Over the course of my last two articles, I have poured a frankly unrecommended amount of time and energy into designing a game that will never exist. If I had any sense of self preservation whatsoever, any ability to cut my losses and scale back a dizzyingly bloated vanity project and save myself from ritually slaughtering another dozen hours of my life, I would at the very least downsize this project considerably, and ideally I would drop it altogether. In light of this revelation, here is the most obsessively detailed account yet of this game that exists only in my imagination.
In this final instalment, I will be outlining some ideas I have for changes I would make from TWEWY for my imaginary sequel. If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t even know if I would implement ALL of these changes even if I somehow had the opportunity. Details this precise are, I think, best explored through extensive play testing. Chances are that details like this that seem like decent ideas on paper would be shot down instantly if brought up in a team meeting, or if they even made it to implementation would probably have to be play tested to hell and back to make sure they didn’t unbalance already implemented features, or to make sure they were actually fun, or didn’t just bog down the experience. Still, for posterity’s sake, I’ve been thinking a lot about little details about TWEWY I would change or otherwise update if I got a crack at a sequel. They’re presented here, without much editing or authorial restraint. Consider this a one-man “spitballing ideas” stage. For a game that is, in every sense of the word, completely fictional.
Let’s start with a more in-depth examination of a mechanic I alluded to in a previous entry in this series.
Way back in my Turf entry, I introduced the idea of reading and listening material complementing TWEWY’s… uh, eating material, I guess you could call it. Food, you know? In The World Ends With You, permanent stat boosts are earned by eating food. You cram some french fries down your joke hole, fight a number of battles equal to the foodstuff’s number of “bytes” in order to digest it, and once the food is digested you gain the accompanying stat boost. The digestion period is meant to prevent the player from grinding up stats nonstop (also serving this purpose is the 24 byte limit on food that can be eaten in a single day, further restricted by a 6 byte limitation after 18 bytes have already been consumed- urgh, this is one of those gameplay mechanics that’s cumbersome to describe but easy to understand through experience). You can eat as much food as you like within the previously mentioned restrictions- you can graze on food that takes 6 or fewer bytes from dusk till dawn, and indeed that behaviour is highly recommended.
So far, so good. So, have music and books follow the same procedure and we’re golden, right?
Well, kind of not really. See, TWEWY’s rules surrounding food are a little esoteric, but they make their own kind of sense. You can only eat so much in a single day, after all, but snacking on fries or ice cream throughout the day is not unreasonable, particularly for the hyper-metabolistic (and yet somehow dangerously undernourished) teens of Shibuya. Plus, you can extract nutrients from fries even though you’ve eaten fries before. It makes sense- at least, video game sense.
Even from this standpoint though, my books and music don’t fit that model perfectly. See, the reason reading a book boosts your stats is because you read it, and you learn what’s all up in that book, and you put the book stuff in your brain by reading it. First of all, while your body can only handle so much food, there’s no physical barrier between you and reading a million books in a day. Time will get in your way, but your body doesn’t care if you read the back of your cereal box or Complete Works of Shakespeare- it’s all reading as far as your bod is concerned. Likewise, while continuing to gain nutrition from eating the same foods makes sense, you’re unlikely to learn something new the second time you read a book, unless you’re reading some really thematically dense piece of Russian symbolist poetry or whatever. So the artificial-but-grounded-in-reality limitation placed on food consumption don’t make much sense for reading material.
Likewise for music. You can listen to music all day forever (most of you probably do), and your body never runs out of space to put that music. Music is a little different from literature in the sense that listening to the same song or album multiple times is still “nourishing” in its own way.
So I went back to the drawing board. Instead of having one compartment for all your stat fortifying cultural experiences, how about a discrete chamber for each? Food, music, and books are all “digested” independently from one another, and each category can have its own rules associated with it. Food functions identically to how it did in TWEWY, books can only be read once, music will follow its own byzantine rules to be concocted at a later date, God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world!
