‘Cause I’m worth it

Last year I wrote about how to get a cultural grant for game design in Finland. Apparently I knew my stuff then, as yesterday The Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded me a 9000 € grant in the category of “children’s culture” for finishing, writing and illustrating my game Eleanor’s Dream. I applied as a team with my brother Jari, who’s going to illustrate the book. As far as I know, there haven’t been too many grants like this yet, so I’m pretty excited about it, and will be trying to make a good impression on the cultural elites of the country.

The main points of the application, for those who are interested in how a successful application is constructed, were:

  • The amount of money was calculated based on the Foundation’s guideline that the cultural grants are intended to be the main source of income for the artist for the duration of the work. As the size of the annual grant (a grant intended to cover the living expenses of an applicant for one year) is pretty well known to be around 16 000 €, I just calculated how long I estimated the project to take for me and Jari to finish. I also added some money for art supplies and travel, as we live in different parts of Finland nowadays and need to meet a couple of times during the project.
  • The project plan consisted of shortly explaining what Eleanor’s Dream is trying to do and how far I am with the design project, as well as a short description of the work still to take place. I also seem to remember that I wrote a few words on the goals and results I hope the game to achieve when it’s published. The plan wasn’t very long, and I didn’t spend lots of detail on explaining the fine points of roleplaying or anything. I did differentiate between traditional roleplaying and modern story games in the plan, though, as I seem to remember.
  • The application had two outside evaluative statements: one was from Ben Lehman, an American game designer I befriended some years ago and who has followed the development of Eleanor’s Dream since its inception. The second was from Juhana Pettersson, the esteemed editor of the sole Finnish roleplaying magazine. The only other attachments to the application were the CVs of both me and Jari.

I had two grant applications for the Foundation, the second of which was a translation grant application constructed along the above lines. I guess that two rpg grants per year would have been too much, or perhaps two grants to the same person. Either way, I won’t mind having only one grant; Eleanor’s Dream is enough project for this year for me.

Eleanor’s Dream

I probably should explain Eleanor’s Dream to those who haven’t yet encountered the game in one of its iterations during the last couple of years: the game is a long-term project of mine I started around the Christmas of 2005 or so. The original rendition was for a platform video game with the driving idea of focusing on exploration and developing setting instead of win/loss conditions, but soon enough I also figured out that the topic would make for a nice roleplaying game. I’ve gone through 2-3 iterations of the game’s rules by now, with the last version going into hiatus last summer. I never exactly abandoned the project, but with so much else eating up my time I haven’t quite found the core of the game as yet. Now that we have a grant for it I guess I’ll have to get up and finish the game.

The basic idea of Eleanor’s Dream is as follows:

  • The fiction of the game concerns adventures in the dreamlands, pretty much akin to Little Nemo, which was a major inspiration. In the original concept for a video game the titular character was the kind of inquisitive, cute little heroine you’d expect of a female lead in children’s literature; in the roleplaying version the concept is that the player plays himself in the dreamworld, while Eleanor is more of a example character in the book.
  • The social context of the game should be compatible with playing with children, which means that the game is usable in short sessions (half an hour) and flexible enough to evolve through several sessions as a practice. One-on-one play is also important, and the final book object should be pretty usable as a story book, too. Ideally, the game would be perfect for bookstore distribution in that it’s an alternative for a passive storybook where the parents and children can tell the story together.
  • Thematically the book is pretty big on flexible mainstream fantasy; it’s playable with smaller children (age range 6+, perhaps, although I’ve played with 4-year olds) as a pretty nice and colorful fantasy thing, but it’s also quite easy to turn the thematic knob and get darker stuff akin to Chronicles of Prydain or other preteen favourites. A pretty big question for our product development is to express the cross-agegroup focus well in the art and such; I have some difficulty imagining what the book should look like to hold interest for both parents of young children and preteens.
  • The main tool of the game’s system is what I call a “Dream Book”, a series of places, things and creatures of the dreamlands. The primary idea of the game is that a semi-random set of these are used to create small story vignettes that allow the player to exercise his will on the denizens of the dreamlands. A further elaboration is that the players can write new pages into the dream book, expanding the dream world. Meanwhile they also make changes into the existing elements, so that the relationship of each player to each dreamworld element changes persistently.
  • Insofar as a long-term campaign game is relevant, the game should present an arc of exploration, commitment and resolution, ending with the individual player leaving the dreamland a changed place. The mechanics related to this have shifted a lot in development, but the basic idea should be that the dream world provokes the player to take on fealty and questing in defense of one of a particular series of “Princes of the dream”, which each are pretty fantastic characters on their own right. So a bit of interaction, a moral choice, some adventure and then denouement, and that’s it. The play before this plot-wise choice, on the other hand, should be pure exploration of the setting, only spiraling towards the endgame when the player gets enough of simple exploration and absurd dream vignettes.

Now that we have a grant for making the game I’ll have to return to the latest version and see what I’m going to do with it; the rules design is still not perfect, and while it produces usable play in the short term, the campaign structure doesn’t work yet. I’ll also have to write more dream book material. And then there’s the need for significant playtesting. I’ll probably tell about it here at the blog if and when I make any significant breakthroughs with any of this.


4 Responses to “‘Cause I’m worth it”

  1. Joonas Says:

    Congratulations on the grant, very cool that you got it! Looking forward to the game, I can’t think of anything very similar out there.

    I’m curious about the marketing, though – you do intend it to be of interest to parents who are not familiar with roleplaying, right?

  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Yes, that’s the plan. Ideally we’ll make the book visually feasible as children’s fantasy literature first, and provide the roleplayingness as content in that context. Jari will probably start the work on the visuals next month, so we’ll see then where the project goes in that regard. Personally, I’m most concerned with the necessity of being attractive as either children’s literature or youth literature – it would be nice to be able to be both, but I don’t know how feasible that is in the context of current youth and children’s culture.

    My own hope is to finish the game and then perhaps offer it to a mainstream publisher here in Finland to publish. Or, alternatively, we can do the publication independently.

  3. HiQKid Says:

    I’m not entirely sure trying to be attractive to both children and youth. Have you considered two separate but connected projects?

    Not sure if this is feasible or even ideal in the context and constraints of this project, though.

  4. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Yeah, it’s going to be tought. Still, it’s technically possible – all the most loved children’s literature (at least around here) is appealing over wide age ranges from children to adults, and that’s the wibe I’m shooting for. When I think of children’s culture, I want to make the kind of fantastic stuff that I loved in my own childhood and continue to appreciate to this day – artists like J.R.R. Tolkien, Albert Barillé, Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, C.S.S. Lewis and so on all managed to bridge the age gap, and it stands to reason that it’ll be magnitudes easier for a game product to do that, as the audience actually actively works to fit the piece to their own level of understanding.

    Luckily I have time to think this project through, considering that I’m putting it off ’till fall now that I’m writing a new edition of The Shadow of Yesterday and all. I’ll need to make some editorial decisions at some point, but not yet.

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