The concept of “Ithaka: The Tapestry” was devised with my wife and gaming partner. My wife contributed her knowledge as an experienced gamer and beta tester, while I brought my expertise as an author, photographer and film producer.
Our extensive contact with gaming company Prinaka in Bangalore, India, will ensure that the concept is progressed. Prinaka are the publishers of the fantasy-SciFi MMORPG “Gossamer Steel”.
The game is a remediation of Constantine P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca”, which itself echoes “The Odyssey” one of the two major Ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. While the poem addresses the goals that the reader sets in their own life, the focus of the game ‘narrative’ is on the more archetypal aspects of this “marvellous journey”. However the player also chooses to embark on a quest, with their avatar, or character. The gaming medium allows the player to weave anew, creating the tapestry of their character’s quest, and echoing a form of art that dates back to Hellenistic Greece.
GENRE: “Ithaka: The Tapestry” is envisaged as a single player, role-playing game. However, it would have the potential to evolve into an MMORPG, once established.
CHARACTER CREATION: In the beginning, the player has to create a character of either gender and with a customised appearance. There are no races or classes, and all this new characters abilities derive from their initial Stats. Following in the tradition of “Dungeons & Dragons”, and most recently seen in “Neverwinter”, the player rolls, and maybe re-rolls, a computer dice to establish their six basic stats for Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Constitution (CON), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA).
GAMEWORLD: However rolling to prepare just for combat might be unwise, even though the character starts in a game world that resembles Ancient Greece just after The Trojan War. The player emerges on a dock in a burning city. The three options presented are: (i) to scavenge in the ruins for anything of use, from valuables to weapons; or (ii) to set sail for new adventures and perhaps encounter “the Laestrygones, the Cyclopes, the frothing Poseidon” and other foes; or (iii) to “linger in Phoenician markets so that you may acquire the finest goods”, perhaps opening up trade routes or unlocking knowledge.
NARRATIVE: As Cavafy says of the monsters, you will not encounter them “as long as you don’t carry them within you, as long as your soul refuses to set them in your path”. However, if the player is foolish enough to choose the wrong abilities – stats – for their character, or embark on the wrong ship, then those monsters may well arise. But in fact there is no such thing as a wrong choice as all decisions lead to a journey on which you will gain “so much wisdom and experience” as Cavafy says. And this journey will lead to Ithaka, or death.
But the choice is the player’s. You can adapt your approach at each stage, as long as your character has the abilities. And your decisions will affect how the narrative unfolds, reflecting your own style of play. For instance, choosing to accept stats that enhance Dexterity increases ‘Cunning’, the ability that Odysseus was renowned for. This valuable trait could be used to trick some of the monsters or ensure a better deal with merchants.
Furthermore, a character with an enhanced ‘stat’ will have other quest choices unlocked as they progress, therefore ensuring that their journey is unique. “Star Wars: The Old Republic” has demonstrated the potential for player decisions to change the narrative. For instance, when some NPCs are spared, they still want to silence you. Even survivors can want to avenge their comrades. Talk your way out of that scenario. Personal digressions from the narrow path enhance the narrative, growing organically.
QUESTS: The path that your character treads will be paved with quests that enlarge on the events and places mentioned in Cavafy’s poem from “the Laestrygones” to “an Egyptian city” and beyond. Success will yield rewards including experience, gold and more important, ‘points’ that can be allocated to individual stats, either compensating for weak ones or strengthening ones already developed.
Your character can continue down a path of pure exploration, or one of martial adventure, or they could even settle down as a renowned culinary master, or into a life of academia taking quests to find rare artefacts or scrolls. But cooking delicacies or trying to “to learn, and learn more, from those who know”, doesn’t guarantee a peaceful life, because your stats are still at work weaving your destiny in the shadows.
Raiders may come and torch your home, or fire ravage your ancient library in Alexandria. Collecting herbs, artefacts or rare metals can unleash hostile gatherers, as in “Age of Conan”, where the foes materialise beside you and match your level. The crafter still needs his sword as much as the warrior needs his wits and charisma. You need to have been “enriched by all you’ve obtained along the way”, if you are to reach Ithaka and escape death. In the journey is the learning, as many wise people have said.
SPATIAL DIMENSIONS: As the game journey is single-player the world map will be made up of zones. Each zone can be explored and the challenges/quests there faced to acquire experience, knowledge and valuables. When the game evolves into multi-player, some of the quests will be Instances restricted to either just the player or their party, depending on the quest’s value to the player.
DESTINY & CLIMAX: On the journey there will be setbacks, but if you recognise what your character needs to be a whole person, there should be few loose ends, or threads, before the player faces the final challenge.
Cavafy writes, “If you find Ithaca wanting, it’s not that she’s deceived you.” But your character does reach Ithaka in the footsteps of Odysseus and like that cunning hero you are faced with deception. With Odysseus out of the way, unscrupulous men want to marry his wife Penelope and take his wealth. But Penelope had been keeping them at bay by weaving a tapestry, saying once she was finished that she would marry one of the suitors. Penelope weaved during the day, but secretly undid her work at night, still faithful to her husband. However her cunning has been exposed and the suitors are threatening to destroy her world.
What will you do? You have perfected your abilities and now have the ultimate choice, dictated by all your previous adventures. Will you, like Odysseus, kill all the suitors? Or is there another way to punish them and still earn respect? And how do you reward the dutiful Penelope, and her son Telemachus?
How will Odysseus respond to your decision when he returns? Will you have to face the hero of the Odyssey? Has your Tapestry been woven into his?
Excellent article on “Ithaca” and link to Sean Connery reading, with music by Vangelis:
Extract from “The Odyssey” re Wily Penelope: http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa103100b.htm
Tapestry reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapestry
Game Guide: The Complete Guide to Game Development, Art & Design – David McCarthy, Ste Curran and Simon Bryan. www.ilex-press.com
Translation of “Ithaca” used: Stratis Haviaras http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=286&cat=1