Well… I think we can do better. See, when you “use” food, you eat it right away, and have to spend a certain number of turns “digesting” it. Again, that makes sense. You pass the time by fighting Noise- makes sense enough for me. But to have books and music follow the same rules as food means that in the middle of battle, you’re going to have to be reading the latest fashion mag or YA adventure serial while (I)in the middle of battle.(I) Sense: lost! The music isn’t a deal-breaker, you can listen to music and cave in skulls at the same time, but introducing reading material like this doesn’t make a lick of sense.
So what do we do about this? I bashed my head up against this non-problem for my imaginary game that I inflicted upon myself and could walk away from at any time for longer than was reasonable. Finally, inspiration struck while I was reading up on TWEWY’s existing systems. PP! That was the answer! In The World Ends With You, your pins level up by accumulating Pin Points, which come in three flavours. BPP, or Battle Pin Points, are earned by punching Noise in their faces. MPP, or Mingle Pin Points, are earned by entering “Mingle Mode” and interacting with other TWEWY players or DS users. And SDPP, or Shutdown PP, is earned by turning the system off and doing something else for a couple of days. The answer came to me like lightning: three PP types, three cultural artefacts to ingest, problem solved.
So, food behaves exactly as it did in TWEWY: eating, bytes, digestion, Noise fights, etc. So food is associated with BPP: food is digested as you fight Noise. Any music you have “equipped” will loose its nutrients when the player enters Mingle Mode: now not only are you collecting MPP, you’re also “digesting” something from your music library. Finally, books are associated with SDPP. If you have a book “equipped” in its respective slot, your character will “read” the book while the system is shut down- at a rate of, say, one “byte” per hour. Zines and superhero comics take only a couple of hours to read, novels and the like can take 12 or 14 hours, and textbooks and capital-L Literature take chunks of time closer to 24 full hours to completely finish.
Oh, and don’t forget. In TWEWY, characters received bonuses or handicaps to a food’s base stat boosts depending on their taste for the food in question- Joshua didn’t like fast food, Shiki had a sweet tooth, etc. The same will remain true for books and music- you may find yourself with an egghead partner who loves the classics, but turns his nose up at gossip rags. You may partner up with a metal head who’ll shake her head at the Swedish ambient-pop you stick on her mp3 player. In order to get the ideal stat boosts from each piece of media, you’ll have to keep track of your party’s tastes.
Of all the ideas I spitballed (at myself) for this article, this is the one I think would most likely be playtested out as unnecessary, or pointlessly restrictive, or as reductive rather than additive relative to the original game. Still, I wanted to include it here because it’s an idea I had for the game, and for good or ill I wanted to document as many of those as I could manage.
The idea is basically this: certain pieces of equipment can only be worn by certain party members. Right out of the gate, it sounds like a pretty bad idea, I know, but hear me out. What use is Shiki going to have for a Wild Boar deck? Would Neku really be caught dead in a D+B two piece bathing suit? Each character clearly has a preferred brand, and this preference is expressed by that brand’s threads tending to have abilities that only affect that character. Pegaso threads have abilities that only benefit Joshua, Jupiter of the Monkey’s abilities only benefit Neku, etc. Sure, Joshua can wear a Wild Boar toque, but it won’t do him much good. This idea is merely an extension of a system that is already kind of in place.
The first version of the idea was that each character would have a unique equipment layout depending on their personal style. Instead of TWEWY’s four non-specific equipment slots, a character might have slots for a top, a bottom, a hat, and shoes. Or, a character might have a slot for top+bottom (say, a dress or a school uniform), a bag, an accessory, and shoes. Or top, bottom, shoes, deck. Whatever was best suited to that character’s style.
In a way this makes sense. After all, the characters in TWEWY were deliberately designed with certain styles in mind, and in theory allowing those characters to then wear whatever the player so desired undermined those designs. Obviously the characters’ in-game appearances were not changed by what they had equipped, but with this new system a characters’ wardrobe could be changed all throughout the game without that character wearing something “out of character.”
