Design Notes

Waterfall behind you, river in front.

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You are a rock. Water gushingly falls and splashes upon you from above. The waterfall is massive. Impossibly bigger than any waterfall you can imagine. So much water. From all the way down here, you cannot see where all that water comes from. All you can see are those rocks up there, at the edge of the waterfall. The last rocks the water hits before it falls upon you. The water parts and flows around them before falling. Those rocks, so high above you influences what water hits you. What water shapes you. Not in the ways you would expect. Certainly not in the ways they would expect. An oh yes, each drop of that water exploding upon you has a history. A history as old as our world. That water continues smashing into you and shaping you. The harder that water hits you, the smoother you become. The part of you that are weak break away. The rest of you becomes shiny and strong. Oh, and how you shape that water too. Your influence changes the direction of the water. It journeys endlessly down the stream ahead, shaping other rocks. Not in the way those rocks would expect. Certainly not in the ways you would expect. Those rocks look back at you with the same wonder and curiosity. Then suddenly, it begins to rain.

Why write this?

Ideas flow through time and people like river. Passed from person to person through talking, reading, Movies, TV, games and so many other mediums…. like silly pictures of cats with all caps Helvetica Black captions. The things we create capture the ideas we love, reshaped with our influence. In turn they influence more. As a creative person we are part of an important never ending, and natural cycle. It is not linear nor predictable. Ideas can flow in the most peculiar and unusual ways.

No, seriously, what prompted this?

I just watched a documentary on a children’s TV show from the 1980s called “Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future.” It was directed by the same guy that did the He-Man movie and later would go on to do Babylon 5. The show had HEAVY influences from Star Wars, Terminator, and other popular movies from that time. Their main villain “Lord Dread” was the spitting image of The Borg from Star Trek. Of course, Lord Dread existed a year before the Borg did. The producer of the show claimed Star Trek stole their design. Also the phrase “Resistance is Futile” was first printed in a Captain Power comic book. Of course, there were tons of phantom of the opera style half-face cyborgs with a glowing red eye in comic book and TV history. Also the phrase “Resistance is useless” was said by a Dalek in the original black and white version of Doctor Who waaaay back in 1963. And prior to that used countless times in dialog for villains.  Which got me thinking…. WOW! What we have actually been witnessing our entire lives is “idea evolution.” The ideas flow through us… and good ideas keep coming back to life. Who would have expected Doctor Who, which was made so long ago, to keep evolving and then recently  be rebooted into the amazing show it is today?

AdventureQuest was an original game. In 2002 it was extremely cutting edge and ahead of it’s time. A free game, where your characters were saved to the cloud allowing you to access them from any computer on the internet. Monsters, Maps, and items built with Flash animations where parts were streamed, loading and unloading at any time. A single player game that allowed all players from all over the world to work together to win wars and move a storyline forward. A weekly evolving storyline directed by the players on the forums with themes covering almost every major genre. Every element that came into creating this game was inspired by something else. Which was previously inspired by something else. And so forth, forever backwards in time. Not just the technology, but the characters and stories too. Take the character Artix for example. A fusion of the positive traits of Superman, Ash from the Evil Dead, He-Man, and Goku that influenced me when I was younger, fused into Knight armor to perfectly fit in our world. To me, the Artix character is the best and most ideal version of me-- which makes sense, because my life was so heavily influenced by those heroic and silly characters.

Creativity is when you take two or more things  you know, and put them together into something new. Like how Reese's Peanut butter cups, one of the biggest candy companies of all time, simply combined Chocolate and Peanut butter to create their original candy. Or a more complex example-- take how the Harry Potter story combined the idea of an orphan going to a new private school and making friends, with the idea of a fantasy world filled with magic. The source material for both of these ideas was huge like a waterfall. The author brilliantly fused them into a new, original, brilliant work.

So what is the difference between“Copying” and “Originality”?

This one is pretty easy. If you take something that someone else made and slap your name on it, that is copying. If all of your source material is coming from one place… it is probably copying too. That includes tracing, mimicking, or deriving (which just means using someone else’s work as a base.)

However, if you take two or more things, and combine them to create something brand new… that is the heart of creativity. The “originality” part comes from how different and special the thing you make is. Reese's Peanut Butter cups are round with a jagged edge. When you look at a Reese's Peanut Butter cup you instantly know what it is. Sort of how you can always tell an AdventureQuest Worlds character because of their shape and that strangely stylistic black-shadowed back arm and leg. Sometimes those little details mean a lot. (Ironically, both of those things were for functional reasons-- not intentional design style.)

I really appreciate artists, writers, game makers, movie makers, and musicians who have a unique and original style. Lindsey Stirling combined violin and dubsteb… who would have dreamed it would be so amazing! The TV show Ninja Warrior (Sasuke) combined the idea of physical fitness competition with Parkour. Every creative person or product is influenced by the sources it is derived from… but a creative person takes these things to make something truly outstanding.

The river of ideas does not stop with you nor I…

It never stops flowing.

Even as you read this, young creative minds are being influenced by things like Doctor Who, AdventureQuest Worlds, and Lindsey Stirling… inspiring them to take the things that touched them and combine it with something else to make something entirely new. Probably eating a Reese's peanut butter cup while they do it. The water just keeps flowing on and on… so when we do something, we should do it BIG and make the biggest influence we can!

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munchyham: This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it hits me right in the heart. I've seen it in entire new game genres arising from just one or two standout games that generate entire series. I've seen it in your own company from game to game. You take what you've already done and either drawing inspiration from it and making it even better, or parodying popular culture or mythology for even better content. The best I've found so far is your original content though. The Devourer saga was sheer genius and you've only gotten better since then. I played through Dragonfable and was as hooked as if I had found the greatest novel ever written. Keep up the awesome work and I'm sure you yourself will influence several people the same way you have been influenced by amazing works.
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