removal entirely), and she almost seems to have a bit of a 'bedhead' feel to her hair, which is appropriate during the nighttime, though this may not have been your intention. Lastly, her head shape and body shape match well with one another, if a bit exaggerated, but this doesn't seem to detract from the rest of the picture as a whole. She gives off an awkward sense of not wanting to be there, while also being beautiful at the same time... in this, I'm quite proud to say you have a nice grasp on the overall ideas and focus here. I could figure out what she was like even if I didn't know the plot, something I consider a great strength to this design! Good work in that area overall!

As for negatives to the drawing... I find her eyes, while they have great shape, personality, and focus, they at the same time seem a bit soulless... there's no pupil or white parts of her eye, and just adding a bit of that can add a lot of emotion to an expression, particularly if a character is upset, grateful, or excited about something. Even if it's a part of the style or what you were comfortable with, I feel adding this could bring out a lot more in this character. The split in the top of her hair seems a bit too pronounced, almost being hard not to notice for me... and with her hairstyle and headshape, it doesn't really fit too much with the rest of the drawing, in my opinion. I feel her shirt doesn't match her pants too well, and she'd probably look better in a blue/white shirt with a design of some other sort on it, perhaps small vines down the side parts under the arms with small buds along them, and a centralized 'curled flower in vines' like design in the middle. She would also probably look better with slippers of the same color as the shirt (with a design on them) and the sleeves on her shirt also seem a bit too short for the modest look the rest of the drawing portrays. The shirt doesn't portray the personality the rest of the design should, which I feel weakens the focus of the story and character as a whole, though not necessarily the drawing itself... stuff like that is important, after all! (though not so focused it is obvious as to the intended arc of the character... if an intentionally mysterious male character claims to hate death but has a large skull shoulder pad and a black garb on, for example, it can reveal too much, though you probably know this...)

Hopefully my opinion on that matter isn't too harsh! I tend to be kind of upfront and thorough with my opinions... anyway, the plot! ... I like it, and I agree with Iam that making her feelings as Alterations of herself rather than Aspects of herself add focus for clear and different perceptions to the same character while also making them seem individualistic Despite this, I feel you'll need SOME liberties on this topic such as height and body weight and all that, or it'll seem TOO MUCH like the same person even if their personalities differ... though, again, I'm sure you know this quite well by now.

I find your ideas for the worlds fascinating in their own ways, though as you mentioned, you still need to do work on certain aspects here or there! Being a writer myself, it's always interesting to see a different author's reasoning or opinion on something as it will often shed light on your own mistakes or provide a different perspective on the matter. That's generally why I make my comments the way I do... to provide a perspective of my own ideas as well as try to display what I feel of the idea placed forth in question, be it wrong or not. In fact, I like analyzing and breaking down as many details as I can within a story to such a degree that I will quite often stand up and pace around the room I'm in for no particular reason, going over how ideas for a plot of my own or another will fit together, and the concepts and ideas behind it all.

I'd include much more of my thoughts on each world and aspect here, but this post is long enough, and we all have lives to go on with, so I'll leave it at this for now to spare everyone the need to read another who knows how many paragraphs...

Good luck with this project and other endeavors ... the members that joined here and I will do our best to support you in the coming days and try to make the best of everything around us that we can!

~ Brock/Eclipse
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
The duality of ideals was honestly one of my favorite parts of TD. I love learning their merits and failings. So this seems absolutely perfect for that!

Alters, to me, seems the better choice. Aspects makes them seem more as a constant and prevalent part of her - almost as if you'd taken that chunk of her and put it in it's own body. Alters flows more with how mood affects thought process, it alters the perception.

The idea of monsters being representative of these single thoughts might work better for smaller encounters, but bigger things may require more complex ideas. This also begs the question - is there a set amount? Because seeing the same thought over and over might be... well, not tedious, but maybe annoying.

As far as character design... I feel like her face is quite distinct, or at the very least, your style is. I wouldn't know much beyond that, though - I rarely draw people! - but I'm certain you'll find a solution to your design-based-discontent.

I'm really quite excited for this one. Not yet so much as TD had me, but that was over a much longer period of time.
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
To clarify about how I imagine Thoughts might work:

As with Trainers in Pokemon, each 'dungeon' area would have a fixed amount of encounters which are unique instances of a given 'type'.

For example, one dungeon in the Identity world might have a room that contains three, uh... Artists, let's say. One might say something like "It's hard to make a living from art", which leads to agitation, then when tamed would change to "but money's less important than pursuing my passion". Another might say "I don't want to draw other people's ideas", and when tamed might say "but if someone else comes up with the idea, that's less work for me". Or something. They'd all have the same 'stats' and appearance in agitation, like monsters in other games.
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
Oh, I see then! Unique to the encounter, and a set number. That makes much more sense. It'd be like playing pokemon with Repels on all the time, I suppose. Or maybe more along the lines of a Digimon Tournament, preset encounters with a set number.

Really looking forward to it now! Thanks for clarifying!
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
I imagine a lot of people just try to ignore the random encounters in Pokemon after the beginning bits (I know I do), which is why I'm not bothering to include random encounters in this at all! Having the 'trainer-like' fixed encounters seems enough.
19 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
I noticed that too, actually - I never did it, but when I started watching others play, it seemed they'd go through most of it with repels on. Maybe that's why I always felt over-leveled!