In the end, I decided this system sounded pointlessly restrictive. It would also mean putting a lot of work into making sure that there were enough hats/decks/accessories/whatever, from enough brands, that were varied and interesting enough and balanced enough throughout the entire game. Which would mean a lot of extra work- work I will never have to do because this game is imaginary.
I did, however, like the idea of certain characters having certain “styles”, and having that style dictate their equipment options. So I reeled in my above idea to something more closely resembling TWEWY’s equipment grab-bag system, with an addition of my own: each character has one equipment “type” that only they can equip. For example, in the original game with this system only Beat would have been able to equip decks. Only Shiki would have been able to equip big dumb floppy hats (or maybe stuffed animals), etc. I’m not sure whether this unique slot would replace one of the four non-specific equipment slots, or just supplement a character’s existing threads, but I don’t have to figure that out because this game is imaginary.
Again, the sort of change that isn’t altogether “necessary”, but I thought it could be interesting spin on TWEWY’s equipment system, and would suit the game’s themes of using clothing as a means of creative expression.
If you like clothes and have an internet connection, you’ve probably been to or at least heard of Hypebeast. When I was a semi-regular presence there a few years ago, the topic of “brand synergy” occasionally came up, and was kind of divisive. The idea was basically that certain brands complemented each other well, or belonged to a certain discrete “style”, and should not be worn with clothes from other “styles.” At Hypebeast, this meant a lot of Supreme, Visvim, The Hundreds, Stussy, and whatever the hell else people were wearing back then (and are maybe still wearing? I don’t really keep up with that scene any more.) Wearing clothes from any of these brands together was fine, because they all belonged to that “family” of Hypbeast-approved streetwear. Although there was no “rule” or even guideline recommending against mixing brands of different “families”, some people maintained that mixing styles in this way produced an abomination. On the face of it, it sounds kind of accurate: you probably wouldn’t wear a pair of Epaulet Donegal Tweed trousers and monkstraps from the waist down, only to top it off with a Supreme box tee and a snapback above. Or maybe you would, I don’t care- the point is there is at least a logic at play here, even if it’s a soft and amorphous logic.
The idea stuck with me, for some reason, and I’m glad now that it did, because it’s perfect for a project like this. The idea with Brand Synergy in The World Ends With T.O. is basically just that: certain brands play well together, and certain others don’t get along. Innocuous brands like Fair Maiden or Work Horse can be integrated into almost every look, while brands with a bit more personality (like Arachnophilia) are more difficult to integrate into competent outfits. The result of combining certain complementary brands would be a bonus to those brands’ stat boosts. So, learning early on which brands work well with one another will help you create a build that suits your needs.
I was pretty happy with this idea. Then, I got bored of it. “I can do more,” I said to myself, “I can do more in this game I’m not actually ever going to make.” For a start, I didn’t like the idea of the same brands always having the same relationship to one another. It made a system that was supposed to reward experimentation into something that could be calculated and understood mathematically. So, going back to the mechanics of the original game for motivation, I was struck by something that I never really took advantage of in TWEWY’s gameplay.
See, in every area of the game, the top 3 most popular brands receive bonuses proportional to their popularity, while the least popular brand suffers a 50% stat nerf. The idea was that the player would change up his or her threads or deck to reap the benefits of whatever was fashionable in that area. The success of the execution of this system is debatable- I never payed attention to the trends, and if I needed a certain brand to be #1 for a boss battle or whatever, I would just fight a few Reductions and drag it to the top spot by force- but the idea was solid. It added depth and complexity to the threads and pins (in theory), and it also underlined the life-or-death importance of fashion in TWEWY’s world.
For my own system, then, I’m basically doubling down on the old system. Rather than having a hierarchy of brands in any given area, each area will have a hierarchy of fashionable brand combinations. Maybe if you’re in Dundas Square or at Queen and Spadina- some area where lots of different types of people and fashions are colliding- the top three combos will be wildly eclectic. #1: Arachnophilia + War Horse, #2: Fair Maiden + A Drink of Water, #3: Heavy Weight + Hip Snake, that sort of thing. In other parts of the city, where the local scene is dominated by a particular look, the top three may be dominated by one brand and its satellites. In the fashionable and expensive Yorkville, the top 3 spots might be #1: Sea-Goat + Fair Maiden, #2: Sea-Goat + D+B, #3: Sea-Goat + Arachnophilia. (Imagine how much it would piss off the city’s punk scene to learn the richest and most fashionable kids in the city were accessorizing with punk threads.)
Certain areas of the city in which the local style is more malleable would experience more and greater change, while relatively entrenched areas would usually have their usual brands merely supplemented by whatever was recently fashionable. In any case, wearing those brands together would result in a bonus to each brand.
If I’m being perfectly candid with you, the idea of Brand Synergy is something I’m only about 55% happy with- probably something that would need to be extensively playtested if I was going to actually make this game which I’m not. A similar idea applied to threads, though? That’ll bring me all the way up to like 75% satisfaction.
Managing stat boosts in threads and pins from multiple brands would be pretty difficult to keep track of for both the development team (non-existent: fictional game) and more damningly, the player. I don’t know if it came through up there, but even I don’t really understand how such a system would really be implemented, or what the functionality of such a system would really be (none: fictional game.) But shrunken down to the micro level, the whole thing is much easier to manage.
The idea is, fundamentally, the same. Certain threads work well with one another, others don’t. Which threads do and do not work well together can only be sussed out through experimentation, or maybe store clerks could teach you some tips in the same way they teach you about abilities. Basically, let’s say you’ve got a Heavy Weight cap, and a hoodie from Fair Maiden. You equip the two of them at the same time, and you get a little message: these threads work well together! Because they complement each other, your hat’s +5 to ATK becomes a +7, and your hoodie’s +10 to DEF becomes a +12.
Because pairing a hat and a sweatshirt is not particularly bold, the bonus is relatively minor. For gutsier or otherwise more avant garde combinations, the bonus will be proportionally higher.
Again, though, this system feels already like it’s railroading the player into always wearing certain pieces of clothing as a set, which restricts rather than promotes creativity (although the process of discovering these Thread Synergies would encourage creativity, once they were discovered I worry that the process would result in certain combinations becoming de facto partners.) So, I played with the idea of introducing an element of random number generation to the whole process. Maybe the above mentioned Brand Synergy board, in which certain combinations of brands net certain bonuses, actually dictates which threads receive Thread Synergy? So, if you’re in an area where Natural Double and Koi Pond are in bed together (Christ forbid), creatively matching threads from those two brands would result in receiving a Thread Synergy bonus.
Another idea I played with is the idea of certain combinations of threads being… not exactly negative, since I don’t want to include any new elements that will punish instead of reward creativity, but not wholly positive. In the same way many brands have abilities that are more of a strategic give-and-take than an out and out bonus, I considered having certain combinations resulting in sort of “compromised” Thread Synergies. Maybe combining a delicate, girlish Drink of Water sundress with some stompy Work Horse shit-kickers will result in a combination that is deliberately and strikingly jarring- a juxtaposition that will net you a bold bonus to your ATK at the cost of a reduced DEF stat.
By combining threads in experimental and boundary-pushing ways (as kiddies often do), you may find yourself with a unique combination of clothes that perfectly suits your impossible-to-label personality, and an atypical equipment layout that alters your stats to suit your non-standard playstyle.
Okay, one more quick one before we wrap this bad boy up. Stickers. In TWEWY, you could collect stickers that did all sorts of cool stuff. The Hollow Leg lets you eat forever. Stickers gave you access to new difficulty levels, and minigames, and fusion levels, and all that. Problem: these things are stickers in name only. They don’t stick to anything, they’re just pictures. Which is fine, whatever. But as long as we’ve got the word “stickers” in TWEWY’s design vocabulary, let’s make them actually sticky. My idea here is pretty simple: rename the gameplay-advancey items to something else sufficiently “youth-culture” flavoured (apps? The game’s menu is accessed through a phone. An app that allows you to access higher difficulty modes or play minigames makes this game’s version of sense. At least as much sense as stickers, I mean.) Make stickers their own thing. In any given area, you can place your stickers on certain surfaces to alter how things go down in that area. Put a “discount” sticker on a shop, and get a discount at that shop. Place an “EXP up” sticker on the floor of an area and get an EXP bonus in any fight while that sticker remains adhered to its surface. Stickers that guarantee a clerk will give up dirt on an ability, stickers that increase drop rate while attached, branded stickers that increase the effectiveness of the associated brand’s pins, stickers stickers stickers, I’m just spitballing ideas here.
Naturally stickers will be consumables. You ever try to get a sticker off the back of a stop sign, or whatever? Nothing doing. Also, to ensure that players don’t just cheese areas with stickers, you can probably only lay down one sticker at a time. Also, stickers disappear either after you leave the area, or once the game advances to the next day: you can’t slap down a EXP X2 sticker on day one and reap the benefits of that bad boy for the rest of the game. Also, just thinking out loud here, maybe the Noise don’t like your stickers: stickers that have an effect on your battles might become targets for the Noise, who will zero in on your stickers once you’ve placed them and try to scratch them off. Keep and eye on your stickers: if the Noise get rid of them, they’re gone.
Okay, that’s the sum total of the stuff I’ve thought particularly hard about. I’ve still got a bit of garbage kickin’ around the ol’ head though, so here are the ideas I’ve had for the game that don’t require 500 words and an illustration to properly communicate:
-The main character is going to be a woman. In TWEWY, women’s clothes required extremely high Brave to equip, to keep Neku and the other doods from wearing them unless they were REALLY confident. You may have noticed last time that I’ve included a lot of women’s clothing that require relatively little Brave to equip, and now you know why. The main character is totally a chick this time.
-In my imaginary sequel, days end when you tell them to end. I know TWEWY was probably prioritizing narrative momentum over player agency, but it just made no sense to me that these characters could be standing around on Cat Street one minute, black out, and suddenly be at the Scramble Crossing in the middle of the next day. What happens to them? Do their invisible sleeping ghosts just lay around the streets of Shibuya wherever they collapse? What stops the Taboo Noise from just killing them? How do they get from one location to another in situations where one day begins in a different area than the last one ended? Do the Reapers carry them to their starting points? Or do they just sort of teleport through time and space to the appropriate locations? No, in my game that isn’t even real, you choose when to progress the days. I’m open to the possibility of the player losing that privilege as the stakes get higher later in the story (and I did like how the disorientation associated with automatic day changeovers heightened the tension- and the sense that the game was falling apart from within- in Week 3), but for the majority of the game, the player has control over when it’s time to turn in.
-Other players! Not like, multiplayer (although… maybe?), but your main character has more interactions with other Players of the Reaper’s Game during the story. I know that TWEWY was a story about Neku, not the Reaper’s Game, and that’s the reason that story was so memorable and felt so fulfilling. But the Reaper’s Game is such an interesting premise for a story, and I personally would want to explore the sort of scale and implications of that game. In TWEWY, you only ever met a handful of other players, even though the Reapers’ reports indicate that players are being slaughtered by the dozens. Even if it’s just to give a sense of the stakes in the earliest days, in my story you’d meet way more of your fellow players- some would be cooperative and willingly work with you towards a common goal, others will view you as competition and have an antagonistic relationship with you. Imagine the additional stress that’d come from having to fight off not just the Noise and the Reapers, but your fellow Players?
So, there it is, The World Ends With T.O. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my ludicrously in-depth outline of a game that will not ever exist. Coming up next time, I’ll be focusing once more on examining design elements in a game that actually does exist, and that you can actually play because it is real and somebody actually made it. Until then, pull on your favourite threads, play one of your favourite tunes, and make sure you enjoy the moment. Never know when the Reapers are coming for you.